An Empty Show of Righteousness

Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) By John Calvin

Translation by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post #2

Deeply rooted in all of us is an arrogance which persuades us that we are righteous, truthful, wise and holy. Only clear evidence that we are unrighteous, deceitful, foolish and vile will convince us of the contrary. We feel no such conviction if all we do is look upon ourselves and not also upon the Lord. He is the one and only standard with which our judgment must accord. But because hypocrisy is something to which we are all naturally prone, we are quite content with an empty show of righteousness rather than with its reality.

John Piper once wrote that the problem with mankind is not that we are difficult to please but that we are too easily satisfied. We settle for less than God’s best at every turn. People worship lifeless idols rather than the living God. We become distracted from God’s glory by every sparkling bauble. We are seduced by carnal longings that come and go but refuse to satiate our soul with the living water of Christ (John 7:38).

How cruel we are to ourselves.

We do what we think is best and most satisfying to our souls but in truth only feed the sinful nature, leaving our soul to shrivel in the cold shadows, withdrawn from God’s warm presence.  True contentedness can only be found in loving fellowship with God but simple minds are easily amused.

Calvin is right on target when he calls out man’s arrogance. We shrug off the benefactor of every good and gracious gift in this life. We then become ungrateful, faithless and disobedient because we think we’ve found a better and more fulfilling way to live. This breathtaking level of hubris exists in every human heart. The reason is we can’t bear the alternative. The truth is too disheartening to confess. The image in the mirror is too hideous to behold. Humans would rather live in an illusion of happiness than throw themselves in despair upon the cornerstone, who is Christ (Acts 4:11).

Hypocrisy literally means to wear masks. Fallen man loves to hide himself from God just as Adam and Eve did in the garden after their transgression. We no longer  jump into bushes, but we do put on grinning vaudeville masks – as if to inform God we are perfectly content without his assistance. But it’s only a front. The lie cannot be upheld.

One look upon God’s glorious countenance is startlingly transformative. It will dispel all illusions, shatter every mask and expose the depths of our depravity before His majesty. Humanity’s desperate need of mercy and grace come into sharp focus in His presence. The prophet Isaiah deeply felt his unworthiness the moment he stood before God:

Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! (Is 6:5 ESV)

Our Heavenly Father humbles every heart that gazes into His glory. Do you have eyes to see? Then look on Christ and live!


2 thoughts on “An Empty Show of Righteousness

  1. This quote might be a little ahead in sequence of the primary subject matter of this post, but I think it is relevant. This is a quote from John Calvin’s commentary on Hosea.

    “Men will never repent unless they are made humble; and from where comes true and genuine humility, except from a sense of sin? Unless then men become displeased with themselves, and acknowledge that they are worthy of perdition, they will never be touched by a genuine feeling of repentance.”

    We all put on an empty show of righteousness, but unless we acknowledge God for who He is and humble ourselves before Him, all our excessive pride and self-confidence will lead us to destruction. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. And we all fade as a leaf. And our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).

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