Unchastity: H.C. Question 109

Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?
 
Matthew 5:27-29 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
 
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 – Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
 
Ephesians 5:3-4 – But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
 
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
 
Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
 
 


The Root of the Problem: H.C. Lord’s Day 40

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 40

Q 105: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment? 
A 105: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds—and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.

I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.

Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

Q 106: Does this commandment refer only to murder? 
A 106: By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness.  In God’s sight, all such are disguised forms of murder.

Q 107: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way? 
A 107: No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.
 
I often have, in the back of my head, a compilation of partial thoughts and ideas about what to write about when it comes to these Friday posts.  After doing some reading and reflecting, I usually write up something in a sort of “stream-of-consciousness” sort of fashion that becomes the post for the week.  After that, I create the question posts for the next week, with all of their Scripture passages and the associated links, tags, etc.  Last week, when I was prepping those posts, I couldn’t have even fathomed the horrors that would unfold as they would be posted.  Nor could I have seen the absolute perfection in the timing of the topic we address this week.  And, while there is nothing convenient or good about murder, I do think that the relevance of a document as old as the Heidelberg Catechism and the associated Scripture that is cited here could not be more clear in a time like this.
 
All of America and a good portion of the world has watched in horror, time and time again as the news of mass shootings, suicide bombings, and a myriad of other murderous attacks have been carried out in places all over the world.  Whether it is workplace violence, terrorism, or mental illness is certainly a topic for discussion, but in the end, the same result is seen, the murder of human beings and the same culprit is to blame: sin.
 
The Heidelberg Catechism’s discussion, as well as the Bible’s teaching on murder, does not address the problem at the surface.  Far too often in times like this, we see media, politicians, and celebrities do just this.  We need to address gun control, they say, or mental illness.  Conservatives and Liberals alike have and will respond in ways that tout their own agenda or stance on an issue, calling out the other for their supposed support or lack thereof for gun control, response to terrorism, etc.  Many will post things about “praying for” or “thinking of” the victims.
 
Yet in the midst of the political crossfire, something that we all are sadly involved in these days with social media and the like, we seem to have missed the true depth of the problem: sin.  Mass killings in the United States or any other part of the world for that matter are not just a gun control issue.  If it were, places like Chicago and even Paris should be practically utopian by comparison.  Yet Chicago loses more people in a month to gun violence than died in Las Vegas in those few, horrific moments.  Are timing, location, and magnitude reasons for the lack of mention of one and the wall-to-wall coverage of another?  Should they be?
 
Sadly, this is also why some media outlets will highlight certain styles of attacks, those done with guns, while others highlight killings that involve other non-projectile weapons.  In either case, we are reminded that, for them, it is more about the message they want to convey and less about the lives that are lost.  This only further highlights, in my opinion, the depth of the depravity that we are faced with.
 
Mass killings are not just a terrorism issue, though many seem to be perpetuated by this twisted ideology.  Statistically speaking, mass killings are carried out more by white men with zero connection to the religion of Islam than by those who practice the religion, much less those who are immigrants to the United States (or those who are here illegally).
 
Mass killings in the U.S. are not just a mental illness problem either.  Despite the fact that, arguably, most who commit such heinous crimes have some sort of mental illness, and the fact that we definitely need to do more in the way of creating greater access to care for those who struggle with such diseases, simply blaming one event after the other on the political party in power for their lack of working to fix this problem is not, in fact, the solution to it.  Even if mental health care was free for anyone at any time, we would still see these sad events happen as is evidenced by other countries with superior medical and mental health care systems which are vastly more available than our own.  Yes, the number may be lessened, but it is not all altogether absent.
 
Why? Because the issue of murder, isn’t a political, ideological, national, or cultural issue, it’s a sin issue.
 
Scripture’s teaching about murder goes far deeper than a simple law that says we should not kill other people.  In fact, the word that is used in the Exodus passage is specific in its reference to the wanton taking of another life.  But, looking deeper into the reasoning behind it we can see, through the Scripture passages we’ve read this week, that Scripture is really going for the heart of the issue which is our heart, tainted by sin.
 
Q 106. Does this commandment refer only to murder? 
A 106. By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness.  In God’s sight, all such are disguised forms of murder.
 
