God’s Faithfulness: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’ Day 52

LORD’S DAY 52

  1. What is the sixth petition?

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,1 and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil,2 the world,3 and our own flesh,4 assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare,5 until finally complete victory is ours.6

[1] Jn. 15:5; Ps. 103:14–16. [2] 1 Pet. 5:8–9; Eph. 6:12–13. [3] Jn. 15:19. [4] Rom. 7:23; Gal. 5:17. [5] Matt. 26:41; Mk. 13:33. [6] 1 Th  ess. 3:13; 5:23–24; *2 Cor. 12:7.

  1. How do you close this prayer?

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” that is, all this we ask of You, because as our King, having power over all things, You are willing and able to give us all good;1 and that thereby not we, but Your holy name may be glorified for ever.2

[1] Rom. 10:11–12; 2 Pet. 2:9. [2] Jn. 14:13; Ps. 115:1.

  1. What is the meaning of the word “Amen”?

“Amen” means: so shall it truly and surely be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him.1

[1] 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:13; *Ps. 145:18–19.

 

God’s Faithfulness

Lord’s Day 52, looking at the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, recognizes a vitally important truth.  We are constantly assailed in our faith from all sides, and of ourselves are never strong enough to withstand it.  Without God’s divine aid, we would certainly abandon the faith.

The Bible is clear in many passages that the crown of life belongs to those who persevere to the end (James 1:12, Rev. 2:11, 17; 1 Cor. 9:24, for example).  The popular conception of “once saved, always saved,” by which is meant the idea that a one-time confession of faith in a moment of sincerity is enough to guarantee salvation regardless of what I do for the rest of my life, is not a Biblical concept.  The Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is a different idea, that all those who are elect in God will, by God’s power, persevere to the end.  The perseverance to the end is necessary for salvation.  Thus we pray this prayer.

What we are praying when we say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” is that God in His sovereign providence never allow us into a situation or a position in life where our faith would be utterly overthrown.  We are asking that though we know He allows us into situations where we will stumble, that He not permit us to utterly fall.

We also know that God has ordained means to sustain us in the faith, the instruments of the preaching and reading of the Word, the Sacraments and prayer.  Praying this prayer does not imply passivity in our spiritual walk, any more than thanking God for giving us our daily bread precludes getting up in the morning and going to work for a paycheck.  God works most often through the instruments He has put in place.  So if we pray this, implied in this prayer is that God also grant us the faith and the wisdom to make use of these instruments He has given us, and then in faith we ought to go do just that- to read our Bibles, to hear the preaching of the word, to make use of the teaching ministry of the church, to make use of the sacraments in obedience, and to be praying without ceasing for the uplifting power of God.  In this way, we can expect that God will in fact keep His promise, as He keeps all the promises He gives us and as He always gives us whatever He commands us to pray for.  He will preserve us against our own sinful weakness, the seductive lure of the world, and the lies of the devil.

And finally, we end by again acknowledging that our goal in all things is directed God-ward.  It is His glory and power we desire.  It is the full implementation of His rule over all things that we yearn for.  It is His omnipotence and benevolence we are counting on, that as a mighty God He is able to do all things for us, and as a faithful Father He is willing.

The final word in the prayer, so often passed over without thought, deserves a comment.  The word “amen” means “surely.”  It is an acknowledgement of belief, an act of faith.  When we say that word we are, or should be, expressing our confidence that God does in fact hear our prayers, and thus our prayers are offered in faith.  Whenever we say that word we should be reminded that not only is our prayer a praise to God and a request made to Him, it is also a confession of faith.  It is a prayer asked in confidence, never doubting (James 1:5-6), truly believing that God is a good God and can be counted upon to do what He says He is going to do.  And He would not teach us to pray these things in vain.  He would not exhort us to ask Him for these things if He had no intention of giving them to us, for He is a loving and faithful Father who would not provoke His children to wrath.

The statement “amen” is thus a confession that I truly trust God to endeavor for me.  I trust God that He will save me.  I trust that He will forgive my sins for the merits of Jesus Christ, that He will lead me in all righteousness, that He will provide for me whatever I need, and that He will secure me in the faith, steering me through all the rocks and reefs that would easily sink my boat in this stormy life were it not for His faithful care, the pilot of my soul.  How appropriate that we end our examination of the Heidelberg Catechism, itself a confession of faith, on this note—on our confidence that belonging to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ is indeed our only comfort in life and in death.

Forgiven and Forgiving: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 51

LORD’S DAY 51

  1. What is the fifth petition?

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased, for the sake of Christ’s blood, not to impute to us miserable sinners our manifold transgressions, nor the evil which always clings to us;1 as we also find this witness of Your grace in us, that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.2

[1] Ps. 51:1–4; 143:2; 1 Jn. 2:1–2. [2] Matt. 6:14–15; Ps. 51:5–7; *Eph. 1:7.

Forgiven and Forgiving

The forgiveness of sins is a subject already well explored in the Catechism.  The subject of forgiveness is fundamental to the whole structure of the Catechism, as we see the content of our Christian faith consists principally in the question of the nature of my sin and misery, how I am to be redeemed from my sin and misery, and how I am to be thankful for my redemption.  The whole Christian life revolves around forgiveness- why I need forgiveness, how I am forgiven, and then how I am to live in the light of that forgiveness.  Jesus’ statement here in the Lord’s Prayer particularly has relevance to the way we treat other people in our lives.  Forgiveness means letting go of offenses, not holding them against others, not harboring malice or ill will toward people.

