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.

2 Corinthians 10 – Defend Yourself

Read 2 Corinthians 10

The tone of Paul’s letter takes a decidedly negative turn in chapter 10.  It seems that he has heard that some in the church in Corinth have challenged His authority as an Apostle.  What’s worse is that these accusations seem to have been taking place while Paul was away, citing the experience of while he was there, but not giving him the ability to defend himself.    Paul faced criticism because of his ability to speak “boldly” in letters but not in person.

It is likely that this is, on some level, a continue of what Paul addresses in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians.  Those in the church were judging Paul by earthly standards, looking for charisma and eloquent speech rather than the Word of God for the people of God.

When people boast in their own abilities, they set themselves up to be measured by them.  It doesn’t matter how many gold medals any athlete will ever win, the moment that they fail will be the moment shock and disbelief where many will question “how this could happen.”  Eventually, they too will retire, and someone else will take their place, beat their records, and they will fade into memory.  In fact, they often become the commentators that were so quick to question them.

However, when Paul boasts in the Lord and the ministry that God has given him, the metric for judgment changes.  Ministries and churches shouldn’t be judged by numbers or the charisma of their leaders but by the fruit that is being produced through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, God uses human gifts and abilities to further ministry, but those things are not the metric by which they are judged.

When we judge ministries and their leaders by human abilities rather than the work of God through them, we are actually placing our trust in those things rather than in God’s work.

Acts 4 – Prayer Power

Read Acts 4

After Peter and John are released from their interrogation by the religious leaders, yet another opportunity that they took to spread the Gospel Message, they returned to those who believed.  Likely the other disciples, who are now called Apostles, were there too.

Scripture says that, upon their return, the first thing they did after reporting what had taken place was to pray.  This wasn’t simply a passing “thank you God for protecting us” type of prayer, but rather a deep prayer of acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and power shown through Jesus Christ.  It is also a petition that God would continue to show that power in the midst of the threats and turmoil that they continued to face.

I wonder how often we turn to prayer like this in the face of turmoil in our lives… or in our culture?  Scripture says that when they prayed like this, both committing to continue in God’s name and asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to advance God’s Kingdom, that the whole room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was almost like a second Pentecost!

Sometimes it seems like, when confronted with things that challenge our faith, we more readily turn to social media to complain than to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance.  More often than not, the resistance that is put up from the church comes in the form of memes, not prayer.

The simple fact is that our power does not come from our prowess on social media, just like the newest, latest, and greatest of anything doesn’t guarantee the advance of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that yields the fruit that Jesus talked about throughout His ministry.  This is what we must pray for.

John 15 – Abide

Read John 15

Depending on the translation of Scripture that you are reading you either encountered the word “abide” or the word “remain.”  These words come from a Greek word that has the conotations of “existing in” or “being present to” whatever subject, in this case, God’s love.  This is a deep and intimate word because it cannot be passive, it has to be a conscious, active decision.

John’s recording of this conversation echoes Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount, emphasizing that the fruit we bear is how we will be identified.  Here, however, He takes it a step further to impress upon them both the need to bear fruit and the way in which that will happen.

If we are to bear fruit we cannot do it under our own power or by our own works.  Only through a deep abiding in Jesus Christ, being present to His love in our lives, living into the grace that He offers, do we have any hope of this.  For some this can be very comforting; we are glad that we don’t have to do it on our own.

However, for others this teaching of Jesus can be very tough.  America is the place in which we do things on our own, pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and earn our way forward.  Being told that we cannot earn our way toward bearing fruit, and that there are consequences for those that bear no fruit, can be unsettling to say the least.

But the simple fact is that Jesus has already spoken to this, 6 other times in fact.  Each of the I AM statements is a claim and a promise: that He is the only way to a relationship with God and that He will open that way for us.

Matthew 21 – The Greatest Danger

Read Matthew 21

Matthew continues to point his audience, primarily intended to be Jews,  back to the Old Testament Scriptures, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecy.  In the two major events that we are familiar with, the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple, Scripture is directed toward Jesus as the fulfillment.  Even Jesus’ teaching contains Scripture that references Himself as the Messiah.

However, it isn’t the presence of Scripture that has the Pharisees so concerned, but it’s content.  Israel’s past when it comes to listening to those whom God has sent as prophets is sorted, at best.  Most of the prophets that God sent were rejected and even killed because of their message.  While God continued to try and draw His covenant people back to Himself so that they could live into their true identity, the people continued in their disobedience and, in some ways, became much like the fig tree that Jesus cursed: fruitless.

I wonder if this is the greatest danger God’s people face today.  Over and above the decentralization of the church, societal marginalization, and even persecution both physical and ideological, when God’s people become content to simply exist, to play it safe, and to pursue those things that make us comfortable… not that which makes us disciples called to make disciples.

Jesus’ parables were directed at the people of Israel; the Pharisees and Matthew’s readers would have recognized this.  However, the teaching holds incredibly true for God’s people today as well.  The Church in North America has rested on it’s laurels for far too long.  Her past achievements have been enough, some think, to warrant a voice in today’s culture, however those passing too often see a tree with leaves but no fruit, and Jesus says, “A tree is known by it’s fruit.”

Matthew 12 – Sabbath Fruit

Read Matthew 12

I can remember, back when I was much younger, the rules about Sunday activities that we had.  We didn’t follow them as militantly as some, and over the years those rules tended to drift away, but I will never forget them.  Sundays were for rest and in some cases, we were forced to rest, whether we liked it or not.

Looking back now, I wonder who this was benefitting.  I know that we are called to honor the sabbath, respect that day as being different from the others, but to what end?

This, I think, is the direction Jesus’ teachings are taking in this chapter.  The Pharisees are questioning the actions of Jesus and His disciples strictly on the basis of the day they happened on rather than the intention in which they took place.  Jesus, after making some unassailable points about the sabbath, teaches about good and bad fruit and how it relates to the living out of our faith.

As has been true, Jesus’ fruit teaching accents the things that have just happened in the passage.  He left the synagogue after healing the shrivled hand and as He went He healed many.  All of this, we see, was the fulfillment of Scrpiture.  When questioned about His actions, He shows them that the fruit of one’s ministry will be an indicator of its source, whether good or bad.

Christians tend to have a sad history of questioning other Christians’ ministries, especially when said ministries are new.  Whether it happens to be a new church, program, music, liturgy, or even order of a worship service, we tend to be pretty quick to judge those things as dangerous and “not God honoring.”  Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is: “what kind of fruit is it bearing?”