John Calvin wrote,
Therefore, in the first place, we need to know who we are, before we can prevent all glorying and stay ourselves upon the Lord Jesus Christ. For we see many people bursting with pride who have no grounds for this whatsoever. All that they imagine to be true about themselves is no more than wind and smoke. Yet because they have not examined themselves properly to see what they are really like, they have not sought Jesus Christ; such are these hypocrites, and counterfeits, who are puffed up with presumption because of their ‘merits’…
For there are some who will confess that they are sinners, and that they are full of nothing but vanity, and yet continue to wallow in their filth. Why? Because they do not anticipate the judgment of God, and their minds have been lulled to sleep by the world. All such pleasure-seekers, who abandon themselves to drunkenness, or bawdiness, and the like, cannot excuse their wickedness, and indeed, they ought to be ashamed of it, and yet they seem to take pleasure in sins and continue in them as if hardened. Why? They have been intoxicated by the world, and blindfolded by the devil, such that they cannot see that one day they must give an account of themselves. They have stupidly made themselves believe that they will always remain as they are, pursuing evil things, and that they will never have to sigh and tremble, but only laugh, as if they seek wilfully to show contempt for God. Thus, we can see how it is that some are prevented (indeed, they are fully incapacitated) from coming to Jesus Christ, either because they presume to have their own wisdom, or because they are pursuing a false notion that Satan has placed in their minds, or because they think they are wise enough without Jesus Christ. These are the reasons why they despise him. Others, of whom there are an infinite number, know that they are poor sinners, and yet do not seek a remedy. Why? Because this world has them in its grip, and they are so caught up in it that they cannot lift their eyes or their minds above to seek for the remedy that has been provided in Jesus Christ. (On Glorying Only in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ)
Calvin points to two different ways to avoid Jesus as Savior. The second is by being very bad and reveling in one’s sins without thought that change is needed, desired, or possible. This would be the way of the younger brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. However, as Ed Clowney and Tim Keller have masterfully pointed out, in Jesus’ parable, the younger brother repents, experiences conversion, and celebrates in the banquet of the Father. (see, The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller and Sharing the Father’s Welcome by Ed Clowney).
The first class of which Calvin speaks is the moralist or the christian spiritualist who trust, often unknowingly, in the merits of their works or experiences without looking to to the sin inside and the cross outside. The elder brother in the same parable is this type. He “slaved” for the father and therefore expected, on the basis of doing everything right, to be owed by the Father.
How easy it is to follow Jesus as teacher and avoid him as savior! Calvin’s admonishment is that we know our true selves. Paul exhorts, “examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith…” (2 Cor. 13.5). Am I like the poor souls at the end of the Sermon on the Mount who present Jesus their spiritual resume only to hear the dreadful words, “I never knew you!” (Matt 7:21ff) Am I thinking deep in my soul the more I do the more difficulty God will have casting me off in the last day? Or, am I trusting Jesus’ resume because I know He is my only hope? Am I a good person or am I a gospel person?