The fullness of God’s true moral character was revealed, not in His Law, but in the cross of Christ.  His true glory is seen, not in the destruction of sinners, but in that while we were yet His enemies, He sent His only Son to die for our sins, so that we might be forgiven.  He committed to loving us and doing good for us, blotting out our sins, at the same time that we were spitting in His eye and destroying His beautiful creation.  This is to be the standard to which we ourselves should aspire.

The one statement in the model prayer that addresses the way we treat our fellow man does not tell us to make sure we uphold justice, or to convince everyone of our opinions, or to be nice to everyone around us, but rather to forgive.  The Christian life cannot be one of grudge-holding, list-keeping, or wrongs-enumerating.  It is instead to be a life in which we regard the failings of others with compassion and patience, even when those failings affect us personally.  This gives us not just a thing to do in particular circumstances, but a spirit that should characterize all our dealings with our fellow man.  This is the will of the Father, that we learn to show others the same kind of forbearance and grace that He showed to us.

Jesus in two different passages (Luke 7:40-43; Matt. 18:23-35) tells parables about two servants of a master who are forgiven, and looking at their respective attitudes toward that forgiveness.  One is the parable of the two servants, one owing five hundred denarii and the other owing fifty.  The other is the parable of the master who forgives his servant a huge sum, which servant then refuses to forgive his fellow servant a trivial debt.

There are many fascinating implications to both, but the central message is clear.  Christians are to be eager and ready to forgive, and must not hold grudges.  Our attitude toward the wrongdoing of others against us will directly reflect our awareness of how much we have ourselves been forgiven.  A refusal to forgive demonstrates a lack of awareness of one’s own forgiveness.  Sometimes some will say that an offender must ask forgiveness and/or make proper restitution before forgiveness is owed, but this does not reflect the spirit of our Father in heaven, who forgave us of our sins, in principle, before we even knew Him.  He sent His Son to die for us and to reconcile us to Himself while we still hated Him.  He forgives all of our sins, even though many of our sins are not even known by us or properly understood by us until we have been Christians for many years and often not even then.  This is the spirit we are to reflect to others.  This also requires trust, that we know God will do good for us even through the evil that men do.

There are other principles at play as well.  Forgiveness of someone’s sins toward us or toward someone else does not preclude the exercise of civil or ecclesiastical office.  The sorrowful murderer should still be executed by the state, even as his victims ought to forgive him.  The unrepentant sinner should be excommunicated, even as others in the church resolve not to hold malice or anger against him.  These issues should be kept separate.  Additionally there are issues of personal safety- I should forgive my brother seven times a day for punching me in the nose, but there is no sin in getting my guard up after the second or third time.

Despite those qualifications, the Christian spirit will be one that is not only willing but anxious and ready to forgive the wrongs that others do him.  The Catechism says we should do so “heartily.”  A spirit of forgiveness is one of the prime evidences of the working of God’s grace in a man’s life.

 

 

Acknowledging Our Dependence: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 50

LORD’S DAY 49

  1. What is the fourth petition?

“Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide for all our bodily need,1 so that we may thereby acknowledge that You are the only fountain of all good,2 and that without Your blessing neither our care and labor, nor Your gifts, can profit us;3 that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it in You alone.4

[1] Ps. 104:27–28; 145:15–16; Matt. 6:25–26. [2] Acts 14:17; 17:27–28. [3] 1 Cor. 15:58; Deut. 8:3; Ps. 37:3–7, 16–17. [4] Ps. 55:22; 62:10; *Ps. 127:1–2; *Jer. 17:5, 7; *Ps. 146:2–3.

Acknowledging our Dependence

Ours is not a religion of empty ritual or of manipulating or controlling divine powers.  So why do we pray for our food?  Why do we ask God to provide our daily bread and give thanks to Him when He does?  After all, the unbelievers seem to eat just fine, often better than believers do.

Many passages in Scripture, some of them listed as the proof texts for question 125 (such as Psalm 104:27-28) teach us that it is God that provides food for every living thing including humans.  It is absolute madness for us to suppose that we can provide for ourselves.  Many think they do, but when they examine a bit closer they will see the folly of it.  The farmer who grows food did not cause the sun to come up in the morning or the rain to fall.  He did not invent photosynthesis.  The farmer did not even invent farming; the most innovative farmer will at best just add a tiny bit of knowledge to the storehouse of best practices developed before him.  All the best food in the world will do us no good if our mouths cannot chew it and our stomachs cannot digest it and our cells cannot absorb it, none of which processes were designed by the wisdom of man.  We could go on in this vein for some time, and repeat it for any trade we find ourselves in.  It is as if a man were led into a large room with a huge and insanely complex machine in it, with gears and pulleys and belts all in an incomprehensible order, with a lever and a large sign next to it saying “pull for food,” which he pulls and food drops out, and then the man congratulates himself for his industry and genius for diligently pulling that handle.

So we work hard at what is put in front of us to do, but we do so out of thankfulness to God and a desire to become what He has purposed for us to be, not because we are possessed of some illusion that we can control our own fates or provide for ourselves the things we need out of our own strength or character.  When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we recognize and acknowledge that vital fact.

This acknowledgement brings with it several benefits, the main and overarching one of which is taught to us in the last phrase of question 125.  That benefit is trust.  Faith, which is just trusting what God has told us, is the main thing, and we are called to learn to have faith in God for everything, not just what happens to me when I die but what happens to my body when I eat food, when I drink water, when I go to sleep.  It is only by God’s ordination that I will get any of these things in the first place, let alone benefit physically from them.  There is no real separation between faith in God to provide for me physically and faith in God to redeem me eternally, for the same God that promised to do the one promised the other as well.  Faith just means trusting God, believing what He says He will do.

