Heidelberg Catechism Q.1 – Your Only Comfort in Life and in Death

The Starting Point of the Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism starts with the most important question that one can ask – literally a question of life and death! In doing so, the catechism wastes no time, and shows us that the Christian faith is no trivial matter. This sets the tone for everything that follows:

Q.1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism similarly begins by asking “What is the chief end of man?” It answers by saying that man’s chief end “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Both catechisms have good starting points, for both begin by making us face questions of ultimate and eternal significance.

In his book on the Heidelberg Catechism, The Good News We almost ForgotKevin DeYoung writes,

“In truth, both catechisms start in appropriate places. Heidelberg starts with grace. Westminster starts with glory. We’d be hard-pressed to think of two better words to describe the theme of biblical revelation.” (p.21)

Whether you begin with grace (Heidelberg) or glory (Westminster), either way both catechisms begin by asking questions regarding the state of sinful man in relation to his Creator.

The Source of Our Only Comfort in Life and in Death

The catechism begins by pointing believers to the only true source of comfort in life and in death – that we have been bought with a price, and belong (in life and in death) to our Lord Jesus Christ. The first part of the answer spells this out for us when it has us confess in very personal terms (i.e. “I,” “my,” etc.) that our only comfort is found in this:

“That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

This is a truth that the Scriptures point us to again and again, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul:

  • “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:7–9, ESV, Italics added)
  • “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, ESV, Italics added)

Why is that a source of such great comfort in life and in death? The answer to that question is found in what Q.1 has to say about the redemption of Christ – the price that He paid for our salvation from sin – and what that redemption has accomplished for all who are in Christ.

The Redemption of Christ

Why is it that we no longer belong to ourselves, but rather to our faithful Savior? Because, as the catechism goes on to have us confess (again, in very personal terms),

“He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.”

So the ultimate source of our only comfort in life and in death is that we no longer belong to ourselves, but to Christ; and that is only the case because of His redemption for our sins by His cross and resurrection.

And what did Christ’s redemption accomplish? At least two things: 1.) Forgiveness and the Removal of Guilt (“fully paid for all my sins”), and 2.) Freedom to Serve God (“and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil”). You could say that these two things generally are speaking of justification and sanctification.

  • “ . . .waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13–14, ESV)
  • “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV)

The Providential Care of Christ

Not only is the redemption of Christ a source of great comfort for us in life and in death, but so also is His providential care for us. The catechism goes on to say:

“He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.”

Not only are we redeemed by Christ, but we are also unfailingly preserved in the love of God in Christ as well. Not only can nothing separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39), but He also watches over us in this life in such a way, that nothing can so much as harm a hair on our heads apart from the will of God.

Here the Heidelberg Catechism is borrowing language directly from at least two passages:

  • “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.” (Matthew 10:29–31, ESV)
  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, ESV)

The Assurance of Christ

Lastly, this opening question of the catechism speaks of the great blessing of the assurance of our salvation and the work of the Spirit of Christ within us:

“Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

This assurance is also part of the only comfort in life and in death that is ours only in Christ! Not only are we assured of eternal life in Christ by the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit enables us to live for our Savior the rest of our days!

Do you belong to Jesus Christ by faith, so that you yourself have the only true comfort in life and in death that is found in no longer belonging to yourself, but rather in belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, in body and soul, and in life and in death?

No other comfort will do. Every other source of comfort will ultimately let you down, both in this life, and certainly in the day of judgment.

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An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism

heidelberg_study guideThe History of the Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism is named after the place in which it was composed –  Heidelberg, a city in the Palatinate, which was a province in Germany. It was composed at the behest of the ruler of the Palatinate, Elector (or Prince-Elector) Frederick III (1516-1576), and first published in 1563.

The primary author of the catechism was Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), who was just 28 years-old at the time (!), and was professor of theology at the Heidelberg University. Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), who himself was just 26 years-old at the time, and was the court preacher of Frederick III, is thought by some to be the co-author of the catechism, but many hold that he was mainly responsible for the editing and final composition of the original edition that was approved by the Synod at Heidelberg in 1563.

