Faith, Fruit, Gratitude: H.C Lord's Day 24

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 24

Q 62. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?
A 62. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

Q 63. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
A 63. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

Q 64. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
A 64. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.

One of the chief complaints about the notion that our works have nothing to do with our personal salvation, or for that matter, somehow taking us out of God’s grace after we come to faith, is that that it then lends itself to promoting a life of apathy, indifference, and wickedness.

On the surface, this would seem like a valid argument.  Most of the time, when humans are left to their own devices, will pretty much always be selfish, living contrary to God’s call on our lives.  Yet, when it comes to encountering God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, there is something drastically different that takes place.

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 24 asks a question that, at some point in our lives, we have all asked: “why can’t I do it?”  Whether you asked this as a kid about something that was either too large or too grown up for you to do or whether you ask this as a theological question, the same point remains, we almost always want to do things on our own.  This is even truer in the U.S. where this is culturally engrained within us.

Yet Scripture wholly and completely denies our ability to contribute anything to our own salvation… except sin.  There is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God.  Sin itself separates us from God, no matter how little or seemingly insignificant.  We are born into sin, something that is present within us since the day of our conception.

With sin as an ever-present reality in our lives, the barrier is formed and there is nothing that we can do to overcome it because the barrier is us.  As we have said before, we cannot save ourselves; we need a Savior and that Savior is Jesus.  Belief in Him and trusting Him as our Lord and Savior is the only way to receive God’s gift of grace.

This grace, free as it is, also has a secondary effect: it transforms who we are from the selfish, self-serving humans that we once were into a new creation that follows after Jesus Christ.  Essentially, if we truly receive Christ into our hearts, we can’t not live a changed life.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Christians will be perfect all the time or that we will never encounter sin or temptation again.  What it does mean is that our will and our desires are no longer bent solely to ourselves but that they lean into the will of God and seek to live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving for the free gift of grace that we have been given.

The reality that we experience as those who are in Christ is one of grace and freedom.  No longer are we bound by our need to perform or the sin that we are trying to make up for, instead, we are freed to love both God and each other as we both experience and communicate God’s love in Christ to everyone around us.

One other thing that is very important to this topic: As there is nothing that we can do to earn our way into God’s favor, there is nothing we can do to remove ourselves from it either.  This doctrine, known as “preservation of the saints,” has often been criticized as a “free pass” to do whatever we want in life and still claim faith and salvation in Christ.  Sadly, this is a distortion of a beautiful reality that is God’s grace.

The purpose of this doctrine is not “freedom” in the sense that we can do whatever we want, it is a reassurance of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  This hope is an eternal state that we live in and cannot be separated from.  If we fall into sin once again we must not despair, but instead be comforted in knowing that He who did not spare His own Son, will also never foresake us in our time of need either.  Thanks be to God.



Indifference? H.C. Question 64

But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

Luke 6:43-45 – “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

John 15:5  – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.



Given, not Earned: H.C. Question 63

How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

Matthew 5:12 – Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Luke 17:10 – So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

2 Timothy 4:7-8 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.



Why Can't I Do It Myself? H.C. Question 62

Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 – It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Romans 10:10 – For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

1 John 5:10-12 – Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 



Romans 5:1-5 "The New Life"

Christians talk a lot about “putting our faith in Jesus” which leads to the forgiveness of sins and our justification before God.  But Justification is just the beginning, the doorway into a new life with Christ.  Today we explore a bit of what that looks like.

What does it mean for you to have “Peace with God” now?  How does that peace impact how you live as a Christian daily?

Does the Grace we gain access to by faith in Jesus Christ transform your everyday experience?  How?

Through the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ and experience the love of God; nothing can separate us from it (not even death).  How does this Hope affect your daily life?



The Greatest Question: H.C. Lord's Day 23

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 23

Q 59. What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?
A 59. In Christ I am righteous before God and heir to life everlasting.

Q 60. How are you righteous before God?
A 60. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Q 61. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?
A 61. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.

Having now spent a vast majority of our time in the Heidelberg Catechism unpacking the Apostles’ Creed and its meaning, we now hopefully have a better understanding of what we mean when we say “I believe in ____.”  This week the follow-up question are as vitally important as they are starkly jarring: So what?

