The Heidelberg Catechism on the Necessity of Repentance (Q/A 87)

Heidelberg 2Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 87 explicitly affirms the biblical teaching regarding the necessity of repentance. It says,

Q.87. Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and unrepentant ways? A. 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.

Can anyone be saved without repentance? That is the question. And the answer is clear and to the point – “By no means.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith similarly states,

“Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.” (15.3)

And so while we must be careful to maintain that we are not saved by means of our repentance (as if we could somehow earn or merit our forgiveness and salvation by it), yet we must also maintain that we are not saved without it. As the Westminster Confession of Faith (above) puts it, “none may expect pardon without it.”

In his commentary on the catechism Zacharias Ursinus (the primary author of the catechism itself) explains:

“This question [i.e. Q/A 87] naturally grows out of the preceding one [i.e. Q/A 86, on good works]; for since good works are the fruits of our regeneration – since they are the expression of our thankfulness to God, and the evidences of true faith; and since none are saved but those in whom these things are found; it follows, on the other hand, that evil works are the fruits of the flesh – that they are manifestations of ingratitude, and evidences of unbelief, so that no one that continues to produce them can be saved.” (p.467) 

Repentance (i.e. turning from evil works unto God), like good works, is ‘the fruit of our regeneration’ and ‘evidence of true faith.’ And so, conversely, the lack of repentance and good works, and the continuing on in the practice of evil works are then “the fruits of the flesh” and “evidences of unbelief.”

In 1 John 3:10 the Apostle John writes,

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (ESV)

On what basis does the Heidelberg Catechism teach these things? Notice that Q/A 87 points directly to the clear and explicit teaching of Scripture on this subject when it says, “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.”

Here the catechism echoes Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)

The “unrighteous” here are those who continue in the ongoing practice of sins like the ones Paul goes on to list there (not that his list is exhaustive by any means).

He even adds, “Do not be deceived.” Is there not a constant temptation to deception in these very matters? That was certainly the case in Paul’s day. (Or do we really think that we are so much better than the church in Corinth?)

Here once again we see the pastoral wisdom involved in the Heidelberg Catechism, as it constantly points us back to the Scriptures as the foundation for all that it teaches us. And not only that, but it also makes us wrestle with these things in such a way that as we ask and answer questions like this one, we must ask ourselves whether or not we truly see the fruits of regeneration and evidences of a true and living faith in our lives.

This, like the rest of the doctrine taught in the Heidelberg Catechism, is something that is necessary for us to know in order that we may live and die in the joy of the comfort that is ours only in Jesus Christ (Q/A 2).

The Heidelberg Catechism on the Christian and Good Works

Grace2vol__56981.1453767389The Heidelberg Catechism is outlined or structured around three (3) points or sections, often referred to as Guilt (Q.3-11), Grace (Q.12-85), and Gratitude (Q.86-129). This outline (although not employing these exact terms) is made explicit in Q/A 2:

“Q.2. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.”

The catechism is largely comprised of somewhat lengthy expositions of the The Apostles’ Creed (Q.22-58), The Ten Commandments (Q.92-115), and the Lord’s Prayer (Q.116-129). These things are commonly considered to be the ABC’s or building blocks of the Christian faith and life.

As you can see, most of the “gratitude” section of the catechism in centered around the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer. And so how we live and pray is really about showing our gratitude to God for our salvation in Christ.

Q/A 86 marks the beginning of the “gratitude” section of the catechism. It says:

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. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also renewing 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, and that he may be praised through us, and further, so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.

Q/A 86 basically asks the age-old question, if we are really saved by grace alone, and not by works, then why should we as believers do good works? If our works do not merit anything (and they don’t!), then why does it matter how we live?

Paul anticipates a similar objection to the grace of God in the gospel in Romans 6:1, where he writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (ESV) And he answers by saying “By no means!” (v.2)

The answer both in Romans 6 as well as in the Heidelberg is basically that our salvation by God’s grace in Christ includes much more than justification (as vitally important as that is). It also includes the new birth and sanctification (God’s work in us), which involves “renewing us by his Spirit into his image.”

