Saturday, June 17, 2017

REFORMATION 500 WEEK 25: HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, QUESTION 65-68

Reformation 500 WEEK 25: Heidelberg Catechism, QUESTION 65-68

Question 65: Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from? The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

     We have learned that salvation is received by faith alone in Christ alone. Now we will learn where our faith in Christ comes from, and how it is strengthened.

     We have already learned in Question 8 that we are spiritually dead, unable to believe in Christ, unless we are regenerated. Therefore, our faith in Christ is “not of ourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). “For to you it has been grantedto believe in Him” (Phil. 1:29). Saving faith is given to us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Saving faith is given only to God’s elect.

     Question 65 correctly teaches that, “the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel.” “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? …So, then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17). It pleases God “through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21); you have “been born again…through the word of God...which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). While Paul preached to Lydia, “the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14; cf. 10:44). “Justifying faith is, therefore, “not ordinarily produced in adults without the preaching of the gospel” (Ursinus, 113).

     After the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts He confirms it, that is, strengthens it “by the use of the holy sacraments [i.e. baptism and the Lord’s Supper].”  The Bible’s teaching concerning the sacraments is explained in Questions 66-82.

Question 66: What are the sacraments? The sacraments are visible holy signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that by their use He may the more fully declare and seal to us [believers] the promise of the Gospel, namely, that of free grace He grants us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.

     The word sacrament (sacred or holy ceremony) is the word the Christian church has traditionally used to refer to the holy ceremonies of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

     Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the NT signs and seals of salvation for believers, replacing the OT signs and seals of salvation: circumcision and Passover. A sign symbolizes or points to something. A seal confirms or certifies something (like a seal on a diploma or a signature on a contract). The terms sign and seal come from Romans 4:11 where Paul spoke of Abraham receiving “the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised.” God first established His covenant of grace with Abraham by saving him through faith in Christ (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:17). Then He gave him circumcision as “a sign of the covenant” (Gen. 17:11), to certify Abraham’s salvation in Christ. The cutting of the foreskin symbolized and certified the removal of sin’s penalty and corruption in Christ who “was cut off” for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53:8). In this way, Abraham’s faith in Christ was confirmed and strengthened (John 8:58). The Passover was also a sign of salvation for believers. The blood of the Passover Lamb – “the blood shall be a sign for you” (Ex. 12:13) – was a picture of salvation from the bondage of sin through the blood of “Christ, our Passover, sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7) – “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20). “This is My blood of the new covenant” (Mark 14:24). 

     Now that the true blood has flowed, there is no longer the shedding of blood in either circumcision or Passover. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are now the signs and seals of God’s covenant of grace with believers in Christ. “Sacraments are, therefore, the signs of the everlasting covenant between God and the faithful” (Ursinus, 354).

     The holy sacraments symbolize and certify what God promises all believers in the Gospel: forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross (Acts 10:43-48).

Question 67: Are both the Word and the sacraments designed to direct our faith to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation? Yes, truly, for the Holy Spirit teaches in the Gospel and assures us by the holy sacraments, that our whole salvation stands in the one sacrifice of Christ made for us on the cross.

     The word and sacraments preach the same Gospel, only in different ways. The Holy Spirit teaches us believers in the Gospel that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is the only ground of our salvation. There is no other reason why God saves us from our sins “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The Holy Spirit uses the sacraments (the symbols of salvation through the cross) to assures us of the same Gospel. The water in baptism symbolizes and certifies that “the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper symbolize and certify that we are saved only because of His broken body and shed blood on the cross. “The sacraments differ from the word in this, that they signify by actions and gestures what the word does by language” (Ursinus, 356). It is like showing your love with a kiss after saying, “I love you.” The kiss without the words is not a sign of love (Judas kissed Jesus!). Water, bread and wine without the Gospel are not signs and seals of salvation. They need the word of the cross to set them apart from ordinary use so they become holy (set apart) signs and seals of salvation for believers.

Question 68: How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the New Testament? Two: Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper.


     Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two sacraments instituted by Christ. The Roman Catholic Church adds confirmation, penance, ordination, extreme unction, and marriage. But the Bible does not support this. Neither do the ancient church fathers, two of whom, Ambrose and Augustine, said the only two sacraments were baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These two sacraments are to be faithfully observed in the church until Christ returns (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:26); so “they may be marks by which the true church may be known and distinguished from all other religions” (Ursinus, 342). 


NOTE: These Posts were written and  designed as bulletin inserts by Pastor David Fagrey of the Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD .  

Link to this blog entry as a bulletin insert:  Reformation 500 Heidelberg Catechism 65-68

For a double-sided PDF for easy printing: Reformation 500 Week 25


Official Seal of  the RCUS
This is the seal of the Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS).  As you can see its history goes back to 1748, when the RCUS began.  We celebrate with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we praise God for what is probably the most amazing spiritual revival in the history of the world.