 The search for a motive in the Las Vegas shootings will continue for some time.  Ultimately, it will be tied to some ideological or cultural problem that needs legislation to fix it.  There will be bickering and blustering about it and no doubt some politicizing of the issues in next year’s elections.  It’s happened with almost every event since these things become “commonplace” in our culture.
 
But the real issue, the issue of sin, seems to never be addressed.  Whether it’s because of a Western Church that is more focused on a “feel-good” message, or a culture that is actively trying to separate itself from its religious roots, we simply don’t want to address the issue of sin as a cause.  Simply put, I think it is because we want to be our own savior.  If it is ideological, cultural, or even political, we can fix it with the right party in power or the right push from this or that group.  However, if it is a sin issue, then we are forced to acknowledge something we don’t want to face: we cannot defeat sin on our own… WE NEED A SAVIOR!
 
Yes, there are common sense things that we can (and should) do as a nation, culture, and government to curb some of these things.  Some of them fit a liberal agenda, others a conservative agenda (though neither need be used or mentioned in reference to a tragedy in order to further their political career).  Whether it is immigration reform, gun control, or access to affordable health care, these are not political issues, they are human issues.
 
But, true transformation, whether it be personal or cultural, will not happen without the acceptance of a Savior and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people.  We are so wholly broken that we cannot help but do these things.  Few would care to acknowledge that Scripture places on the same level the Las Vegas shooter and me, who has been and still is hateful, envious, and vindictive.  That is, in light of recent events, perhaps hard to swallow; but it is true nonetheless.
 
The issue that has been placed before us, displayed in almost unwatchable images of people running scared amid the barrage of automatic gun-fire, is the issue of sin and evil that is present in the world and in our hearts.  For this to be truly addressed, we need to acknowledge that without a Savior, without Jesus, we are wholly incapable of overcoming it, not just in the culture, but in our own selves.  Then, and only then, will we begin to see the effects of sin unravel as our old, murderous selves are put to death, and the New Creation that God has called us and created us to, emerge and effect change in this dark and broken world.


Sabbath Trust: H.C. Lord's Day 38

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 38

Q 103. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? 
A 103. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

The issues of the Sabbath day in modern culture is complicated, to say the least.  Some say that Sunday is the new Saturday and that the day is for church and church only.  Others treat Sunday as a “second Saturday” that is interrupted by a church worship service.  In either case, I think, we miss the mark of what is going on when it comes to Sabbath rest and the Bible.

During Jesus’ ministry, he was confronted by a number of religious leaders that challenged Him on any number of teachings.  One that frequently drew criticism from them was Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath laws.  His response, in one of these encounters, was this: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

For us, this is an important teaching because it gives the context for the ultimate purpose of the Sabbath.  God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th.  Scripture tells us that this 7th day was made to be holy, a day set apart for rest.  Jesus’ teaching reminds us that the Sabbath was actually created after humankind was; there is an order of priority.

If humans were made second and placed in a sort of already created work/rest paradigm, then it would be right for us to hold one day a week for explicit rest in which we literally did nothing (you know like when your parents didn’t even let you ride bikes with your friends).  Sabbath would almost be like gravity in this sense, we wouldn’t be able to get around it.

This, however, is not the case for us.  After God has finished creating everything, He introduces the concept of Sabbath.  Something that was created and purposed for all of the creation, especially for humanity.

Observance of the Sabbath day was codified in the giving of the Mosaic Law to the people of Israel as part of the covenant.  Keeping the Sabbath was a practice that only the Israelites observed, and it was done as a sign of both covenant faithfulness and trust in God’s ultimate provision.   Herein lies a great deal of the meaning behind the Sabbath day.

In a world that never rests, we are called to be set apart and distinct as God’s people.  Does this look like the legalistic observance of a particular day of the week?  I think not.  Does it, however, emphasize our trust in God as the ultimate provider of all our needs by giving a day to honor Him?  Well… that would certainly be counter-cultural and different.

In today’s world, things never stop.  We can’t stop working, researching, checking email, texting, or posting on social media for fear that we will fall behind.  If we fall behind at work, the competition could take us over or take us out.  We could lose our jobs, our livelihood, and everything we’ve worked for.  In essence, we are in charge of our own destiny… or so the “American dream” would have us believe.

