Job 31:1–4 (DRB) I made a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin.1For what part should God from above have in me, and what inheritance the Almighty from on high? 3 Is not destruction to the wicked, and aversion to them that work iniquity? 4 Doth not he consider my ways, and number all my steps?

The very similar New Testament equivalent might be:

Ephesians 5:1–7 (DRB) Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. 3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: 4 Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. 5 For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. 7 Be ye not therefore partakers with them.

As a Catholic, it seems obvious to me from reading this that Job avoids sin in general (something for which Scripture praises him: cf. 1:1), but here fornication or thoughts thereof, because if he did not he would have no part in God, because he would be wicked by definition. This directly links works with justification, and Job lucidly and freely chose to take this course of life ('made a convenant with [myself]') because of the risk of not having done so. But in Calvinism there is no even theoretical risk of losing salvation, and therefore no need to avoid sins so as to avoid such a fate (i.e., whereas there is motive for avoiding sins which is not a salvific reason, so Calvinists believe).


According to Calvinists, how does Job view his works in relation to his justification/salvation?

Thanks in advance.

1 Cf. Mt. 5:28.

  • 1
    A good question. John Calvin preached 159 sermons on Job, so I suspect that the answer is in one of them! Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 20:08
  • Could you please qualify if justification/salvation is meant in the ultimate sense and not merely for life in the body here on this earth. Thank you. I’m assuming it’s not but just want to clarify I’m understanding the answers correctly.
    – Autodidact
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 14:51
  • A lot of what Job and his friends say throughout the book of Job is incorrect. His friends give bad advice from a faulty karmic understanding of divine justice and Job asserts this conclusion wrongly. Then God shows up and rebukes and corrects Job.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 15:29
  • As a non-Calvinist, I can't formally answer this, but it seems to me that Job was saved by his confession of faith- Job ch42 vv1-6 Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 16:13

4 Answers 4


Before you ask what Calvin thought, it might be a good idea to ask, "What did Job think?"

Job 9:2 Yes, I know what you’ve said is true, but how can a person be justified before God?

Job had no illusion that his life, his righteous words and deeds, were capable of rendering him justified before God. If he had confidence that his actions could effect part of his justification, he would have spoken differently.

Here is an excerpt from Calvins Institutes of the Christian Religion:

. . . In the shady cloisters of the schools anyone can easily and readily prattle about the value of works in justifying men. But when we come before the presence of God we must put away such amusements. For there we deal with a serious matter, and do not engage in frivolous word battles. To this question, I insist, we must apply our mind if we would profitably inquire concerning true righteousness: How shall we reply to the Heavenly Judge when he calls us to account? Let us envisage for ourselves that Judge, not as our minds naturally imagine him, but as he is depicted for us in Scripture: by whose brightness the stars are darkened [Job 3:9]; by whose strength the mountains are melted; by whose wrath the earth is shaken [cf. Job 9:5-6]; whose wisdom catches the wise in their craftiness [Job 5:13]; beside whose purity all things are defiled [cf. Job 25:5]; whose righteousness not even the angels can bear [cf. Job 4:18]; who makes not the guilty man innocent [ct. Job 9:20]; whose vengeance when once kindled penetrates to the depths of hell [Deut. 32:22; cf. Job 26:6]. Let us behold him, I say, sitting in judgment to examine the deeds of men: Who will stand confident before his throne? "Who . . . can dwell with the devouring fire?" asks the prophet. "Who... can dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks the truth" [Isa. 33:14-15 p.], etc. But let such a one, whoever he is, come forward. Nay, that response causes no one to come forward. For, on the contrary, a terrible voice resounds: "If thou, 0 Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who shall stand?" [Ps. 130:3; 129:3, Vg.]. Indeed, all must soon perish, as it is written in another place: "Shall a man be justified in comparison with God, or shall he be purer than his maker? Behold, they that serve him are not faithful, and in his angels he found wickedness. How much more shall those who dwell in houses of clay, who have an earthly foundation, be consumed before the moth. From morn to eve they shall be cut down" [Job 4:17-20]. Likewise: "Behold, among his saints none is faithful, and the heavens are not pure in his sight. How much more abominable and unprofitable is man, who drinks iniquity like water?" [Job 15:1 ~16, cf. Vg.]

