Book Review: Living For God, by Mark Jones

The subtitle of Mark Jones’ latest book, Living for God, calls it “A Short Introduction to the Christian Faith.” I believe that there is a great need for a book such as this. There is no shortage of lengthy systematic theology volumes available, but finding one that is both concise and substantial is not so easy.

As a pastor, I am occasionally asked which books I would recommend to someone who is either new to the Christian faith or who is just beginning to read and study theology for the first time. I usually end up recommending a number of different books, such as Basic Christianity, by John Stott, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer, the Westminster Standards, among others. Frankly, I have not found a lot of books that cover all of the basics without either being far too simplistic on the one hand, or way too long and academic on the other. Not everyone is ready to sit down with a 500-or-so-page systematic theology text.

Let me just say that this little book (only 227 pages in length) just vaulted to the top of my list. It covers the essential truths of the Christian faith in a way that is both thorough and accessible.

It is divided up into 5 parts, which focus on what he calls the “five foundational pillars” of basic Christianity (p.16). They are the doctrine of the Trinity (part 1), the doctrine of Christ (part 2), the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (part 3), the doctrine of the church (part 4), and the doctrine of the last things (part 5).  In this way the book simply follows the outline or flow of thought of the Apostles’ Creed.

That being said, Jones thoughtfully demonstrates how each of these foundational Christian doctrines is to be applied to the Christian life. This is not just doctrine left in the abstract, but doctrine which is both well-explained and well-applied. In the Introduction, Jones explains:

“Our approach to the Christian life must be grounded in the conviction that sound doctrine and godly living go hand in hand, with the former providing the foundation for the latter.” (p.11-12)

He then goes on to cite the Puritan writer William Ames, who wrote, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” This sets the stage for everything that follows in the rest of the book. The Christian faith (what we believe) and the Christian life (how we are to live in light of what we believe) must always go together. They can be distinguished, but never separated.

And so, for example, the section of the book dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity is entitled, “The Trinity-Oriented Life,” and includes not only a chapter which briefly explains the Trinity, but also a chapter on “Communion with the Triune God.” Likewise the section on the person & work of Christ is entitled, “The Christ-Focused Life.” The other three sections of the book are similarly titled and outlined. This is doctrine for life.

One of my favorite things about Jones’ books (not just this one) is that he has a knack for presenting complex theological doctrines in a simple (not simplistic) and accessible way. Not only that, but he consistently draws from theological sources that span nearly all of church history, including everything from the Apostles’ Creed to the Westminster Standards; from Cyprian and Augustine to John Calvin; numerous Puritan writers, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, and many others. And yet the book remains both accessible and readable.

This is easily my new favorite concise & readable theology text. The next time someone asks me which book I would recommend to someone who is either new to the Christian faith or who is beginning to read and study theology for the first time, this is the book that I will point them to – Living for God.

Whether you are relatively new to the Christian faith, or if you just want to grow in your understanding of the Christian faith and life, I would enthusiastically commend this book to you. I sincerely hope it enjoys a wide and enduring readership for decades to come.

You can order a copy for yourself here: Living for God

An Open Letter to the Honorable Gavin Newsom, Governor of CA

To The Honorable Gavin Newsom, Governor of CA:

I am writing to you regarding your recently unveiled plan to re-open CA. Thank you for the work that you are doing during this unprecedented situation. I do not envy your position as Governor of the great state of CA at this time, as not even the best among us are sufficient for these things.

That said, I have serious concerns with the way that your plan approaches churches and other places of worship. Your plan basically equates churches gathering for corporate worship with such things as hair & nail salons, gyms, and movie theaters. It does so implicitly by placing them on the same stage (phase #3) of re-opening.

That couldn’t be more wrong. Frankly, it seems rather insulting to people of faith. (I trust that this was in no way your intent.)

Granted, there are many professing Christians who practically treat the church and corporate worship as non-essential (i.e. those who have chosen, long before the current pandemic, not to attend public worship at all), and there are others who in some ways all but treat it as crassly as mere entertainment (i.e. something like a show to attend). But these are aberrations, and they represent neither the biblical view nor the practice of most sincere Christians.

The church being gathered together for public worship and prayer is the very definition of essential. Churches should be allowed to gather for worship (even if requiring us to follow the current safety guidelines) ASAP. The opening of our churches should be included in phase 1. That should be a leading priority.

