Stealing the Lives and Labor of Others: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 42

LORD’S DAY 42

  1. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

God forbids not only such theft1 and robbery2 as are punished by the government, but God views as theft also all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to get our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or by deceit,3 such as unjust weights,4 lengths, measures,5 goods, coins, usury,6 or by any means forbidden of God; also all covetousness7 and the misuse and waste of His gifts.8

[1] 1 Cor. 6:10. [2] 1 Cor. 5:10. [3] Lk. 3:14; 1 Thess. 4:6. [4] Prov. 11:1; 16:11. [5] Ezek. 45:9–10. Deut. 25:13–15. [6] Ps. 15:5; Lk. 6:35. [7] 1 Cor. 6:10. [8] Prov. 5:10; *1 Tim. 6:10; *Jn. 6:12.

  1. But what does God require of you in this commandment?

That I further my neighbor’s good where I can and may, deal with him as I would have others deal with me,1 and labor faithfully, so that I may be able to help the poor in their need.2

[1] Matt. 7:12. [2] Eph. 4:28; *Phil. 2:4; *Gen. 3:19; *1 Tim. 6:6–7.

Stealing the Lives and Labor of Others

All violations of the Ten Commandments in their most aggravated form carry the death penalty.  This includes the Eighth.  The highest form of theft is stealing a man, enslaving him for one’s own benefit or to sell to others.  Biblically sanctioned slavery was a completely different thing than what most people conceive of as slavery, really more like a long-term economic contract entered into by choice or through one’s actions than a situation where one man has another as his property to do with as he pleases.

All forms of stealing are essentially differing degrees of enslaving.  If I smash a man’s car window to steal his phone off the seat, costing him $1000 from the loss of the window and the phone, then essentially I have forced the man to work for the time required for him to earn $1000, for my benefit instead of his.  It is important that we talk about things in ways that do not obscure the real nature of what is going on; whether or not he can “afford” the $1000 is completely beside the point.  What is relevant is that it is deeply immoral for me to force a man against his will to work for my benefit.  In doing so, I make my life and its comforts more important than his.  Property is necessary to life, so this issue is not a minor one.

There are lots of forms of theft.  Some of them are obvious, and are generally punished by civil government, like physically breaking into a man’s house and taking his things.  But many forms of theft, as the Catechism says, are more subtle.   Some of these tricks might even be legal.  It is difficult for a government to pass laws that encompass all the ways one man might steal from another, and sadly governments have often used their own power to transfer wealth from those who oppose the government to those who support it.  But the deceptive schemes we use to fool one another and ourselves about the nature of what we are doing will not fool God, and He is the One we really need to be concerned with.  In a nutshell, any way that I compel another to part unwillingly with his goods, for my benefit, whether I use physical force, political power, or deceit, to do so, is theft.  The right ways to gain wealth are through hard work, through mutually beneficial free exchange or through freely offered gifts.

Common modes of theft today include deceptive advertising, misrepresenting products, and failing to fulfill contracts.  If a worker on a job malingers and doesn’t give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, it is another form of theft.  Governmental manipulation of currency and using taxpayer dollars for their own benefit is a very common form of theft that plagues us in this country.  When the funds of the nation or of a state as a whole are steered to the benefit of particular industries or constituencies, the reality is that some people are being forced to work for the benefit of others.  Just because the harm is distributed to many people so that they mostly don’t notice or care enough to do something about it does not change the moral nature of what is happening.  Dressing this up in the language of compassion or economic development doesn’t make it something different.

In a deeper sense, the Catechism reminds us at the end of question 110 (“the misuse and waste of His gifts”) that what we have did not originate with us.  All that we have is given to us by God.  He gave it to us in order to serve Him with it, like the master giving his servants different amounts of wealth to labor on his behalf while he was gone.  So, if I waste and misuse His gifts to me, then I am stealing from God who gave those gifts to me and from those whom I could and should have helped with those gifts.  If I waste my money, I am stealing from the deserving poor who should have been relieved by my wealth.  If I waste my time, I am stealing from my family and community who could have been enriched by my labors.  If I fail to use and develop my spiritual gifts, I am stealing from my church community who is in need of the gifts that God gave me.

We are not built to work and labor 24 hours a day.  We all need rest and relaxation.  The Fourth Commandment teaches us that, among other things.  But when we rest and enjoy the things God gave us, we should always do so in part with the purpose of better equipping ourselves for service to others, recognizing this as the reason God put us on this earth.

Paul says, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. (Eph. 4:28 NKJ)”  This instruction does a beautiful job of laying out the principle.  A thief is a parasite, the ultimate consumer, taking from the community and giving nothing back.  A man of God is the opposite, a man who produces useful goods and services for others, so that out of the overflow of what he creates he will not only supply his own life with good things, but the lives of others around him, especially those most in need.  This is why God put us on the earth, and it is always in service to others that we will find our greatest joy, for that is the purpose for which God created us.

Understanding the true scope of the commandments destroys our pride and complacency when we realize how we constantly violate all of the commandments.  But we must guard against despair by remembering that Christ has died for our sins, freed us from the curse of the law, and empowered us by His Spirit to begin to repent and walk in obedience.  There is no condemnation for those that are united to Christ by faith, and it is this hope and confidence that fuels our efforts to embrace more fully the righteous, life-giving law of God in our lives.

Our Sexual Design: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 41

LORD’S DAY 41

  1. What does the seventh commandment teach us?

That all unchastity is accursed of God,1and that we should therefore loathe it with our whole heart,2 and live chastely and modestly,3 whether in holy wedlock or single life.4

[1] Lev. 18:27–28. [2] Jude 1:22–23. [3] 1 Thess. 4:3–5. [4] Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1–4.

 

  1. Does God forbid nothing more in this commandment than adultery and such gross sins?

Since both our body and soul are temples of the Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy; therefore, He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words,1 thoughts, desires,2 and whatever may entice thereto.3

[1] Eph. 5:3–4; 1 Cor. 6:18–20. [2] Matt. 5:27–30. [3] Eph. 5:18–19; 1 Cor. 15:33.

