Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 5:
Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve
temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape
that punishment, and be again received into favor?
Answer. God will have His justice satisfied: and therefore, we
must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.
Question 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?
Answer. By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our
Question 14. Can there be found anywhere one who is a mere creature,
able to satisfy for us?
Answer. None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature
for the sin which man hath committed; and further, no mere creature
can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin, so as to
deliver others from it.
Question 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we
Answer. For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous; and yet
more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.
How thankful we can be that the Bible does not end with the message of man's sin and condemnation and that the Catechism goes on from man's misery to the way of deliverance.
We now begin the second main section of the Heidelberg Catechism, which
teaches us the gospel - the good news - of salvation for sinners. But
the Catechism moves very slowly, and we are not introduced to the Savior
until partway through the sixth Lord's Day. Instead, the catechism becomes
very pedagogical, leading us to Christ very logically and carefully.
There is no "easy-believism" or a simple "sinner's prayer." Instead,
the Catechism reaffirms our depravity, shows the impossibility of salvation
through man's effort, and presents us with the gospel of sovereign grace.
God plans salvation, God provides the Savior, and God sovereignly brings
sinners to Himself. Salvation is of the Lord!
Have you been reconciled to God?
One important way to think of salvation is "reconciliation." Paul uses this
word to sum up the whole gospel. He says that God has "given to us the
ministry of reconciliation" (II
Corinthians 5:18-19). To reconcile is to reunite those who are estranged
from one another, by removing the barrier to their relationship. Reconciliation
changes their position from hostility to friendship.
How sweet is reconciliation! When an estranged man and his wife are reunited, when brothers who have been fighting for years make peace, when a wayward child returns - these are times of joyous reconciliation.
Usually in this kind of reconciliation, both sides have to do something in order to make it possible for them to come back together. Both of them must want it; both must make apologies and changes in behavior; both must be forgiving and receptive. Reconciliation with God works differently from this.
For one, God does not need to be reconciled to us. No, He has done no offense,
He does not need to make adjustments or apologies. The enmity that exists
between God and man is man's fault. Isaiah
59:2 says, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your
God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear."
We humans are the ones who have to be reconciled. Our sin in Adam and
Eve has estranged us from God. As the Canons of Dordt teach, "God would
have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish and delivering
them over to condemnation on account of sin" (Head I, Art. 1).
Further, man can do nothing to change his estranged relationship to God. If there is conflict in a marriage, in a family, or in the church, either party involved can initiate the reconciliation and make moves to repair the rift. But with God that cannot be done, and in fact we by nature do not want that. We cannot say that we are sorry; we cannot mend anything. From our point of view reconciliation is impossible. So reconciliation is from God's side. God takes us, who were originally made to know and love Him, who now have fallen from that relationship, and He brings us back to Himself in Jesus Christ.
God Is Just
This reconciliation is real. It is not just a patch-up job, which shoves differences under the rug and moves on.
By nature we all prefer to think of God only in terms of mercy and
love. We would like Him to be the kind of God who lets our sin go, without
insisting on His own justice. In fact, this is how many people think
of God today. How wrong, and how different to the God of the Bible,
who says in Exodus
23:7, "I will not justify the wicked" and of whom the Scriptures
say, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (I
John 1:5). God cannot let go of the tiniest speck of sin. If He
did, that would pollute His purity. Every sin, even the smallest, will
be remitted only by payment and punishment.
Two things in the Bible make this truth of God's justice very clear. First,
the Bible teaches the reality of hell. Our sins deserve not only temporal
punishment, but eternal punishment in hell. The doctrine of hell is
not pleasant, but probably the greatest teacher of hell in all the Bible
was Jesus Himself. In Matthew
25:41 He prophesied that on the judgment day He, Himself, as judge,
will say to some men, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,
prepared for the devil and his angels."
