Calvin On Sanctification: A Brief
Posted by Job on August 24, 2008
A curious fact about Martin Luther is that for all the attention that he gave to salvation, he is regarded as having paid very little to sanctification by comparison. Calvin, on the other hand, is regarded to having given sanctification a fair amount of treatment. So, here are a couple of weblog entries by Christians that discuss Calvin’s views on sanctification. May this information edify and benefit you.
I’m about 800 pages into Calvin’s Institutes
(which is why I haven’t been blogging much lately). Previously, I’d read a bunch of it here and there, but most of my understanding of Calvin had been mediated through later Reformed writers. Consequently, I had wrongly assumed that Calvin was consistent with the contemporary evangelical/Reformed distinction between regeneration and sanctification (regeneration denoting the initial moment of renewal, and sanctification denoting the subsequent process of renewal). Not so. Calvin addresses the topic of repentance under the rubric of regeneration, talking of them as though they are virtual synonyms. Further, he does not see regeneration/repentance as limited to the beginning of the Christian life, but rather extends this work of God to the duration of earthly life. He writes,
Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God . . . And indeed this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruption of the flesh . . . In order to reach this goal, God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives(601-02).
I like Calvin on this, and find him more consistent with Pauline/NT semantics. While the theological labels of regeneration and sanctification have (I suppose) been useful in delineating between the initial and subsequent work of God in the believer’s life, they have allowed for certain traditions to bifurcate regeneration and sanctification and then argue that salvation consists surely of the former but not necessarily the latter. This is common in Free Grace theology, and I’m sure one can find variations of it in most traditions. But Calvin’s doctrine of regeneration does not allow for this. For Calvin, to be regenerated is to be renewed into the image of God throughout the duration of one’s life–to run a lifelong race of repentance. No lasting fruit, no connection to the root.