Its original full title translates to “Catechism, or Christian Instruction, as Conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.” (See The Creeds of Christendom, by Philip Schaff, Vol.III, p.307.) This gives us a good idea of the extent of its originally-intended use – not only as a means of promoting doctrinal unity throughout the Palatinate, but also as a teaching tool in both the churches and in schools as well.

The Structure and Outline of the Heidelberg Catechism

Not long after its original composition the questions in the Heidelberg Catechism were numbered, and it was divided up into 52 sections, one for each Lord’s Day (i.e. Sunday) of the year, so that it could be more easily used as a teaching tool in the churches, both for instruction as well as for catechetical preaching. In this way a church could teach her members the entire summary of the basics of the faith at least once every calendar year!

Not only that, but the entire catechism is outlined or structured around three (3) points or sections, often summarized as the “3 G’s” –  Guilt (Q.3-11), Grace (Q.12-85), and Gratitude (Q.86-129). This very outline (although not employing these exact terms) is made explicit in Q.2, which says:

“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.”

Those “three things” that we must know in order to live and die in the joy of our comfort in Christ Jesus correspond to the “3 G’s” listed above. To know our guilt is to know how great our sin and misery are; to know God’s grace in Christ is to know how we are set free from all our sins and misery; and to know true gratitude is to know how we are to thank God for such deliverance.

The catechism (like many others composed since the start of the Protestant Reformation) includes 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), which are commonly considered to be the ABC’s or building blocks of the Christian faith and life. As Puritan writer Thomas Watson well states it:

“The ten commandments are the rule of our life, the creed is the sum of our faith, and the Lord’s prayer is the pattern of our prayer.”  (The Lord’s Prayer, p.1)

No wonder those three (3) things were so commonly taught in the catechisms of the churches of the Reformation!

The Influence of the Heidelberg Catechism

In the Introduction to his book, The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide, G.I. Williamson writes,

“The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the finest creeds of the Reformation period. A faithful teacher of millions, it has stood the test of time. It is still, today, one of the best tools available for learning what it means to be a Christian.” (p.1)

That is high praise indeed, and well-earned at that. Regarding the widespread reach and influence of the Heidelberg Catechism, Philip Schaff writes:

“It is stated that, next to the Bible, the ‘Imitation of Christ,’ by Thomas a Kempis, and Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ no book has been more frequently translated, more widely circulated and used.” (The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I, p.536)

The fact that this catechism has endured the test of time for over 450 years is a testament to its clarity and usefulness. It still remains a vital part of the doctrinal standards (known as the “three forms of unity”) of the Reformed Churches in continental Europe and America.

 

Murder and the Image of God (The Sixth Commandment)

In a previous post we looked at what the Lord Jesus taught about the true meaning and extent of the sixth commandment (i.e. “You shall not murder” – Exodus 20:13), that it prohibits, not just the outward act of unjustly taking someone’s life, but also the inward disposition of hatred. (See Matthew 5:21-26.) In other words, the very root of murder begins in the heart, and such hatred is itself a violation of the sixth commandment. In that sense, we are all guilty of the sin of murder.

But the Bible has much more to say about this subject. For instance, in Genesis chapter 9 (after the great flood of Noah’s day had finally subsided), God told Noah that “every moving thing that lives” (i.e. animals) shall be as food for mankind (v.3). But right after that God also told Noah that for the lifeblood of a man (a human being) He would require a “reckoning” (v.5).

What is that reckoning? In Genesis 9:6 we read,

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” (ESV)

This is not speaking of revenge or vengeance, which belongs only to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19), but of capital punishment. This is a subject that is sure to cause some sharp disagreements among many in our day, but the Scriptures are more than clear on this matter.

So why do I bring it up? Not so much to stir the pot as to make a point. What reason does God give us there in that verse for His institution of capital punishment? What is the reason why “whoever sheds the blood of man” is to have his own blood shed by man (i.e. by the state, which does not bear the sword in vain – Romans 13:4)? He says that it is because “God made man in his own image.”

This is also taught all the way back in Genesis 1:26-27, where it says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

No less than three (3) times in those two short verses we are told that mankind was made in the image of God! God did not create animals in His own image or likeness – only mankind. That is to say that human beings are in an important sense different from the animals, and so are not to be reckoned as mere animals (not even as highly evolved animals). Human beings are created in God’s image, made by God for God, to be in fellowship with Him.