God made our bodies as well as our souls, and we are designed to be bodies as well as souls.  Jesus tells us in Luke 12:22-32 that we should not worry about food or drink, not (as many religions, especially those of the Eastern mystical variety, might tell us) because those things are unimportant but because our heavenly Father, who loves us and created us, knows that we need them and will provide them for us.  Laziness and complacency is ruled out as well, for Jesus concludes that section of Luke by exhorting us to “seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  The wrong interpretation of this is that we should therefore not work at jobs or try to take care of our bodies, and instead spend all our days in religious contemplation on top of a mountain somewhere. That would contradict a lot of the rest of the Scriptures.  Rightly interpreted, it means that when we work at our jobs or exercise or watch our diet, what we really should be doing in each of those cases is seeking the kingdom of God, seeking the internal rule of God to govern our lives and to become what God wills for us to be.

God certainly could supernaturally drop food down into our refrigerators.  He fed Elijah by ravens that brought him bread and meat by the brook Cherith, but that is not His normal way of operating.  Normally He feeds us through that great machine called nature and civilization that He designed and made, and He has a reason for that, for He created us to be in dominion over these things.  By feeding us through the natural processes of the world He has made, He trains us and makes us what He wills for us to be.  So when we work at the work God gives us, what we really should be seeking is the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and trusting that God will feed us and provide for us as He promised.  He is indeed faithful, and so we pray to Him to give us our daily bread along with all our bodily needs, in full knowledge that He has done so and is doing so already. Praying for our daily bread does not get us more food than those who do not pray, but it does train us in wisdom and faith, far more valuable than any material blessing.

 

Conforming to God’s Will: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 49

LORD’S DAY 49

  1. What is the third petition?

“Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, grant that we and all men renounce our own will,1 and without disputing obey Your will, which alone is good;2 so that everyone may fulfill his office and calling as willingly and faithfully3 as the angels do in heaven.4

[1] Matt. 16:24. [2] Lk. 22:42; Tit. 2:12. [3] 1 Cor. 7:24. [4] Ps. 103:20–21; *Rom. 12:2;  *Heb. 13:21.

Conforming to God’s Will

Perhaps the clearest revelation of the nature of Jesus’ supreme act of obedience came not actually on the cross, but slightly before, in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There, just before the beginning of the train of events which led to His crucifixion, Jesus, knowing full well what was coming in the next hours and the next day, struggled painfully to submit His human will to the Divine will.  We must never forget His real humanity, and He struggled so greatly to accept the horror that was coming that He told His disciples that His soul was sorrowful even unto death (Matthew 26:38).  He said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”  We see there His full humanity, and He recoiled at what would come the next day.  Nonetheless, He said, “Not My will but Thine be done.”  Here is where we see His perfect humanity.  Fully aware of all the horror, shame, pain and sorrow that was to be His in the next twenty four hours, He did the will of His Father, and in doing so, fully earned the glory and right to be the human king of God’s earthly kingdom, the head of the glorious nation that God was bringing to Himself.

Being Christlike is the goal for all of us as believers, as disciples, and here our Rabbi teaches us to pray that we would be like Him, that we would do His Father’s will just as He did.  The phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is broad, desiring the doing of the will of God throughout the world, but it starts with us.  I have more control over myself than I do over anyone else in the world, and if our eyes are opened to the truth of our own naturem we will know that there is much in our own hearts that falls short.  While it is easy to focus on the shortcomings of others, if we truly desire the will of God to be done on the earth, the bulk of our effort should be focused on ourselves and our own obedience to God’s will.

Jesus’ prayer is for the world as a whole, and in teaching us to pray for that Jesus also teaches us to desire it.  He has given us work to do in the advancement of it as well, but praying for that change to happen reminds us that it is God that achieves it both in ourselves and in others, and we therefore will not labor in the strength of the flesh but in the instruments that God has given us.  We will listen to the preached word of God, make use of the sacraments, seek community with our fellow Christians, be faithful in whatever work God has given us in our lives, and love those who are around us, trusting that through all these means God will work His work.  Righteousness is not going to be produced by human efforts like military or political power, education in human systems of knowledge or redistribution of material goods.  It will happen by the spread of the gospel and the power of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of His elect.

He will transform the world.  We can be certain that God is a benevolent God who loves to give good things to His Son.  He is faithful and will certainly do what He has promised.  So we can be certain that God’s will is going to be done on the earth just as it is in heaven, or Jesus would not have taught us to pray for it.  But we also know that though our efforts are to be directed to this end, we will not see its full effects until He comes again in glory and power to put down all His enemies.  Jesus is currently ruling the nations with a rod of iron, and will do so until their final destruction is accomplished by His second coming.  Only then will sin be eradicated from the world.

Until then, we fight the spiritual battle for the promotion of the will of God in the world, using the weapons and tools He gives us, and we pray—first that God would change our hearts to conform us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ, who always put the divine will ahead of His own, and secondly that we, as a result of the obedience worked in us, would be faithful agents for the promotion of righteousness through the gospel in our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or wherever else God has placed us.

