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What is vivification?


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Question: "What is vivification?"

To vivify is to give life to something or someone. The term vivification implies adding life, quality, or energy to something. The word is not frequently mentioned outside of theology. It was used by John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and his meaning is the one most commonly used today. This “vivification” is the strengthening and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to live a righteous and godly life. It is the God-led growth of a Christian’s spiritual and moral character.

Calvin referred to both a positive (additive) and negative (subtractive) side of sanctification. To be sanctified means to be “set apart” by God. One effect of sanctification is vivification. The other is what Calvin referred to as “mortification,” in which a person becomes aware of his sin and the judgment of God. This awareness produces a holy fear, sorrow, and anguish. It is these emotions that compel a person to hate sin and seek God’s forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:10).

In common usage, the word mortification refers to extreme embarrassment or the dying off of biological tissue. In a spiritual, theological sense, mortification means “the putting to death of old, sinful desires”; it is the spiritual pain and suffering experienced by a person who comes to recognize his sinfulness and is driven to seek God more completely. As the Holy Spirit vivifies the spirit, He mortifies the flesh.

There is significant biblical support for the ideas of vivification and mortification. Regarding mortification, the Bible speaks of dying to sin (Romans 6:2–10; Colossians 3:5). Regarding vivification, Scripture describes being reborn in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11) and the Holy Spirit’s giving us strength to follow God’s will (1 Corinthians 12:11). Scripture says that God’s Spirit empowers us (Ephesians 3:16). This is vivification.

According to Calvin, both vivification and mortification are permanent influences in the life of a Christian. Scripture says the struggle against sin (Romans 7:15–25) and an increase in holiness (2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 6:1) are natural in the life of a believer. Our effort to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13, KJV) and “take up [our] cross” (Luke 9:23) is a daily task. Through it all we remember that “the Spirit gives life” (John 6:63).

Recommended Resource: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

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