Reading through large portions of Calvin’s Institutes last fall, I noticed a prominent theme — God being our Father. Calvin emphasizes this throughout his work, mentioning it in an organic way, as if it were soaked into the marrow of his theology. Consider this statement:
“Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation (Institutes 3.1.1).”
That’s a pretty astounding statement on the nature of faith and salvation, asserting that true belief wraps itself around the Fatherly goodness of God — that same Fatherly goodness which would give his Son, so that he might make more sons. This relates to many parts of theology — the character of God, salvation, the Holy Spirit, eschatology, and on. And Calvin didn’t make this up, because he only resounds the teaching of Paul.
Galatians 4:4-7: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Follow Paul’s logic here: In the fullness of time, God sent his Son — to redeem those under law. The Son was sent with the purpose of redemption. But redemption also has its purpose — “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In God’s design, redemption was accomplished so that he might adopt us, making us sons, younger brothers to the eternal and divine Son. The grand purpose of redemption in Christ is reconciliation to our Father in heaven. Salvation then might be more, but definitely not less than this. And Paul goes further, because as sons we have also received an inheritance, or glimpses of it — the pledge of eternal glory, the Spirit of Christ.
This has massive implications for the lives of those adopted as sons of God. For one, consider the manner of love with which the Father loved us — sacrificing his unique (a better translation of the Greek for “only-begotten”) Son, the Son who is God forever. It’s unbelievable, and, honestly, when I think about it, doesn’t make sense. God loved us enough to adopt us. That’s profound as it sits. But he adopted us at the cost of the Son worth infinitely more than us. My only reaction is to say, with wonder, “Wow. That is love.”
No wonder someone has called adoption and God’s Fatherhood, “the warm center of Calvin’s theology.”
And I question the goodness of my Father because, as C.S. Lewis described it, “I have a toothache.” And how much more must I learn to trust such a benevolent heavenly Father, the Father who spared not his only Son? I balk at my fickle-ness.
I pray that God would give me the grace to see his glory in the face of Christ, to love him as my Father, in his Son, empowered by the Spirit, who promises me my inheritance.