Indeed, I admit that in The Book of Job mention is made of a righteousness higher than the observance of the law, and it is worth-while to maintain this distinction. For even if someone satisfied the law, not even then could he stand the test of that righteousness which surpasses all understanding. Therefore, even though Job has a good conscience, he is stricken dumb with astonishment, for he sees that not even the holiness of angels can please God if he should weigh their works in his heavenly scales. Therefore, I now pass over that righteousness which I have mentioned, for it is incomprehensible. I only say that if our life is examined according to the standard of the written law, we are sluggish indeed if we are not tormented with the horrid fear at those many maledictions with which God willed to cleanse us — among others this general curse: "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by everything written in this book" [Gal. 3:10, Vg.; cf. Deut. 27:26]. In short, this whole discussion will be foolish and weak unless every man admit his guilt before the Heavenly Judge, and concerned about his own acquittal, willingly cast himself down and confess his nothingness.

I found this excerpt here: http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XIX/19-6.htm

Calvin wrote a lot about "double justice". It is beyond me.

  • 1
    "Before you ask what Calvin thought, it might be a good idea to ask, "What did Job think?"" ... "Question According to Calvinists, how does Job view his works in relation to his justification/salvation?" Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 20:54
  • "If he had confidence that his actions could effect part of his justification, he would have spoken differently" .. but he says "i'm going to proactively avert my eyes from women because if i do not, and lust after them, I'll have no part in God' what else than justification does he mean by that? And that's the inverse of earning justification, it's forfeiting what you have been given, not anti-earning it, which is meaningless. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 20:58
  • Job may indeed have thought "no more lust, or else God will smite me!" -- at least at the moment he said it. Does the rest of the book agree with his statement? Conversely, assuming he was more Jewish than not, it might be an indirect way of saying he wants to want what God wants him to want. But maybe that hinges on how the verse is written. Sometimes I like to think of the authors of the Bible as old Jewish New York men kvetching in Central Park...
    – rje
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 15:46

First of all, there's no question that Calvinists believe that the fornication of Job 31 and Ephesians 5 is a damning sin (like all sins). At the same time, they would oppose the idea that even a serious failure by a truly converted person automatically consigns such a person to hell (cf. David).

But your question is focused on this particular passage in Job. And with that in mind, it's important to note the context: Job is seeking to defend himself from false accusations. His enemies (and "friends") are saying that the bad things happening to him are the judgment of God for his evil deeds. The Reformation Study Bible distinguishes Job's efforts to clear his name from those who boast about their good deeds:

Although this is a protestation of innocence, it is not the self-righteousness of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11,12. Like the psalmist, Job is the victim of false accusation, so vindication has become his passion.

In this context, then, the "destruction" of 31:3 could fairly be a reference to the kind of evil that has already befallen Job. That is, as Matthew Poole paraphrases the verse:

Destruction is their portion, and a strange punishment, some extraordinary and dreadful judgment, which of right and course belongs to them, and only to such as they are, although it hath pleased God out of his sovereign power to inflict it upon me, who have lived in all good conscience before him. (Commentary, emphasis added)

Thus Job is claiming that if he had fornicated, only then he would have deserved this punishment that he is experiencing. But the RSB finds fault with Job's approach:

Job's thinking is governed by a simplistic principle of retribution. If he has acted sinfully, then he will accept that he has been justly cursed. However, the converse proposition is implicit: since he has not acted inappropriately, he should be acquitted and reinstated in divine blessing. Job's logic is irrefutable. Like his friends, however, he has illegitimately extended the scope of the retribution principle and is attempting to use it to force God into acting as he demands. It is this coercive approach to God that Job has later to repent of. (emphasis added)

So, to summarize: The context indicates that Job is focusing on divine blessing and curse in this life, not the afterlife. Thus he did not necessarily make this covenant in order to to be justified. He may have made it at the same time he was converted (recognizing that repentance is a necessary component of conversion), or subsequently as part of his process of sanctification, or even simply to avoid the kind of earthly punishment he was then experiencing.