As to why it matters how we lives as believers, Q/A 86 gives us at least four (4) reasons or purposes for the work of God’s grace in sanctification in our lives:

  1. Gratitude (“so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits”)
  2. Praise to God (“that he may be praised through us”)
  3. Assurance (“so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits”)
  4. Evangelism (“by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ”)

The first two of these are God-ward (gratitude & praise), the third is in some way for our own benefit (growth in assurance that our faith is, in fact, genuine), and the fourth is for the benefit of others (that they might be won to Christ). This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it is certainly a good starting point in demonstrating the importance of good works in the life of a Christian.

Either way the primary motivation (though certainly not the only proper motivation) for living the Christian life of good works is gratitude for God’s grace in our salvation. This is the same logic that the Apostle Paul applies in Romans 12:1-2, where he writes,

[1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

It is in light of the mercies of God toward us in Christ that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Our primary motive for being transformed by the renewal of our minds is gratitude for the mercies of God.

“The Word Did Everything”

The European Reformation (Cameron)John Murray calls the 16th century Protestant Reformation “the greatest event for Christendom in the last 1500 years” (Collected Writings of John Murray Vol.2, p.203). The rediscovery of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ turned the world upside-down and changed all of subsequent history.

How does one explain the remarkable power and effect of the Protestant Reformation?

After all, the reformers had none of the technological advantages that we enjoy today, such as the internet, cell phones, radio, television, rapid transit, etc.

They had to rely on the pen, the printing press, and the preaching of the Word of God.

And they faced constant opposition and even violent persecution from many who were in positions of great ecclesiastical and political power.

So what was the secret of the Protestant Reformation’s success? Luther himself writes,

“I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp [Melanchthon] and [Nikolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the Papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it. I did nothing; the Word did everything . . . .” (Euan Cameron, The European Reformation, p.106-07)

Now Martin Luther certainly labored diligently. As one writer notes, “His collected writings in German are over 100 volumes” (Stephen J. Nichols, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World, p.16). But at the end of the day, the real power behind the Reformation was the Word of God.  As Luther put it, “the Word did everything.”

And so if we would see a new reformation in our own day, we too must learn to trust in and rely upon the power of the Word of God. For it is the Word of God that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is the Word of God that does not return void or empty, but always accomplishes the purposes for which God sent it (Isaiah 55:11). And it is the gospel alone that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

 

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

martin-luther-2524287_1280October 31st marks the anniversary of the beginning of the 16th century protestant reformation. For it was on that date, just over 500 years ago now (back in 1517) when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. This event is thought by many to be the start of the Protestant Reformation.

The 95 Theses were essentially 95 points of dispute or debate over what Luther saw as the abuse of the Roman Catholic doctrine and practice of the sale of indulgences.

What exactly was an “indulgence”? Philip Schaff writes,

“In the legal language of Rome, indulgentia is a term for amnesty or remission of punishment. In ecclesiastical Latin, an indulgence means the remission of the temporal (not the eternal) punishment of sin (not of sin itself), on condition of penitence and the payment of money to the church or to some charitable object.” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, p.147)

And so the Indulgences were put forward as a way to essentially pay for remission of temporal punishments for sin for the living, or for the release from purgatory for a deceased loved one.  But as one writer notes,

“In practice the ignorant could not help thinking that they were ‘buying’ forgiveness for themselves or their beloved in the hereafter, or at last that by their generosity they were doing a good work which the Pope declared to be effective toward forgiveness in the hereafter. ‘The moment the money tinkles in the collecting box, a soul flies out of purgatory’ – there is no doubt that this proverb was preached.” (Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, The Penguin History of the Church Vol. 3, p.42)

Put in this light, it is easy to see why Luther took issue with this practice.