To do otherwise is to trivialize (even if unintentionally) the church. Our people need to gather for worship. Worship is essentially not something that you just watch on a screen as a spectator (despite the ability to broadcast or live-stream services). Truth be told, the members of the church are themselves every bit as essential as the pastors or leaders up front.

In addition to this, apart from public worship we cannot administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These cannot be observed remotely or privately. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11 (where the Apostle writes on the subject of the Lord’s Supper at length), multiple times he says “When you come together” (v.19, 20, 33). The public gathering of the church is essential to these things.

I do not know your own personal beliefs or faith. I hope and pray that if you do not already know the Lord Jesus, that God would bring you to repentance and faith in Christ so that you too might know the peace of having your sins forgiven and the joy of eternal life by the grace of God. Either way I sincerely hope that you will understand how important the gathered church is to the life and well-being of sincere Christians. This is no minor issue, and it is worthy of your time & attention.

I will not bother to appeal to the first amendment here, although I believe that to be an important factor in all of this as well. Rather, I wish to appeal to you simply on the basis of a sincere desire for the common good of the citizens of our great state, of which God Himself has chosen to appoint you to the place of honor and authority as Governor. (See Romans 13:1.) Who knows but perhaps God has chosen you for such a time as this.

I am praying for you, and hope that you are well. May the Lord Jesus Christ, “the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5), greatly bless you and your family, and give you great grace and mercy in all that you seek to do for the good of California.

Sincerely, Andy Schreiber (Pastor, Ramona Valley Presbyterian Church)

The Resurrection in Romans

easter-5019243_1280How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 the Apostle Paul tells us that the resurrection of Christ (along with His death and burial) is “of first importance” (ESV).

The Apostles were first and foremost to be witnesses of the resurrection. Acts chapter one tells us that this was not only one of the main qualifications in order to be an apostle (i.e. to have been with Christ throughout His earthly ministry and to have been a witness of His resurrection); but it was also in another sense a summary of their calling – an apostle was called to be “a witness to his resurrection” (v.22) – that is, to bear witness to it!

Acts 4:2 tells us that the priests and the Sadducees had Peter and John arrested “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It wasn’t just that they told people about the Lord Jesus Christ in general, but that they preached His resurrection, and the resurrection unto life of all who believe in Him for salvation. Acts 4:33 later tells us, “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”

So in some way the message of the apostles could be summed up as their testimony to Christ’s resurrection. It was of primary importance in their teaching and preaching. Read through the epistles in the New Testament and you will find a vast multitude of references to Christ’s resurrection, both to the truth of it, as well as to it’s significance for all who believe in Him.

For example, if you read through the book of Romans with an eye toward Paul’s references to Christ’s resurrection, you may be surprised at how often he brings up that very subject. He does so practically throughout the entire epistle!

Paul all but begins his great epistle of the gospel with a reference to Christ’s resurrection. In Romans 1:1–4 he writes,

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (ESV)

First, he tells us that he was “a servant of Christ Jesus” (v.1). This obviously implies that Christ Jesus was alive. (One really can’t be a servant of someone who is dead and in the grave.) But then he adds that he was “set apart for the gospel of God” (v.1). And what is the gospel about? He says that it concerns “his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v.3-4, Italics added). So the gospel is about the risen Christ!

In Romans 4:25 Paul tells us that Christ was “raised for our justification.” Christ’s death on the cross atoned for our sins, and is the basis of our justification, but we are not justified by a dead Savior – He had to be raised from the dead in order for us to be justified in Him! As Herman Bavinck puts it, Christ’s resurrection is “the Amen of the Father upon the Finished of the Son” and “the public declaration of our acquittal.” (The Wonderful Works of God, p.351)

In Romans 5:10 he writes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (ESV, Italics added) When Paul speaks there of our being “saved by his life,” it is clear that he has Christ’s resurrection in mind, and His ongoing life and ministry on our behalf. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes a similar statement when he writes, “Consequently, he [that is, Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

Then again in Romans 6:4 Paul adds that “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here we see that it is not just our justification which is closely related to Christ’s glorious resurrection, but our new life and sanctification as well! Believers are raised with Christ in His resurrection to new life, so that we now “walk in newness of life.”

