Q 59. What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?
A 59. In Christ I am righteous before God and heir to life everlasting.
Q 60. How are you righteous before God?
A 60. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Q 61. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?
A 61. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.
Having now spent a vast majority of our time in the Heidelberg Catechism unpacking the Apostles’ Creed and its meaning, we now hopefully have a better understanding of what we mean when we say “I believe in ____.” This week the follow-up question are as vitally important as they are starkly jarring: So what?
We now have a head knowledge of the Apostles’ Creed; we may even be able to say it from memory, big deal. What does that get us? The answer is equally as important: salvation. If we believe all of this we are united to Christ and made right in God’s sight thus receiving the gift of eternal life.
But what exactly does this mean? Today we will talk about this using the terms “Faith” and “Justification,” and we will use Romans 3:21-28 as our guide:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
As Christians, we often say that for one to be saved they have to “put their faith” in Jesus. How does this happen, though, and what does it look like?
First, we have to understand what faith is. Faith is believing that something is true and right. In Scripture, we are told that faith is a result of the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to direct it toward Jesus Christ. Faith, then, is the vehicle through which we receive salvation. Romans 10:10 says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
What does it mean to be “justified?” It means that, through the work of Jesus Christ we are made right in God’s sight. there are a couple of important implications here:
- Justification does not mean perfection. We are still sinners in this life. On this side of heaven, we will always be the “sinning saints” or “righteous wretches.” Putting our faith in Jesus, being justified through His blood does not imply a perfect life from that point on.
- Justification means that we are made right in God’s sight. This means that God doesn’t see our old, sinful self anymore. Instead, He sees the mark of His Son. This is known as “alien righteousness,” referring to the fact that our righteousness is not from us, it comes from Jesus. There is nothing we contribute to our own salvation.
- Justification, on a related note, also refers to “imputed righteousness.” This means that, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and, through God’s grace, are justified before Him, righteousness is credited to us. We are not “made holy” or “infused with goodness” in the sense that we somehow possessed it in ourselves and then Jesus unlocked it. The righteousness that is are is credited to us.
- Justification comes through FAITH ALONE. This has historically been an issue in the church for some reason. Perhaps we will always have trouble letting go of the notion that we have to do something to earn this. It is human nature to want to win our way to the top. However, Scripture makes it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that justification happens when we put our faith in Jesus. Yes, a transformed life is definitely a result of this faith. However, it is once again important to note that we contribute nothing to our salvation but our own sin and have no merit before God except for Christ’s.
Through faith, we are justified. Though Christ’s work, righteousness, merit, and grace are the key components of salvation, faith is both necessary and instrumental in our salvation too. It is so, because of the object of our faith: Jesus Christ. This is an important distinction to make as we come to the close of this portion of the Heidelberg Catechism. Faith is important, yes, but faith does not save you; Jesus saves you. We do not have faith in our faith, we have faith in Jesus. Sometimes this can be confusing. Faith is the way in which we embrace Christ, but even our ability to trust Him can ebb and flow. God, however, is faithful and when we rest in Him we can be assured that He will never leave us or forsake us.