And regardless, it's not enough to say that Job did believe that his works would justify him. He was a fallen man, and prone to error – and indeed he is ultimately rebuked for believing that God owes him anything.


John Calvin makes it clear in his commentary on the book of Job :

For after that Job hath been reported to have been sound, it is also said of him, that he was upright. This uprightness is meant of the life he led, which is as it were the fruit of the said root, which the Holy Ghost had planted afore.

Job then had an upright and sound heart. For his life was simple, that is to say he walked and lived among his neighbors without hurting of any person, without doing any wrong or trouble to anybody, without setting of his mind to any guile or naughtiness, and without seeking his own profit by the hindrance of other folks. We see now what this uprightness importeth, which is added in this place.

Calvin's Commentary

Thus, John Calvin makes it clear that a holy life is the result of justification, not the cause of it.

The question probes the fact that God justifies some and whom he justifies, them he also glorifies ...

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:30.

... and then the question implies that a contradiction would result if such a justified one continued in sin. So the question 'resolves' the 'contradiction' by claiming that justification is dependent on the legal works of the justified.

But they who are justified (by God himself) do not continue in sin for he that is born of God doth not practice sin, I John 3:9. By many ways of the Spirit's teaching and ministering to the soul are the elect preserved. For, as Jonah said in the belly of the fish - Salvation is of the Lord.

The only 'contradiction' - and that being one only of appearance - is that some claim to be justified who are not justified by God - they are self-justified. And these may quite blatantly continue in sinfulness, either secretly or openly.

The 'contradiction' will be resolved in this life when their hypocrisy is viewed publicly or will be resolved ...

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. Romans 2:16.

As John Calvin himself points out in his commentary on Romans 8:33 (It is God that justifieth) :

“Who shall accuse? Christ is he who intercedes:” and then these two might have been connected, “Who shall condemn? God is he who justifies;” for God’s absolution answers to condemnation, and Christ’s intercession to accusation.

[All quotes are from the KJV.]


Job makes a covenant, not with God, but with himself. Just as Paul says that he 'keeps his body under' lest he, himself, becomes a castaway, I Corinthians 9:27.

The justified are they who have the Holy Spirit, who works within them to will and to do of God's good pleasure, Philippians 2:13.

These are the things that the justified do, as they follow after God, For it is love that motivates them. It is God, himself, they seek. And why so ? Because they were first loved.

This is not a covenant of works. This is not keeping the law lest one be punished. This is the faith of God's elect (and faith works by love, as we know, Galatians 5:6).

The whole book of Job, as Calvin's Commentary (in its entirety) proves, is an account of the work of God in the soul of a man, drawing him with everlasting chords of love to glory.

  • Please limit comments to dealing with how well this post answers the question itself, not whether it is right or not (that's one of the things Christianity Chat can be used for). Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 14:49
  • 1
    "Thus, John Calvin makes it clear that a holy life is the result of justification, not the cause of it." Yes, we're presupposing Job's holy life was the result of his justification, and grace. My question is about his choice to indulge in thoughts of lust which would potentially make him lose his "inheritance" and "part" in God (don't both mean 'God wants anything to do with me?') the steps he takes to avoid it: avoiding the occasion of sin by way of a 'covenant' (cf. Mt. 5:29). It has nothing to do with Job gaining grace by works here, only its free forfeiture. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 15:57
  • @SolaGratia See my edit in response to your comment.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 16:18

There is an assumption here, that "Job's works correspond to his salvation". If you had said "relate to", then that would have been a Calvinistic approach, but the idea of works corresponding to salvation is not a Calvinistic view to begin with.