Paul goes on in a similar line of thought in the very next chapter, where he writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4, ESV)

And then in Romans 8:11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Simply put, Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection for all who are in Christ. Or as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “the resurrection of Christ is the sure pledge of our own blessed resurrection” (Q/A 45).

But wait – there’s more! In Romans 8:33–34 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) The resurrection of Christ and His ongoing ministry of intercession on our behalf at the right hand of God, makes our salvation in Him all the more sure!

Lastly, Paul reminds us that true saving faith in Christ involves a sincere belief that He has been raised from the dead! In Romans 10:9–10, he writes, “[B]ecause, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (ESV, Italics added)

So the gospel, from beginning to end, has to do with, not just Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, but also with His glorious resurrection! Christ’s resurrection makes all the difference in the lives of believers. It is involved in our justification, sanctification, and future glorification! And it is a wellspring of comfort and assurance for believers, because it means that our Redeemer “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

If My People Pray (Prayer in the Midst of Pandemic)

MedicineWe are living in a rather strange, unsettling time. This is the first time that most of us have ever experienced anything like what we have seen related to the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic. It reminds me of the opening verses of the prophecy of Joel:

Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.” (Joel 1:2–3, ESV)

Likewise, has such a thing as this current pandemic happened in our days or in the days of our fathers? Not that I know of.

Hundreds of thousands of cases have been reported in the U.S., and, as of the writing of this post, over 16,000 deaths have been confirmed so far. And those numbers, sadly, will no doubt continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

Even for the vast majority of people who as of yet remain uninfected, this pandemic has impacted nearly every single aspect of our way of life. Countless businesses have been forced to close their doors, many permanently so. Millions of people have lost their jobs. The national economy has all but ground to a screeching halt.

Simple things that many of us used to take for granted, such as going out to eat, social gatherings, going to public places like parks, beaches, hiking trails, the movies, etc., have all been put on hold. In many places throughout the U.S., Christians can’t even gather together corporately for public worship on the Lord’s day!

What is the solution to these things? We are often tempted to put our faith in science, medicine, the state or federal government, and other such things to solve all of our problems. Don’t get me wrong – all of these things have their proper, God-given place. God often uses these very things to bring us relief from many worldly ills.

But we must not put our faith in these things, as if the arm of flesh were sufficient to save (Jeremiah 17:5-8). That is idolatry. They are not sufficient for these things. No one is. The best scientific models have proven to be inaccurate. Doctors and medical experts, as good and as well-intentioned as they may be, are neither omniscient nor infallible. And the various leaders in our state and federal governments are only human, after all. They are not all-knowing. They are not all-powerful. And so it is futile (if not worse) to expect them to be able to act as if they were. They too need our prayers, as Paul has written (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Perhaps if we stopped expecting them to solve everything for us, we would be more apt to pray for them instead of criticizing their every move (as if we would do any better).

Just as the cause of these things is not ultimately of an earthly origin (except for sin), even so the solution is not ultimately to be found in earthly or human means either.

Are you wondering what it is that you can do in the midst of all of the uncertainty and unrest during this pandemic? Do your best to stay safe, and to be there for others in need. But there is one more thing. And this may be the most needful thing of all.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 gives us a right perspective on these kinds of things and the ultimate solution to them. There the Lord Himself says,

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (ESV)

This passage reminds us that calamities of many kinds are often (at least in part if not the whole) a chastisement or judgment from God for idolatry and wickedness.

At times does our God not still shut up the heavens so that it does not rain? Does He not likewise send locusts or other things to devour or otherwise destroy crops or livelihoods? Does He not even send pestilence or plague? None of those things are outside of the scope of God’s all-encompassing providence.

Ought we not to see this current pandemic as an act of God’s just judgment? Does not even our own land, which has enjoyed the manifold blessings of God’s grace and mercy in abundance throughout her history, have much wickedness of which we need to seek God’s face and repent?

These things that we might think of as merely being “natural disasters” are not only part of God’s all wise & powerful providence, but they are also at times intended as a chastisement or judgment for wickedness. The Scriptures are replete with examples of such things.

God often sends drought, famine, pestilence, war, and other such calamities in order to get our attention, and to turn us from our wicked ways.

And so we as God’s people must think and act like believers, and not like deists or atheists. These things did not come about randomly or by chance. And while we may not be able to infallibly interpret God’s works of providence, we should be sure that He does all things for a reason, even the sending forth of calamity (Isaiah 45:7).

