Icons in Church: H.C. Question 98

But may not images be permitted in churches in place of books for the unlearned?

Romans 10:14-17 – How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:19 – We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Jeremiah 10:8 – They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.

Habakkuk 2:18-20 – “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?  Or an image that teaches lies?  For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.

Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’  Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’  Can it give guidance?  It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.”  The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.



Taking the Keys: H.C. Lord's Day 31

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 31

Q 83. What are the keys of the kingdom? 
A 83. The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both of them open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.

Q 84. How does preaching the holy gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven? 
A 84. According to the command of Christ, The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of Christ’s merit, truly forgives all their sins.

The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.

Q 85. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline? 
A 85. According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions, refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways, and who after being reported to the church, that is, to those ordained by the church for that purpose, fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—such persons the church excludes from the Christian community by withholding the sacraments from them, and God also excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.  Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church.

The language “keys to the Kingdom” is very foreign to us.  We don’t often use it.  Rarely do we talk about the Kingdom “being opened” or “being closed” to people, especially in a culture where we don’t want to offend or turn people off to “church” or the Gospel.  However, in practice, we see this happen in our worship services all of the time.

Scripture says that the “Kingdom” is opened when the preaching of the Gospel is present.  In fact, this is part of the Great Commission of Christ’s followers, to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”  We are called to be heralds of the “Good News,” ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  When we “preach” this Good News, whether it be in church on Sundays, or in conversations or actions throughout our daily lives, we are opening the gates of the Kingdom and welcoming others in.

Sadly, the preaching of the Gospel, the very thing that makes us distinct as Christians in the world, is not something that is always happening in churches anymore.  The very news that Christ came to this earth, died in the place of sinners, and offers salvation by grace through faith has been obstructed by moralistic teachings and alternative theologies.  The “good news” has been transformed into a social agenda, even a political movement that has very little to do with the Gospel message.

Granted, some of these things are quite Biblical.  God does call His people to stand against oppression.  He also calls us to serve others, feeding the hungry and caring for the poor.  Scripture encourages us to turn away from things like racism, sexism, and any other manner of judgmentalism that divides people and excludes them from God’s love and knowing their true identity in Christ.  However, these are the effects of lives transformed by the Holy Spirit in response to the Gospel message; they are not themselves the Gospel.

While they are important things for Christians to talk about, they do not necessarily “open up” the Kingdom.  Without the Gospel at their center, and the understanding (and acceptance) of Salvation in Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith, these calls to action become nothing more than works righteousness and self-motivated pursuits.  Even the best of works, without the cleansing of Jesus Christ, is nothing more than ashes and filthy rags in the eyes of God.  We NEED the Gospel; we NEED a Savior.  We NEED JESUS.

Similarly, the Catechism talks about discipline.  This too has become an unpopular subject in churches and is rarely practiced anymore.  Again, the pushback has come because of a wrong focus on things and a desire not to offend or elicit controversy.  Yet discipline, in all its awkwardness, if done in the right context and with the right heart, under the authority of Christ, is not meant to be mean spirited or harsh.  Rather, its intention is also restoration, repentance, and a deeper understanding of grace.

We like grace.  We’d rather be shone it than “the rod.”  However, Scripture is very clear about discipline when it comes to parenting and when it comes to the people of God: corrections need to be made.  We don’t make them out of our own moral authority or because of some sort of self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” attitude.  Rather, we do it to teach the Gospel and thereby once again “open the Kingdom.”

“Teach the Gospel?” You might be thinking, “How does that even make sense?”

In fact, it quite simply brings us back to the beginning of the Catechism.  The section on guilt reminds us all too clearly that we are indeed guilty through sin.  We have offended God, turned our back on Him; we are His enemies through sin.  And the Gospel doesn’t sweep sin under the rug and forget about it.  The Gospel also doesn’t worry about offending people when they are wrong.  Instead, the Gospel teaches that the punishment for sin, that being death, was put on Christ rather than on us and that because Jesus bore that punishment for us, we no longer have to.

So how does discipline teach the Gospel?  When discipline is done correctly, with an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness, we are reminded of what Christ has done for us and the great love that God shows us through Him.  We, as His children, still need to be corrected, just like our own children need correction from time to time.  But this correction is done with an eye on the cross, reminding us that, even though we sin, we always find forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ when we turn from our sin.  No matter what we’ve done, you will always find a loving Father waiting for you, His child, to run back into His arms again.



