Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32
Q 86. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works?
A 86. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits, so that he may be praised through us, so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.
Q 87. Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and unrepentant ways?
A 87. By no means. Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like will inherit the kingdom of God.
This week’s questions and answers draws us into the third of the three major themes of the Heidelberg Catechism. We started off with “guilt,” talking about the fact that Scripture reveals to us the reality of our sinfulness and guilty verdict that we carry when left on our own. There is nothing that we can do to change this, no amount of work or right living can make up for the sin that we commit nor bridge the chasm between us and God.
We then moved on to talking about grace. We have seen and read that, in the midst of our helplessness, God stepped in to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. Jesus is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Him. This fundamental truth sets apart Christ followers from every other religion. Salvation from our sins comes by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus alone.
Today we move on to the final leg of the journey: gratitude. This section answers the next question: “how then shall we live in response to this?” The answers to question 88 and 89 are an introduction to what the “New Life” in Christ looks like and they are characterized by the words of Paul in the book of Romans.
Romans 6:1-4 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Romans 6:15-18 – What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Both of these passage characterizes the transition between the “old self” and the “new creation” that we are in Christ. The reformed understanding of the change that takes place in this transaction is one of permanence. Once we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we are marked as Christ’s own, forever. In the same way that there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation, there is nothing that we can do to lose it either.
This particular doctrine, known as “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved always saved,” has encountered much criticism over the years. Much of that criticism stems from the notion that this is a license to live however one likes because of the security of their salvation. “Why does one need to change anything about their lives is the only thing needed is faith?”
Biblically, the answer is quite straight forward: faith expresses itself in a transformed life. We are no longer steeped in sin but instead have the Holy Spirit in us and experience an inner transformation that is expressed in outward deeds. This isn’t to say that we live a life that is trying to “pay God back” for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, but instead that we are living a life of thankfulness and celebration for the freedom we are given through faith in Him. The former falls back into a “works-righteousness” mentality, the latter not only sees God’s work continuing in us which is expressed in and through our lives, but also adorns the Gospel in such a way that others will be attracted to it as well.
Naturally, the follow-up question to this would be, “what about sin?” What about those who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, placed their faith in Him, and have then, either fallen back into an old sin or have chosen to walk away from the faith? I can tell you that there is no easy answer for this.
For those who fall back into sin, we are encouraged to not dispair because God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful to Him. Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is not powerless against sin but has indeed defeated it in Jesus Christ, therefore those who have fallen back into sin, say in the instance of addiction, are not lost to God. There is always hope, always grace, and God relentlessly pursues them all the way to the day Jesus comes again.
As far as those who walk away from the faith, this question can be more difficult to answer. It seems unfair to us that those who actively walk away from God and don’t affirm their so-called faith with their life would still be saved through the faith they once exhibited. Our notion of “fairness,” if we think about it, is centered on works. Works do not save us; it is God’s grace affirmed by our faith that brings about salvation.
Paul writes, in Romans 8, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” We may be inclined to question a person’s faith, whether it was genuine or not. That is, however, not for us to determine. God knows the heart and God calls to Himself whom He will. The same can be said for the so called “death-bed conversion.” We cannot know the eternal outcome of such things. However, what we do know is this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).