If I were to tally a survey of the five most influential Christian books of all time, undoubtedly, John Calvin’s, the Institutes of the Christian Religion would make it on many lists. In fact, this very day, marks the 483-year anniversary (March 22, 1536) of the first publication of the first edition of his book.
Contrary to popular belief, the Institutes of the Christian Religion is not a dry, heartless book of theology. The book is warm and pious, intended to guide new believers in the study of Scripture. As a matter of fact, this warm and pious guidance is exhibited in a more well-known quote from the book.
Since the diagnosis of the human condition is so important for Christian orthodoxy, Calvin perceptively writes: “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols” (1.11.8). Granted, some people argue that in the context, Calvin is arguing against physical idolatry (or images). Nevertheless, human nature begets idols—whether physical or spiritual. This is the clear teaching of Scripture.
In the Old Testament, the very first commandment of the Decalogue warns against idolatry: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3). And in the New Testament the apostle John warns against idolatry. John’s final words to his readers: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
With idolatry in mind, this date in church history draws me to repentance and faith. By repenting of the idols that lie lurking in my heart, I turn to Christ by faith, the only remedy for my idolatry. Without the Son, who “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), I stand condemned in my idolatry. But with the Son, I stand as one who no longer bears the condemnation for idolatry (Rom 8:1). So, though I am judiciously forgiven for all my idolatry, I now fight the remainders of the indwelling idolatry that prowl inside my heart. I now “consider the members of my earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:5).
Praise God today for his gift of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and more importantly, for his gift of Jesus to liberate us from all our idolatry.
For more on fleeing from idolatry, listen to the sermon “Keep Yourself from Idols!“