Submission to God’s Reality: Heidelberg Catechism 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


  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

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


  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.


We Worship

From the editorial of the last Reformed Herald-

So, what do we Christians do with this supreme disappointment?  What do we do, knowing that all sorts of infringements on our religious liberty are coming?  Dear Christian, we do what God’s people have always done.  We worship.  We worship our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.  We worship because we remember.  We remember God’s promise to His elect, like that found in Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed.”  Though earth’s judges may change, though popular opinion may change, the Lord Who created us and the institution of marriage does not change.

Beautifully said, Rev. Sorenson.