Our Sexual Design 

Marriage

Marriage is a gift from God and was seen from the beginning as the normal state of humanity.  It was not good that the man should be alone, God said, and it was that need for companionship and intimacy which was the original impetus for marriage.  Note that it was not childrearing, though that was an important function of marriage as well.  The witness of Scripture throughout, including the Seventh Commandment, is that man’s sexual nature is designed to function exclusively within the confines of marriage.

When evaluating the Old Testament civil laws regarding marriage, adultery, fornication and the like, it is important to remember Jesus’ words regarding divorce, in Matthew 19, that Moses permitted them to divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.  This is an important insight into the nature of Mosaic civil law.  It was not intended to express God’s perfect moral will, but rather was intended to regulate and restrain the sinfulness of the people, in order to limit the damage that such sinfulness inflicted, especially on the poorest and weakest in society.  So a man who wanted to put his wife away had to give her a writ of divorce, so that she could prove that she was free to remarry.  This did not indicate that God thought divorce was a good idea.  As Jesus said, the intention from the beginning was the unbreakable union of a man and a woman together in matrimony.

Sexual Immorality and Its Consequences

It is in this context that the many commandments against sexual immorality must be understood.  Our sexual natures are a great gift from God and a great aid in promoting and enjoying the union of man and woman in marriage.  It is precisely because sexuality is such a powerful aspect of our being that it must be carefully regulated.  Fire is a wonderful blessing and civilization would be impossible without it.  But fire must be contained properly or it causes enormous damage.  So too, an unrestrained sexuality is a deadly force.

Sexual activity with another person causes the development of feelings of very close intimacy with the other person.  It does this because this is what it is designed to do.  This is true of any level at all of sexual expression, however innocent seeming, which is why Jesus says that even looking with lust causes the commission of adultery.  When that intimate relationship begins to be formed and then is broken, emotional damage results.  It becomes increasingly difficult to form normal emotional relationships.   This is just one example of the damage done by adultery, but we lead with it because all too often as society thinks it has gotten better at mitigating the external damage of unrestrained sexual expression, it has completely neglected to recognize this spiritual and emotional aspect of our natures.

Beyond that, of course, sexual immorality causes a great deal of damage in other ways.  Physically it spreads terrible disease.  Societally it breaks down the bonds that holds human civilization in place, as it undermines marriages and results in children being born and raised in unsafe and unstable environments.  Materially it is tremendously expensive for the whole community– having a child born out of wedlock is one of the surest routes to poverty, and being raised in a single-parent home is a high predictor of a great many social ills such as illiteracy, substance abuse, and criminal behavior.  Pornography may seem like a harmless sin, but in addition to the many women and children who are forced into this industry against their will, the spiritual and emotional damage is real and substantial.

We think that through government programs, medical treatment and educational initiatives we can control the damage that is caused, but the actual result is that people, especially the young, are lured into complacency and a false sense of security and become even more unrestrained in their behavior.  Contraceptives only work when used carefully and responsibly, and even then only partially.  Little can help the spread of destructive venereal diseases, though medication can reduce the damage somewhat.  Abortion can solve the problem of out-of-wedlock or otherwise inconvenient pregnancies, but only at the expense of much greater physical and spiritual problems.

More could be said about specifics (such as homosexuality, cohabitation, and divorce), but all of this is to say that God designed human nature to work in a particular way both physically and relationally, and when we flout God’s design for humanity, the result is predictable.  As certainly as putting orange juice in our gas tank will ruin our engine, defying God’s design for our sexual natures will result in all sorts of damaging consequences.

The Gospel and Sexual Sin

As with all of God’s commands, however, we operate under God’s grace.  Even for those with great sins in their past and present, the blood of Christ is sufficient, and the grace of God is powerful to heal and restore.  Sexual sins are very prominent, and sometimes get singled out particularly by conservative churches as especially worthy of condemnation while slander, gossip, greed and the like go on largely unremarked upon.  On the other hand, the prominence of sexual sin in our culture has driven all too many churches to compromise and be silent on this issue.  We ought to avoid both of these extremes, and instead exhibit the grace of God to others, witness to the goodness of God’s law and the promise of forgiveness and healing in the gospel of Christ.

The Value of Life: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day #40

LORD’S DAY 40

  1. What does God require in the sixth commandment?

That I do not revile, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor either in thought, word, or gesture, much less in deed, whether by myself or by another,1 but lay aside all desire of revenge;2 moreover, that I do not harm myself, nor willfully run into any danger.3Wherefore also to restrain murder the magistrate is armed with the sword.4

[1] Matt. 5:21–22; 26:52; Gen. 9:6. [2] Eph. 4:26; Rom. 1:19; Matt. 5:25; 18:35. [3] Matt. 4:7; Rom. 13:14; Col. 2:23. [4] Ex. 21:14; *Matt. 18:6–7.

 

  1. Does this commandment speak only of killing?

No, but in forbidding murder God teaches us that He abhors its very root, namely, envy,1 hatred,2 anger,3 and desire of revenge; and that in His sight all these are hidden murder.4

[1] Rom. 1:28–32. [2] 1 Jn. 2:9–11. [3] Jas. 2:13; Gal. 5:19–21. [4] 1 Jn. 3:15 *Jas. 3:16; *1:19.

 

  1. But is this all that is required: that we do not kill our neighbor?

No, for in condemning envy, hatred, and anger, God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves,1 to show patience, peace, meekness,2 mercy,3 and kindness4 toward him, and to prevent his hurt as much as possible;5 also, to do good even unto our enemies.6

[1] Matt. 7:12; 22:39. [2] Eph. 4:2; Gal. 6:1–2; Rom. 12:18. [3] Matt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36. [4] Rom. 12:10. [5] Ex. 23:5. [6] Matt. 5:44–45; Rom. 12:20–21; *Col. 3:12–14; *Matt. 5:9.

The Value of Life

One of the great principles of the Christian faith is the essential value of all human beings.  Man is made in the image of God, and that truth gives a worth and dignity to every person that far transcends all differences between people.  There are men and women; there are young and old; there are rich, high-status people and poor, despised ones; there are people with very high IQs and people with little education or even serious mental handicaps.  The very common human thinking is to rank the value and dignity of a human life based on these kinds of subjective judgments, to believe that some kinds of human beings, or particular individual human beings, are more human or more important or more valuable than others.

