Amen: H.C. Question129

What does that little word “Amen” express? 
Isaiah 65:24 – Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
2 Timothy 2:13 – if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

By No Means! H.C. Lord's Day 32

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32

Q 86. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works? 
A 86. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits, so that he may be praised through us, so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.

Q 87. Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and unrepentant ways? 
A 87. By no means. Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like will inherit the kingdom of God.

This week’s questions and answers draws us into the third of the three major themes of the Heidelberg Catechism.  We started off with “guilt,” talking about the fact that Scripture reveals to us the reality of our sinfulness and guilty verdict that we carry when left on our own.  There is nothing that we can do to change this, no amount of work or right living can make up for the sin that we commit nor bridge the chasm between us and God.

We then moved on to talking about grace.  We have seen and read that, in the midst of our helplessness, God stepped in to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired.  Jesus is The Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one can come to the Father except through Him.  This fundamental truth sets apart Christ followers from every other religion.  Salvation from our sins comes by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus alone.

Today we move on to the final leg of the journey: gratitude.  This section answers the next question: “how then shall we live in response to this?”  The answers to question 88 and 89 are an introduction to what the “New Life” in Christ looks like and they are characterized by the words of Paul in the book of Romans.

Romans 6:1-4 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:15-18 – What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Both of these passage characterizes the transition between the “old self” and the “new creation” that we are in Christ.  The reformed understanding of the change that takes place in this transaction is one of permanence.  Once we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we are marked as Christ’s own, forever.  In the same way that there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation, there is nothing that we can do to lose it either.

This particular doctrine, known as “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved always saved,” has encountered much criticism over the years.  Much of that criticism stems from the notion that this is a license to live however one likes because of the security of their salvation.  “Why does one need to change anything about their lives is the only thing needed is faith?”

Biblically, the answer is quite straight forward: faith expresses itself in a transformed life.  We are no longer steeped in sin but instead have the Holy Spirit in us and experience an inner transformation that is expressed in outward deeds.  This isn’t to say that we live a life that is trying to “pay God back” for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, but instead that we are living a life of thankfulness and celebration for the freedom we are given through faith in Him.  The former falls back into a “works-righteousness” mentality, the latter not only sees God’s work continuing in us which is expressed in and through our lives, but also adorns the Gospel in such a way that others will be attracted to it as well.

Naturally, the follow-up question to this would be, “what about sin?”  What about those who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, placed their faith in Him, and have then, either fallen back into an old sin or have chosen to walk away from the faith?  I can tell you that there is no easy answer for this.

For those who fall back into sin, we are encouraged to not dispair because God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful to Him.  Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God is not powerless against sin but has indeed defeated it in Jesus Christ, therefore those who have fallen back into sin, say in the instance of addiction, are not lost to God.  There is always hope, always grace, and God relentlessly pursues them all the way to the day Jesus comes again.

As far as those who walk away from the faith, this question can be more difficult to answer.  It seems unfair to us that those who actively walk away from God and don’t affirm their so-called faith with their life would still be saved through the faith they once exhibited.  Our notion of “fairness,” if we think about it, is centered on works.  Works do not save us; it is God’s grace affirmed by our faith that brings about salvation.

Paul writes, in Romans 8, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 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.”  We may be inclined to question a person’s faith, whether it was genuine or not.  That is, however, not for us to determine.  God knows the heart and God calls to Himself whom He will.  The same can be said for the so called “death-bed conversion.”  We cannot know the eternal outcome of such things.  However, what we do know is this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

Who Should Come? H.C. Question 81

Who should come to the Lord’s table? 

1 Corinthians 10:19-22 – Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

1 Corinthians 11:26-32 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Eat and Drink: H.C. Question 76 (part 1)

What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 

John 6:35, 40, 50-58 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 – For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Acts 1:9-11 – After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Colossians 3:1 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Washed: H.C. Question 70

What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?

Zechariah 13:1 – “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Ephesians 1:7-8 – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,

Hebrews 12:24 – to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

1 Peter 1:2 – who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Revelation 1:5 – and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

Ezekiel 36:25-27 – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

John 3:5-8 – Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Romans 6:4 – We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

1 Corinthians 6:11 – And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Colossians 2:11-12 – In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Faith's Source: H.C Question 65

It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:10-14 – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

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 10:17 – Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

1 Peter 1:23-25 – For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  And this is the word that was preached to you.

Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

1 Corinthians 10:16 – Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

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.

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.

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.