I have been reading through John Calvin’s Institutes. I picked up a read through the Institutes in a year plan, and it has been a blessing. Even though he wrote hundreds of years ago, his writings are still applicable to our times.
Right now, I am reading in chapter 8, where Calvin is establishing the credibility of Scripture. In talking about Sacred Scripture, Calvin says,
“Nevertheless it [Scripture] clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived”.
He is right. Scripture is crammed with thoughts that those writing without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would never conceive. The reason a non-inspired writer would not conceive of them is because Scripture is often paradigm shifting in nature.
What does it mean for Scripture to be paradigm shifting?
It means what we think should be the case is not. How we think things should go is not the way God thinks they should go. Our normal model is not God’s model. I believe we do not have to look far to see where our model is different than God’s.
We do not have to look any further than the gospel message. You see, the gospel tells us that God’s Son left His heavenly abode, descended to the earth by being born of a virgin. He lived a holy and sinless life, being 100% God and 100% man. Instead of people worshipping Him for who He is, namely, God. He was ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. Even so, His crucifixion was not contrary to God’s plan, it was His plan (Eph. 1). Through Jesus’ person, life, death, and subsequent resurrection from the tomb, we, sinful man, who deserve nothing but punishment, can have life, if we believe it is Jesus who reconciles us to God.
The Paradigm Shift
Here is the paradigm shift in the gospel message. It is not through our works, our goodness, or our own self-righteousness that we are reconciled to God (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot clean ourselves up, thinking somehow our works will earn us favor with the Father. The Pharisees tried, but Jesus condemned them (Luke 11:37-44).
Even after salvation, we cannot earn favor with God through our works. God has poured out His grace on us. He has filled our grace tank full. Our works cannot add anything to the tank.
Even though our works cannot earn us favor with God, we often live as if they do. Thinking if I don’t read my Bible or pray first thing in the morning, somehow I have lost God’s favor, and His hand will not be upon me that day. The gospel tells us that type of thinking is wrong.
Even though it is wrong, that type of thinking is natural to us. It is how we are hardwired. We do something and we expect it to earn us something. Not so with God. Instead of living the Christian life to get something from God, which would be a way for us to control God.
We live the Christian life not to get something from God, but because we can.
When God saves us, He changes our heart, releases us from the bondage of sin, and provides us with the Holy Spirit, empowering us to follow His commands. Commands we follow, not because they will earn us favor with God, but commands we follow because we are now able to and desire to (Phil. 2:13).
The Scripture is often paradigm shifting. Taking what we think to be the case, and showing us what we thought was the way things are, is not how they are with God. The gospel is the greatest example of a shift from man’s model to God’ model. We often believe we have to earn our salvation, but God tells us we are freely given salvation. All we have to do is believe, which is also made possible through God giving us the faith to believe (Rom. 8:28-30).
Even after we are saved, we believe we have to do good works to keep our salvation, or we have to do good works to merit God’s favor. The gospel tells us that is simple not true. We have been saved by God’s grace and we are kept until the last day when He will pour out a final measure of His grace on us, bringing us into a state of glorification and ushering us into eternal life (1 Peter 1:13). There is no amount of works we could do to earn our salvation, and there are no amount of works we can do to keep our salvation, or merit God’s favor.
This does not mean we do not live differently as Christians. It means the reason we live differently is a complete paradigm shift from what we thought. We live differently because we are now able and willing to. When we are saved, we are released from the bondage of sin, given a new heart, new desires, and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the will of the Father. In short, we live the Christian life because we delight in God and God is most glorified when we are most happy in Him.
 John Calvin, The Institues, Book 1, Ch. 8, Sec. 2, pg 83.