Blogging the Institutes–1.4.1–Ignorance is No Excuse

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Ignorance is No Excuse

Although experience demonstrates that all people have some knowledge of God (like a seed in their minds), only a few people (maybe like 1 in a 100) actually cherish this knowledge in their hearts. And even then, no one sees this seed blossom and grow into full knowledge of God.

While some people become superstitious and others overtly rebel against God, the point is that all people are so degenerate with reference to knowing God that nowhere in the world can true godliness actually be found. Now, let me clear something up. When I say that some people become superstitious, I don’t mean that they are free some guilt. They are guilty because their blindness to God’s knowledge is also accompanied by pride and stubbornness.

We see pride manifested in their search for God. Rather than having their thoughts “ascend” to contemplate God’s greatness, they reduce God down to their own human expectations and then indulge in speculation about Him. They don’t try to get know God on His own terms, for who He really is; rather, they imagine God to be whoever they want Him to be.

Because of their pride, it’s like a great pit is open right in front of them and they can’t help but fall into it. Because their knowledge of God is so distorted, any worship or obedience they attempt to render to Him is futile; it doesn’t “count.” Because they’re not really worshipping the true God as He really is, but instead, they are worshipping a God of their own imagination and own creation. Paul describes how this happens when he says that, “thinking they are wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). Right before that, he also said that people were “vain in their imaginations.” Now, this doesn’t mean they are blameless. Paul quickly adds that they deserved to be blind to spiritual realities because they actively flirt with evil. They also deceive themselves with empty religious rites. Therefore, their foolishness is not the result of pointless curiosity, but evil desire and a lust to pursue forbidden knowledge. They are justly condemned.

Blogging the Institutes–1.3.3.–Knowledge of God is Implanted in Every Human Mind

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Knowledge of God is Implanted in Every Human Mind

All sensible people, therefore, will believe that some knowledge of God is engraved on the human heart. This belief in God’s implanted knowledge is confirmed by the stubborn rebellion of the wicked! Although they try to run away from the knowledge of God, they cannot escape it no matter how hard they try. Though Diagoras and others like him try to make themselves happy with whatever popular beliefs about religion have been passed down through the ages, and though Dionysus mocks God’s justice, their supposed smiles are only fake grins. Because their consciences keep gnawing within themselves.

I do not agree at all with Cicero who argues that errors in beliefs go away through time and that religion gets better as time passes; because the world tries to do away with the knowledge of God and corrupts His worship in innumerable ways. Yet, when a person’s hard heart becomes weakened, the knowledge of God—which he hoped would dwindle and expire—stays strong and breaks through. Therefore, the pervasive knowledge of God is not something which is primarily learned in school. Rather, it is something all people from birth, in a sense, teaches themselves. It is also something which nature will not allow people to forget, even though they try as hard as possible to do so.

Furthermore, people should live for the purpose of knowing God. Now, let’s say that the knowledge of God is diminished in someone’s life because it does not lead them to know God more. What is the result? These people will not become “true to themselves”—they will not become the people that they were created to be, because we were created to know God. This point was even observed by the philosophers. Plato taught this point in Pheod et. Theact. He taught that the highest good for the human soul is to resemble God. In other words, the highest good is for a person to be transformed into God’s likeness by getting to know Him. Gryllus, also, quoted in Plutarch, teaches something similar. He teaches that if religion was abolished in people’s lives, then they would not excel. Indeed, they become almost like animals and commit many forms of evil. They live out a troubled and restless existence. Therefore, the one thing which makes them superior to the animals is the worship of God. For in worship, they aspire to immortality.

Blogging the Institutes–1.3.2–Even Atheists Have Some Knowledge of God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Even Atheists Have Some Knowledge of God

It’s pretty absurd to hold to the belief that certain people created religion to keep others under their control. Many times, those who were teaching others to worship some God didn’t even believe in God themselves! Now, I readily acknowledge that certain people have used religion to subjugate others. But they could have never been successful unless people already had some “seed form” knowledge of God from which full-blown religious adherence grows.

It’s pretty astonishing that some people who have used religion to gain power over others were atheists themselves. In earlier history, there were some who were atheists and at the present time they are many atheists around. But even these atheists will occasionally have a sense of God, even though they don’t want it. Caligula had more contempt for God than just about anyone around at the time, yet even he had great dread when God’s judgment showed up. Although he said he was unwilling to believe in God, he shook in terror before the God he so vehemently condemned. The same thing happens to atheists in my day.

