Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 5.8-11

1 Peter 5.8-11

[8] Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. [9] Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. [10] And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. [11] To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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COMMENTARY: There are a few interesting tidbits in this section. First, Calvin understands the admonition of verse 8 as intended to keep Christians from letting down their guard, or from indulging some of their lesser vices due to the apparent absence of spiritual trouble. Have the breathing space to face these temptations is certainly a welcome thing, but – as Calvin says – “we too often turn peace into sloth” (150).

Here is one of Calvin’s famous ‘as though he had said’ bits: “[Peter] compares the devil to a lion, as though he had said, that he is a savage wild beast. He says that he goes round to devour, in order to rouse us to wariness. He calls him the adversary of the godly, that they might know that they worship God and profess faith in Christ on this condition, that they are to have continual war with the devil, for he does not spare the members who fights with the head” (150). This last phrase caught my attention because it reminds me of boxing, which comes up from time to time here at DET. The devil, like a good boxer, doesn’t just throw punches at his opponent’s head – Christ – but also at his body – the church. While the strategic goal is to take out the head – a knockout – tactics often dictate doing damage to the body.

This quote does raise a more serious question, however, because Calvin seems to introduce a condition to salvation. Those who confess Christ do so on the condition of waging war with the devil. Now, I don’t have the Latin on hand, but it is clear even from this short bit of commentary that Calvin doesn’t understand this ‘condition’ as a precondition for salvation: “all respect to our worthiness and merit is excluded; for that God, by the preaching of the gospel, invites us to himself, it is altogether gratuitous; and it is still a greater grace that he efficaciously touches our hearts so as to lead us to obey his voice” (152).

We now know that the conditional cannot be stated thusly: ‘if one wages war on the devil, then one is saved.’ Of course, this is not how Calvin phrases things either. In keeping with his own construction, we ought to stated it thusly: ‘if one is saved, then one wages war on the devil.’ This is the sort of activity that arises out of one’s union with Christ.

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