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 is a call to prayer and repentance. And there God holds forth a promise of mercy (both forgiveness and healing) to the repentant.

And so if we would see the healing of our land, we must first humble ourselves before our God and pray. To humble ourselves means to acknowledge both our sin and guilt, as well as our need for His mercy. It also means acknowledging that His judgments are altogether righteous, holy, and just.

We must pray and seek the face of God. Prayer must not be our last resort in time of crisis or calamity. The Bible says that God’s house is to be “a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17). If we who are called by God’s name do not pray and seek God’s face, who will? And if God’s hand of chastisement does not get us praying, what will?

If this pandemic gets us praying, it will have done us much good!

And, lastly, we must turn from our wicked ways. In other words, we must repent. If we humble ourselves, pray, and genuinely repent, then we may expect the mercy of God. Then God will, by His grace, “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” And we will find that even the repentance itself is a gift of God’s grace, as only God can grant repentance, whether to an individual sinner, or even to a nation (2 Timothy 2:25).

But notice that what comes first when God hears our prayers for mercy is not the healing of the land, but rather the forgiveness of our sins. Then and only then come His healing mercies. As Matthew Henry puts it in his commentary on these verses, “Pardoning mercy makes way for healing mercy.”

We might be tempted to focus primarily on the healing of the land, and the removal of the chastisement and suffering itself, rather than our need for repentance and forgiveness.  It is surely right to be concerned for and pray for lives to be spared. We should continue to pray for those who have been directly affected by this deadly virus. And we should be thankful to God for His mercy that so far the death totals have been far lower than the initial models predicted. We should see that as an answer to prayer, and give God the thanks and glory for it!

I must admit that at times I have even found myself being more concerned with the inconveniences and disappointments related to this pandemic, such as the inability to visit with family and friends, the restrictions on public worship, and even missing baseball (!), than with the urgent need for repentance and revival in our land, even in the church. As much as we may long for things to “get back to normal,” we should long for revival in our land even more!

We must seek forgiveness for our sins, first and foremost, and not just healing. Our sin is the real disease; our miseries are only the symptoms and results of that disease.

We who know the Lord Jesus by faith must seek God’s face and pray for revival and repentance, so that God might show mercy to us and heal our land. That is the lesson and promise of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14.

May God in His great mercy bring such revival, that He might grant repentance and faith to many, and so forgive our sins and heal our land, to His glory alone.

“Look at the Birds of the Air”

Years ago while I was attending seminary, small groups of students would get together with one of our professors on a regular basis for prayer. We would often meet outside, since the weather was almost never an issue in Southern California.

On one such occasion we were struck by the sound of all the birds around us singing. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the birds seemed to be everywhere, and they were all singing their little hearts out. It was as if nature itself was putting on a little concert for us.

Our professor used it as an opportunity to give us an object lesson from the Scriptures. He reminded us of the words of our Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25–26, ESV)

He told us that whenever we saw the birds or heard them singing, we should call to mind Jesus’s words there in that passage. I may not remember half of what I heard in the classrooms in seminary, but that lesson stuck with me. It is one of the simplest, yet most memorable lessons that I learned in my entire time there.

The main point throughout that passage is that we are not to be anxious. And we are not to be anxious because our God will provide for our needs.

That is sometimes easier said than done, isn’t it? There are many things in this life that often tempt us to be anxious and worrisome about our daily needs. Even as I sit here writing this post, people all over the world are suffering through the effects of a global pandemic. And those effects are in no way limited to health-related concerns, as serious as those may be. Some of the worst, most widespread effects have been economic and even social in nature. Many businesses have been forced to close their doors, and many jobs have necessarily been lost as well. It is only natural to worry about making your ends meet when faced with this kind of trial.

If you are a Christian and find yourself faced with such a situation in your life, take a moment and do what Jesus says there in Matthew’s Gospel – “Look at the birds of the air” (v.26). Look at them, listen to their chirping and singing, and be reminded that “your heavenly Father feeds them.” And if He feeds them, He will certainly take care of you as well.  As Jesus goes on to say there, “Are you not of more value than they?” And as the hymn writer put it, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

When times are tough, let the birds all around outside be a constant reminder of the providential care of God. And let that knowledge keep you from anxiety, and keep you constantly in prayer to God with thanksgiving.

