John Calvin is a name that should be recognized and a person who should be investigated if you have any stake at all in your relationship with Christ. This is not to say that the sixteenth-century European was super-human, but he certainly was a hero who fought for the supremacy of Christ over everything else. Through his writing, preaching and daily life, he did all things with the purpose of making God shine as brightly as He deserved. In a time where Church tradition and authority often trumped the very Word of God revealed in the Bible, his understandings sharply contrasted the universal church.
While being careful to not lift him up in sinful idolatry, it would be wise to take advantage of Calvin’s writings which stem from a whole-life devotion to Christ and a Spirit-led conviction of scripture. As it’s true for most of our Church fathers, Calvin has put in the hard work so that we, as members of the church, can benefit from them. Reading about what Calvin has to say about Jesus and what our relationship with Him should look like is similar to reading what Tiger Woods has to say about golf and what our swing should look like.
More important to analyze than what this man wrote or did in his life is the heart which drove his actions. This heart screamed that God must be held as the most important thing in our lives, and everything else we live for must point to that belief. This is a radical, radical notion for us today just as it was in the 1500s when it called for a fundamental change in perspective to shift God into the authoritative position that the earthly church had slowly established itself into. Today, however, the challenge is not with elevation of the church, but of the self. And if you’re wondering, this is not directed towards non-believers– just as Calvin’s charge to bring God to his rightful place in our priorities wasn’t either.
Calvin looked the members of the church in the eyes and said, “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God.”
This isn’t just some crazy cult-creating idea that came out of some wild acid trip that Calvin had. This isn’t a new idea that revolutionizes the way we once thought about the world. This perspective of where God should be in our list of priorities lies in Scripture, and is simply an understanding of the very nature of God and the Universe. It’s not a just a fabrication of facts; it’s the unearthing of natural truth.
Let me explain what I mean.
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
God calls himself I AM. This is distinctly different from, “I WAS,” or, “I WILL BE,” or even, “I AM FOR NOW.” The way that God reveals his nature to Moses is one that implies eternal existence. God did not start being, nor will he ever stop being. Take a minute to think about this– chew on it and start digesting it. It’s not something that should be glanced over and believed without some serious contemplation.
How does this affect us? First, it shows one of the biggest differences between God and us (there are quite a few). When we first meet people and exchange names, we don’t have the ability to truthfully say, “Hey, you can just call me I AM.” As we sit here reading in the flesh that clings to our bones, we are not eternal– we had a beginning and we will have an end. And here in lies the resulting conclusion that God is eternal and we are not.
Second, this shows how Calvin’s emphasis on making God supreme in all aspects of our lives actually makes sense. Consider this: I had a beta fish named Erwin. Erwin was a beautiful little fish that swam gracefully through the little flower vase that it called home in our apartment. Now imagine that I made Erwin the center of my life; I would wake up to take care of Erwin, I would write all of my blogs about Erwin, I would eat food to stay alive so that I could be with Erwin, I would read books about Japanese Beta fish so that I could understand Erwin better, I would take swimming lessons so that I could relate to Erwin better, etc. etc. Erwin lived about 2 months (barely) and died.
How silly it would be to make a fish with the lifespan of 2 months the center of my life. If this were true, why is it so much harder to understand that it’s equally silly to make a human with the average lifespan of 77.5-80 years the center of my life?
How different would our lives be if our action’s focus shifted off of ourselves? Being a Christian and believing in Jesus does not automatically make God the center of your life, and Calvin saw that in the church during his time. Let’s bring it back to America, 2010. Is God just the means to an ends? Do we go to bible study just to fulfill some personal checklist? Do we go to prayer meeting just to make ourselves feel accomplished? Do we worship God in music just to get that happy “fluttery” feel? This is what it looks like when a Christian maintains the broken notion that their well-being and existence is eternally significant.
Sliding God into the position of prime importance isn’t easy. It goes against everything we’ve learned, everything we do, even the very way we think. But that’s the story of the gospel– it is truth which stands in radically sharp contrast to our broken nature. Calvin challenged people, out of a sincere love, to soften their hearts and give God the priority he deserves and demands in their lives. I hope to be able to do the same to you, so that God would be glorified as the purpose of our entire lives– not just the means to get by.