But what if that weren’t true?  What if we didn’t take the place of God, the place of the provider of all our needs in our lives?  What if we let God be God and trust that His ways are higher than our ways and that He will always keep His promises, even if it doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing?

More than this, though: what if God created a sabbath day of rest/trust because He knew it would not only be good for us, but it is exactly what we need as humans?  It’s construct is a gift to us, we who would more readily work ourselves to death in an effort to get ahead.  Instead, God once again offers us grace and peace by supplying our much needed physical rest in the observance of a Sabbath day… and spiritual rest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

“May our hearts be restless until they find their rest in You, our Lord and God.” – St. Augustine



Old and New: H.C. Lord's Day 33

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 88

Q 88. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion? 
A 88. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.

Q 89. What is the dying-away of the old self? 
A 89. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.

Q 90. What is the rising-to-life of the new self? 
A 90. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God by doing every kind of good work.

Q 91. What are good works? 
A 91. Only those which are done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for God’s glory; and not those based on our own opinion or human tradition.

If there is one thing that is true across the board when it comes to religion it is the idea that changes need to take place.  Before one is an adherent to any religious ideology, they would be considered “lost,” or “misguided.”  However, when one begins to put faith in whatever deity or element is upheld within a particular religious practice, life changes are assumed.  Every religion has rules to follow and to become a good adherent to that religion, one must follow them to some degree.

As a religion, Christianity is not much different in this respect.  In fact, this Lord’s day talks very specifically about the change that takes place after one comes to faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul writes about this in the book of Romans in terms of “dying to the old-self” and “rising in Christ” or becoming a “new creation.”  The reality he is trying to convey here is that this is a fundamental change in one’s life.  A full 180-degree turn takes place when one places their faith in Jesus, from walking in sin and self-interest to loving God with all their heart, trusting Him with their life, and loving others with the same love God shows to them.

One fundamental difference, however, between Christianity and all other religions is the place from which that change comes from.  In every other faith practice, change is manufactured by the person.  The promise of salvation is for those who best practice their faith according to the rules laid out.  If you are good enough, kind enough, just enough, or, in some cases, oppose other religions enough, you will find some manner of salvation, whether in this life or the next.  It is, however, on you to make this happen.

Faith in Jesus Christ is different.  The promise of God in the Bible is that the saving work required by God has been accomplished for us in Jesus Christ!  This is amazing news for us, the “Gospel of our Salvation” as Paul writes.  In Jesus, when we place our faith in Him, our sins our forgiven and our old self is “put to death.”  Even greater is that we are “raised to newness of life” through God’s grace; this is where the change begins to take place.

Unlike other religions, however, the change that we are called to is one out of gratitude, not requirement.  Because the saving work is done, and we are saved by grace through faith, the new life is not one of obligation but one of desire.  Change, then, is not manufactured from the outside but instead is released from the inside!  This is what we often call “sanctification.”  It is the continuing work of God in our lives, through the Holy Spirit, to form us and shape us into the image of Christ.

Whereas other religions require “personal perfection” in order to gain salvation, Scripture states that Christ’s perfection and sacrifice for us is sufficient for salvation and when we place our faith in Him, that perfection (which we call righteousness) is put on to us.  God then sees us as He sees His Son and we are welcomed back into relationship with Him.  Throughout the rest of our lives, then, God is at work teaching, growing, shaping, and molding us to live into it.  We cooperate with this process by listening, learning, and seeking to live the life of gratitude for our salvation that Scripture calls us to.  It is God’s beautiful work in us to bring His work, accomplished by Christ, to it’s fullness in our lives!

Ephesians 2:8-10 – 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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.



New Self: H.C. Question 90

What is the rising-to-life of the new self? 

Psalm 51:8, 12 – Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Isaiah 57:15 – For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Romans 5:1 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

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,

Romans 6:10-11 – The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.



Genuine: H.C. Question 88

What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion? 

Romans 6:1-11 – 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.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Ephesians 4:22-24 – You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:5-10 – Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.



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).



Do I Have To? H.C. Question 87

 Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and unrepentant ways?

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 – The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:1-20 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.



What's Next? H.C. Question 86 (Part 1)

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? 

Romans 6:13 – Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Romans 12:1-2 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1 Peter 2:5-10 – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Matthew 5:16 – In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

 



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.