The Roman Catholic Church used the sale of indulgences to raise vast sums of money to pay for, among other things, the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. So you could say that in some ways what started the Reformation was a church fund-raising program or building fund gone awry. (It always seems to be about money, doesn’t it?)

Luther simply presented his 95 Theses for debate in the hopes of reforming the abuses of  indulgences. He wasn’t seeking a revolution. He wasn’t even arguing against the church’s official doctrine and practice of indulgences per se (at least not yet). He was simply seeking debate and reform. No one even took him up on his offer to debate the issue of indulgences. But his 95 Theses were quickly translated, published, circulated, and read far and wide.

To the modern reader the 95 Theses probably don’t seem all that revolutionary. They do not even explicitly mention the doctrine of justification at all. (To be sure, it was Martin Luther’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of justification that was behind his opposition to the sale of indulgences.)

The first of his 95 Theses is as follows:

“1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

He essentially builds his case from there, point by point (95 points in total).

And perhaps the most important of them all is #62, which says,

“The true treasure [or treasury] of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

And the very last of Luther’s 95 Theses states that Christians, in following Christ, their head, should “thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace” [i.e. the false peace offered through the sale of indulgences].

Luther’s earnest desire was that Christians would place all of their hope for forgiveness and heaven in Christ alone.

Thanks be to God that because of the Reformation, countless souls have done just that, and found true peace with God through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone, to the glory of God alone!

And as John Murray notes, “This heritage is not only one to be cherished; it is one to be propagated.” He reminds us that the Reformation is not just past history, but is also “a present duty” as well. (The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p.292)

 

 

THE BENEFITS OF CHRIST’S ASCENSION (HEIDELBERG CATECHISM Q.49)

Horton The Christian FaithWe Christians tend to think much of the incarnation of Christ around Christmas, and the Lord’s death and resurrection at Easter, but many of us neglect to give much thought to the importance of our Savior’s ascension to the right hand of God the Father almighty. Of the churches that observe a liturgical calendar of some sort, Ascension day (or Ascension Sunday) is often overlooked.

The ascension of Christ is easily one of the most neglected truths of the Christian faith. (And that is saying something!) In his book, The Christian Faith, Michael Horton writes,

“Given the place of the ascension in the New Testament (especially in the Epistles), it is surprising that it plays a relatively minor role in the faith and practice of the church. Though affirmed, it does not seem to occupy the same status as Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.” (p.533)

We as believers should esteem the ascension of our Lord Jesus much more highly than we do – even as highly as His incarnation, death, and resurrection. For Christ’s ascension plays every bit as important a part in the accomplishment of our salvation as His incarnation, death, and resurrection does.

Not only is the historical fact of His ascension recorded for us in the Gospels (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53) and in the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-11), but references to it are found throughout the rest of the New Testament as well.

A simple search of passages in the New Testament that speak of Christ being exalted to ‘the right hand of God’ comes up with nearly two dozen instances. A number of those quote from Psalm 110:1, which says, “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”).

The book of Acts, for example, refers to Christ’s ascension repeatedly. You could go so far as to say that Acts cannot be properly understood apart from it. The book of Acts is often referred to as “The Acts of the Apostles,” but it might be even more appropriate to call it “The Acts of the Risen and Ascended Christ.” Luke (the writer of Acts) strongly implies that this is the true subject matter when he writes in the opening verse of the book,

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,” (Acts 1:1, ESV)

The clear implication there is that the Gospel of Luke was about “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (italics added), and the book of Acts is about all that Jesus continued to do and to teach through His Apostles and His church!

The book of Hebrews also refers to Christ’s ascension numerous times. One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that Christ is even now reigning over all things for His church and will return in glory to judge the living & the dead.

The Apostle Paul also refers to Christ’s ascension repeatedly in his letters. For example, in the book of Ephesians, he points us to it no less than three (3) times. Paul both affirms the truth of this essential Christian doctrine and applies it to us as believers. Clearly it is intended to make a difference in our lives.