The second proof is that God punished the sins of man in His own beloved Son,
Jesus Christ. Even though Jesus Himself was free of sin, He still had
to die in order to redeem His people. If it had been possible any other
way, then God would certainly have spared His Son the suffering of the
cross. But, the Bible says, God "spared not his own son" but gave Him
up for sin (Romans
8:32). God is just, and so He punished the sins of His people in
the death of His own Son. If the sins of believers demand satisfaction,
then it is impossible that the ungodly will escape hell.
Because God is just, there must be satisfaction for sin. This too is a very important gospel concept. When someone is satisfied, he says, "It is enough." After dessert, with a full stomach at the end of a meal, I say, "I am satisfied."
God says, "It is enough," and "I am satisfied," only when every last sin has
been paid for. Sin incurs a debt with God. Jesus teaches us to think
of our sin this way when He teaches us to pray, "And forgive us our
What is the debt? "The wages of sin is death" (Romans
6:23). Death is not merely the soul's leaving the body, but it is
the soul's going to hell to suffer, and the body later joining the soul
in hell. This is what our sin deserves. This is the only way the debt
of sin can be paid.
This debt of sin is not small, but is an infinite debt, a debt that cannot be calculated. That's why the suffering of hell is eternal-it goes on into time infinite. You cannot calculate the debt of your sin. Every sin you commit, even the smallest sinful thought, makes you worthy of death, an eternity in hell, and how many sins aren't there in your life, even in one day? Are there ten sins in a day, fifty, hundreds, thousands? Then add these up over a lifetime and there are millions. Each one warrants an eternity of suffering in hell; so the debt is infinite.
The (Heidelberg) Catechism tells us, "God will have His justice satisfied; and therefore, we must make this full satisfaction either by ourselves or by another."
As far as we are concerned, there are really only two options for satisfaction. Either we make this payment ourselves, or someone else will have to do it for us.
If anything is clear from the Bible, it is this, from Genesis to Revelation, there is absolutely no way we can satisfy God's justice ourselves. This debt is not like a multi-million dollar debt that an individual might have, to which he makes payments each month, which seem hardly to make a dent. It is not like the multi-trillion dollar debt of a country, which can get chipped away at when economic prosperity returns. No, this is an infinite debt, which means that even if massive payments were made, daily, for the whole of one's life, the debt would not even begin to be paid. It is impossible for a finite creature to pay an infinite debt.
Besides, it is impossible for our works to pay anything. God requires perfection, and our deeds are always sinful. Even our best are fraught with sin. Also, even if all our works were perfect, or if they were perfect from here on out, they would not merit anything with God. Works of a creature can never merit with God, because the creature owes his best to God regardless.
Instead of paying off our debt, we add to it every day with our sins and need further forgiveness. Even the sinner in hell is not decreasing his debt, but continues in the irreversible state of hatred toward God, thus making his debt greater and greater. How impossible is a doctrine of salvation by "good works." Those who trust their own works to get them to heaven are going to find out that, because nothing they have done merits with God, and because they did not trust in Christ, they themselves will have to suffer for their sins in hell.
So we have to find someone or something else to pay the debt for us. Almost all religions teach that a person can bring something to his god to appease him, a gift or a sacrifice. Even Roman Catholics teach this. But on this point biblical Christianity is different. There is no way for any creature to take and pay our sin before God. A cow or lamb sacrifice cannot do it, because animals are not equivalent to man before God. The same holds true for angels. Another fallen man cannot do it, because he has his own sins to be concerned with before God. If there was a sinless man, it would not be possible for him to do it because the burden of wrath is infinite, and a creature would be crushed under it before the debt was paid.
The Only Way
It is very clear then that our case is hopeless. From our point of view, reconciliation and satisfaction are impossible. The only way is that God devise a way that includes Himself, and the perfection and power of His own being, and that somehow God combine this to the human nature that must be punished. Therefore, the kind of mediator we need is one who is Himself God almighty, able to bear the weight of our sin, one who is perfectly righteous, so that He need not pay for His own sins, and one who is a true man to take the wrath of God against man.
