Theology 101

What We Can Learn About Sacrifice from John Calvin’s School of Death

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In 1559, John Calvin began a seminary in Geneva to train young church planters. We know that Calvin sent at least 88 church planters to his native country of France, possibly many more. It was dangerous to plant churches in France because of anti-Protestant sentiment. In fact, it was so dangerous that the Academy of Geneva became known as “Calvin’s School of Death” because so many graduates went out to martyrdom. If any of our seminaries today were nicknamed “The School of Death,” they would be empty!

Many contemporary American Christians who have supposedly been taught a Christian worldview continue to buy into one of the great secular lies of our culture: “You can have it all.” They believe they have the right to have any job they choose and live a prosperous lifestyle with all the indulgences, and as long as they do a Bible study at work and attend church, they have fulfilled their Christian obligations.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being financially successful, as long as we seek to fulfill our vocational calling, we must be willing to sacrifice what we want for what God wants, laying down our personal choices for what God has chosen for us. For some of us, that might mean turning down a job on Wall Street to do relief work in Haiti. For others, it might mean turning down a job doing relief work in Haiti to work on Wall Street. Unlike the rich young ruler who came to Jesus (Luke 18:18-23), we need to be willing to give our lives as a living sacrifice out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. That is what the apostle Paul urges us to do in Romans 12:1-2.

One of the questions that I most often hear from many Christians is “how can I know what God wants me to do in my life?” These questions often revolve around a change in jobs or some other important decision that they are struggling to make.

I would suggest that the real question is not “what does God want me to do?” but “am I willing to do anything that God asks as long as I am convicted that it is He that is asking me to do it.” Once we cross that bridge of ultimate commitment to God’s call on our lives the “what to do” becomes much clearer.

A genuinely Christian worldview is more than an intellectual collection of philosophical and religious beliefs. If it is going to affect the way we live, it must embrace both our minds and our hearts. It means as Douglas Wilson writes, “living as an obedient Christian in all of life—heart, mind, fingers, and toes.”

As Paul told servants in the Colossian church, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in their book Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View offer further explanation:

All we do is to be done from a heart filled with love for God. If our lives are not an expression of our love for him, they will express rebellion against him. That is simply our religious nature as God’s image bearers. All our cultural life is subject to Yahweh’s norms, and we are called to respond to him in obedience.

Our vocational call flows out of a sacrificially committed life transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here in the United States, however, we have made Christianity too easy. We have for the most part taught a so-called Christian worldview which requires little or no sacrifice from us. In the upcoming posts we will try to offer one answer to this dilemma that faces the American Church in our current time.

Question: In what ways are you being transformed through Christ at your work? Leave a comment here.

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