This is also what Paul is doing in Colossians 3:1-4. In v.1 he says, “If then you have been raised with Christ . . . .” Now it is clear from the rest of the passage that he is not just talking about the resurrection of Christ, but His ascension as well.

Why are we to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (v.1)? Why are we to ‘set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (v.2)? Paul tells us in v.3-4, where he writes,

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

It is our union with Christ and its implications for our lives as Christians that we must learn to keep in mind. We set our minds on Christ because in Him we have died. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20,

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Our life – our real life – is not of this world, but is of heaven. Our real life is “hidden with Christ in God” (v.3). And so we must think of and set our minds on the things of heaven, and on Christ Himself, who is our righteousness, our sanctification, and even our glorification.

Not only is our life hidden with Christ for now, but in v.4 Paul says, “When Christ who is your life appears . . . .” It is when Christ comes in glory, that we shall appear with Him in glory!

Just as Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own future glorious resurrection, even so His exaltation in heaven at God’s right hand is the guarantee of our future hope of heaven and glorification! So we as believers in Christ are to seek to become more and more, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, what we already are in Christ.

This shows the wisdom of the writer of the Heidelberg Catechism in its treatment of the ascension of Christ. It contains no less than six (6) questions dealing with the ascension and session (or reign) of Christ! And one of them says the following:

Q.49. How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us? A. First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

The catechism lists three (3) ways that Christ’s ascension benefits us as believers. First, having ascended to heaven and being seated at the right hand of God, Christ is now “our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.”

This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 8:33-34, where he writes,

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (ESV)

Notice how in the above passage in Romans, the Apostle Paul links not only Christ’s death and resurrection, but also His ascension, to the unshakable nature of our justification! Not only are we justified because Christ died for us and rose from the dead, but also because He ascended, is now seated at God’s right hand, and is interceding for us!

Who can possibly condemn us when Christ Himself is our advocate, and is interceding for us?

We find the same thing spoken of in Hebrews 7:25, where it says,

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (ESV)

If you are a believer, you have all that you need in Christ. In Him you have justification, righteousness, sanctification, and even glorification! You have all of those things as surely as Christ died for your sins, is now risen from the dead, ascended, and seated at the right hand of God!

The second benefit that believers have because of Christ’s ascension is that “we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.” Christ is our pledge (or guarantee) of heaven. Because Christ who is our own flesh is there, we can be certain that we too will dwell there with Him as well.

And the third benefit is that Christ “sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge.” The Holy Spirit, who unites us to Christ by faith, is the “corresponding pledge” or guarantee of all that we possess in Jesus Christ,

The Heidelberg Catechism here reminds us that because of Christ’s ascension we now have a pledge of heaven in  heaven (Christ Himself) and a pledge of heaven with us on earth as well (the indwelling Holy Spirit). God has graciously given us a double-guarantee of all that we have in Christ!

It is because of all of these things that we are not to set our minds on earthly things, but on heaven, where Christ who is our life is, and on the glory that is to be revealed in us when He returns. We are to seek to become what we are (and will be) in Christ until that day!

Marriage and the 7th Commandment

In the previous post in this series going through the ten commandments, we began to look at the 7th commandment, which simply says, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, ESV)

We saw last time from the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7), that Jesus taught that this commandment forbids not only the outward act of adultery, but even the inward disposition of lust in the heart as well. To look at another person with lust in your heart is to commit adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28).

But God’s commandment against adultery also shows us something about the importance and sanctity of marriage, something which by any objective standard has fallen on hard times in our day.

Despite what you may have heard, God is not ant-sex. The Bible is not anti-sex. Christianity is not anti-sex. But sex is intended solely for within the confines of marriage, between a husband and a wife alone.

God instituted marriage all the way back in the garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 2. There in paradise, before the Fall of mankind into sin when Adam ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3), God saw that everything that He had made was good . . .except one thing.

Man was alone.