And so the unjust taking of human life by murder (which rears its ugly head in many more forms than we might care to admit) is such a heinous sin before God and deserving of the severest of earthly punishments and even of hell itself because it is, in a sense, ultimately an attack on the image of God in mankind. You could say that every attempt at murder is really an attempt at deicide (the murder of God). It is to wish that God were dead.

As Louis Berkhof writes,

“The crime of murder owes its enormity to the fact that it is an attack on the image of God.” (Systematic Theology, p.204)

So let us learn to take to heart the great biblical truth that every human being is made in the image of God. And may that cause us to examine our hearts when we are tempted to hate or unjustly harm another person.

If we were all more mindful of the image of God that is indelibly stamped on every man, woman and child (even in the womb!), how much differently might we begin to treat each other? How might that knowledge restrain our hate and even the very acts of murder that flow from it?

 

The Fifth Commandment and Submission to Authority

Institutes CalvinThe fifth commandment (i.e. “Honor your father and your mother” – Exodus 20:12) applies to more than just the relationships and authority structure within the family. This commandment is most commonly understood or interpreted as dealing with all earthly relationships and authority structures in general.

John Calvin, for example, summarizes the intent of this commandment as being “that we must revere those whom the Lord has set over us and show them honor and obedience, acknowledging the good that they have done us” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.145).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that what is required of us in the fifth commandment is “the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several [i.e. various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Q.64).

Some of those various “places and relations” include the family, the church, and the state, just to name a few. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says,

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

And so this commandment continues to have a great deal of practical application for us in a number of ways. For example, employees must learn to honor and obey their employers and supervisors. That is the will of God for you if you are employed by someone – to do your job well and to show proper respect to your employer and supervisors.

If you are a Christian, has it ever occurred to you that you are to serve God in how you do your job, and in how you relate to your boss and even to your coworkers? In Colossians 3:23–24 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

Another way of saying that is that God cares about how you do your job. And how you do your job is a reflection of your love for the Lord. We are to work as if we work for the Lord Jesus – because ultimately that is exactly what we are doing! That should change how we approach our work.

The flip-side is also true. If you are an employer, manager, or supervisor, part of doing your job well involves showing proper care and respect to your employees and subordinates. In Colossians 4:1 Paul writes,

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

“You also have a master in heaven.” In other words, God is every boss’s Boss. How might a right understanding of these things transform the workplace!

Another area of practical application of this commandment is our relationship to the governing authorities. In Romans 13:1 the Apostle Paul writes,

“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)

No earthly government or authority figure is perfect. Frankly, many are far from being so. But that does not mean that we may throw off all due civility, respect, and even submission to the same. Why? Because, like it or not, “there is no authority except from God.” Ultimately God put them there, and so each one must one day answer to Him for the way they rule or govern.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing relevance and practical application of the fifth commandment. I hope that this has given you some food for thought that you can put to use in your daily life. How much better might our lives and even our society as a whole be, if we were to put the fifth commandment into practice as we should? May God help us to do just that.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 10 (The Divinity of Christ)

Article 10 of the Belgic Confession deals with the deity of Christ -that He is the true and eternal God:

We believe that Jesus Christ according to His divine nature is the only begotten Son of God, begotten from eternity, not made, nor created (for then He would be a creature), but co-essential and co-eternal with the Father, the very image of his substance and the effulgence of his glory, equal unto Him in all things. He is the Son of God, not only from the time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity, as these testimonies, when compared together, teach us. Moses says that God created the world; and St. John says that all things were made by that Word which he calls God. The apostle says that God made the world by His Son; likewise, that God created all things by Jesus Christ. Therefore it must needs follow that He who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by Him. Therefore the prophet Micah says: His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. And the apostle: He hath neither beginning of days nor end of life. He therefore is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve.

Article 8 of the Confession stated the doctrine of the Trinity. Article 9 gave the proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. Now here in Article 10 the Confession states the doctrine of the true deity or divinity of Christ, along with the Scriptural proofs for this doctrine. (Likewise Article 11 does the same regarding the true deity or divinity of the Holy Spirit.)

