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Calvin claims that the substance of human nature is good. As he states in the Institutes, the original, created human nature is not only good; it is “united to God.” Indeed Adam, is righteous through a “participation in God.” However, in the fall, the accidental characteristic of sinning is added, alienating human beings from God, from neighbor, and ultimately from themselves. In this fallen state, human beings seek their identity “in themselves” or “in the flesh”. They seek to be human apart from God. But this is simply repeating the sin of Adam- following one’s own wisdom rather than lovingly trusting God. While fallen humans share the accidental characteristic of sinning, this characteristic does not completely vanquish the imago Dei, which Calvin says is a “participation in God.” Again, this characterization of the imago Dei makes sense with Calvin’s view of humanity: to be fully human is to be united to God., and although sin seeks autonomy from God, there is still a trace of this union with or participation in God in all humanity.

In redemption, then, is where Calvin’s Aristotelian distinctions do especially important work. When Paul speaks about being “crucified with Christ” and putting to death the flesh or the old self, is this misanthropic? Does this make salvation a rupture of identity — leaving behind all that we were and taking only what is new? No, Calvin says. The Christian life, involving the mortification of the flesh, is a restoration of who we were created to be.

J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2011), 44.