God is the Creator of all things, and therefore all things work properly and best when we learn to use them according to God’s will.  Driving a car according to the instructions of the manufacturer is not an unpleasant chore but the way to get full utility and enjoyment from the car.  And God’s creation is amazing, beautiful, and very enjoyable.  When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then we will be able to fully enjoy all of God’s wonderful creation, to use it as He intended for it to be used, to relate to each other the way we should, and to enjoy His glorious and perfect presence forever.

Yearning for the Kingdom: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 48

LORD’S DAY 48

 123.  What is the second petition?

“Your kingdom come;” that is, so govern us by Your Word and Spirit, that we submit ourselves to You always more and more;1 preserve and increase Your Church;2 destroy the works of the devil, every power that exalts itself against You, and all wicked devices formed against Your Holy Word,3 until the fullness of Your kingdom come,4 wherein You shall be all in all.5

[1] Ps. 119:5; 143:10. [2] Ps. 51:18; 122:6–7. [3] 1 Jn. 3:8; Rom. 16:20. [4] Rev. 22:17, 20; Rom. 8:22–23. [5] 1 Cor. 15:28; *Ps. 102:12–13; *Heb. 12:28; *Rev. 11:15; *1 Cor. 15:24.

Christianity is not a private matter, nor can it ever be.  When Christ ascended into heaven in the sight of His disciples, He said, “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18)  If we believe in Jesus, then we believe that His authority extends over all the earth.  However it is also clear that His kingdom, which is also His Father’s kingdom, is not acknowledged by many and is not fully in force anywhere.  But of course we love Christ and believe His rule to be a very good thing, and therefore it is every Christian’s desire to see the kingdom of Christ fully implemented everywhere.  There is always disagreement about what exactly this kingdom consists of or how this full realization will happen, but the fact of it is something every Christian desires and looks forward to.

The Catechism teaches us that this rule first of all extends into the heart of each believer.  It is a rule of Word and Spirit.  One cannot overemphasize the importance of this fact.  Israel under Moses had a form of government divinely suited to them, but because God did not rule in their hearts the result was disastrous.  Their whole history was characterized by rebellion ultimately leading to death, and it was precisely because the kingdom was not present in their hearts (with only a very few exceptions) that they were not a godly people.

In promising the restoration of Israel, the prophets often bring up this exact point, and make clear that this coming restoration will be accomplished by the Spirit of God working the rule of God in the hearts of His people.  Ezekiel 36:25-28 is representative:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.  Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Eze 36:25-28 NKJ)”

This internal rule is foundational, and the Catechism recognizes it by mentioning it first.  Everything else flows out of it.  Using the instrument of the Church, God spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and as individuals come to faith and have this rule established in their hearts, the church likewise grows.  Everywhere it grows it counters the works of the devil, both by sanctifying individual believers and by externally restraining Satan’s evil, as we see in all societies where Christianity takes root.  As the church grapples with various issues, doctrinal and practical, it has formulated arguments against the deceptions of Satan which arise both within and without the church.  This process continues until the work is done.  Some Christians see this happening with the establishment of an earthly golden age which will persist for a long time before Christ returns.  Some see this fullness achieved only when Christ Himself comes back and throws down opposition, which opposition will have continued until that second coming happens.  But however you read those particular texts and prophecies, our job right now is clear, to advance the kingdom of God in our own hearts by repenting and believing, and encouraging others around us within our sphere of influence to do the same.

This is the whole reason Christ died, in order to clear away the obstacle of guilt through forgiveness of sins so that the Spirit of God could institute this rule in the hearts of His people.

One thing that we must therefore not do is try to build the church without this internal rule of the Spirit.  Many have theorized that they could make their churches large by any means possible and then the rule of the Spirit of God in people’s lives would follow.  But this gets things backward.  Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that our response to the fact of His universal authority must be to make disciples.  This is the nature of the church, and even accepting the truth that many will become part of the church in an outward way without being disciples, we must never accept this state of affairs.  If we are to be faithful to the truth of what the church is, then we will continually be about the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we lure people in with the promise of entertainment or worldly blessings, then we have subverted the purpose of the church.  We must call people to the church with the promise of the kingdom, the promise of discipleship and the internal spiritual rule of Christ.

Similarly, while Christians are right to be involved in politics as citizens, we must never make the mistake of thinking that the kingdom of God can be advanced in the political sphere in the absence of the internal rule of God in people’s hearts.  We should advocate for justice for the weak and oppressed and for laws which reflect Biblical truth, but we should always recognize that without conversion to the gospel, all these efforts are ultimately in vain.  Government at its best only restrains sin; it can never be the kingdom of God or implement this internal rule of the gospel.

The advancement of the kingdom of God in the hearts and minds of people is our fervent desire, and the spiritual nature of this goal shows how completely dependent on God we ultimately are for this, and therefore we pray sincerely, “Thy kingdom come.”  Every Christian will desire the kingdom to continue its victorious march through our own hearts and through the hearts of all God’s people all over the world, and the gates of hell will not be strong enough to keep that kingdom out.

Making God Holy: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 47

LORD’S DAY 47

  1. What is the first petition?

“Hallowed be Your name;” that is, grant us, first, rightly to know You,1 and to sanctify, magnify, and praise You in all Your works, in which Your power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth;2 and further, that we so order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds, that Your Name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.3

[1] Jn. 17:3; Matt. 16:17; Jas. 1:5; Ps. 119:105. [2] Ps. 119:137; Rom. 11:33–36. [3] Ps. 71:8; *Ps. 100:3–4; *Ps. 92:1–2; *Eph. 1:16–17; *Ps. 71:16.

