“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.
Knowledge of God Exposes How Weak We Are
People never arrive true knowledge of themselves until they first contemplate the face of God. Then, after thinking about God, they can look at themselves. We need to think about God first, because we are so prideful that we always think we are righteous, blameless, wise, and holy. We need to be convinced by clear, irrefutable evidence that we are unjust, vile, foolish, and impure. We are never convinced of our depravity by looking only at ourselves, but by looking at God since He is the standard by which we’re judged.
We are so prone to hypocrisy: we think that any little bit of “righteousness” in us is true righteousness. Furthermore, we completely deceive ourselves because our minds are locked in a prison of sinful corruption. We are so deceived that we think a “little” sin is actually something perfectly pure! Our very perception of our spiritual state is distorted, just like someone who is color blind only sees distorted colors.
Our own bodies illustrate our spiritual deception. When we look around at the ground or at other things around us, we can come to believe that we have pretty good eyesight. When we look at the sun, however, our eyesight is instantly overwhelmed by the brightness of the sun. We are forced to admit: our eyesight is not adequate to handle looking at objects like the sun. In a similar way, we vastly overestimate our spiritual abilities. So long as we only think about purely human matters, we are often quite pleased with ourselves—with our righteousness, virtue and wisdom. In fact, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we think we’re like gods!
But the instant we begin thinking about God, things change for us. When we begin to reflect on who God really is and how perfect His righteousness, wisdom and virtue really are, then we see ourselves as not being good at all. Thus, we perceive ourselves more accurately. We’ll begin even to hate our hypocrisy. What we thought was true righteousness, will reveal itself to be a sham—“good” works which are really polluted with sin. What we thought was wisdom will turn out to be extreme foolishness. And what we thought was energy to do good will be condemned as miserable ineffectiveness. God’s qualities set the standard and we exhibit the exact opposite of those things.