In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (ESV) And so who was this “helper” suitable for Adam that God made? It was Eve, his wife. In Genesis 2:24 we read of God instituting the creation ordinance of marriage, saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (ESV)

That is God’s purpose and design for marriage. And the 7th commandment is given in order to safeguard it.

Why does God take marriage so seriously? Any number of things could be said in answer to that question. One could point to the many societal ills and the damage that is done by sexual immorality and divorce. The breakdown of the family has taken a truly staggering toll on our society.

But there is also another answer to that question that you might not have considered: Marriage is a picture of the gospel of Christ!

In Ephesians 5:21-33 the Apostle Paul has a lot to say about God’s design for marriage. (Space will not permit me to go into detail at this time.) And he bases everything that he has to say about marriage on Genesis chapter 2 (i.e. God’s original instituting of marriage).

But in v.32 he says something remarkable – he sums up everything that he says about husbands and wives by saying, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV, italics added)

In his commentary on the book of Ephesians, James Boice writes,

“When God created marriage it was not simply that God considered marriage to be a good idea, though it certainly is that, or even because God thought it would be a good way to have and rear children. God created marriage to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church.” (p.180)

Simply put, marriage between a husband and wife is a picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His church (i.e. His redeemed people). No wonder God takes marriage (and the sin of adultery which violates it) so seriously! And no wonder we should do so as well!

Adultery and the Seventh Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments we now come to the seventh commandment, which says,

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, KJV)

This commandment (like the rest of the ten commandments) is what I like to call an “umbrella category.” What I mean by that term is that this commandment represents a particular category of sins or transgressions, and so there are many different ways that a person can break it.

The seventh commandment, simply put, forbids sexual immorality of all kinds.

In the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) the Lord Jesus put it this way:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28, ESV)

Here Jesus teaches us the proper understanding of the seventh commandment. And in doing so He makes it clear that this commandment forbids not just sinful actions, but also sinful thoughts and desires as well! A person can be outwardly chaste, and yet inwardly still be guilty of adultery. And so it is not just sexually immoral actions that are to be avoided and repented of, but also sexually immoral words and thoughts as well.

This commandment against sexual immorality is worded in terms of the particular form of sexual sin that in some ways is the most heinous and serious version of it – adultery.

What makes adultery so serious a sin before God? Adultery, properly-speaking, is not just sexual immorality (as serious as that is), but is also theft (and so a transgression of the 8th commandment as well). Thomas Watson writes,

“It [adultery] is a thievish sin. It is the highest form of theft. The adulterer steals from his neighbor that which is more than his goods and estate; he steals away his wife from him, who is flesh of his flesh.” (The Ten Commandments, p.155)

It is also a violation of the marriage covenant, and so the breaking of one’s vows, and bearing false witness before God and man (and so also a violation of the 9th commandment). Clearly there is a great deal of overlap between the commandments, and in breaking one of them, we often tend to break others as well.

I’m tempted to say that this commandment is the most-neglected and most commonly broken of all of the ten commandments in our day, even among professing believers in Christ. (In all likelihood that dubious distinction probably belongs to either the 2nd or 4th commandments.)

Whatever the case, the seventh commandment is disregarded, redefined, and transgressed among many professing Christians to such a degree that there no longer seems to be much of a difference or distinction between the church and the unbelieving world around her.

This simply should not be so.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul told the believers in Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” He said that, not because sexual morality is the end-all, be-all of the Christian life, but because in a debauched culture, abstaining from sexual immorality is one of the primary distinguishing marks that set believers apart from the world around us.

That is as true in our day as it has ever been. Abstaining from sexual immorality is still very much the will of God for His redeemed people, and it is still our “sanctification,” something that sets us apart from the world.

May the Lord grant revival and repentance to many, starting with those of us who profess to know Christ, so that we might follow the will of God in these things. And may He grant repentance, faith, and forgiveness to many who have committed sexual immorality, that they might know peace with God, and begin to follow His will in these things.