Making God Holy

The word “hallowed” is the world “hagiazo” in the Greek.  This is a verb form of the word “hagios” which means “holy.”  So to “hallow” something is to make it holy.

The “name” of God is a very rich Scriptural idea.  It’s much more important than merely a collection of sounds which identify an object or person.  The “name” of God is the way God identifies or reveals Himself.  It is God’s attributes as He shows them to us.  Hallowing the name of God is then the opposite of taking God’s name in vain.  It is the difference between giving the revelation of God’s nature and work the full weight, glory, and truth that it deserves on the one hand, and on the other speaking or thinking of God in an empty or frivolous way, or according to our own imaginations and inventions.  If I say, “I think God is like this or that” then I am taking His name in vain.  If I study to really understand how God reveals Himself, dwell on the fullness, richness, and holiness of that name, and speak of it always according to that truth, then I am hallowing His name.  I’m making it weighty and holy.

If a man tells you that his name is “Robert” and you address him as “Robby” or “Bobby” that will be perceived as disrespectful, rude, and slighting.  If a man identifies himself as Bobby, then using that name is not rude at all.  Unless you know a person very well and have a good relationship with them, it would always be discourteous to use a different name for them than the name they give you.  This is a minor example of how respect for another person means speaking about them in the way that they choose.  There are limits to this, of course.  I have no obligation to refer to a man as if he were a potted plant.  If a man insists that I refer to him as Napoleon Bonaparte, I may choose to do so, but it will not be out of respect so much as concern that he is crazy and may murder me.

God is of the very highest authority, power, and honor, and therefore deserves our very highest respect.  But God is unknowable to us except by revelation.  I cannot know Him by observation, but only by how He chooses to reveal Himself to me.  This is one aspect of God’s holiness, that He is separate from and higher than everything He has made.  One way we show God this highest respect is to speak and think of Him always and only as He reveals Himself to us.

So the Catechism says we pray to God that we may “rightly know Him.”  We must pray that He would grant us this revelation and that He would empower us to understand it.  Our desire is that God is honored and glorified in all our thoughts about Him and our words about Him, and that we labor within the bonds of love and humility to endeavor that others come to know the truth about Him as well.  We should study the works of God as the Psalmist tells us- “The works of the Lord are great, studied by all those who have pleasure in them.” (Psalm 111:2)  Stories in the Bible are often told as if David or Abraham were the heroes of those stories, which will always involve a bit of airbrushing of certain uncomfortable details.  But if we realize that God is always the hero, then we can see the greatness and the glory of His works, accomplishing His perfect will even through very flawed human beings.

The Catechism also extends this to the way we live our lives.  As Christians, we must always be aware that we have taken the name of God upon us, and we must therefore strive to live in a way that does honor to that name.  This does not mean being hypocrites.  We are sinners, and though nobody cares to see all our dirty laundry, at the same time we do not bring honor to God by being whitewashed tombs.  We bring honor to God by freely admitting our sinfulness, thankfully confessing our forgiveness, and joyously striving to put away our remaining sin and pressing toward the mark of perfection even though we know we will not achieve it in this life.  We honor God by living as if we actually believed that what He said is true, even though we continually fall short.  If our words say we believe in the goodness of His law but our lives show a continual disregard for it, then we are taking His name in vain.  If we live in such a way as to be constantly throwing our superior religiosity in everyone’s faces, concentrating all our efforts on outward visible markers of holiness instead of true inward righteousness, then we show ourselves to be hypocrites and likewise take the Lord’s name in vain.  But if we humbly and thankfully strive to truly love our neighbor, to speak the truth of God and man at all times, and to promote the knowledge of God in the world as best as we can, then we begin to know what it means to hallow the name of God.

This is the first petition Jesus tells us to pray.  The glorifying of God’s name is the purpose of the creation of the universe, including ourselves.  We were saved by the blood of Christ for this purpose, to bring glory to His name.  We fulfill the purpose of our existence when we seek to glorify Him with all our words and works.  But our sin will always prevent us from doing so, and so we need help; a lot of it.  So we ought always to pray to God, “Hallowed be Your Name.”

The Fruitful Soil of Faith: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 46

LORD’S DAY 46

  1. Why did Christ command us to address God thus: “Our Father”?

To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.1

[1] Matt. 7:9–11; Lk. 11:11–13; *1 Pet. 1:17; *Isa. 63:16.

  1. Why is it added, “in heaven”?

That we might have no earthly thought of the heavenly majesty of God,1 and from His almighty power expect all things necessary for body and soul.2

[1] Jer. 23:23–24; Acts 17:24–25, 27. [2] Rom. 10:12; *1 Kgs. 8:28; *Ps. 115:3.

The Fruitful Soil of Faith

Question 117 taught us that a true prayer will flow out of an assurance of salvation in Christ. Question 120 explores this point in more detail. The prayer that delights God is one that acknowledges the truth of who He is, and God is a gracious God who loves to do good for His people.  He is a faithful Father who always cares for His children, even through suffering and deprivation, and He calls us to trust in Him.

I cannot expect God to hear me at the same time as I am calling Him a liar and call into question His goodness.  The Israelites who had been rescued by God from slavery in Egypt complained against God saying that He brought them into the wilderness to die.  They did not trust God to care for them, despite all He had already done.  God’s anger against them proves the point that question 120 is making, that the prayer that God delights in is the prayer that reflects a trust in God as He has revealed Himself.