Calvin on the Great Blessing of the Knowledge of God’s Providence

Institutes CalvinThe doctrine of the providence of God has always proven to be a great source of peace and comfort to the believer in Christ. Sad to say, providence is a word that has largely fallen out of use among many in the church today. Worse yet, a right understanding and affirmation of the doctrine itself in some ways seems even more scarce.

What is providence? The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:

“Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

God not only created all things from nothing in the beginning (Genesis chapter 1), but He also preserves or sustains all things as well. As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, Christ Himself “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV) But more than that, the Lord governs or rules over all things as well, including not just “all his creatures” (i.e. everything that God has made), but also “all their actions” as well.

In other words, God’s providence is all-encompassing.

And this truth should be of great comfort to every believer in Christ. John Calvin writes,

“[I]f the light of God’s providence shines in the believers’s heart, not only will he be free of the fear and anguish which afflicted him before, he will also be relieved of every doubt. For as we have a justified fear of fate, so we are rightly bold to entrust ourselves to God. We are thus wonderfully comforted to know that the Lord so holds all things in his power, rules by his will and controls by his wisdom, that nothing can occur except as he has ordained it; and moreover that he has taken us under his protection and has given his angels charge over us [Psalm 91:11], so that neither flood nor fire nor sword nor anything else can hurt us unless his will determines otherwise.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1541 Edition, p.511)

and also:

“Where does the believer get this assurance that can never be taken from him, except from the knowledge that, while the world seems completely topsy-turvy, God is actively guiding him, and from his hope that all God’s works will prove salutary to him?” (Ibid)

Our Lord Jesus Himself taught the truth of providence in order that His disciples might not fear. In Matthew 10:29–31 He says,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (ESV)

“Fear not.” That is the lesson and the comfort of God’s providence to the believer. Providence means that trouble and affliction may indeed come, but God will make all things work together for our good, even for our salvation (Romans 8:28-29)!

Calvin goes on to say:

“I would say that the greatest misery which can befall a man is to know nothing of God’s providence, and conversely that it is an exceptional blessing for him to know it well.” (p.512)

May every believer in Christ make it their aim to know the “exceptional blessing” of knowing God’s providence well, that in time of trial or affliction he or she may say with the Psalmist:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”” (Psalm 91:1–2, ESV)

 

The Heidelberg Catechism on the 5th Commandment (Honor Your Father and Your Mother)

DeYoung HeidelbergThe Heidelberg Catechism includes just one question regarding what is involved in obeying the 5th commandment, but it says a lot in just a brief space:

“Q.104. What does God require in the fifth commandment? A. That I show all honor, love, and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”

Notice that the basic gist of this commandment is that God requires of us that we show the proper honor, respect, submission, and obedience to the earthly authorities whom He has placed over us in His most wise and good providence.

That obviously starts with our parents, who are the first authority figures we normally encounter in our lives. In many ways it is in the home where we first learn (or fail to learn) respect for and submission to authority.

Clearly the Heidelberg rightly teaches that this honor, respect, and submission extend well beyond our earthly parents to all of the other earthly authority figures in our lives as well (i.e. “all in authority over me”). As Paul says in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV)

The sovereign wisdom and providence of God are to be kept in mind when dealing with those who are in authority over us. We are to remember that “there is no authority except from God,” and that includes those in authority whom we may not particularly agree with or appreciate. As Q/A 104 puts it, we are to submit to them “since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”

That is why Paul goes on to say, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:2, ESV)

Notice also that the catechism anticipates the most common objection to godly submission in every context, in that it tells us that we must “also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” Perfect wisdom and decision making on the part of those who are over us in this life are not the prerequisites for our submission. Otherwise no one would ever be worthy of submission.

Even the very best earthly fathers are just doing the best that they can. (See Hebrews 12:.10.) And their imperfections in no way render our honoring and obeying them to be optional.

We are to bear with the weaknesses and infirmities of the authorities whom God has placed over us in His infinite wisdom. That includes parents, husbands, officers in the church, and civil authorities, among others. And the reason, as always, is that “it pleases God to govern us by their hand.”

Ask yourself this, how do you think and speak of the earthly authorities whom God has placed over you? Disagreeing with them, even criticizing them (depending on the way that it is done, of course) may even be necessary at times. But do you show them the respect and honor that is due to them for the sake of their God-given office?