There’s no denying that there are real differences between people and that these differences impact human relationships and social order.  The Bible instructs us that children are to obey their parents, that women cannot be officers in the church, and that citizens are to obey their civil rulers, for example.  Yet all of those kinds of distinctions fade in importance next to the much more fundamental principle of the equal worth and dignity of all human beings.  We should not say an “infinite value” or that human life is “sacred,” since those things are only true of God, but that every human’s life has an equal value, and that their value is so high as to outweigh any concern of mine that might harm, jeopardize or denigrate that life.

The Sixth Commandment arises from this principle.  We are to respect the worth of all other human beings.  One human never has the right to decide that another human should die.  Our lives are in God’s hands and for a man to attempt to seize that right from God and take another man’s life into his own hands is a wicked sin.  The perceived relative rarity of murder in our own society only demonstrates the deep impact of Christianity on our culture.  It was not at all rare in the ancient world, when tribes routinely raided their neighbors for slaves or animals and killed whoever got in their way. Violence within societies is one of the oldest and most dangerous problems that human culture faces.  And murder is quite common in our own society.  We just disguise a lot of it by calling it a medical procedure on a lump of tissue.

But the Sixth Commandment, as the Catechism well teaches us, requires that we treat others always with a sense of their dignity and worth.  That dignity and worth has nothing to do with any particular behavior of theirs or external condition or status of their life, but exists simply because they are made in the image of God.  That extends not only to my physical acts but to words and even attitudes that we have toward people.  If I call a man a fool, an idiot, or other name, then I am saying that they have less worth or less right to exist than I, and as such, I am murdering them, depriving them of life, if only in my heart.  Thus, Jesus says, such an attitude puts one in danger of hellfire.  Those attitudes are the root or seed of physical murder.

The Biblical teaching of the death penalty is sometimes held out as an inconsistency here.  But quite the contrary; it is the fact that a society that will not execute murderers is one that does not take human life seriously.  It is precisely because we have no right to denigrate the worth of another human being that someone who does so in such a drastic way as to murder them has lost their right to life, and this is not a human judgment, but a divine one.  It is God that said that he who sheds man’s blood ought to have his blood in return shed by man.  The death penalty is therefore a necessary part of the judicial system of any society that truly values human life.  But that penalty should only be executed with great caution and true to Biblical principles.  Our human responsibility is to determine whether or not a man has committed murder, but what to do with such a man is not a matter of human judgment.  God has spoken.

Out of the heart flow the issues of life, and as always we are commanded to obey this principle first in our heart, by cultivating love and respect for those around us.  God is the Lord of the heart and not of the body only, and we are culpable of sin that is only thought or felt, even if never acted upon.  If sin is allowed to take root and grow in our heart, we can be sure it will express itself in action anyway.

Though it is the most natural thing in the world for us to believe that we are better, more important, or of higher value than other people, walking with Christ requires us to constantly attack this natural pride.  Christ is our guide, who always put others ahead of Himself, who never acted out of concern for His own respect or dignity, but even when rebuking others (sometimes with quite sharp language) did so always with a concern for their welfare and never demeaning them as people.  This great love led Him to even lay down His life for others, something He did not only at the end of His life on the cross, but throughout His days on this earth.  He was a servant to all.  The Christian will desire to be conformed to Jesus’ image in all things, including this respect for the worth and dignity of all other human beings, and not just as an intellectual abstraction but in the way we talk and think and treat those people with whom we interact in our lives.

Submission to God’s Reality: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 39

LORD’S DAY 39

  1. What does God require in the fifth commandment?

That I show all honor, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother,1 and to all in authority over me,2 submit myself with due obedience to all their good instruction and correction, and also bear patiently with their infirmities, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.3

[1] Eph. 6:22; Eph. 6:1–6; Col. 3:18, 20–24; Prov. 1:8–9; 4:1; 15:20; 20:20; Ex. 21:17; Gen. 9:24–25. [2] Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:18; Rom. 13:2–7; Matt. 22:21. [3] Eph. 6:4, 9; Col. 3:19, 21; *Prov. 30:17; *Deut. 27:16; *Deut. 32:24; *Prov. 13:24; *1 Tim. 2:1–2; *1 Tim. 5:17; *Heb. 13:17–18.

Submission to God’s Reality
The word for “honor” is the word kabod in Hebrew, meaning weighty or heavy. To honor is to give someone the weight that is due to their position. The Heidelberg describes this as honor, love and faithfulness, meaning loyalty and obedience.

Children are to obey their parents. God providentially has arranged society so that children are given instruction and guidance from their parents. God has created us in such a way that most people, even unbelievers, feel very strong attachments to their children, and this prompts parents to sacrifice a great deal of time, money and energy to raise and prepare children for life. God has given the human race a wonderful gift in this natural familial affection. If children are wise, then they will obey their parents in order to gain maximum benefit from this. Thus, the commandment says, your days will be long on the land. Even if your parents are unwise in some ways, they are almost certainly wiser than their children, sitcoms and Hollywood movies notwithstanding.

Obviously, in an earthly sense, the promise of long life as a result of obedience to parents is a general proverb. Many good children who obeyed their parents nonetheless died young, while wicked and rebellious people sometimes live long lives. Cain outlived Abel, and God’s providence is His own. All other things being equal, it is true that children who submit to parents will have an easier time of life and a higher quality of life if they submit to parents. Their survival chances go up considerably. They will avoid many errors earlier in life. Many of the mistakes we can make in life are not obvious, and a child is poorly equipped to understand the reasons for those. As an example, if a child’s diet consists entirely of sugary sweets, his health will suffer in many ways. But the sugary sweets will make him feel good in the moment and he will not feel the ill effects for a while. Left to himself, the child’s diet will be very poor. But the adult knows the importance of it, because of the greater perspective that the passage of time has given him. Similar statements can be made for relationships, personal hygiene, finances and many other areas of life.

Further, as the Catechism points out, it is God’s will to govern us by the hand of these authorities. Rebellion against parents is ultimately rebellion against the God that gave the parents. There is not, therefore, merely a practical injunction here. All God’s commands are inherently practical. But they are ultimately theological. If I rebel against God, I will come to ruin, quite apart from any naturalistic workings of the universe, because God is just. Even if I manage to avoid the more obvious consequences, ultimately those who rebel against God’s commands will come to destruction.

