John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France, and he was an educated boy as by the age of 14, he was already studying theology at the University of Paris.
He graduated with his master’s degree in 1528 from the University of Paris, and in 1532, he obtained his law degree from Bourges. Calvin accepted Christ as his Savior after reading and understanding Martin Luther’s writings.
As situations arose after Calvin lived in Switzerland and Germany, he had to relocate to Geneva; however, he did leave Geneva to escape from the public and it was not until his second visit to Geneva that he was successful in ministering to the people in the year 154.
In Geneva, Calvin became the pastor to teach the congregation the inerrant Word of God. Calvin was teaching doctrine radically different from the Catholic Church because Calvin was preaching the truth of God’s Word rather than the Apocrypha and the practices of indulgences.
Who Was John Calvin?
Calvin was part of the Protestant Reformation to bring people under the true knowledge of the gospel and out of all of the Reformers of the Reformation, Calvin has been the most misunderstood.
During the time of Calvin’s ministry in Geneva, his life has been separated into two eras of time, the years of opposition and the years of support, with the former being in 1541-1555, whereas the latter took place during his final nine years of life.
During the years of opposition, Calvin faced several difficulties, which included the following: the hate of the Geneva people against him because he was not a native of Geneva, the harassment of the antinomian Libertines, as well as the emotional difficulties of the deaths of his wife and son.
The years of support began at a time that was more pleasant for Calvin because this was the time frame when the Geneva people started supporting him, the final edition of his book was completed, and the famous Geneva Bible was published and sold.
Throughout the trying times, God was preparing Calvin for his role as a pastor to the people of Geneva, and God was molding Calvin into being one of the key leaders of the Reformation.
Calvin held to the doctrine of inerrancy, and everything that he wrote and preached was exegeting the Bible without adding any other method to the text.
This affected his entire life as Calvin taught in his preaching and writings that the Christian should show that the believer has a love for God in their head and in their heart. This teaching would demonstrate that a Christian’s orthodoxy had to be in alignment with their orthopraxy.
The development of Institutes of the Christian Religion was influenced by Calvin’s view that there needed to be a Protestant work of literature that documented the Protestant viewpoint of faith.
He also wanted to make a difference in the everyday Protestant’s life to enable them to have instructions on key doctrines of the Christian faith that had not been formally written.
Calvin’s first written copy of the Institutes was completed in 1536, and it was small enough to fit into a pocket so that Protestants would be able to hide the book to prevent being persecuted for their faith.
During Calvin’s life, the word “Institute” was commonly used to refer to a manual, and this is why he titled his work Institutes of the Christian Religion because it acted as a manual for Protestants.
After writing five editions, Calvin finally completed his work in 1559 and by this time, he had separated Institutes into four distinct books, which included covering the doctrines of the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.
Calvin saw the need for the common person to be informed of the truth of the Bible, and he wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion to fulfill this need.
Theological Concepts in the Institutes
In Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, his theology is shown clearly and precisely as he first focuses on the theological topic of original sin. Calvin holds to the belief that man is made in God’s image and that the fall of man occurred because of mankind’s rebellion against God.
Mankind’s rebellion against God was due to the fact that Adam and Eve did not act in obedience to God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and in this way, they were unfaithful and disobedient to God.
Calvin continues on the topic of the Fall of Man with the fact that there had to be a payment for sin, in which death was separation from God. Mankind’s fall did not simply constitute only man being fallen because the Fall of Man affected all of God’s creation, including the animals, plants, and the earth itself.
Thus, Calvin’s theology teaches that there was a Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden due to disobeying God, which resulted in mankind being cast out of the Garden to toil in the fields, and eventually, this unfaithfulness to God would bring about death for mankind.
Furthermore, Calvin acknowledges that payment for sin had to be made, and this was only possible through placing faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Redemption could not be provided by anybody except by the Word in Flesh.
Continuing in the book of Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin emphasizes that payment for sin could only be provided by Jesus because He is fully man and fully God.
This demonstrated that Calvin believed in the hypostatic union, and by Jesus being fully man and fully God, He met the requirements to be able to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Only the Creator could provide the ultimate redemption of mankind.
Thus, Calvin’s theology demonstrates that he believed in the hypostatic union of Christ, the divinity of Christ, as well as redemption, which can only be found in believing in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
The beliefs of Catholicism were rejected by Calvin as he spoke against purgatory, indulgences, and confession to a priest. Calvin describes the belief in purgatory as being extremely anti-biblical.
He confirms that there is nothing in the Bible that teaches about purgatory, as it was something that the Catholic Church created to control the people.
Concerning indulgences, Calvin writes that this practice is in direct opposition to the scriptures, and he makes the statement that indulgences are sacrilegious and monstrous blasphemy.
Confession to a priest was also rejected by Calvin as he believed confession to God was sufficient. Thus, Calvin rejected the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church because these teachings and traditions were not doctrinally correct.
After becoming a Christian, Calvin advocates that a believer should show their salvation through their actions and fruit. He describes Jesus’ statement of bearing the cross as being self-denial. Calvin stresses that anybody who has been called by God needs to be prepared and that following Jesus is not an easy life.
The Christian life will be marked with difficulties; however, God’s grace will provide the means to persevere.
Calvin states that the Christian life is full of trying times, trials, and hardships; however, he also stresses that by enduring these difficulties, the believer can be assured that he or she is God’s child because God disciplines those He loves.
Why Does This Matter?
The theology of Calvin informs the believer that one can find joy in suffering by resting in Jesus and His promise of eternal life. Calvin compares the trials and difficulties of the Christian’s life to the life of Christ.
Just as God the Father did not spare Jesus from difficulties, which included torment and death, the Father will also have the believer undergo hard times to increase their growth as a Christian.
Suffering is part of life, and it is unavoidable; however, Calvin instructs the believer that one can experience joy in spite of suffering by trusting in God and understanding that suffering causes the Christian to mature into the likeness of Christ.
Furthermore, Calvin’s theology takes the stance that a believer’s life should reflect Christ’s life and be lived in a way that honors Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. A believer perseveres in their Christian walk when they love God with all their heart and have a thorough knowledge of what He completed on the cross.
Anybody who follows Christ has to exhibit in their conduct that they know Him by denying themselves of the sins of the flesh and choosing each day to follow Him faithfully.
This was Calvin’s purpose in writing on the topic of the Christian life because he believed the main goal of the Christian life is to conform to the likeness of Christ.
For further reading:
10 Things You Need to Know about John Calvin
What Was the Protestant Reformation?
What Did John Knox Do in the Protestant Reformation?
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.