So Jesus directs us to start our prayer with “Our Father.”  This is not a formula to be recited out of rote obedience, but a mindset with which to start our prayer, to ground us in the right understanding of the God we serve.  He is good and benevolent, and when we are united to Christ by faith we can have full assurance and confidence that God is going to do very good things for us and is doing them now.  The conviction of faith is that God is good not only in the abstract, but as a personal matter directed toward us specifically. We have no right to claim God’s goodness outside of faith in Christ, for that would be to pit God’s goodness against His justice, something God will never permit.  But under the umbrella of Christ’s perfect righteousness we can claim the goodness of God as extending to us personally.  Question 21 tells us that true faith, in addition to knowledge about God’s truth, is also a hearty trust that extends the promises of the gospel to myself personally, rather than believing them only in the abstract.  True faith regards God as my Father, not just a father.

The importance of this cannot be overstated.  The whole Christian life is impossible until we come to the conviction that God is good, and that His benevolence is directed toward me personally because of His love for Jesus Christ and my union with Jesus.  Sin flows out of the desires that we have, desires ultimately for the glorious existence of a perfect state, and the attempts to fulfill those desires immediately in a world under the curse of sin.  But when we can rest in the salvation of Christ and trust that all good things will be given to us by God in His time, then we can disconnect from that destructive pursuit of the satisfaction of our desires in the present state.  We can recognize that we’re in the wilderness and that won’t be very comfortable a lot of the time, but that we’re on our way to the Promised Land and it’s there that we will see the satisfaction of all our desires.  That enables a life of trust, a life of rest in Him, waiting on Him to do good for us, and simply seeking to do what is right in all the affairs of our lives and being busy at the work He has given us to do, not out of a desire to attain God’s good things for ourselves but out of thankfulness for all He has done and will do for us.

So our Christian life starts at the same place our prayer does- “Our Father.” Nowhere do we see this goodness more profoundly and clearly displayed as in the cross of Christ itself; there we see the tremendous love that God has toward His creation, and how it is He expresses it to us specifically.  As Paul says in Romans 8, if God would do that for us, what would He not do?  Confident of His love and benevolence toward us, just as a small child is confident that his parent will take care of him, we can simply rest in His goodness and grace.  We can pray “Our Father,” and because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and the love the Father has for His own son, be confident that the Father will view us as His beloved.  Out of that confident hope in God, every good Spiritual thing will grow.

The Chief Part of our Thankfulness: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 45

LORD’S DAY 45

  1. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us,1 and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing ask them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.2

[1] Ps. 50:14–15. [2] Matt. 7:7–8; Lk. 11:9–10, 13; Matt. 13:12; *Eph. 6:18.

  1. What belongs to such prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?

First, that with our whole heart1 we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word,2 for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him;3 second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery,4 so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty;5 third, that we be firmly assured6 that notwithstanding our unworthiness, He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,7 as He has promised us in His Word.8

[1] Jn. 4:22–24. [2] Rom. 8:26; 1 Jn. 5:14. [3] Ps. 27:8. [4] 2 Chron. 20:12. [5] Ps. 2:10; 34:18; Isa. 66:2. [6] Rom. 10:14; Jas. 1:6. [7] Jn. 14:13–16; Dan. 9:17–18. [8] Matt. 7:8; Ps. 143:1; *Lk. 18:13.

  1. What has God commanded us to ask of Him?

All things necessary for soul and body,1 which Christ our Lord comprised in the prayer which He Himself taught us.

[1] Jas. 1:17. Matt. 6:33. *1 Pet. 5:7. *Phil. 4:6.

 

The Chief Part of our Thankfulness

When I was younger, I never really understood the purpose of thank you cards.  It seemed kind of pointless.  How would I improve someone else’s lot in life by taking the time to write a card acknowledging that they had given me something or done something for me?  I certainly enjoyed it when somebody acknowledged something I had done for them, but empathy was not my strong suit as a young man, and I did not make the obvious connection.

Giving thanks to God is tremendously important precisely because there’s nothing we can do to improve His welfare.  He doesn’t need anything from us.  But He desires to be glorified for who He is, and He made us for that purpose.  Since the cattle on a thousand hills are His, if we are to respond to what He has done for us, it can only be with thanksgiving and praise.

We are made in His image, to reflect what He is like, and the good feeling we get when someone acknowledges something nice we did for them gives us a hint into God’s desire to be glorified.  The human desire for praise is distorted by sin and easily becomes a bottomless pit of narcissistic need, but the desire to be thanked for things we have done is not of itself sinful, or else it would be sinful to send thank you cards.  It is not sinful of itself because it reflects God’s own nature.

Our thanks to others and our desire for thanks ourselves should always be limited by our creatureliness.  If I do something nice for someone else, it’s nice to be thanked for that, but all glory and credit belongs to Him, even for my own good works.  Our thankfulness to God is unlimited, for “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”  (Rom. 11:36)  The conclusion we should draw from that truth is the same as the one Paul does—“to whom be glory forever and ever, amen.”

Prayer is the main way we express our thankfulness to Him (q. 116), and thankfulness should occupy the bulk of our prayer.  Even when we are making petitions in prayer, it should be with this thankful heart that trusts God and acknowledges all the good that He does, past and future. Prayer is primarily about thanksgiving, not about getting what we want from God.  The thankful motivation to prayer, therefore, changes not only the percentage of time we spend in prayer asking for things but also the way we ask for things when we do—with contentment, with trust, with the assurance that even if God does not give us the specific thing we ask for, He will still do good for us.

