1 October 2022
Our study of Ecclesiastes focuses on the subject of ‘meaninglessness’ in life as we observe the injustice, the evil and sufferings going on; also the preacher spoke on the subject of death – the day of death being better than the day of birth – and he beckons us to evaluate our life as we think of death, and to realise that all must die sooner or later.
As I refer to Calvin’s ‘Institutes on the Christian Religion’ and consider his teachings on the Christian life, I see his teachings bringing much light to how we should consider life, difficult circumstances, death as believers.
Calvin shares that only when the burden of this life presses us to lodge our entire confidence in Christ and the blessings of the age to come do we not only find the strength to endure this life, but also recognise bright beams of God’s kindness even in our temporal circumstances. Only when we are made certain that our only hope is in the kindness, love, and mercy of God – and not at all in the circumstances of our lives now – can we begin to wonder at so many blessings instead of complain at the slightest adversity. When we are certain that the earthly life we live is a gift of God’s kindness, as we are beholden to Him for it we ought to remember it and be thankful (Ibid.,3.9.3 -the Institutes).
Meditation on our frailty – even death – is not an end in itself. It is meant to lead us to hope in the resurrection. Ironically, it is the denial of death and the resurrection of the body that leads unbelievers to suppress the tragic aspect of life (recall the book of Ecclesiastes). If believers’ eyes are turned to the power of the resurrection, in their hearts the cross of Christ will at last triumph over the devil, flesh, sin and wicked men (Ibid., 3.9.6).
Paradoxically, those who have let go of this life, no longer slaves to its promises of health, wealth, and happiness, are free to enjoy its gifts as pleasures directing our gratitude to a generous Father. He gives them not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer (Ibid., 3.10.2).
Other misconceptions today: Sin and the wrath of God do not have any place in today’s moralistic and therapeutic culture, where being good and feeling good lose any reference to God and His judgement (and this has spilled over also to teachings in some Christian circles; see Rom. 1:18).
There is a lot of zeal today for religion, spirituality, and moral crusades. Yet when we are ignorant of the righteousness that God demands in His law and the righteousness that He gives in the gospel, we are farther from the kingdom than the harlots and tax collectors (Matt. 21:32). This is the message proclaimed by the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry.
Today, we will gladly follow preachers who tell us everything is fine, that there is no wrath to fear, that either God is too nice or we are too good for any final judgement to land on our heads. We will even pay a lot of money to spiritual designers who will help us weave cobwebs to hide our guilt, assisting us to shift the blame on our parents, our circumstances, society, our spouse, and ultimately God (remember Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the devil in Genesis).
When the righteousness of God no longer disturbs us or terrifies us, we feel no need to cry out for the righteousness from God that is a gift in Christ Jesus. Very few today seem to think that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews), and this is truly a dangerous oversight. At the heart of Christ’s work on the cross is His propitiation of God’s wrath, but this makes no sense when we worship our own idolatrous projection of a domesticated deity who thinks we are basically good people who need a little help to be better. There is no true ultimate happiness without holiness. Recall the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane when He prayed that He need not drink the cup (the cup of wrath) – such is the seriousness of the penalty of sin and God’s judgment on sinners that the Saviour, as the God-man, trembled’ to drink the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf and on behalf of all humanity.
A concluding remark that may be shocking to some but truly corrects the serious misconception of certain ones on the subject of the gospel:
‘God does not come to improve our life, but to end it; not to transform the ‘old Adam’, but to kill it and to raise us together with Christ in newness of life. Our transformed life will never be transformed enough to pass through God’s judgement safely, but “salvation is from the Lord”‘ (Michael Horton in ‘The Gospel-driven Life’).
Apart from the imputation of righteousness from Christ, sanctification is simply another religious self-improvement programme determined by the powers of this age (the flesh) rather than of the age to come (the Spirit). The gospel not only announces our justification, but our participation in the power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Hence we cannot look to Christ at the beginning, for our justification, and then look away from Him to our own progress and countless manuals that offer formulas for spiritual and moral ascent when it comes to the Christian life (sanctification).