The Doctrine of the Deity of Jesus Christ

The first part of Article 10 states the doctrine of Christ’s divinity:

“We believe that Jesus Christ according to His divine nature is the only begotten Son of God, begotten from eternity, not made, nor created (for then He would be a creature), but co-essential and co-eternal with the Father, the very image of his substance and the effulgence of his glory, equal unto Him in all things. He is the Son of God, not only from the time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity . . . .”

The Nicene Creed similarly states the divinity of Jesus Christ, that according to His divine nature he is “co-essential” or “of the same substance” with God the Father:

“And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

begotten of the Father before all worlds;

God of God, Light of Light,

very God of very God; begotten, not made,

being of one substance with the Father,

by whom all things were made.”

The Confession uses very similar wording to that which is found in the Nicene Creed, not only because the Creed has endured the test of time, and is worded in a rather careful, clear, and helpful manner; but also for apologetic purposes, to show the explicit connection and continuity between the teachings of the Reformed faith of the 16th century and the teaching of the ancient church. The Reformed faith affirms and teaches nothing new or novel about the Trinity and the deity of Christ, but rather affirms and upholds the true doctrine that the true church has always held regarding these things down through the centuries.

Not only does the Confession specify that that the Son of God is “co-essential” with the Father, but also that He is “co-eternal” with the Father as well. He is said to be eternally begotten, but “not made, nor created (for then He would be a creature).” If the Son of God were a created being (i.e. a “creature”), He could not then be truly God.

When the Confession states that the Son of God is “co-essential and co-eternal with the Father,” it is emphasizing the unity of the Godhead (i.e. that there is only one God in three Persons). To say that the Son of God is “co-essential” with the Father is to say that He is of the very same essence or substance with Him. To say that He is “co-eternal” is to say (contrary to the heresy of Arianism) that there was never a time when He was not.

The Confession then says that “He is the Son of God, not only from the time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity . . . .” This is contrary to the anti-Trinitarian heresy of Adoptionism, which taught that Jesus was basically just a very holy man whom the Christ Spirit indwelled at his baptism, so that God essentially adopted him as His Son. Rather we affirm and confess that the Lord Jesus Christ, according to His divine nature, is the Son of God from all eternity!

The Scripture Proofs for the Deity of Jesus Christ

The second part of Article 10 gives the Scriptural proofs for the doctrine of Christ’s divinity:

“ . . .as these testimonies, when compared together, teach us. Moses says that God created the world; and St. John says that all things were made by that Word which he calls God. The apostle says that God made the world by His Son; likewise, that God created all things by Jesus Christ. Therefore it must needs follow that He who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by Him. Therefore the prophet Micah says: His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. And the apostle: He hath neither beginning of days nor end of life. He therefore is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve. ”

The Belgic Confession teaches that “these testimonies” (i.e the various passages of Scripture cited from both the Old and New Testaments), when taken or “compared together” with each other clearly teach the deity of Christ. Some of these “testimonies” or passages of Scripture that the Confession weaves together in the above paragraph are as follows:

  • “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3, ESV, Italics added)

  • “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15–17, ESV, Italics added)

  • “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2, ESV, Italics added)

  • “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3, ESV)

All of these passages (and others as well), when taken together, clearly teach the true deity of Jesus Christ. As Mark Jones puts it in his book, Knowing Christ, “The Scriptures simply overwhelm us with proofs of Christ’s divinity” (p.35). The Confession here just points us to the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Scriptural proofs for this doctrine.

As article 10 puts it above, “Therefore it must needs follow that He who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by Him” and also that He “is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve.” And that is the point, after all, isn’t it? The deity of Christ is not just a doctrine for us to affirm, believe, and confess (although it certainly is those things); but rather because of this great truth regarding our Savior we must make it our aim to then “invoke, worship, and serve” the Lord Jesus Christ as our “true, eternal, and almighty God.”

 

Honor Your Father and Your Mother (The Fifth Commandment)

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our study through the ten commandments we now come to the fifth commandment. Despite the relative brevity of this commandment, there are numerous implications and applications that we may draw from it.

The commandment itself simply says,

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV)

This commandment marks the transition to what is often called the second “table” of the law (basically the second half of the ten commandments, so to speak). The first table (i.e. commandments 1-4) deals with love for God, while the second table (i.e. commandments 5-10) deals with love for one’s neighbor.