With this biblical and doctrinal logic, the (Heidelberg) Catechism is ready
to introduce us to Christ, of whom the Scriptures say, "Wherefore in
all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews
2:17). In question fifteen, though not mentioned by name, He is
mentioned as "mediator" and "redeemer." A mediator is one who stands
between two who are at odds and need to be reconciled. Christ, who comes
from God, is our mediator, not to bring God down to us, but to bring
us up to God, through taking on Himself our sin.
A redeemer is one who pays the price to purchase and set free those who are under bondage and in debt. Our bondage is sin and our debt is hell. Christ pays the price in the cross to set us free from the guilt and power of sin.
This is the gospel of reconciliation. Isn't it a glorious gospel? Paul thinks
it is, and so he wants to preach it. God, he says, has "given to us
the ministry of reconciliation" (II
Corinthians 5:18). What good news it is, when friends and family
members are reconciled. You would tell everyone! What greater good news
that God and sinners are reconciled.
So Paul says, "Be ye reconciled to God!" (II
Corinthians 5:20). What does he mean? He means, "Believe on Jesus,
God's provided Mediator!" There is no other way.
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True Saving Faith
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 7
Question 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved
Answer. No, only those who are ingrafted into Him, and receive
all His benefits, by a true faith.
Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer. True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold
for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also an assured
confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that
not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness,
and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the
sake of Christ's merits.
Question 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?
Answer. All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles
of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.
The previous Lord's Days have demonstrated our need of Christ. Man is dead in sin and hell-worthy in himself. The only possibility for his salvation is the death of Jesus Christ, the perfect Mediator. Now the question arises, Is everyone saved by the death of Christ? Did Jesus take the place of everyone who ever lives in the history of this world? Did He die for all men, women, and children?
The emphatic answer is NO! The Bible does not teach that God loves all men and that Jesus died for everyone. This popular heresy, called "Universalism," denies the value and power of the cross of Jesus because it says that Jesus paid for the sins of people who end up going to hell anyway. It makes salvation a possibility for all, leaving the actuality of salvation up to the will of the sinner who, if he accepts Christ, is saved.
The Reformed faith teaches Limited Atonement, that Christ died only
for His elect. This is biblical. In Matthew
1:21, Joseph is told that Mary's child will be named "Jesus, for
he shall save His people from their sins." His people are those whom
the Father eternally entrusted to Him (John
6:37-40). Jesus Himself says, "I am the good shepherd, and know
my sheep...and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John
10:14, 15), and then says to the unbelieving Jews, "Ye believe not,
because ye are not of my sheep" (John
10:26). Simple logic tells us that if they are not of His sheep,
then He did not lay down His life for them.
The Necessity of Faith
Without faith, salvation is impossible. Only those who believe and
trust in Jesus Christ for all their salvation can and will be saved.
The most important command in all the Bible is, "Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ!" Hebrews
11, the great chapter in the Bible on faith, says that "without
faith it is impossible to please him" and "he that cometh to God must
10:39 says we "believe to the saving of the soul."
Because of this the church preaches a message that demands faith. The church
does not assume that all those who hear the gospel preached are believers.
The church does not preach a gospel only for believers. "But now [God]
commandeth all men, everywhere to repent" (Acts
17:30). Even those who are believers must hear the call to faith.
It is through this call, that they exercise their faith.
The Source of Faith
Faith is the means that God has appointed for salvation, but it is
not a power that man has of himself. It is a gift of God through the
work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians
2:8). Because of this, the Catechism speaks of faith as a graft.