As adults, this commandment does not lose its force. Though the nature of our honoring of our parents will change, the reality of it does not. As adults, we are to continue to show respect to our parents in obedience to God. Since the authority of parents over children is given for the purpose of guiding children through childhood, obedience to parents is not required for adults (the function of that obedience has ended). And yet parents should be respected and honored throughout our lives. We should listen to their advice and give it careful consideration. We should not show contempt or ridicule for them- a common failing for adults, since as adults we are well aware of the infirmities and failings of our parents. We should care for them and ensure their comfort as best as we can when they are elderly and infirm.

Honoring our parents also means honoring tradition, giving heavy weight to the views and values of the past. Tradition is neither infallible nor inerrant, and change is often necessary, but that change should be undertaken gradually and carefully. It is a foolish child that thinks he can carelessly discard the accumulated wisdom of centuries, whatever his age might be.

There is a further spiritual principle here as well. Honoring our parents means being thankful for who God made us through our parents. We are in many ways who we are because of the parents God gave us. If we are bitter and angry because of our parents, then we are bitter and angry at God for His providence in our lives, and ultimately reject our own nature. It is impossible that we should have real success and happiness in our lives while we are bitter and angry about our own nature.

Even more broadly, then, obeying the Fifth Commandment means submitting to reality, submitting to God’s providence and not being bitter and resentful about the world into which God has brought us and His provision for us in this world. It takes no particular wisdom to find fault with those that have gone before. Cynicism and contempt for tradition often poses as wisdom, but they are very different things. It takes a great deal of wisdom to be humble, to embrace one’s own limitations, and to learn from others, including others that may be dead already. Christians should never be revolutionaries, even when they advocate for change in ungodly institutions. This commandment should give Christians a bent to the traditional without being reactionaries that idolize the past.

The obedience mandated by the fifth commandment flows out of thankfulness to God, and the result will be prosperity in many ways. We are to be thankful to God for who He made us and the gifts that He has given us, even through the failings and weaknesses of our parents. In the Commandment, the promise is couched in general and earthly terms, appropriate for the Old Testament era. Though God never promised us health and wealth in this life, He has promised us eternal life and prosperity if we will trust Him and His providences in our lives. And even in this life, we will always be more successful at the work God has given us to do when we follow His principles.

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.

Resting in Christ: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 38

LORD’S DAY 38

  1. What does God require in the fourth commandment?

In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained,1 and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church2 to learn the Word of God,3 to use the holy sacraments,4 to call publicly upon the Lord,5 and to give Christian alms.In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.7

[1] Tit. 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:14–15; 4:13–14; 5:17; 1 Cor. 9:11, 13–14. [2] 2 Tim. 2:2, 15; Ps. 40:10–11; 68:26; Acts 2:42, 46. [3] 1 Cor. 14:19, 29, 31. [4] 1 Cor. 11:33. [5] 1 Tim. 2:1–2, 8–10; 1 Cor. 14:16. [6] 1 Cor. 16:2. [7] Isa. 66:23; *Gal. 6:6; *Acts 20:7; Heb. 4:9–10.

Resting in Christ

The Fourth Commandment enjoins on us the observance of the Sabbath day.  The word “Sabbath” means “rest.”  In the Mosaic administration, this commandment’s observance was clearly spelled out as the complete cessation of all labor and other productive activities on the seventh day of the week.  Attached to this was a complex system of holy days and feast days, also called Sabbaths, such as the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles.  Exodus 31:13 tells us these Sabbaths were given to the peoples as signs.  Signs are ceremonies or symbols that point to some spiritual truth, and the passage tells us what the Sabbaths point to—that it is the Lord that sanctifies the people.  The Lord makes the people holy and blessed, and not their own efforts, and therefore they can rest in Him.  Symbolically they rest one day a week, but in truth they were to rest in the salvation of God every day of the week, every minute of their lives, for the Lord does not sanctify them only on the seventh day.

The promised Messiah was the way that God had always promised to purify and perfect His people, to save them from the curse of sin.  The Sabbath commandment was therefore a promise of the Messiah, and a heartfelt observation of the Sabbath Day was therefore an act of faith in the Messiah.

In the New Testament, the ceremonies of the Old Law are abrogated.  Paul specifically tells Christians (in Romans 14:1-6, Colossians 2:16, and Galatians 4:10) that the observance of a Sabbath day is no longer obligatory for Christians.  Some modern proponents of Sabbath observance claim that this is referring only to Jewish feast days, but there is no exegetical reason, no indication from the text, that this is the case.  Two of the passages in Romans and Galatians do not refer to Sabbaths specifically but simply to the observance of days of any kind, and Colossians 2:16 uses the same word used for the one-in-seven observance as every other passage in the New Testament.

But this does not mean that the Fourth Commandment is no longer applicable.  The Catechism in question 104 gives us the ongoing significance of the commandment.  First, we are to lay hold of the means of grace at the appointed times.  The Sabbath Day in the Old Testament was the foundation of the whole system of worship given to Israel in the Old Testament.  Though the system of worship has changed, the principle has not.  The observance of God’s means of grace is mandatory, just as much in the New Testament as in the Old.  When at the church’s appointment God’s people are called together to call upon the Lord, take the sacraments and learn God’s word, God’s people are to be there.  Barring illness or travel or something of that nature, the worship of God is not optional.  If the means of grace are mandated in the Fourth Commandment, then so too is the support of those means.  So we are to financially support the church and the training of men to do the work.  This is the Catechism’s exhortation that “the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained.”

