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.

Higher Benefits: H.C. Question 49

How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

Romans 8:34 – Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

1 John 2:1 – 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.

John 14:2 – My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

John 17:24 – “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Ephesians 2:4-6 – But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

John 14:16 – And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 – Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 5:5 – Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Colossians 3:1-4 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Hebrews 11:1-3 "Faith is…"

What Must I Believe? H.C. Lord's Day 7

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 7

Q 20. Are all people then saved through Christ just as they were lost through Adam?
A 20. No. Only those are saved who through true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his benefits.

Q 21. What is true faith?
A 21. True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.

Q 22. What then must a Christian believe?
A 22. All that is promised us in the gospel, a summary of which is taught us in the articles of our universal and undisputed Christian faith.

Q 23. What are these articles?
A 23. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Salvation history can be boiled down to the actions of two men: Adam and Jesus.  Adam, the first human, as a representative of the whole human race, sinned against God by disobeying Him.  In doing so, Adam plunged all humankind and the whole of creation into sin and misery.  Humans were cut off from our relationship with God and left with the total inability to repair that relationship on their own.

Jesus, whom Scripture calls the “second Adam,” also represented all humankind.  Through His life, death, and resurrection, He purchased redemption for humanity, through His blood, making it once again possible to live in relationship with God.  This too has the potential to impact all mankind.  However, unlike the actions of Adam, which had an instant effect on all humans from that time forward, the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ must be accepted by faith for salvation to be realized.  God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is universal, extending to every man, woman, and child that ever lived, but the efficacy (the effect or intended result) is only realized when someone places their faith in Jesus Christ.

So naturally, the next question is: “what is faith?”  Question and Answer 21 take on this question and it can be boiled down, as author Kevin DeYoung points out, to two things, ‘knowledge and conviction.’  He goes on to stay, we don’t worship a ‘content-less’ Jesus and as such, knowledge is an important component.  Sadly it often feels like knowledge has been the only thing that we focus on, suggesting that we could possibly “know” our way into salvation, something that spills over into works-righteousness.

Faith also comes with and through a deep conviction.  It is a confident (not arrogant) assurance of our eternal salvation.  Faith is, as the author of Hebrews writes, “the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things unseen.”  When we believe the Gospel, we put our faith in Jesus Christ, knowing and being assured that He accomplished for us what we were otherwise unable to do.  He purchased redemption for us through His blood and the sacrifice of Himself that He offered once and for all on the cross that, when we believe in Him, we would be accepted by God and never forsaken by Him.

Day 217: Isaiah 65-66; As If It Has Already Been Accomplished

The last chapters of Isaiah continue along the theme of the last days and what the world and life will look like when all things are made right.  The writer, likely a student of Isaiah’s teachings a few generations removed and a returned exile from Babylon, is painting in broad brush strokes an image of “the day of the Lord.”  Yesterday we spoke about some of the different ideas about how that is going to take place.  My conclusion, if you remember, is that our focus should not so much be on the how and the when, but on the hope and assurance of the actual event happening.

This thought process is continued here in these last chapters of Isaiah, which do a great job of drawing the whole book and the themes contained therein together.  The writing here is written in a very particular format, one that the Hebrew people would have recognized.  Isaiah, or rather pseudo-Isaiah, is likely writing about a vision that he has or is receiving from the Lord, a message that is being given to him by God through the Holy Spirit.  For the Hebrew people, such messages and images were considered glimpses into the greater reality of the universe.  Time isn’t necessarily the linear thing that we know it as, not for God anyways, who stands outside of time and sees all things from beginning to end.

What this meant to the Hebrew people and what it means, or at least should mean for us in our present context is that these things are assured.  How assured?  So assured, that the writer is speaking about these future things as if they have already been accomplished.  Indeed these events, as they have been foreseen in a vision from God are so certain, that the Lord can say it as if He actually had done them already.

Talk like this is hard for us to understand.  How is it possible that these things have already been done if they haven’t come to pass yet?  For us, this calls into question things like free will and autonomy.  How can we truly be free if the future is already set.  I cannot say that I have those answers today.  I can say that the Hebrew people would not have been as concerned about this, that the paradox of the Divine interaction with the Created order had things that would simply not be understood and would have to be taken on faith.  I know that this is not something that we, especially in the Western culture, want to hear.  We don’t like to have questions, but prefer to have things explained away.  Yet this isn’t always how God works.  Not all the mysteries of God will be revealed until that day… a day which is so sure to happen it is as sure as the breath I took a moment ago.

And it is in that day that we see the miraculous things that will happen.  Unity… Peace… Restoration… Joy… All the world made right as is should be once again.  We wait in eager expectation for that day, the glorious Day of the Lord.  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!