Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 23
Lord's Day 23
But what does it help you
now that you believe all this?
In Christ I am righteous before God
and heir to life everlasting.
How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Although my conscience accuses me
that I have grievously sinned
against all God's commandments,
have never kept any of them,
and am still inclined to all evil
yet God, without any merit of my own,
out of mere grace,
imputes to me
the perfect satisfaction,
righteousness, and holiness of Christ.
He grants these to me
as if I had never had nor committed
and as if I myself had accomplished
all the obedience
which Christ has rendered for me,
if only I accept this gift
with a believing heart.
Why do you say
that you are righteous
only by faith?
Not that I am acceptable to God
on account of the worthiness of my faith,
for only the satisfaction, righteousness,
and holiness of Christ
is my righteousness before God.
I can receive this righteousness
and make it mine my own
by faith only.
Q. & A. 59 – 61 Justified by Faith
- Question 59 asks about the benefit of faith. How does it help you? How does it benefit you? What advantage does it give you? This is not the same as the fruit of faith. The fruits of faith are good works. Our justification is not brought about by faith (fruit); it is the fruit of God's redemptive work in Christ, the fruit of the cross. But it is obtained in faith (benefit). Hence, faith is not in vain and is not worthless. But it does not give what the unrepentant sinner seeks: riches, pleasure and honour. That is why he regards it as worthless and says that it does not pay to serve God. But that is not true. Faith produces a rich benefit, namely, that In Christ I am Righteous before God and Heir to Life Everlasting.
- To be righteous before God means that he holds us as righteous; we are accounted as righteous by him, and are regarded as such by him. In other words, it means that he acquits us and exonerates us of our guilt. To make righteous, therefore, does not mean that evil is made good and the crooked straight (sanctification). Rather, just as the verb “make” in the verbal phrase “to make great” means to recognise and praise someone as great, so also “to make righteous” (or, “just”) means to recognize someone as righteous and declare him to be righteous or just. Thus, “to make righteous” is the opposite of to damn, or to judge. (See Prov 17:15). And it means to exonerate. God acquits us (that is the benefit of faith) of our guilt. And he makes us entitled to eternal life (as heirs). True, we do not yet enjoy eternal life, but our right to it is guaranteed and we shall in due course receive our inheritance. Thus, Ps 32:2 rightly says: "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity."
- This benefit of the acquittal is a juridical act on God's part. It is easiest to understand if you think of a court of justice. That is how Answer 60 points out the benefit to us. And the entire Bible speaks about it in these terms. Zion is set free by justice. Justice saves!
God is the Judge. The sinner is the accused. The prosecutors are the devil and the sinner's conscience. Christ is counsel for the defence (advocate). The law of the Lord is the applicable law (Criminal Code).
The prosecutor brings three counts against the accused:
a. The accused has Grievously sinned against All God's commandments.
b. He has kept none of the commandments.
c. He is Still Inclined to All evil (he is a recidivist).
It can not be any worse. And we expect the strongest condemnation and judgment. That is what we deserve. But counsel for the defence now appears and he responds as follows to the three-fold accusation:
a. I have borne ALL the punishment in the place of the accused.
b. I fulfilled ALL commandments in his place.
c. I place my holiness over against his evil and cover it thereby.
And then God grants us that completed work of Christ and imputes it to us. Thus we are acquitted and become entitled to eternal life. Now read that beautiful Answer 60 of the Catechism!
- This righteousness is complete. It is as if I had never had sin (original sin), nor committed any sin (actual sin). Indeed, it is as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me. And this happens without any merit on my part, solely out of grace. Rom 3:23, 24 says: Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
And Rom 4:5 states: "And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness."
- Already in Q. 59 and in Answer 60 faith was mentioned. Answer 60 said that we are righteous before God only by a true faith in Jesus Christ. And at the end, again, that we only receive this gift if we accept it with a believing heart. That is why Answer 61 continues the discussion. It says that we are not acceptable to God because of the worthiness of our faith. Faith is not an achievement on our part in consequence of which we become entitled to God's favour. There is nothing meritorious about faith. But it is the means whereby we accept the righteousness of Christ. That is how we are justified. Not Because of, also not Without, but By faith. Not our faith, but Christ is the basis of our acquittal.
- In order to see the entire work of the justification of sinners, one should note carefully:
a. The eternal counsel of election in which God determined to justify those that are his through Christ (Eph 1:4, 5).
b. The resurrection of Christ, when his satisfaction for our justification was approved (Rom 4:25).
c. Faith, by which we personally are justified in Christ in this dispensation (Phil 3:9).
d. The last judgment, when the justification will be announced publicly (Mt 25:23).
B. Cross References
- Articles 22 and 23 of the BC confession speak extensively about justification by faith.
- Also in the CD this benefit is spoken of more than once. See, e.g., III/IV, 6.
- Note also the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and Adults (Doctrine of Baptism):
Thus we are freed from our sins and accounted righteous before God.
And see the Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper (Remembrance of Christ):
He was innocently condemned to death that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of God.
- What is the fruit and what is the benefit of faith? What is the difference between benefit and fruit?
- What does “to make righteous” mean? What is the opposite of this concept?
- Who is the Judge? Who is the accuser? Who is the accused? What is the Criminal Code? What is the indictment (accusation)? Who is counsel for the defence? What does his defence consist of? Finally, what judgment does the Judge pronounce?
- How complete is the justification? Does it happen in consequence of any merit of ours? If not, how does it happen? What do Rom 3:23, 24 and 4:5 say?
- Is justification conferred Because of faith? Is it conferred Without faith? If neither, on what basis is it conferred? What word is used in art. 22 of the BC to describe the significance of faith?
- Which four matters should we have regard to for a proper understanding of the work of justification?