Second, the spiritual heart of the Commandment remains absolutely unchanged.  It is a call for us to believe the Gospel.  We are to rest from any dream that we can earn God’s favor or our own blessedness through our works.  To that end, we can give up time, throughout the week, for spiritual exercises, for public worship, for private and family devotion.  The commandment does not mandate a precise schedule for this, but it mandates it nonetheless.  Throughout the week we also are to rest in our hearts, not just in our bodies, in the completed sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, and the Spirit of God which was delivered to us by that sacrifice, knowing that it is God the Lord who sanctifies us and not we ourselves.  He does that work of sanctification through Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the last week of His life, labored faithfully six days in Jerusalem, teaching and healing as His Father had given Him to do.  That work was finished with His greatest obedience of all, on the sixth day, when He died on the cross.  On the seventh day He rested, in the grave, in Paradise, the most perfect Sabbath rest any man had ever experienced.  And on the eighth day He rose again.  So the ancient church appointed the eighth day, the first day of the week, as the day of worship, signaling not the moving of the Sabbath Day from one day to another but the completion and transcendence of the Sabbath system, as was prophesied by the ceremonial system of the Old Testament.  The Feast of Tabernacles which looked forward to the salvation of the world, concluded on the eighth day with a final great sacrifice.  A child was sanctified to the Lord by circumcision on the eighth day after he was born.  The Year of Jubilee was always the fiftieth year, the year after seven Sabbath years, and that was the great year of salvation which Jesus claimed was fulfilled by Him in Luke 4:21.  So this eighth day worship, worship on the day when Jesus rose from the dead and fulfilled the law perfectly, the day after the Sabbath, became the rule of the early church and remains so to this day.

So the Catechism does not enjoin on us the observance of any particular day, but calls us to observe the heart of the commandment by laying hold of the means of grace in faith, and trusting in Christ’s power, worked by the Spirit of God, to deliver all the blessings of God to His people.  He has perfectly fulfilled all the Law on our behalf, and we receive all the blessings of His kingdom by faith, and thus begin even now to experience eternal rest in Christ by faith.

Lawful Oaths and Weak Humans

LORDS DAY 37
101. But may we swear reverently by the name of God?
Yes, when the magistrate requires it, or when it may be needful otherwise, to maintain and promote fidelity and truth to the glory of God and our neighbor’s good; for such an oath is grounded in God’s Word,1 and therefore was rightly used by the saints in the Old and New Testaments.2
[1] Deut. 10:20; Isa. 48:1; Heb. 6:16. [2] Gen. 21:24; 31:53–54; Josh. 9:15, 19; 1 Sam. 24:22; 1 Kgs. 1:29; Rom. 1:9.
102. May we swear by “the saints” or by any other creatures?
No, for a lawful oath is a calling upon God, that He, as the only searcher of hearts, may bear witness to the truth, and punish me if I swear falsely;1 which honor is due to no creature.2
[1] 2 Cor. 1:23. [2] Matt. 5:34–36; *Jer. 5:7; *Isa. 65:16.

Lawful Oaths and Weak Humans

There have been Christians since the Reformation who denounced all oaths as a violation of the Third Commandment, especially many of the Anabaptists. Given Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:33-37, it is very understandable why one would come to this conclusion. Groups such as the Mennonites and Amish even today will not take oaths.

But Jesus’ teaching in this section is famously hyperbolic. Just before this section He recommended cutting a hand off or plucking an eye out to avoid sin. That does not mean His teaching doesn’t mean anything and can be safely ignored. He teaches the heart of the Third Commandment and the Ninth Commandment, to use words always in a truthful and forthright manner, whether directed to God or to men. Since the violation of God’s name was such a great crime, they would take oaths by things other than God, such as angels, the temple, or the like.

Some of the rabbis taught a complex system of casuistry whereby some formulas of oaths were more binding than others, and some unscrupulous people would even use this loophole to trick Gentiles or others that weren’t familiar with their rules.

We should not be superstitious about words, or about anything else. It is not the uttering of certain syllables which is the problem, but the misuse of God’s name to promote falsehood. Using God’s name to promote truth and fidelity among neighbors or in civil society is a right use of that name, and as question 101 says, has ample precedent in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 Paul swears with God as his witness, that it was to avoid trouble with them that he did not go to Corinth, rather than to cause it, and several other similar examples can be cited.

So if a Mennonite says, “I affirm that the testimony I give is true” as opposed to saying “I swear…,” there really is no difference. The same thing is happening in both cases, and the substitution of one word for another is really just superstition, like the Pharisaical avoidance of using the name of God under any circumstances, even as they profaned His worship, twisted His doctrine, and abused His people.

It is a shame that there are any such people that would be comfortable lying to someone unless they first say, “I swear that…” But such people certainly exist, human nature being what it is. For well-meaning people, the oath, the raised hand, the hand on the Bible can all function to impress upon the person the importance of what he is saying so that he thinks about it extra carefully, when without such circumstances attending his words he might thoughtlessly toss off promises that he cannot or does not intend to keep. Additionally, while it would be wonderful if people could trust others in their words, we know there are many liars in the world, and it is easy for doubt and suspicion to creep into our relationships. We ought to deal with each other realistically with regard to the weakness of human nature. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 it was precisely the Corinthians’ skepticism about Paul’s real motive that prompted him to call God as his witness that it was the good of their relationship that kept him away in the past.

So a lawful oath can be a help to smooth dealings between sinful human beings, and when made with honesty and integrity, glorifies God by promoting the serious use of His name to promote truth in communication, something that accords very well with God’s nature.

The faithful keeping of covenants is one of the chief ways that God reveals Himself in His Scripture, that He is a God that does what He says He will do. Faithfulness is part of His very nature. One of the chief maladies afflicting the human race is faithlessness in their word. People break marriage vows, church vows, commercial contracts, and their obligations to their nation, and the cost to human society is enormous. We in the church, being renewed to the image of Jesus Christ, should be the very first to advocate for and strive for the faithful keeping of covenants, that we keep our promises and do what we say we will do.

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.

Hijacking God’s Name: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 36

LORD’S DAY 36

  1. What is required in the third commandment?

That we must not by cursing,1 or by false swearing,2 nor yet by unnecessary oaths,3 profane or abuse the name of God; nor even by our silence and connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and in summary, that we use the holy name of God in no other way than with fear and reverence,4 so that He may be rightly confessed5 and worshiped6 by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.7

[1] Lev. 24:10–16. [2] Lev. 19:12. [3] Matt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12. [4] Isa. 45:23. [5] Matt. 10:32.

[6] 1 Tim. 2:8. [7] Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 6:1; Col. 3:16–17; *1 Pet. 3:15.

 

  1. Is the profaning of God’s name, by swearing and cursing, so grievous a sin that His wrath is kindled against those also who do not help as much as they can to hinder and forbid it?

Yes, truly,1 for no sin is greater and more provoking to God than the profaning of His name; wherefore He even commanded it to be punished with death.2

[1] Lev. 5:1 [2] Lev. 24:15–16; *Lev. 19:12; *Prov. 29:24–25.

