John Calvin on the progressive nature of sanctification – “…this warfare will end only at death.”

The Ashley Madison hack continues to reveal what has been hidden (how we need to remember Luke 12:2-3!), and wreak divine, Nathanic truth and havoc upon Davidic husbands (cf. II Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51). There is much to be said and much that has been said. Yet as we reel and rock from the exposures, let us not forget the nature of the Christian life – every day, Christians need to be reminded that sanctification is a process, that the Christian life is a journey, a marathon and not a sprint. We need to be reminded about this for ourselves, and as we relate to other people around us. John Calvin beautifully expresses this truth:

…[W]e are restored through the benefit of Christ into the righteousness of God; from which we had fallen through Adam. In this way it pleases the Lord fully to restore whomsoever he adopts into the inheritance of life. And indeed, this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death…[N]o one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him. (Institutes, III.iii.9; III.vii.5)

If we forget the slow reality of sanctification for ourselves, our hearts will be cast into despair. If we forget it for others, our hearts will be lifted up in pride. But as Calvin reminds us, we may never use the slowness of sanctification as an excuse for sin. May the Lord help us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to press on in the race, for He is at work in us by His Holy Spirit.


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