We now have a head knowledge of the Apostles’ Creed; we may even be able to say it from memory, big deal.  What does that get us?  The answer is equally as important: salvation.  If we believe all of this we are united to Christ and made right in God’s sight thus receiving the gift of eternal life.

But what exactly does this mean?  Today we will talk about this using the terms “Faith” and “Justification,” and we will use Romans 3:21-28 as our guide:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

As Christians, we often say that for one to be saved they have to “put their faith” in Jesus.  How does this happen, though, and what does it look like?

First, we have to understand what faith is.  Faith is believing that something is true and right.  In Scripture, we are told that faith is a result of the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to direct it toward Jesus Christ.  Faith, then, is the vehicle through which we receive salvation.  Romans 10:10 says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

What does it mean to be “justified?”  It means that, through the work of Jesus Christ we are made right in God’s sight.  there are a couple of important implications here:

  1. Justification does not mean perfection.  We are still sinners in this life.  On this side of heaven, we will always be the “sinning saints” or “righteous wretches.”  Putting our faith in Jesus, being justified through His blood does not imply a perfect life from that point on.
  2. Justification means that we are made right in God’s sight.  This means that God doesn’t see our old, sinful self anymore.  Instead, He sees the mark of His Son.  This is known as “alien righteousness,” referring to the fact that our righteousness is not from us, it comes from Jesus.  There is nothing we contribute to our own salvation.
  3. Justification, on a related note, also refers to “imputed righteousness.”  This means that, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and, through God’s grace, are justified before Him, righteousness is credited to us.  We are not “made holy” or “infused with goodness” in the sense that we somehow possessed it in ourselves and then Jesus unlocked it.  The righteousness that is are is credited to us.
  4. Justification comes through FAITH ALONE.  This has historically been an issue in the church for some reason.  Perhaps we will always have trouble letting go of the notion that we have to do something to earn this.  It is human nature to want to win our way to the top.  However, Scripture makes it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that justification happens when we put our faith in Jesus.  Yes, a transformed life is definitely a result of this faith.  However, it is once again important to note that we contribute nothing to our salvation but our own sin and have no merit before God except for Christ’s.

Through faith, we are justified.  Though Christ’s work, righteousness, merit, and grace are the key components of salvation, faith is both necessary and instrumental in our salvation too.  It is so, because of the object of our faith: Jesus Christ.  This is an important distinction to make as we come to the close of this portion of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Faith is important, yes, but faith does not save you; Jesus saves you.  We do not have faith in our faith, we have faith in Jesus.  Sometimes this can be confusing.  Faith is the way in which we embrace Christ, but even our ability to trust Him can ebb and flow.  God, however, is faithful and when we rest in Him we can be assured that He will never leave us or forsake us.



Through Faith Alone: H.C. Question 61

Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 – It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Romans 10:10 – For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

1 John 5:10-12 – Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.



Made Righteous: H.C. Question 60

How are you righteous before God?

Romans 3:21-28 – But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Galatians 2:16 – know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Philippians 3:8-11 – What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Romans 3:9-10 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Romans 7:23 – but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

Titus 3:4-5 – But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Romans 3:24 – and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Romans 4:3-5 – What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6 – Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

1 John 2:1-2 – My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Romans 4:24-25 – but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

John 3:18 – Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Acts 16:30-31 – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”



What's the Point? H.C. Question 59

What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?

John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Romans 1:17 – For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Habakkuk 2:4 – “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness…”

Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.



Our Best Days our Ahead! H.C. Lord's Day 22

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 22

Q 57. How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
A 57. Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but also my very flesh will be raised by the power of Christ, reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.

Q 58. How does the article concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?
A 58. Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever.

The Apostles’ Creed ends with two eschatological statements about our Resurrection and the Everlasting Life we are promised in Jesus Christ.  Eschatology is the study of the last things, focusing itself, at least in the realm of Christianity, on the return of Christ and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s will in the world.  Much of this is derived from the book of Revelation as well as Jesus’ teaching on the subject matter.  Both of the belief statements at the end of the Apostles’ Creed, though intimately tied to Jesus’ death and resurrection, are actually directed at Jesus’ second coming.

So what do we mean when we say that we believe in such things.  Scripture promises that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised on the last day, when Jesus comes again.  This resurrection will be a physical, literal, bodily resurrection in which our current flesh will be raised, renewed, and glorified in the same way that Jesus was after His resurrection.  Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15, says that,

“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…”

We will still be us in every respect of what makes a person unique, however, everything will be glorified and perfected, the way we were meant to be in the beginning.  Our experience will also be glorified, returned to a perfect relationship with God who will dwell eternally with us here on earth.