Hijacking God’s Name

The issue of taking the Lord’s name in vain is often sadly relegated to a fairly minor issue, mainly because the issue is not well understood.

In the first place, people often do not appreciate how grave an offense it is to misuse the name of God.  The “name” of God is not just a phonetic symbol that identifies Him, as our names so often are.  The name of God is the way that He reveals Himself to mankind, as for example when He refers to Israel as the people on whom He has put His name (as in Numbers 6:27) or in Deuteronomy 12:5 where the people of Israel are told to offer their sacrifices in the place where God puts His name.  That’s not referring merely to a place named after God; many of the cities in Israel were named after God in one way or another.  It refers to the place where God reveals Himself, or in other words Jerusalem.  Israel is the people to whom and through whom God reveals Himself.

The word “vain” in the commandment means “empty” or “without purpose.”  When a man uses the name of God in an empty or frivolous manner, he lies about who God is.  In doing so, he attacks the very purpose for which God made him.  Man is made in the image of God, that is, to reveal God and reflect His nature.  This is the purpose for the whole universe, and most of all for man as the pinnacle of God’s creation.  So when man corrupts that revelation with lies or foolish talking, God will not take that lightly.  Our tendency to downplay the importance of words is reflected in the commandment itself, which includes a stern warning.

So, using God’s name as an exclamation or a foolish curse is a crime against His dignity and majesty.  Ironically, men use these kinds of expressions to add force to their words, showing their awareness of the importance of the name even as they misuse it and misappropriate it for their own purposes.

Imagine, for example, if someone created a fake profile on Facebook or Pinterest or some other social media platform, using your name, and then used that profile to say all sorts of horrible things about other people that did not reflect your own views.  Would you not be greatly offended and angered?  But is this not exactly what we do when we say, “God damn it” or some equivalent expression?  Am I not using the great power of God’s name to add force to what I want to say?  And in doing so, I empty God’s name of any real content, so that it no longer possesses any force.   God created this world to speak into it.  It is a great crime for wicked men to try to hijack His self-revelation for their own wicked selfish ends.

Secondly, the issue of taking God’s name goes far beyond what we describe as swearing or cursing.  It is any use of God’s name in a light or frivolous manner.  It happens when people call themselves Christians despite having no commitment to Christ.  It happens when people air their speculations about who God is.  It happens when people worship God and sing songs of praise to Him with no corresponding sincerity or integrity in their heart.  All of this is taking the Lord’s name lightly and with no substance, and as question 100 says, it is such a grievous offense against God that He commands it to be punished with death.  The command only recognizes the reality of the thing; someone that perverts and misuses the revelation of God simply forfeits his right to exist, since revealing and glorifying God was the reason God made us in the first place.  It is the equivalent of a messenger who is sent by the king with a message, and upon arriving at his destination says, “Thus says the king,” and then makes up a message rather than giving the message the king gave him.  Any messenger caught doing that would quickly be relieved of his head in a day when people took authority more seriously than they do today.

It is a great thing to take the name of God upon myself.  If I say I am a Christian, or a follower or disciple of Jesus, or a child of God or a worshiper of God or any equivalent expression, I am claiming something very weighty for myself.  But God will not be made to serve me; He will not allow His name and His revelation to be drafted to serve my ends.  He always serves His own ends alone.  Thus the heart of the commandment is always using the name of God with fear and reverence, recognizing that He is sovereign and I am the subject; He rules me, never the other way around.  The goal is, according to the Catechism, to confess and worship God rightly, with words that have truth, substance and sincerity behind them, so that the truth of God is properly revealed in all that we say.

 

Dumb Idols: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 35

LORD’S DAY 35

  1. What does God require in the second commandment?

That we in no way make any image of God,1 nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.2

[1] Deut. 4:15–19; Isa. 40:18, 25. Rom. 1:22–24; Acts 17:29. [2] 1 Sam. 15:23; Deut. 12:30–32; Matt. 15:9; *Deut. 4:23–24; *Jn. 4:24. 

  1. May we not make any image at all?

God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.1

[1] Ex. 23:24–25; 34:13–14; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:22; 2 Kgs. 18:4; *Jn. 1:18. 

  1. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His Word.2

[1] Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18–19. [2] 2 Pet. 1:19; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; Rom. 10:17.

 

Dumb Idols

The second commandment is all about how we worship God.  It is very closely related to the first, for if we place our trust purely and fully in God alone, then obedience to the second naturally follows.  We will submit ourselves entirely to Him in our relationship with Him.  Idolatry ultimately is about worshiping and trusting myself instead of God, and this will express itself in my worship as I try to take control of my relationship with God, shaping God to fit my own lusts and imagination and dictating how and on what terms God blesses me.

When the idol worshiper makes a statue or a picture of God, he puts himself in charge of the relationship.  It is his own mind which creates the image.  Now, rather than God being a mighty and powerful, and above all sovereign being, the idolater has fixed God into a controllable form.

The classic example of this dynamic at work is seen with the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  They were confronted with the awesome, terrifying, powerful God, who was death to look on.  As time wore on and Moses did not return from the mountain, the Israelites demanded that Aaron make them gods, meaning idols, to follow (Exodus 32).  They wanted to control the relationship.  So Aaron made them a golden calf, and the worshiped it and celebrated.

The issue here was not abandoning the worship of Jehovah to worship some other god.  Aaron said, “This is the God that brought you out of Egypt,” and then declared a feast to Jehovah, the name of Israel’s God (verse 5).  The problem was their refusal to submit to God’s sovereignty; they demanded they be in control of the relationship rather than accepting that God was.  This is the heart of idolatry, the elevation of the self to the throne instead of God.  In worship it expresses itself in the demand that I decide how I will worship, a demand that I be in control of how the relationship between me and God will work.

The making of a picture of God, or the use of a picture of anything in order to worship God, always falls into this category, perhaps more directly than anything else.  This is because we have no description of God in Scriptures, and any picture we make therefore comes out of one’s own head instead of as revealed truth from God.

