To know thyself, one must know God (Institutes I.1.2)

“To know thyself, one must know God.”

I believe John Calvin could have easily said such a statement for his opening words in the Institutes of the Christian Religion echo such sentiments.  Let’s take one such phrase as our jumping off point,

“man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from comtemplating him to scrutinize himself.”  (I.1.2)

This is a profound statement.  Socrates urged his pupils to know themselves, but Calvin tweeked this phrase by recognizing that one can only get a true picture of who he or she is unless one compare  him or herself to  the Creator.  All other images of humanity or self-worth that are proposed and/or believed are faulty.  This is fantastic, for it properly situates humanity into its proper position, as a creature, rather than a creator.

Won’t such a belief lead one to “the worm theology” of many that see nothing redeeming in people?  Not necessarily, for such a program of self-reflection will definitely lead one to recognize their frailty, ineptitude, sinfulness and brokenness, but such it will not leave one there.  The Scriptures are clear that humanity is also of great value, the pinnacle of creation and worthy of redemption.

In knowing oneself in relation to know God, one learns about their need but also God’s love.  One finds out the truth of judgment and the gospel of grace.   To fail to recognize God, our self-evaluation is bound to be rosy and pompous but to know ourselves in relation to God brings about a grounding and reality that places one into a situation where true human value can be appreciated – for we are special enough that God gave his Son to die for our sin and redeem us to eternal life.

Such is the reason why every human must not simply “know thyself” but must “know thyself by knowing God.”

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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