It is interesting and instructive that when the Lord begins to turn our attention to love for our neighbor, the place he starts is our relationship with our parents. They are typically the first neighbor (i.e. the first people) with whom we come into contact, and so they are the first ones to whom we owe love.

They are also typically the very first authority figures in our lives. And so we first learn (or fail to learn) to honor and obey those who are in authority over us, in the arena of the home or family. Notice that it is “honor” (and not mere outward obedience) that we are to render to our earthly fathers and mothers.

If as children we fail to learn to honor and submit to authority in the home, chances are we will struggle mightily to learn to submit to the many other authorities that God places over us in our various stations in life. For this reason the Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, once wrote, “Nothing sooner shortens life than disobedience to parents.” (The Ten Commandments, p.132)

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul actually quotes this commandment, interprets it, and applies it to believers today. In Ephesians 6:1-4 he writes,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV)

Here Paul clearly teaches (in case anyone had any doubt) that the ten commandments still apply today. And they even apply to children! One of the primary applications of the fifth commandment is that children are to (as Paul puts it above) ‘obey their parents in the Lord.’ Why? Two reasons. First, because “this is right.” We know that it is “right” for children to ‘obey their parents in the Lord’ precisely because God has commanded it.

And so following the Lord isn’t just something for grown-ups, but rather starts very early on in life – even in childhood! A big part of a child following Christ involves honoring and obeying his or her parents.

And not just that, but children are to honor and obey their parents because God has even given a promise with this commandment – “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Notice that Paul clearly teaches that this promise that the Lord annexed or attached to the commandment still applies today. God graciously gives us promises of blessing in order to encourage us in our efforts toward obedience!

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter on the law of God speaks of the usefulness of God’s law for believers, and of the blessings that are promised to us for obedience to His commandments:

” . . . .The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one, and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.” (19.6)

God is no harsh task-master toward his redeemed children. Rather he knows what is best for us, commands us to walk in his ways accordingly, and even gives us blessings along the way in order to encourage us when that way sometimes proves to be difficult. God is good, and even his commandments are given for our good as well!

Are You a Murderer? (The Sixth Commandment)

Murder 2In our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), we now come to the sixth commandment, which simply says, “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) or “You shall not murder” (NKJV, ESV). That sounds pretty short, simple, and straight-forward, doesn’t it? We are not to commit murder.

If we are honest, many of us give this commandment very little thought, at least as far as how it may apply to ourselves. And that is probably because we assume that we have never even come close to breaking this commandment. Are you a murderer? Are you guilty of murder in the eyes of God? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.

The Westminster Larger Catechism includes an extended treatment of the ten commandments, which follows the pattern of stating both the duties required and the sins forbidden in each of the commandments. In that section we are told the rationale for this approach is because, “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded” (Q.99).

Q.136 tells us of the sins that are forbidden in the sixth commandment:

“Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

That is quite the list, isn’t it? Clearly the Westminster divines saw that there is much more involved in breaking the 6th commandment than we might think.

The Scriptures themselves clearly teach us that the sixth commandment is about far more than just the outward act of murder. The Lord Jesus himself made this very clear in his teaching in what we call “the sermon on the mount” (i.e. Matthew chapters 5-7). In Matthew 5:21–22 he says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (ESV)

There Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 (i.e. “You shall not murder.”), and then explains it to us in some detail. And in doing so he tells us that the sin of murder starts with the heart, with hatred. Hatred is the root cause of murder. The outward sin of murder certainly makes one “liable to judgment.” But the Lord Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother” will be “liable to judgment” as well!

In fact 1 John 3:15 says,

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (ESV)

Who among us can possibly claim to have never hated anyone? And if that is the case, there is no one among us who can truly say that he or she is innocent of the sin of murder, at least not inwardly-speaking. And so we are all guilty of much greater sins than we might realize.

And so that brings us back to the question that I posed above – Are you a murderer? The answer to that question, according to the Word of God, is yes.

That ought to impress upon us the very depths of our sin and guilt before a holy God. We have all sinned in much bigger ways than we might realize.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ died (indeed, was executed and murdered by wicked men – Acts 2:23) to save even murderers – murderers like you and me.

There is abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness to be found through faith in Jesus Christ even for sins such as these. He alone can take hearts that are full of hatred and murder and cleanse them, filling them with the love that only comes from God.