“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.
Corrupted Knowledge of God is Like a Weed
When the wicked do finally get around to thinking about God, it is against their will. They never approach Him unless they are dragged into His presence. When they do come into His presence, they do not feel a voluntary fear flowing from reverence for God’s majesty. Rather, they only feel a forced and a servant-like fear which comes from fear of God’s judgment that they cannot escape. Although they dread God, they also hate Him. The saying of Statius applies well to those people who have no reverence for God: “Fear first brought gods into the world.”
People, who do evil, know that God is a God of justice and will punish evil. So they earnestly desire that God’s justice would be overthrown. By feeling this way, they are actually warring against God Himself because justice is one of His essential attributes. They also know that they are always within the reach of God’s judgment and unable to escape it. Thus, they shake with fear. Therefore, to avoid looking like they are railing against something which is so much greater than they are, the wicked will often have some kind of religion. Yet, they still continue to defile themselves with every kind of vice and pile up crime upon crime. Eventually, they end up breaking up every holy law of the Lord and setting aside His perfect standard. Even though they have some fear of God’s judgment, it still doesn’t cause them to turn away from their sin. They would rather choose to indulge in their sinful desires rather than allow them to be curbed by the Holy Spirit.
The garbled “religion” of the wicked—with its confused knowledge of God—is very different from the true worship of God. And yet, people who buy into false religion often make a big “to-do” about being “close to God.” But they aren’t actually getting close to Him. Ironically, they are running away from Him! For example, a person’s life should always be in obedience to God, yet these hypocrites rebel against God without fear in almost everything they do. And then they try to appease God through a few paltry religious rituals! They ought to serve God with integrity and holiness, but they try to earn His favor by a few measly “good works” and other rituals which don’t mean anything.
Moreover, they actually take even greater license in indulging their sinful desires, because they imagine they can appease God through their little “sacrifices”: do bad now and get forgiven later. When they should have confidence in God alone, they instead put Him aside and rest in their own abilities. Because they allow themselves to get tangled up in so many errors concerning the truth about God, eventually the darkness which comes from ignorance clouds their minds to the light—which is the knowledge about God. Still, however, some conviction that God exists still continues to persist. The corrupted knowledge of God which they have is like a weed—it is very hard to kill but only brings worth worthless “fruit.”
Therefore, one of my main points is reinforced again: some knowledge of God is engraved upon the human mind. Because even those who do not believe in God are forced to acknowledge it. Many times what happens is that they will mock God and treat the issues surrounding Him flippantly. But as soon as some terrible event happens to them, they seek God and cry out to Him in desperation. This demonstrates that they were never totally ignorant of God. Rather, they had suppressed the truth about God which should have shown up in their life earlier.