The most proud and audacious atheist is easily disturbed, even by the sound of a falling leaf! How could this be unless the more they try to run from God’s majesty in creation, they more it impresses itself on their conscience? They all look for hiding-places in which they might flee the presence of the Lord. They try to erase this knowledge of God from their minds. But after all their efforts, they remained “trapped” by this knowledge, like someone tangled up in a net.

Though the conviction that God exists may occasionally seem to vanish from the atheist’s mind, it will immediately return. And when it does, it often comes upon them with new intensity so that any relief they had from the gnawing of their conscience goes out the window. They can be like drunk people or the insane: they want to sleep but are haunted by nightmares. Therefore, even the wicked themselves are an example of the fact that some knowledge of God exists in every human mind.

Blogging the Institutes–1.3.1–All People Possess Some Knowledge of God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

All People Possess Some Knowledge of God

It’s beyond argument that some knowledge of God resides in a person’s mind. Why? Because God Himself has given it to them. He even renews that knowledge and occasionally will give people an even bigger glimpse of who He is. Why would He do such a thing? He implanted that knowledge in people so that they could not claim ignorance of Him.

All people instinctively know that God exists and that He is the Creator. Again, God has given people this knowledge so that they would be condemned by their own consciences when they refuse to worship God or live for Him. Now, where would you expect no knowledge of God to exist? Probably, in some remote village of some remote tribe of people somewhere in the world. But even a pagan—Roman philosopher Cicero—tells us that every people group or nation has some knowledge of God. This is universal; all people have some knowledge of God.

Therefore, since all people at all times in every area of the world—even down to an individual household—practice religion, such reality demonstrates that all people have some sense of God inscribed on their hearts. Even idolatry is evidence for this fact. People like to exalt themselves, not humble themselves. Thus, when a person chooses to worship something like a wooden carving or an image made out of stone, rather than worship nothing, this is evidence of how strong the impression of God must be upon the human mind. It is harder to get rid of this implanted knowledge of God than to get rid of a person’s pride. Because whenever people worship an idol they instinctively humble themselves, even though it’s only an idol. This shows that it’s easier to get rid of pride than the knowledge of God.

Blogging the Institutes–1.2.2–What We Think About When We Think About God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

What We Think About When We Think About God

Some people who begin thinking about God want to know what the essence of God is. In other words, it’s almost as if they want to know what God is made of. But that just leads to speculation. Rather, it’s better to think about God’s character and the kinds of things which flow from His nature—His attributes. Moreover, is there really a point in even trying to think about God like Epicures does? He claims that God does not interact with the world. But, does it matter at all to try to know a God who doesn’t have any bearing on our lives?

Therefore, knowledge of the true God should cause us to do a few things. First, it should teach us to reverence and fear God. Second, it should make us ask for good things from God, and if we receive them, praise Him for sending them our way. Furthermore, when the idea of God enters your mind, it should cause you to understand that since God created you He holds the authority over you, and you are bound to submit to His authority. You should do all things for His glory. Now, if that doesn’t happen for you, then your life is sadly corrupted. It further shows that obedience to God is not first and foremost in your life, which it should be, because God’s will ought to be what guides our lives.

Your idea of God won’t be clear unless you acknowledge Him to be the source of all goodness. Thinking about God should cause you to have confidence in Him and desire to have a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, our sinful depravity skews our minds and leads us away from knowing God. But the Christian mind does not make up any “god” it pleases; it looks to the one true God. In addition, it doesn’t just make up His character but is content to understand God’s character as He Himself reveals it. The Christian mind is diligent, then, not to disobey His will or wander off of His path.

When you know that God also governs all things, then you will run to Him as your guardian and protector. You will throw yourself completely onto His faithfulness. Because you know every good thing comes from Him, if you feel life pressing in on you or any need, you will remember God’s protection and ask for His help. Because you know He is good and merciful, you will rest in Him. You will not have doubts that God will provide for you in your time of need. Because you know He is Father and Lord, you will submit to His authority over your life. You will show respect for His greatness, aim to advance His glory in the world, and obey His rules. Because you know He is the just Judge who also stands ready to judge, you will have appropriate awe of His justice, self-control in your behavior, and fear of provoking Him to anger. You won’t be so terrified of His judgment, however, that you want to run away from God. You will embrace God not only as the One who punishes the wicked, but also rewards the righteous. It brings God glory to both store up punishment for the wicked and give eternal life to the righteous. In addition, fear of punishment isn’t the only motivation for obeying God. If you love and honor God as your Father, and you want to do His will, even if there was no Hell, you still wouldn’t want to sin against Him.

