Calvin and Repentance
I am reading Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ and came across a good quote. The authors, Beeke and Smalley are interacting with whether Calvin believed in what some call a “pre-conversion” where the sinner is prepared to trust in Christ through an awareness of his sinfulness. I will lay that point aside for now but may pick it up again some other day.
However, in that discussion the nature of repentance came up. To repent simply means to change one’s mind but too often that is over-simplified in the preaching of the gospel. Calvin preferred to define it as, “the true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of him; and it consists of the mortification [a putting to death] of our flesh [the sin within us] and of the old man [the unredeemed nature], and in the vivification [the making alive] of the Spirit” (from Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.5, p. 32 of the book).
I like this definition because it captures the essence of what happens when the Spirit of God works in a sinner so as to cause them to turn from their sin and to the living God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). A true repentance is not a halfway repentance. It is one where you are done bartering with God, trying to negotiate the terms of surrender. Because of the Spirit of God working in you there is the clear recognition that Jesus is Lord and that you having nothing that you bring to the table. You turn to Him and that necessitates that you turn from the countless idols from which you were pursuing.