“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”- 2 Timothy 3:2-5
Institutes: Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 2, Part a
“For he who has learned to look to God in all things that he must do, at the same time avoids all vain thoughts. This, then, is that denial of self which Christ enjoins with such great earnestness upon his disciples at the outset of their service (cf. Matt. 16:24). When it has once taken possession of their hearts, it leaves no place at all first to pride, or arrogance, or ostentation; then either to avarice, or desire, or lasciviousness, or effeminacy, or other evils that our self love spawns (cf. II Tim. 3:2-5)…Show me a man, if you can, who unless he has according to the commandment of the Lord renounced himself, would freely exercise goodness among men. For all who have not been possessed with this feeling have at least followed virtue for the sake of praise” (3.7.2b).
In this section Calvin continues to confront us with hard truth. Yet he does so with patience since he writes that self-denial must be learned, not instantly conjured up by self-determination. Self denial must be learned, cultivated, maintained, practiced. In doing so, vain thoughts are avoided. Pride and all other evils that are spawned by self-love are displaced. A person is not able to practice a goodness that pleases God and is freely exercised (i.e., not compelled by the prospect of human praise) unless or until that person with God's power, renounces his or her self “according to the commandment of the Lord.” The goodness that pleases God and contributes most to human flourishing is that which does not seek praise, approval, recognition, or applause from others. This type of goodness does not come naturally to us. So, as Calvin has already affirmed in chapters 1-3 of book three, the Spirit empowers us to deny self, trust in Christ, and consequently to “freely exercise goodness among men.”
During the cold days of February 2007 something happened to me that would change the entire course of my life. That something was becoming a Christian by the grace of God. One of the first effects of becoming a Christian involved learning what motivates me. My motives in serving others were not always pure (and are never pure as God defines pure). God showed me that my good deeds were not so good after all because they were tinged with selfish motives. I “followed virtue for the sake of praise” and still do today when I don’t deny myself. If you sense that selfish motivations drive you to practice goodness, then praise God! Praise God since an awareness of yourself in this way shows that God is working in your heart (1 John 1:5-10). And rejoice in this: If you are in Christ, then just as God declared you to be righteous because of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), so He declares your good deeds to be righteous because of Christ. If you believe in Christ your impure deeds are seen as pure in God’s sight. What motivates God to treat us so kindly (Romans 2:4)? His grace drives Him to treat us with kindness.
Let’s love others today not for the momentary kickback of human praise but because of God and His grace. (Justin)