At one point in his writings John Calvin lays out the essence of what it means to live the Christian life. He says that he could make us a list of the commandments we should be keeping or a list of all the character traits we should be exhibiting. But instead, he wants to boil it down to the basic motive and the basic principle of what it means to live the Christian life.
The basic motive is that God sent his Son to save us by grace and to adopt us into his family. So now, because of that grace, in our gratitude, we want to resemble our Father. We want the family resemblance. We want to look like our Savior. We want to please our Father.
The basic principle then is this: that we are not to live to please ourselves. We’re not to live as if we belong to ourselves. And that means several things. It means, first of all, we are not to determine for ourselves what is right or wrong. We give up the right to determine that, and we rely wholly on God’s Word. We also give up the operating principle that we usually use in day-to-day life; we stop putting ourselves first, and we always put first what pleases God and what loves our neighbor. It also means that we are to have no part of our lives that is immune from self-giving. We’re supposed to give ourselves wholly to him—body and soul. And it means we trust God through thick and thin, through the good and the bad times, in life and in death.
And how do the motive and the principle relate? Because we’re saved by grace, we’re not our own. A woman once said to me, “If I knew I was saved because of what I did, if I contributed to my salvation, then God couldn’t ask anything of me because I’d made a contribution. But if I’m saved by grace, sheer grace, then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” And that’s right. You’re not your own. You were bought with a price.
Some years ago I heard a Christian speaker say, “How can you come to grips with someone who has given himself utterly for you without you giving yourself utterly for him?”
Jesus gave himself wholly for us. So now, we must give ourselves wholly to him.
If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us. . . . We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.