As believers in Christ, we must submit to those whom God has been pleased to place over us, and we must do so in such a way that we “also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities,” and even pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

In his book on the Heidelberg Catechism entitled, The Good News We Almost Forgot, Kevin DeYoung writes,

“I doubt many of us regularly feel convicted by the Fifth Commandment, but we probably should. How are we really doing? Do we joyfully submit to parents, husbands, and the rule of law? Are we patient with pastors and senators and middle managers? Do we give glad respect to denominational executives, committee chairpersons, and department heads? Do we take care of our aging parents without grumbling and complaining? Do we ever consider their feelings and desires above our own when making plans for the holidays? Would we be happy if our young children treated us like we, now grown, treat our parents?” (p.187)

We may not give the 5th commandment much thought, but we should. And if we were to do so, no doubt most of us would find plenty of room for confession, repentance, and improvement. May God work in us what is pleasing in His sight, by His grace and Holy Spirit, to the glory of the name of Jesus Christ.

The Heidelberg Catechism on True Conversion (Q/A 88-90)

Heidelberg 2True Conversion

Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 88-90 deals with one of the most crucially important topics imaginable – the nature of true conversion.

Of course, it is important to rightly understand these things, not merely in an abstract, academic way, but in a personal and experiential way. In other words, every person must essentially ask themselves, ‘Am I converted?’ and ‘How do I know if I have been converted?’

The previous question (Q/A 87) asked whether or not a person can be saved if they ‘continue in their wicked and ungrateful ways and are not converted to God.’ The answer was “By no means.”

The next few questions (Q/A 88-90) flesh out for us in more detail the nature of true conversion.

Q.88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist? A. Of two parts: of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q/A 88 (above) provides an outline of sorts for the next two (2) questions of the Heidelberg. Q/A 89 defines the “mortification of the old man,” and Q/A 90 defines the “quickening of the new man.”

Mortification

Q.89. What is the mortification of the old man? A. It is a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins, and more and more to hate and flee from them.

“Mortification” is a theological term that seems to have largely fallen out of use in our day. It was no doubt much more common when the King James Version of the Bible was the predominant translation. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:13 (KJV):

“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (italics added)

Newer translations, such as the ESV and others, render it simply as “put to death.”

Notice that this mortification or putting to death of our old man involves both the inner and the outer person. It includes both a “sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins” and a “hatred” of our sins (i.e. a changed heart), as well as fleeing from them (i.e. a changed life).

That true conversion or repentance must involve a change of heart is clear from passages such as Joel 2:12-13, which says,

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (ESV, Italics added)

And that true conversion must also involve a change of life is clear from passages like 2 Corinthians 7:10, where Paul writes,

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV)

“Godly grief” produces (or “worketh” – KJV) repentance. It results in a turning from sin unto God through faith in Christ. But “worldly grief” or sorrow, on the other hand, does not lead to repentance, and so only produces death.

Vivification

Q.90. What is the quickening of the new man? A. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

“Quickening” (or vivification – bringing to life) is the other side of the coin from mortification; both must necessarily go together.

True conversion involves not just a “sincere sorrow of heart” for our sin (Q/A 89), but also a corresponding “sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ” (Q/A 90). And it is likewise not just a turning or fleeing away from our old way of life in sin, but also a corresponding “love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of these same things involved in true conversion as “repentance unto life”:

“Q. 87. What is repentance unto life? A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

This is nothing less than a complete (although certainly not completed or perfected in this life) change or even reversal of orientation of a person toward sin and toward God!

Conclusion

And so you must ask yourself if these things are true in your own life. Have you been truly converted? Do you have a sincere sorrow of heart over your sins against God? Do you find yourself increasingly hating your sins and turning from them? (Repentance is a lifelong endeavor.)

Do you likewise have a sincere joy of heart in God through Jesus Christ, so that in love for Him you now increasingly delight to live accordingly to God’s commandments (albeit imperfectly in this life)?

Simply put, that is a description of a Christian. It is my sincere hope that this is a description of you. If so, thank God for His great love and mercy toward a sinner like you, that even when you were still dead in your sins He made you alive together with Christ and saved you by His grace!

And if that does not yet describe you, and you are not yet converted, take heed to the words of the Apostle Peter:

“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19, KJV)

Repent from your sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith – be converted! And your sins will be blotted out and forgiven!

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.