Specifically, the way Job tries to prevent sin getting a grip on him with wrong desire arising when seeing a woman leads him to vow not to look lustfully on a woman. That accords well with Jesus' much later counsel in Matthew 5:27-28. I have difficulty seeing how trying to avoid doing something wrong constitutes a "work". To not do something is the opposite of doing something (which doing could be a work.)

Another assumption is that "if he did not [avoid thoughts of fornication] he would have no part in God, because he would be wicked by definition". If that be true, then nobody in the world could ever have any part in God! From the aforesaid assumption comes the following one, "This directly links works with justification, and Job lucidly and freely chose to take this course of life ('made a covenant with [myself]') because of the risk of not having done so." This likewise shows how a Catholic view is quite at odds with a Calvinistic one, for the Calvinist would never make those assumptions, leading to those supposed links.

The only way I can proceed to answer the question is to point out what the ultimate lesson in the book of Job is, which certainly links sin with salvation, but from God's point of view, requiring Job (and all of us, I daresay) to be corrected.

This book deals with how sinners view themselves and God, and how God views sinners. Sinners need to learn from this book that our view is distorted by the way we try to justify ourselves, instead of living to uphold the righteousness and justice of God. Job was taught that lesson, God allowing Satan to be the unwitting means of proving the righteousness of God.

Three friends come along to comfort Job in his adversity. Their dialogue shows the view of sinners, which gets nobody anywhere. Round in circles goes the debate - “You must have hidden sins that God would afflict you so.” “No, I’ve done nothing to deserve this (even though I'm not perfect)!”

Only when the youngest man Elihu finally speaks do we get breakthrough. His name means, ‘My God is He’. Fitting, given how he points Job away from himself and to God. Elihu said Job was guilty of sin, but above that, he’d also transgressed. He’d added ‘pesha’ to his sin and multiplied his words against God (Job 34:37). ‘Pesha’ is a step beyond what is proper and acceptable. It is flagrant. It crosses a boundary.

We call it transgression, from the Latin ‘trans’ (across) and ‘gradi’ (go). To walk across a boundary as if it was not there. To deliberately enter forbidden territory, into that which is not our own.

Despite his commendable walk with God previously, Job’s afflictions revealed a state within him that had been hidden until then. But Elihu saw that under God’s dealings, a depth within Job required to be exposed.

Yes, Job was aware, to a degree, of his sinfulness - see ch. 7 vs. 20. He even admitted that he had also transgressed, and wondered why God did not take that burden away from him. But, until Elihu spoke, he had not plumbed the depths. Only after Job is left without a leg to stand on does he finally repent before God, as never before - see ch. 42 vs.5.

What Job then came to understand about God’s righteousness caused him to abhor himself. Only then did Job enter into God’s restorative uplifting. In 7:20 the word used is ‘nasa’. Think North American Space Agency - NASA - uplift. Defy gravity with immense power to hurtle rockets into outer space - up and away. Only God can ‘nasa’ one’s burden of sin and transgression. But he never does that until sinners get beyond their circuitous self-justification to consider the righteous judgment of God against them, and that they deserve nothing but judgment. Then they abhor themselves and repent from the heart, and cast themselves down before God. Finally, Job was brought to that point, and he was restored and blessed far more than he had been.

And, in all this, God was proved to be just, and the justifier of those who truly feel the burden of their sin and repent the way he requires sinners to repent. Not by repeating a formula of words, or agreeing to any creed, or undergoing any ritual. No: salvation is to be overwhelmed with the greatness of God, to put faith only in him to be saved. Now, do you suppose that Satan would have proceeded with tormenting Job had he known that that would be the outcome?

[Taken from parts of “The Burden of Sins” pp.33-36, Nigel Johnstone, Belmont Publications, 2013]

The answer (from my Calvinistic point of view,) is that Job was being brought by adversity to have his faith so refined that he would be transformed by grace, not due to anything he had done, but due to God teaching him the true nature of sin so that he would truly repent.

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