This is genuine religion: You have confidence in God paired with reverent fear. Both things will lead you to the right worship of God as prescribed in His Word, the Bible. Here’s something to think about: many people go through outward ceremonies to “honor” God, but few actually love Him from the heart.

Blogging the Institutes–1.2.1–Knowing God as Creator and Redeemer

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Knowing God as Creator and Redeemer

Knowledge of God has a few parts to it. It means knowing that God exists. It also means knowing what God does for our benefit and for His own glory. Furthermore, it is concerned with what is fitting to know about God.

God is not known where there are no religions or religious practices. Now, to clear something up, I’m not talking about “saving” knowledge of God—the kind of knowledge found in God as our Redeemer through Jesus our Mediator. Rather, I am talking about a simple—even “primitive”—knowledge of God which we could have had by merely looking at the world if Adam had not sinned.

We do not recognize God as our Father, and the author of salvation, and favorable of His creatures, because of our sinful corruption. We will only come to that kind of knowledge when Christ stands in our place and gives us His peace: in short, saves us. It is like there are two kinds of knowledge of God. The first recognizes God as the Creator, the One who rules over the world in His providence, takes care of us because of His goodness, and gives us many material blessings. The second goes “deeper”: You know God more fully when you embrace His grace which reconciles us to Himself through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Therefore, to sum it up: knowledge of God has two parts. Knowledge of Him as Creator. And knowledge of Him as Redeemer. Since God first shows up to us as the Creator through our observance of the world, and since God also shows up first as Creator in Scripture (see Genesis 1:1), I will tackle knowledge of God as Creator first.

Now, whenever you begin thinking about God our minds cannot help but offer Him some kind of worship. Yet, it is not sufficient to merely think that God is the Creator who all people should worship. Rather, we must go further and believe that He is the source of goodness. We must seek everything good to be found in Him, and in Him alone. Again, we must not merely believe that He created the world, and thus sustains it with His power, governs it by His wisdom, preserves by His goodness, rules the world with justice, shows people mercy, and protects them. We must also learn of His absolute sovereignty. Not one particle of light, wisdom, justice, power, uprightness, or truth comes from anywhere but God. He is the source of all things. Consequently, we must ask for things only from Him and thank Him for whatever He decides to give us.

God’s divine perfections are like a Teacher, who shows us how to practice our faith. Learning how to practice our faith happens when knowledge of who God is inspires us to adore and love Him. We will never truly obey God until we feel that we owe everything to Him. We need to know that He loves us as our Father. He is also the source of all our blessings; yes, all of our blessings. We will never truly yield our lives to God until we find our happiness in Him alone.

Blogging the Institutes–1.1.3–Encounters with God Leave People Humbled

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Encounters with God Leave People Humbled

Because God is so pure and we are not, it is not surprising the picture Scripture presents us of when people encounter God. They are struck down and overwhelmed by the presence of God!  They were once so firm in faith, but when they encountered God, look at what happens: they shook in terror; they dropped as if they were dead; and they were—in a sense—swallowed up and annihilated. Therefore, we’ll never see how small we are until we see how majestic and big God is.

There are examples of this in both the book of Judges and writings of the Prophets (Judges 13:22; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; 3:14; Job 9:4; see also, Genesis 18:27; 1 Kings 19:13). There are so many examples of this happening that a slogan arose in Israel, “We will die, because we have seen the Lord.” Moreover, the book of Job aims to humble people by convicting them of their foolishness, weakness, and corruption. It does so by comparing puny little people with the descriptions of God’s wisdom, virtue, and purity. Moreover, Abraham repented with dust and ashes when he approached to see the glory of the Lord. Elijah too is unable to look directly at the glory of the Lord because it is so awe-inspiring and dreadful. Therefore, what can a such small, piddly people do when even the Cherubim (angels!) have to hide their faces in terror?

When God reveals His glory, even the brightest objects in the universe like the sun will appear to dim, just like Isaiah says, “Then the glory of the moon will wane, and the brightness of the sun will fade, for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will rule on Mount Zion” (Isaiah 24:23).

Now, although the knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are tied together, the arrangement of this book requires that we treat knowledge of God first, and then look at knowledge of ourselves.