A true prayer therefore reflects the truth of who God is and what He has done (q. 117).  It will flow out of an assurance of His goodness and His blessings in one’s life, most specifically the blessing of the salvation of Jesus Christ.  It will flow out of faith, out of belief in the gospel.  If I pray in doubt, not certain whether God will do good for me, I am calling God a liar since He has repeatedly promise to take care of His people and bless them immensely (Matt. 7:7-11, for example).  Such a prayer has no right to expect any answer though God often graciously answers anyway.  “Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:7)  True faith in Christ will lead us to boldly come to the throne of grace to make our petitions, knowing that we have no right to make any request of God of ourselves, but every right in Christ.

A prayer which flows out of a right knowledge of God will include petitions to God for everything we need and want since God is sovereign over all and all good things come from Him.  We should learn to put all our trust in God, not only for what happens after we die, but for every circumstance of our lives (q. 118).  He is sovereign over the weather, over our health, over our finances and everything else.  While God makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust, our reaction should not be complacency about the falling rain, but to thank Him and petition Him for what we need, knowing that eventually all who fail to acknowledge His blessings in thanksgiving will lose those blessings.  The rain will not continue to fall on the unjust forever, as the rich man in Luke 16:24 could tell you.

Learning to pray better is one of the chief needs of every Christian.  I find it to be the case that the more mature a Christian is, the more he or she will typically bemoan the state of his or her prayer life.  The Heidelberg does an excellent job of unpacking the subject of prayer, using the prayer which Jesus taught us as its guide, and which will occupy the remainder of the Catechism.  The subject of prayer most suitably ends the Catechism and most appropriately follows the exposition of the Law, since the natural question arising from an understanding of the Law (“How can I do that?”) is answered best by prayer.  Through prayer, God gives us every good gift, including a greater and greater conformity to the image of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Learning How to Want: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 44

LORD’S DAY 44

  1. What does the tenth commandment require?

That not even the least inclination or thought against any commandment of God ever enter our heart, but that with our whole heart we continually hate all sin and take pleasure in all righteousness.1

[1] Rom. 7:7–8; *Prov. 4:23; *Jas. 1:14–15; *Matt. 15:11, 19–20.

  1. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of such obedience,1 yet so that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the commandments of God.2

[1] 1 Jn. 1:8–10; Rom. 7:14–15; Eccl. 7:20. [2] Rom. 7:22; Jas. 2:10–11; *Job 9:2–3; *Ps. 19:13.

  1. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the Ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature,1 and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ;2 second, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.3

[1] 1 Jn. 1:9; Ps. 32:5. [2] Rom. 7:24–25. [3] 1 Cor. 9:24–25; Phil. 3:12–14; *Matt. 5:6; *Ps. 51:12.

 

Learning How to Want

A great deal could be said on the subject of covetousness.  The Catechism focuses on the internalization of the Law, that the commandment requires internal as well as external obedience.  What is left to some degree unsaid, though perhaps implied, is that the commandment specifically addresses desire; not merely the desire to break God’s law, but specifically the desire for my neighbor’s things.  What does it mean to “covet”?  Does it have the meaning of inordinate desire?  The word chamad often is used in a positive sense, of desiring good things, like in Psalm 19:10 when it refers to desiring the judgments of God more than gold or honey.

Then is desire itself bad?  Should we be like Buddhists who strive to empty themselves of desire as the source of all suffering?  The commandment doesn’t say that either.  It says specifically that I am not to desire my neighbor’s things; his house (speaking broadly of office, status, place in life, not merely the building he lives in), wife, servants, or in fact anything that belongs to him.

The desire for what others have is a source of great and endless misery.  It is one thing to want a better car because the one I have now is unreliable or not big enough for my family.  It is another thing when I want another car because I see the car my neighbor is driving and how much nicer it is than mine.  The perception of how a neighbor’s husband provides for his family and treats his wife has fueled a great deal of discontent in marriages, as has comparisons between the way your neighbor’s wife looks when she has her makeup on and the way your own wife looks when she first gets out of bed.  Advertisers are expert at this, at creating desire based on dissatisfaction and covetousness, by teaching me not only what to want but how to want.  People covet a great many things- someone else’s appearance, popularity, reputation, job, family, or really anything at all in which people find joy, safety, and significance.

James says that this lust that wars within us is the source of wars and fights (James 4).  I covet the wife my neighbor has, so it makes me angry at my own wife for not being that way.  Or I covet the promotion that someone else got at work, which makes me angry at him, at the unfair boss, at the coworker whose incompetence is holding me back, or my kids whose disobedience at home meant I wasn’t at full performance at work.  I will look anywhere for the source of my discontent and anger except inside myself, for it is a humiliating thing to recognize that it is my own covetousness which causes me the problem.  If I had the house or the car or the spouse I have right now, and nobody I knew had one that appeared to be better, then I would have no discontent over it, which means that my actual discontent has nothing to do with what I have, but with my desires for what others have, fuel all sorts of sin against others- murder, adultery, theft, and slander.

But if instead we recognize that God is good, and God will take care of us and bless us immensely in the future life, then we can put away this pointless agitation about people’s different stations and situations in this life.  These differences will always exist, and no amount of effort on my part or social engineering by the government is ever going to make them go away.  People’s relative stations and gifts in this life have nothing at all to do with their worth or value in God’s eyes.  He puts people where He puts them for His own mysterious plans.  He delights to raise up and cast down, always to glorify Himself.  But we can trust our good and benevolent God, who has a reason for all He does in this life, giving one a great deal and another only a little.  God knows what we need and what He wills to accomplish in this life through us, so we should trust where God has put us, be faithful with what He has given us, take advantage when opportunities come to improve our lot in life but not be driven by it.  We should be driven instead by our desire for Christ, to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that every good thing will certainly come with it.