Page on Omaha Reformed Church's Website: Links to all Bulletin Inserts.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

REFORMATION 500 WEEK 24: HEIDELBERG CATECHISM QA’S 62-64

Reformation 500 WEEK 24: Heidelberg Catechism QA’s 62-64

Question 62: But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God? Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

     We have learned that, “to justify” means “to declare one righteous.” The key question is: on what basis does God declare the believer in Christ to be righteous?

     For the Roman Catholic Church, God declares someone righteous only if they are first sanctified, that is, made inwardly righteous by an infusion of grace (which happens by baptism) and then they cooperate with infused grace by doing righteous things (good works). As long as they keep doing good works, God will keep declaring them righteous. Those who commit a mortal sin lose the grace of justification. But they can be restored to a state of justification through the sacrament of penance. Therefore, for Rome, we are justified on the basis of an imperfect righteousness done by us.

     How does Rome interpret Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28: “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law”? They argue that “works of the law” refers only to the ceremonies of the law (e.g. circumcision, animal sacrifices, etc.), and not the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments). Therefore, they maintain that no one is justified by the ceremonial works of the law, but they are justified by doing the good works required in the NT. With this understanding, they appeal to James 2:24, “a man is justified by works [i.e. good works], and not by faith only.”

     But Rome misinterprets both Paul and James. First of all, nowhere does Paul say a man is not justified by ceremonial works but he is justified by good works. Second, James uses the term justify differently than Paul. “To be justified” has another meaning besides “to be declared righteous before God.” It can also mean “shown to be righteousness before men” (e.g. Luke 7:35; Rom. 3:4). Therefore, Paul speaks “of that righteousness by which we are justified before God…but James speaks of that righteousness by which we are justified before men by our works” (Ursinus, 338). James is rebuking the person who claims to believe in Jesus, but does not have good works to show for it. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14). True believers bear fruit out of thankfulness for salvation: “every good tree produces good fruit” (Matt. 7:17). Therefore, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). James challenges the professing believer without good works, to show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). Thus, the correct way to understand James 2:24 is: “a man is justified [shown to be righteous] by works, and not by faith only.”

     Rome’s fatal mistake is to refuse to accept the biblical truth that perfect righteousness is the requirement for eternal life (Gal. 3:21), which is precisely why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us!

     Thus, our “works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless, they are of no account towards our justification, for it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works (Belgic Confession, Article 24).
Question 63: Do our good works merit [DESERVE] nothing, even though it is God's will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come? The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

The Bible says that God will reward our good works, both in this life and in that which is to come (Psalm 18:20; 19:10-11; Mark 10:28-29; Matt. 5:11-12; 6:6; Heb. 6:10; 11:6; Rev. 22:12). The rewards include peace, joy, and spiritual prosperity (Deut. 12:28; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:165; Prov. 3:13-17; John 10:10; 14:21).

But this does not mean our good works deserve to be rewarded. Only perfect righteousness deserves to be rewarded. “Therefore, we do good works, but not to merit by them (for what can we merit?); nay, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure [Phil. 2:13]. Let us therefore attend to what is written: When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do [Luke 17:10]. In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts” (Belgic Confession, article 24).

Question 64: But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane? No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

     The Roman Catholics slander the reformed doctrine of justification by saying that it makes men careless and profane. They maintain that if you teach people to believe they are justified by faith in Christ even before they do good works, then that will make them care less about doing good works and encourage them to live in sin.

     But the easy reply is that being set free from eternal condemnation makes us thankful, not profane! For when we are united to Christ by true faith we receive both justification and sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11; see again Question 43). God first justifies us by declaring us perfectly righteousness in Christ, and then by His Holy Spirit He begins the process of sanctification which restores God’s holy image in us, purifying us from the inward corruption of sin, and making us inwardly righteous and holy, so that we hate sin and do good works out of thankfulness for salvation (Eph. 4:24-25; Tit. 2:14; 1 John 2:4; 3:10). True believers are “those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some hundred” (Mark 4:20). “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Good works are the fruit of justification – which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). Since the Holy Spirit is producing good fruit in our lives (He “makes me heartily willing and ready to live unto Him,” Question 1), it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness (Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 36:27).

     “He, therefore, who boasts of having applied to himself by faith the death of Christ, and yet has no desire to live a holy and godly life… gives conclusive evidence that the truth is not in him; for all those who are justified are willing and ready to do those things which are pleasing to God” (Ursinus, 227).



NOTE: These Posts were written and  designed as bulletin inserts by Pastor David Fagrey of the Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD .  

Link to this blog entry as a bulletin insert:  Reformation 500 Heidelberg Catechism 62-64

For a double-sided PDF for easy printing: Reformation 500 Week 24


Official Seal of  the RCUS
This is the seal of the Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS).  As you can see its history goes back to 1748, when the RCUS began.  We celebrate with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we praise God for what is probably the most amazing spiritual revival in the history of the world.

Page on Omaha Reformed Church's Website: Links to all Bulletin Inserts.