Man does not graft himself into Christ, but he is ingrafted by God in
the work of regeneration. Remember, a farmer grafts a branch into a
tree; the branch does not do this by itself. Once God has grafted us
into Christ, we begin to receive spiritual life, and one of the first
things we receive is the ability to believe. We "believe through grace"
18:27). This ability to believe is not given to all men, but only
to the elect (Acts
13:48). When a person who is regenerated hears the gospel preached,
that person responds to the gospel in faith because God has first given
him/her the ability to do this. "The natural man receiveth not the things
of the Spirit of God... because they are spiritually discerned" (I
The popular Arminian position is that man has a free will, that Christ died for all men, that everyone has the ability to believe in Jesus, and that Christ leaves that choice up to the sinner. This heresy not only denies the power of the cross of Christ, but also denies the depravity of fallen man and the truth of election and reprobation.
When we say faith is a graft, we are also saying that faith is a "living" connection
to Christ. Faith is not like glue that holds two things together, or
like a weld that holds two cold pieces of metal together. Rather, faith
is like a blood vein that transports life to other parts of the body.
Through this faith we continually feed on Christ. It is the "hand and
mouth" of the soul. This means that the true believer is constantly
exercising his faith. Salvation and conversion are not something that
just happened at a certain time on a certain date, but they are the
ongoing experience of the Christian. Apart from Christ, the Vine, there
is no life for the branches. Abiding in Christ, the branches will bring
forth fruit (John
True Saving Faith
There are false faiths, which are not really faith at all. A man may say he
has faith, when what he has is not actually true faith (James
There is a false faith that knows of the reality of God, of hell, of man's
sinfulness and need for a Savior, but never trusts in Christ for forgiveness.
The devils, and many who have grown up under the gospel, have this kind
of faith (James
2:19). We call this "historical faith."
There is also a false faith that is very selfish, a faith that wants all the
apparent blessings and special gifts of Christianity. But the one with
this faith wants nothing to do with the true blessings of Christ - forgiveness
that comes through repentance. This person does not seek to honor God,
but wants honor only for himself (see Acts
8:18-20). We call this "miraculous faith."
There is also a false faith that at first appears to be real, but then as time
progresses is proved to be false. The person with this kind of faith
is like the seed on the stony soil, in Jesus' parable, that "heareth
the word, and anon with joy receiveth it," but "when tribulation and
persecution" come, or the desire for earthly things gets too strong,
the word is choked out, he is offended, and he leaves his "faith" behind
We call this "temporary faith."
How does your faith measure up in comparison to these? Is it a true, genuine, saving faith?
Let us see what true faith is, as described by the Bible and the Catechism. Wherever the Holy Spirit gives faith, two things will always be present. First, there will be a knowledge of what God has revealed in His Word, and second, there will be a confident trust in God's promises.
Today, many describe faith as "a leap" into the unknown. Faith, they say, is like jumping off a high mountain or from an airplane into the fog below, hoping that God will be there to catch you.
But this is not faith. No, faith has substance. It believes objective, revealed realities. That is, God has revealed Himself in His Word, and faith begins with knowing God as revealed, and believing all that God has revealed to be true. Our faith has a firm foundation, the Scriptures, which are as true, sure, trustworthy, and enduring as God Himself. Central to the Scriptures is the revelation of Christ our Savior, and believing God's revelation means we believe on Jesus Christ for all our salvation. How important it is then to know the Word and revelation of God. The Catechism will go on to fill in what this knowledge is, following the content of the Apostles' Creed.
However, saying faith has a sure foundation does not mean that God tells us everything. No, life is still full of its unknowns. We do not know what troubles tomorrow may bring to our lives. But even so, we do know that God will not change. From the Scriptures, we know the permanency of His grace and presence. Our life is something like walking across a deep canyon on a strong, solid bridge that does not even sway. There may be fog around us, so that we cannot see the depths of the canyon below, or even where our foot will land with the next step, but as we step forward, the bridge is always there, sturdy and strong. We don't know what is ahead, but we do know God will be there.
So faith is an assured confidence and trust in God. This confidence
stems from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He has blessed
us with "remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation,"
and because He has given us this, we know that He will freely give us
all we need for life and death (Romans