Posted by: joelrbeeke | September 1, 2008

John Calvin on Piety – Part Ten

Repentance

Repentance is the fruit of faith and prayer. Luther said in his Ninety-Five Theses that all of the Christian life should be marked by repentance. Calvin also sees repentance as a lifelong process. He says that repentance is not merely the start of the Christian life; it is the Christian life. It involves confession of sin as well as growth in holiness. Repentance is the lifelong response of the believer to the gospel in outward life, mind, heart, attitude, and will.

Repentance begins with turning to God from the heart and proceeds from a pure, earnest fear of God. It involves dying to self and sin (mortification) and coming alive to righteousness (vivification) in Christ.  Calvin does not limit repentance to an inward grace, but views it as the redirection of a man’s entire being to righteousness. Without a pure, earnest fear of God, a man will not be aware of the heinousness of sin or want to die to it. But mortification is essential because, though sin ceases to reign in the believer, it does not cease to dwell in him. Romans 7:14-25 shows that mortification is a lifelong process. With the Spirit’s help, the believer must put sin to death every day through self-denial, cross-bearing, and meditation on the future life.

Repentance is also characterized by newness of life, however. Mortification is the  means to vivification, which Calvin defines as “the desire to live in a holy and devoted manner, a desire arising from rebirth; as if it were said that man dies to himself that he may begin to live to God.”  True self-denial results in a life devoted to justice and mercy. The pious both “cease to do evil” and “learn to do well.” Through repentance, they bow in the dust before their holy Judge, then are raised to participate in the life, death, righteousness, and intercession of their Savior. As Calvin writes, “For if we truly partake in his death, ‘our old man is crucified by his power, and the body of sin perishes’ (Rom. 6:6), that the corruption of original nature may no longer thrive. If we share in his resurrection, through it we are raised up into newness of life to correspond with the righteousness of God.”

The words Calvin uses to describe the pious Christian life (reparatio, regeneratio, reformatio, renovatio, restitutio) point back to our original state of righteousness. They indicate that a life of pietas is restorative in nature. Through Spirit-worked repentance, believers are restored to the image of God.

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this blog on “Calvin and Repentance,” Dr. Beeke. It is a real encouragement to me and I appreciate the simplicity of your words. I long to personally grow in such repentance… mortification… and vivification. Thank you for taking the time to write!

    Chuck Fry

  2. […] Here: Repentance is the fruit of faith and prayer. Luther said in his Ninety-Five Theses that all of the Christian life should be marked by repentance. Calvin also sees repentance as a lifelong process. He says that repentance is not merely the start of the Christian life; it is the Christian life. It involves confession of sin as well as growth in holiness. Repentance is the lifelong response of the believer to the gospel in outward life, mind, heart, attitude, and will. […]


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