Institutes of the Christian Religion: Faith and Works

The End of Spiritual Man

Aristotle writes that the end of man is to think and act. If a man doesn’t think or act, he is not actually living nor fulfilling his telos; If a newborn baby doesn’t eat, grow and play around, something is terribly wrong.

From a Calvinist perspective, man in his fallen state is spiritually dead. It is impossible for him to seek God or do any good works, for dead men can’t work. But, once a man is saved by grace through faith, good works shall follow.

A Christian is “born again” of God, and begins a new life in Christ. It is natural for spiritual man to do good works and worship God in spirit, just as it is natural for man to think and act. He is doing what is in his nature to do. If a Christian doesn’t do good works, something is amiss.

The New Testament doesn’t mince words about what is expected of a true believer:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother…….If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

Natural vs. Spiritual

In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argues that, if a spiritual man is entirely different in nature from a natural man, partaking as he does directly of Christ’s substance, he ought to manifest some distinctive radiance. “But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from natural men; some natural men even excel some converted men in their fruits;”

Although I agree and accept James’ incisive criticism, I disagree with his implication that Christians do not partake of the divine nature. We should keep in mind that human beings start from very humble origins: we come from dust, and our individual journey of life starts with a single cell. Though man is the most excellent species in his mature state, his beginning is not better, but worse, than many lower species by some measures. Similarly, although the spiritual man in his infancy may be overshadowed by the natural man, yet his potential is infinitely greater, and a spiritual man in his full stature shall outshine the natural man.

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