Open and Closed Preaching: H.C. Question 84

How does preaching the holy gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven? 

Matthew 16:19 – I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

John 3:31-36 – The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 20:21-23 – Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”



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?



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.”



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.



Forgiveness: H.C. Question 56

What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Micah 7:18-19 – Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – 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. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 2:2 – He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Romans 7:21-25 – So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 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. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

John 3:16-18 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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.

Romans 8:1-2 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.



God the Holy Spirit: H.C. Lord's Day 20

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 20

Q 53. What do you believe concerning “the Holy Spirit”?
A 53. First, that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God.

Second, that the Spirit is given also to me, so that, through true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his benefits through true faith, comforts me, and will remain with me forever.

*disclaimer: this post uses the masculine pronoun “he” to refer to the Holy Spirit.  I chose to use this word following the traditional translations of Scripture, specifically found in John 15 and 16, where Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as “He.”  In doing so, I am not making the claim that the Holy Spirit is masculine, but rather seeking to honor Scripture’s traditional interpretation understanding that the Greek words used here as pronouns carry the interpretations of both masculine and feminine pronouns (He & She) as well as the gender neutral pronoun (it).

The Holy Spirit is by and large the most forgotten person of the Triune Godhead.  Even with the renewed awareness of His work in the lives of Christians throughout the world, the focus that the Church has taken throughout most of Christian history is a focus on Christ.

Interestingly, if we were to ask the Holy Spirit what He thought about that, He’d probably respond by saying “that’s great!”  And while the Holy Spirit is an important part of the Trinity, certainly co-equal with the Father and the Son and therefore worthy of our worship, the Spirit’s job and purpose is largely described in Scripture as testifying to Jesus in the hearts and minds of people.

As Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit being sent, recorded in John 14-16, He says multiple times that the “Advocate” or the “Spirit of Truth” will come.  His coming will herald a new and better understanding of Jesus; the Holy Spirit will complete the work that Christ has done in the world by revealing Christ and His love to all believers.  The Spirit does not seek glory for Himself but instead, comes to glorify the Father through the testimony of the Son.

This posture, taken by the Holy Spirit, may also serve to inform our own posture when it comes to how we interact around faith, church, and a number of other things that have to do with Christianity.  Both Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have experienced and demonstrated the sort of self-giving love and other-focused activity that Scripture calls for.  If the Spirit were selfish, we’d probably be getting a lot more prompting to worship the Holy Spirit and our focus would shift away from the central act of our salvation, found only in Jesus Christ.

But, it seems, at times we have shifted that focus in our churches and in our personal life.  When we want something different in our church, we often rally behind the cry of a more “spirit-driven” worship.  We want the Spirit to be “more active,” or suggest that we “leave room for the Spirit.”  All of this seems well and good; certainly not a request that would be heretical or out of bounds for Christians.  What we don’t realize, however, is that if the Spirit’s primary function is testify about Jesus, and if our worship is focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then our worship is indeed Spirit-driven.

“Spirit-driven” worship does not depend on emotional highs and lows, or the manipulation of those emotions by music, lighting, well-crafted speeches, or technology.  Its focus is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  “Spirit-led” worship is not about spontinaity, using a lack of planning as a reasoning or excuse for the “Spirit to do what it wants.”  God is a God of order and gives us the ability to plan and prepare, but also to not be rigid, allowing for the movements of the Spirit as they come.  Perhaps “Spirit-led” worship is more about being open to listening to that still small voice, and less about a chaotic worship service in which no on knows what will happen.

The Heidelberg Catechism points us to another benefit of the Holy Spirit, that being “comfort.”  This too is rooted in the Gospel message of hope in Jesus Christ, to which the Spirit testifies because our comfort comes from the fact that our salvation and hope are for things beyond this world and this life.  No matter what we are going through, no matter where life takes us, we are not alone.  The spirit dwells within our hearts and therefore God is always with us.  Scripture says that He never leaves us or forsakes us.



Did He have to Die? H.C. Question 40

Why did Christ have to suffer death?

Genesis 2:17 – but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Romans 6:23a – For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Philippians 2:8 – And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Hebrews 2:9 – But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.