When we understand how deep-rooted our sin problem is, then we will understand the true need we have for a Savior (questions 114, 115).  No amount of willpower is ever going to give us the ability to change the very way we desire.  The law shows us how dependent we are for forgiveness.  It will secondarily drive us to recognize our need for the Spirit of God to work on us, to change the way we think and the way we want, to open our eyes to the vanity of this world and its temptations and instead to show us the solid reality of our very blessed state in Christ.  We can then begin to learn to rest content with what the Lord has given us, seek to be faithful where we are right now, and trust Him to give us every good thing in His time.  No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.

God’s Sovereignty, God’s Truth: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 43

LORDS DAY 43
112. What does the ninth commandment require?
That I bear false witness against no one,1 twist no one’s words,2 be
no backbiter or slanderer,3 join in condemning no one unheard or
rashly;4 but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying
and deceit5 as the very works of the devil;6 and that in matters of
judgment and justice and in all other affairs, I love, speak honestly,
and confess the truth;7 also, insofar as I can, defend and promote
my neighbor’s good name.8
[1] Prov. 19:5, 9. [2] Ps. 15:3. [3] Rom. 1:28–30. [4] Matt. 7:1–2. Lk. 6:37. [5] Jn. 8:44.
[6] Prov. 12:22; 13:5. [7] 1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25. [8] 1 Pet. 4:8; *Jn. 7:24, 51; *1 Pet. 2:21,
23; *Col. 4:6; *1 Pet 3:9.

God’s Sovereignty, God’s Truth
Understanding the gravity of the ninth commandment requires recognizing that we are spiritual beings made in God’s image. God is a God of truth. He hates lies as the very work of the devil. When we lie, we attack the image of God and the sovereign rule of God over the universe.

A lie is an attempt to make reality different than what it is. If I tell someone else that I got a PhD from Harvard when I didn’t, I am trying to make my world one in which it is true, to some degree, that I got that PhD. If people think I did, then they will treat me that way. They will respect me. It will open career prospects. In all of these ways I can get many of the benefits of the PhD without actually doing it. I would get more benefits from actually having the PhD, but just convincing people that I did will get me many of those benefits with a whole lot less work. Doing this, then, is an attack on God’s sovereign rule of the universe, the reflection of a belief that I can make reality what I want it to be with my words, since in God’s universe I do not have the PhD at all. Likewise, if I tear someone else down and destroy their reputation with my words, then I can recreate a reality where the object of my envy and hatred is treated like someone who is what I say he is, rather than what he actually is. To some degree, I can mold reality according to my desires with the way that I talk about people. A man convicted and executed for murder based on perjured testimony is just as dead as one convicted rightfully.

When I lie about someone else, I attack their very nature. Because we are spiritual beings, lying about someone is every bit as real an assault as a punch in the nose. In fact, physical attacks are often much less damaging and easier to recover from than spiritual attacks. We all like to think we don’t care much about what other people think about us, but anyone who has been slandered knows this not to be the case. Lies about us hurt a great deal.

A man’s reputation is vital to him living in a community. What people think about you affects the way they interact with you at every level. It affects people’s willingness to do business with you, to employ you, to socialize with you. All of the vital functions of a community depend on what we think about others, and slandering others, even in the most seemingly harmless ways, can work to isolate and cut off a man from his community. A man’s reputation is vital to his life, and attacking his reputation is therefore a great sin.

But God is sovereign, and will not permit us to kick Him off the throne of the universe. He is sovereign; He is in control. When we attempt to distort reality with our lies, we will inevitably fail. God will not give His glory to another, and He will not turn the government of the universe over to us. Part of trusting God means accepting what is, and knowing that He is the judge and He will right all the wrongs, vengeance belongs to Him, and it’s not our job to make sure everyone knows what a jerk some other person is.

The Christian will therefore embrace forgiveness in Christ and repent of his sin of lying and slander. We can trust Christ completely to forgive us, to care for us, to preserve us, and to bless us richly and immensely. Because of that, we can stop trying to control the world around us, stop trying to dictate the way people perceive us and the way others are perceived. We can simply speak the truth, commit ourselves to loving others, being humble in our opinions of ourselves and others, and know that God will reveal all things in the end. If there is a wicked person in our lives, we should not fear that they are getting away with something. God always reveals the truth.

The cause of justice or the protection of the community does require speaking up on occasion. It is an evil thing to do to stay silent at the oppression of the weak and poor, the widow and orphan. But we should be sure we actually know that, not just that we suspect it or have heard about it from someone else. The value of reputation should drive us to be extremely cautious with other people’s good names. Just as we rightly condemn a man who drives a car while drunk (even if he doesn’t happen to get in a wreck that time) for being careless with the lives and property of others, so too we should never handle other people’s reputations carelessly. If we treasure the truth highly, as God does, then we will sooner keep silent than risk speaking lies.

A big part of being saved in Christ means that, in the context of forgiveness and assurance of salvation, we can begin to learn what it means to be fully human, and living in community is a huge part of the definition. Learning to guard each other’s reputations, to highly treasure the truth in all situations, and to trust God’s sovereign control of the world is all part of being conformed to the image of Christ, becoming what He intends for us to be.