The eternal nature of this relationship and dwelling is the subject of the final statement of the Apostles’ Creed and the second question of this week.  There are two ways in which we talk about and experience this eternal life.  First, and likely most obvious, is exactly what we are referring to here: Eternal Life in Paradise living with Jesus after His second coming and the final consummation of all things.

However, the second one is something that is important for us as Christians to remember as well.  We begin the experience of eternal life with God when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  The joy of renewed life is experienced in part already in this life when we come to faith.  This joy is built through the work of the Holy Spirit and increases as we are continually sanctified and built up in Christ.  Much of this happens as we grow deeper in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, receiving a deeper revelation, understanding, and experiencing greater freedom in Christ from the bondage of sin.

As we grow in this joy and freedom we also grow in our anticipation of the life to come when all things will be made new and no more will be the effects of sin in our lives and in the world around us.  This is the hope to which we profess and the great expectation of things to come!



Everlasting Life: H.C. Question 58

How does the article concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

1 Corinthians 2:9 – However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—



Bodily Resurrection: H.C. Question 57

How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?

Luke 23:43 – Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Philippians 1:21-23 – For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

1 Corinthians 15:20 – But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:42-46 – So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

1 Corinthians 15:54 – When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Philippians 3:21 – who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 John 3:2 – Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.



The "called out" ones: H.C. Lord's Day 21

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21

Q 54. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A 54. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.  And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Q 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A 55. First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.

Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

Q 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A 56. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.

Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  It seems like that has often been the question the surrounds the question of God’s people.  This has become so true that it seems that church has taken on a rather “exclusivist” mindset when it comes to its members.  We see this is a number of different ways, not the least of which is the rampant denominationalism that plagues the church in North America.  Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of what exactly “true faith” looks like, to the exclusion of all others who, they think, clearly do not exhibit it.

This posture within the church has, sadly, become so pervasive that it has negatively impacted the witness of the church on many levels.  As the world looks at the Church, with all its churches, fighting and bickering with each other over petty, selfish issues, they don’t see the body of Christ reaching out to those around them and emulating the same love that Christ had for all people.  What they see is a broken institution that has become more about itself, citing faithfulness to Scripture as an expression of musical form, clothing choice, or even regularity of worship attendance.

All the while we seem to have forgotten a few things.  First and foremost, we aren’t making the rules here, God is.  We are not the ones that have somehow “saved ourselves” into God’s good graces.  Rather, we have been saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and adopted into God’s family by grace through faith.

Second, to be in God’s family is not a matter of membership, raising our own status and watching our for our own rights as some have made it out to be.  In fact, being “in Christ” doesn’t have much to do with our own selves at all (apart from the assurance of our salvation and eternal life) but has much, much more to do with taking on the heart of Christ…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:6-11

Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to deal with this same sort of mistake, arguing about who among them was the greatest.  Jesus, responding to this question, pointed out that the greatest among them was the “servant of all.”  In other words, they were called to be outward focused, modeling His heart for the least, the last, and the lost.

Finally, I think it is important for us to remember what the true meaning of the word “church” is as it relates to the calling of the people of God.  “Church” comes from a Greek word which literally means “the called out ones.”  Certainly, to be “called out” implies some sort of a distinctive identity, somehow different than before.  In the Old Testament, this looked like those that belonged to the “people of God,” or Biblical Israel.  They were called, chosen by God to be His people through whom He would work to accomplish His will in the world.

The Church, Scripture says, is the “spiritual Israel,” God’s people with whom and through whom He is working to share the Good News of His love and grace.  This people is not one of bloodlines or family heritage, it is a people chosen by God, who have received His grace through faith.  There is no limit, no exclusion to who can be a part of this people.  There is no special thing that we can do to earn our way in… it is solely by God’s grace and love, which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ that we find ourselves adopted as God’s own children.

When we find ourselves here, we also find ourselves different than before.  We begin to take on the heart of Christ, turning our focus outward as Christ did, to share the great love and hope that we have found with all those around us and taking on the very nature of a servant, following Christ’s example set for us by His life, death, and resurrection.