Q 12. According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment both now and in eternity: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?
A 12. God requires that his justice be satisfied. Therefore the claims of this justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or by another.
Q 13. Can we make this payment ourselves?
A 13. Certainly not. Actually, we increase our debt every day.
Q 14. Can another creature—any at all—pay this debt for us?
A 14. No. To begin with, God will not punish any other creature for what a human is guilty of. Furthermore, no mere creature can bear the weight of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.
Q 15. What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?
A 15. One who is a true and righteous human, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.
In recent years, mainstream Christianity has taken a dramatic turn towards emphasizing social justice and taking up the banner of an increasingly visual social justice movement. This movement has turned Christians into activists, pulpits into platforms, and people into protestors.
To be clear, social justice is an incredibly important aspect of the Gospel and something that, prior to the last 20 years or so, was something that far too often got pushed to the sidelines of Christian communities. As the pendulum often does, we are seeing a swing to the far opposite side, it seems, and it is possible that a correction is in order.
“Why?” You may ask. “If social justice is an important aspect of the Gospel, shouldn’t we be emphasizing it?” Certainly, the answer is yes. We cannot forget that the work of Christ in bringing salvation to the world is something that ultimately transforms the whole world… in fact, the entire universe! As the body of Christ we should be about this work in our faith communities.
However, if the pendulum is swinging, that means it came from somewhere. Perhaps the opposite side of the spectrum was the “turn or burn” mentality that has often been prevalent in the Christian church. People standing on street corners with megaphones and signs proclaiming the coming judgment and wrath of God unless you make a decision for Christ on the spot. This isn’t exactly the “loving God” that we come to know in Scripture. However, it too is an aspect of the pendulum of justice, and it too is important as we have seen over these past few weeks.
The Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 5 emphasizes, once again, the true nature of the justice of God who is holy, perfectly just, and perfectly righteous. Looking at this we once again see that God’s justice demands judgment against sin. Does this make God unloving? No. As we discussed last week, God’s love and God’s wrath are 100% linked together. Emphasizing one over the other does God an injustice.
It seems that lately, the emphasis has been on saving the world in the name of God’s justice. This has, at least in some realms, come at the expense of saving souls. When the pendulum of justice is balanced, this is a “both/and” of the Gospel. Emphasizing the “save the world” campaign becomes a thinly veiled philosophy of work’s righteousness (earning our own way) where a “turn or burn” mentality sacrifices the real needs of people for the sake of an eternal transaction (often taking place outside the understanding of true faith).
In the parable of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the importance of providing for the physical needs of people. In doing so, we are actually serving as if we are doing it for Christ Himself. Those that don’t do this, however, are told to “depart from me.” The action-oriented social justice movement emphasizes these needs and providing for them, but we must not forget that this must be linked with a concern for the souls of those we come alongside as well. James writes, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” I think the inverse could also be considered true: what if we are too focused on keeping people warm and well fed but do nothing about the souls? There has to be a balance.
What does this really have to do with the Heidelberger’s 5th Lord’s Day? Well, simply put: Jesus is that balance. Emphasis on the “earn your own way,” “works righteousness,” “save the world” mentality only says, perhaps not intentionally, that we can do this ourselves. The Heidelberg, witnessing to Scripture, is clear that we can’t. We need Jesus because we cannot pay this debt of sin ourselves and hope to live; no human can… and no creature can either. We need our Savior who is at the same time 100% God, with the ability to take on the curse and wrath of God, and 100% man, who can stand in the place of humanity. Jesus is both of those.
“I came that you may have life,” Jesus says in John 10:10, “and have it to the full.” Jesus says this certainly referring to the eternal life that He offers. However, the trajectory of Jesus ministry on earth also included a direct confrontation of sin’s impact in the world, both physically and structurally. He challenged religious leaders, governments, physical illness, and even death itself, leaving a trail of defeated sin in His wake. All the while, though, He kept the cross in His view knowing that it was not enough to simply provide physical saving, or spiritual saving, but that both were necessary to bring the true redemption, reconciliation, and restoration that God sought and seeks for each one of us.