Yearning for the Kingdom: Heidelberg Catechism 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


  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


  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


  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.