The Catechism says that God will have His people taught by the lively preaching of the Word, and not by dumb idols.  “Dumb” here means “mute” or “wordless,” not “stupid,” so the idol is contrasted to the word most explicitly; the idol does not speak, but God does, through the Word.  But all worship and teaching will be according to a truth system, so the dumb idol doesn’t remain mute.  Its mouths are filled with ideas from some man.  The human worshiper puts himself on the throne, worshiping his own conception of who God is instead of who God reveals Himself to be.

One need not look for golden images of bulls to see this at work all around us.  Constantly people worship the work of their own hands rather than God.  People decide for themselves what formal worship will look like instead of being guided by the Scriptures.  People invent their own doctrine of what God is like instead of learning who God is from the Scriptures.  They invent a god that acts the way they want him to, and refuse to accept what the Scriptures say about God.  So they worship their own conceptions; essentially, they worship themselves.  Their worship services are all about their feelings and personal ideas about God rather than about God Himself.  And it is no accident that their worship services are often full of pictures, pictures which root their worship in their emotional responses to their own conceptions of God rather than rooted in God’s own self-revelation, which is always in words, and never in visual images.

In a less mature time in the church’s history, God did indeed use visual representations of different things to illustrate various truths about Himself, such as the furniture in the temple or the sign-acts of Ezekiel.  But in this last age He has revealed Himself fully and perfectly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, to whom every knee will bow and whom every tongue will confess.  He is the Word of God, and of Him we have no physical description.  Indeed we need none, since the revelation of Jesus was never in how He looked (totally unremarkable) but in His words, words that are Spirit and Life, words which changed the world, words which gave meaning to His great act of self-sacrifice on behalf of His people.  It is faith in Him, and in His words, that give us life.  God has chosen to deliver His revelation to us His people in the form of these words, and in submission to God we will accept His provision for us as sufficient, and not try to supplement or replace it with dumb idols of our own invention.

Looking to God for All Our Welfare: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 34

LORD’S DAY 34

  1. How are these commandments divided?

Into two tables:1 the first of which teaches, in four commandments, what duties we owe to God; the second, in six, what duties we owe to our neighbor.2

[1] Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13. [ 2] Matt. 22:37–40. [1] Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13. [ 2] Matt. 22:37–40

  1. What does God require in the first commandment?

That, on peril of my soul’s salvation, I avoid and flee all idolatry,1 sorcery, enchantments,2 invocation of saints or of other creatures;3 and that I rightly acknowledge the only true God,4 trust in Him alone,5 with all humility6 and patience7 expect all good from Him only,8 and love,9 fear,10 and honor11 Him with my whole heart; so as rather to renounce all creatures than to do the least thing against His will.12

[1] 1 Cor. 10:7, 14. [2] Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:10–12. [3] Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:8–9.[4] Jn. 17:3. [5] Jer. 17:5. [6] 1 Pet. 5:5–6. [7] Heb. 10:36; Col. 1:10b–11; Rom. 5:3–4;1 Cor. 10:10. [8] Ps. 104:27–30; Isa. 45:6b–7; Jas. 1:17. [9] Deut. 6:5. [10] Deut. 6:2; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; Matt. 10:28. [11] Deut. 10:20. [12] Matt. 5:29–30; 10:37; Acts 5:29.

  1. What is idolatry?

Idolatry is to conceive or have something else in which to place our trust instead of, or besides, the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.1

[1] Eph. 5:5; Phil. 3:19; Eph. 2:12; Jn. 2:23; 2 Jn. 1:9; Jn. 5:23; *Ps. 81:8–9; *Matt. 6:24; Ps. 62:5–7 *Ps. 73:25–26.

 

Looking to God for All our Welfare
Lord’s Day 34, telling us about our obligation to pursue good works, defines good works as those which comply with the Law of God, and the Law was defined as the Ten Commandments. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of whether the Ten Commandments continues as relevant for the New Testament believer, despite being given in the Old Testament. In brief, the curse of the Law no longer holds, for Christ has completely satisfied the demands of the Law. Yet the requirements of the Law were not arbitrary, but reflected God’s creational design for man and humanity’s relationship to God, to creation and to one another. Therefore, even though we know that the Law has been completely satisfied by Christ’s perfect obedience, yet in our saved state, the Law still has a very important role to play in teaching us what a redeemed saint looks like. It shows us the goal of our salvation. It teaches us what it means to be Christlike, like the One who perfectly kept that Law. Question 93 recounts the Ten Commandments, and questions 94-115 will examine the Ten Commandments and teach us what they mean.

The First Commandment is the basis of them all. All violations of God’s Law are a violation of this first commandment, for all sin springs from the same root, the root of pride. If I trusted God completely and put all my hope in Him, I would never look to anything else for any blessing in my life, separate from God. When the commandment tells us not to have any other gods before God, that does not mean “before God” as in “higher in priority than God”, but rather “before God” in the sense of “in His face, where He can see them,” meaning, anywhere. It means we are to put our trust entirely and only in God, and not in anything else. If I trust God 99% of the time for my welfare and prosperity, and anything else 1% of the time, then I am an idolater. So we are all idolaters, for we all fail to trust God for everything we need. If we trusted God completely, we would never sin.

This is not to say I wouldn’t have any need for food or human companionship or sunlight, or any of the many other things that we as human beings need. But God is good and always gives us what we need. Idolatry is the attempt to take control of my welfare for myself. In Romans 1:17-25, Paul says that people “did not glorify [God] as God, nor were thankful… but worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Glorifying God and being thankful is contrasted to idolatry, the worship of the created thing instead of the One who created the thing.

Worship need not look like bowing down, offering incense or some other specifically “religious” looking activity. It is not the activity of the body but the posture of the heart which is of concern here. Ephesians 5:5 says that a covetous man is an idolater. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve two masters, God and mammon, but must ultimately choose (mammon being the material things of this world generally).

To illustrate, if I trust God and expect all good things from Him, then when I have plenty of money I will be thankful and use it the way He has taught me to. I will enjoy the blessings He gave me, giving Him the glory always, and I will not seek a life of luxury, but will share with the poor and support the church. But if I believe that money itself is the source of happiness, then that is to deny that the money comes from God, and then I will seek to accumulate more and more money and I will use it entirely for my own benefit regardless of what God says about it. I will neglect other duties, such as to family, to the poor, and to the church, and spend all my time in the accumulation and enjoyment of wealth. Idolatry is not about whether I think money is good or not. It’s about where I think the money comes from, and consequently, who governs how I get it and how I use it- God or me.

