Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 24
Lord's Day 24
But why can our good works not be
our righteousness before God,
or at least a part of it?
Because the righteousness
which can stand before God's judgment
must be absolutely perfect
and in complete agreement
with the law of God,
whereas even our best works in this life
are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
But do our good works earn nothing,
even though God promises to reward them
in this life and the next?
This reward is not earned;
it is a gift of grace.
Does this teaching not make people
careless and wicked?
It is impossible
that those grafted into Christ
by true faith
should not bring forth
fruits of thankfulness.
Q. & A. 62 – 64 Not because of Works
- This LD is closely related to the preceding one. In it we confessed that God justifies us By Faith. This LD states that this does Not happen Because of Our Works. Logically, this addition is not necessary. But the guile of our sinful heart makes it necessary. And the Bible is our example in this respect. For after Paul states in Eph 2:8 that we are saved through faith, he adds in v. 9: "Not because of Works, lest any man should boast."
- Question 62 shows why our good works can not bring about our righteousness, not even in part. The answer is entirely clear and scriptural. Isa 64:6 says: ". . . all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."
- Question 63 points to the reward that God nevertheless promises to give. And, indeed, Ps 19:12b says: ". . . in keeping them [God's commandments] there is great reward."
So also Christ says in Rev 22:12: "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done."
Further, Mt 6 teaches that God will publicly reward the things that are done in secret. We are entitled to look to this reward, for God promised it to encourage us. Moses also looked to the reward (Heb 11:26). But none of this detracts from the principle “Not because of works.” For the reward is not earned. What could we possibly earn?
The reward is out of grace, to show kindness towards us and because God has pleasure in his own work. The reward is like the reward a father gives to his child for something that the child has done; it is not like the salary an employer pays an employee.
- God rewards in This life. His eye is on those who fear him. True, he will not always give prosperity and wealth, more often it will be the gift of peace of mind, confirmation of the hope that is in us, and other spiritual gifts. But in due course he will cause the righteous to inherit everything. In that Life to Come God's reward will become apparent in differences in glory (see LD 22, Q. 58).
- Some allege that the doctrine of justification Without Merit on our part makes people careless and wicked. But that is not so, although the doctrine of free grace is misused. That happened already in Paul's time (Rom 6:1, 15). Rather, the doctrine of the Roman church that we earn our righteousness through good works, causes a superficial life style. It causes one to believe that the outward actions are sufficient before God. Further, it causes people to do good works for fear of damnation and, thus, the works are done for oneself. But the doctrine of free grace causes one to do good works out of Thankfulness for the excellent grace which God freely gave us. Those good works follow as a matter of course. Is it possible that a tree fails to bear fruit? Even less is it possible that faith fails to produce its fruits, that is, good works.
- Paul's statement in Rom 3:28 that a man is justified By Faith apart from Works of Law, does not conflict with the statement in Jas 2:23 that a man Is Justified by Works and not by Faith Alone. Paul addresses those who think that a person is justified by his own works (the works of the law). James, on the other hand, addresses those who say that since it is all a matter of grace, good works are not required. James says to them that such a faith without works is dead! Justifying faith must Be Apparent in its works (the works of faith).
C. Cross References
- In the BC, art. 24, you will find each aspect of the subject matter of this LD discussed, including the unmeritoriousness of our works and the reward on our works, as well as the rejection of the accusation that this doctrine makes people careless and wicked.
- The insufficiency of our works is also confessed in CD V, 1-3. Chapters I, 13 and V, 12 teach that the doctrine leads to thankfulness.
- What is the relationship between this LD and the preceding one?
- What does Isa. 64:6 say? Why can our good works not earn a reward?
- Does God not reward good works? How does he reward them?
- Why does the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works make people superficial and selfish?
- Explain why Rom 3:28 and Jas 2:24 do not conflict?