This exercise can be repeated with any good thing that we desire or need. When we trust God as the only source of our good, then we will trust that He is giving us what we need and what is best for us in the moment, and not be covetous for what we don’t have. And therefore, we will not try to seize things we haven’t been given or try to make things more than they really are. Thus the root of all sin is the prideful belief that I can advance my own welfare by using the things of God’s creation or the people in my life the way I think they should be used rather than the way God tells us through His law to use them. It is worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, and the cure for it is trust and thankfulness to God for all things.

The government cannot keep us safe or provide prosperity. Food will not keep me alive. Pleasure will not satisfy me. Friends and family will not fulfill me. God does all of these things for me. God may use these things as secondary means to accomplish His purpose, but as long as I remember that it is God using those things, rather than the things themselves, then I will keep all things in perspective, and keep God as God, as the only source of all good things in my life.

Whenever we look at the Law of God and wrestle with our inevitable failure, let us remember that we have a Savior who kept this law perfectly, and has already paid the debt for our failure to do so. We need not fall into despair, therefore, at how far short of the mark we fall, but rather thank God for our redemption in Christ, and labor, in that peace and confidence, to draw closer to the mark that the Law of God sets out for us.

 

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.

Change of Heart: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 33

LORD’S DAY 33

  1. In how many things does true repentance or conversion consist?

In two things: the dying of the old man,1 and the making alive of the new.

[1] Rom. 6:4–6; Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:5–10; 1 Cor. 5:7.

 

  1. What is the dying of the old man?

Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.1

[1] Rom. 8:13; Joel 2:13.

 

  1. What is the making alive of the new man?

Heartfelt joy in God through Christ,1 causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.2

[1] Rom. 5:1; 14:17; Isa. 57:15. [2] Rom. 8:10–11; Gal. 2:20; *Rom. 7:22.

 

  1. What are good works?

Those only which proceed from true faith,1 and are done according to the law of God,2 unto His glory,3 and not such as rest on our own opinion4 or the commandments of men.5

[1] Rom. 14:23. [2] 1 Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10. [3] 1 Cor. 10:31. [4] Deut. 12:32; Ezek. 20:18, 20; Isa. 29:13. [5] Matt. 15:9; *Num. 15:39.

 

Change of Heart

On the subject of good works, the Christian is often caught in a dilemma.  This is the tension between forgiveness and the call to righteous living.  This is an uncomfortable tension, as tensions usually are, the Scripture makes clear and repeated calls for us to repent and turn away from our sin, combined with the fact that no sinner ever completely succeeds in doing so in this life.  The Scriptures also unambiguously teach that we are forgiven our sins without any merit of our own, solely because of the righteousness of Christ, for all those who believe.  The great temptation is to try to reduce this tension in one of two ways.  The first way is the way of legalism, of reducing the true requirements of God’s law to something we can actually do, so that we can think of ourselves as having successfully completed the obligation to fulfill the law, usually by focusing on ceremonies or outward moral behavior.  The second way is the way of antinomianism (anti-law), meaning a downplaying or denying the law’s call to change which resolves the tension by focusing entirely on the fact of our forgiveness and neglecting the call to repentance.

It is vital, however, that we not try to remove the tension between forgiveness and the obligation to repent, that we simply live with it.  Not only is this true because these attempts to resolve this tension inevitably leads to grave error, but also because this tension is the driving force in our sanctification.  Both elements have to be present, the sure conviction of our forgiveness and the need to strive for righteousness.  The knowledge of my complete forgiveness combined with the urging of the law to change, not out of fear or guilt but out of love and thankfulness, provides the impetus for a godly striving against sin that does not compromise either the purity of God’s law or the free grace of the gospel.  The fabric of my salvation is woven on this loom, with the threads stretched between these two principles.

The Catechism instructs us in this week’s reading in what this repentance looks like.  There are two elements, the dying of the old man and the making alive of the new (q. 88).  This reflects the common Biblical pattern when discussing repentance, which is “putting off and putting on”.  “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor” (Eph. 4:28) is one very simple and representative example.  The evil behavior is rebuked, and the corresponding righteous behavior is enjoined.  This is necessary, for man must live by a principle.  The principle of self-worship and self-indulgence drives the sinful behavior of the flesh.  So I must put that away.  But a man cannot live without a principle, and therefore it is never sufficient merely to tell someone not to sin in some particular way any more.  Instead, there must be a substitute of righteous behavior in the place of the sinful.  The thief is a parasite, taking from the community whatever he wishes and giving nothing back.  The opposite of that is man as a producer, laboring for sufficient wealth to take care of his own family and having enough left over to help the poor.  The Catechism describes this same process as the “dying of the old man”, meaning the progressive rejection of false and sinful patterns of thought which lead to sinful behavior, and the “making alive of the new”, which is the gradual adoption of the way of thinking and behavior we are taught in Scriptures instead.

In both cases this is “heartfelt”, meaning that this is primarily not about changes in behavior, but changes in our values.  People are ultimately going to do what they want to do, what they value, so the solution to the problem of sin is never simply to stop doing something, because you will fail.  If you want to sin more than you want to please God, then you will sin.  Consequences for sin might hold you back to some degree, but people find a way around them, or try to minimize those consequences, but people ultimately are going to do what they want to do.  So if we simply focus on behavior, we will always fail to produce any real change.  Instead we must learn to identify what is going on in our hearts, what it is about our values, that is driving us to behave the way we do.  Ultimately the answer to that is always the same, that we think we are the gods of our own lives and should please ourselves with the things of this world, which always results in sinful behavior.

So becoming a Christian is all about changing values, coming to recognize that every desire is satisfied in Jesus Christ, and that therefore the best thing for us, the thing that will ultimately make us the happiest, is to stop focusing on what will please us and make us happy and to start focusing on pleasing God and doing His will instead.

The change that is needed is on the level of our heart, the most fundamental level of our being, and therefore requires an outside agent to accomplish it, further proof of our utter dependence on God’s power for our salvation.  As we are engaged in this process, we must be in prayer to ask God to do this work, to change our values, to teach us that everything we need and desire is in Christ, and therefore to stop chasing the foolish lies of this world and our own flesh to make us happy.
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.