Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 32
Lord's Day 32
Since we have been delivered
from our misery
by grace alone through Christ,
without any merit of our own,
why must we yet do good works?
having redeemed us by His blood,
also renews us by His Holy Spirit
to be His image,
so that with our whole life
we may show ourselves thankful to God
for His benefits,
and He may be praised by us.
Further, that we ourselves
may be assured of our faith
by its fruits,
and that by our godly walk of life
we may win our neighbours for Christ.
Can those be saved
who do not turn to God
from their ungrateful and impenitent
walk of life?
By no means.
Scripture says that no unchaste person,
thief, greedy person,
robber, or the like
shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Q. & A. 86 The Good Tree Brings Forth Good Fruit
- We should note that in this first Q. of the third part, the Catechism ties the third part to the first and the second parts. We cannot show ourselves thankful to the Lord unless we acknowledge our sins and misery and accept our deliverance through Christ in faith. Ps 51:17 says: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
This forecloses any notion of legalism and the meritoriousness of good works.
- In this Answer the Catechism once again exposes the folly of the accusation of the Roman Catholics that the Reformed doctrine makes people careless and wicked. (See also LD 24, Q&A 64). It also rejects the heresy of the antinomians, who suppose that we are no longer subject to the law because Christ has redeemed us from it. But Christ does not redeem us from the law, but from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13).
- The necessity of good works becomes apparent when we pay attention to their purpose, which is three-fold:
a. for God: so that he may be praised by us;
b. for us: so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits;
c. for our neighbours: so that they may be won for Christ by our godly walk of life.
- Good works are necessary because of the purpose of the redemption in Christ. 1 Pet 2:9 says: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
Tit 2:14 says: "Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds."
The purpose of the creation of man was that he should praise God. (See also LD 3, Ans. 6). Christ restores this purpose. The highest goal of our redemption is not our salvation, but the honour of God! This Answer does not say: so that we may show thankfulness to God, but So that . . . We May Show Ourselves Thankful to God. Our thankfulness is not that we give something to the Lord while remaining unchanged. Rather, it is that we offer ourselves to the Lord, in reciprocal love.
We must do this with our whole life. Our entire life must be service to the Lord. He bought us and we are his possession. 1 Cor 10:31 says: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
- The second purpose of good works is that each person may be assured of his faith by its fruits. This assurance is not the result of an arithmetical sum: I do good works, therefore I believe. Rather, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives it by means of good works. His light does not shine in the life of a person who is careless and disobedient. But he who lives a sanctified life discovers therein the fruit that he may be assured of his faith. If I never skate, or only rarely, I am no longer certain that I can do so. But if I do it regularly, I am certain that I can. (See 2 Pet 1:10).
- The third purpose of good works is that our neighbours may be won for Christ. Jesus says in Mt 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
We must confess the Lord's Name. But those who do not listen to it, must be drawn by our walk of life. (See 1 Pet 3:1, 2). That is the best form of evangelism. Without it no evangelism amounts to anything. Those who are Christian in name only are a great detriment to the kingdom of God. But a God-fearing walk of life will: (a) strengthen our brothers and sisters in the good fight (many a person has been led to the zealous and conscientious service of the Lord through the good example of another person!); and (b) show the power of godliness to those who are outside. Doing good works is not a burden to the believer, but a delight. Would it be a burden for a flower to bloom and display its beauty? For it is Christ who works all of this in us. Eph 2:10 says: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
He renews us by his Holy Spirit in his image.
Doing good works is not: “You're never allowed to do anything.” Rather, it is that we again become normal people. For we were created to the end that we should do good works. And in doing them is life. Ps 119:60 (rhymed version) says:
Behold, O Lord, Thy precepts I revere;
I love Thy law, I scorn the wicked's railing.
Preserve my life, O Lord, and persevere
According to Thy mercy never failing. . . .
B. Cross References
- In article 24 of the BC we confess that true faith makes man “live a new life and frees him from the slavery of sin.” (See the entire article).
- The CD V, 10, acknowledges that we are assured that we are children and heirs of God “by the serious and holy pursuit of a good conscience and good works.” (See also CD I, 9, 12 and 13).
- What subject matter does the third part of the Catechism discuss? Which Lord's Days does this part encompass?
- How is the third part divided?
- What does Ps 51:17 say? Can we show ourselves thankful to the Lord without knowing our sins and misery? Which sacrifices does the Lord delight in?
- Which two heresies does the Catechism reject in this A.? What do the antinomians teach?
- What is the three-fold goal of good works?
- What does 1 Pet 2:9 say? What is restored through Christ's redemptive work? What is the highest purpose of the redemption? Is it sufficient if we give the Lord a lot? With what must show ourselves thankful? What does 1 Cor 10:31 say?
- Who assures us of our faith? What means does he use to do this?
- What is the purpose of good works toward those who do not yet know Christ? What is their purpose toward those who do belong to him?
- Does the doing of good works restrict our lives? Is it a burden to believers to do good works?
Q. & A. 87 Faith without Works is Dead
- Good works do not earn salvation. Eph 2:8 says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God."
But they are indispensable to salvation. No one shall see the Lord unless he is sanctified. (See Heb 12:14; Mt 3:10; Rev 21:27; Jas 2:20, 26).
- This does not mean that only sinless people are saved. Such people do not exist. Also believers sometimes fall into serious sins. (Read CD V, 4-7). But although they sometimes act sinfully, they do not walk in sin. They do not continue in an ungrateful and impenitent life. They rise again from their fall into sin through God's grace and turn to him in repentance (Ps 51). But if repentance is lacking and we continue to live in ingratitude, there is no redemption.
- And yet a light shines for those who are evil and ungrateful. The Q. speaks about those who do not repent. If those who are evil repent, there is salvation for them! Isa 55:7 says: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
- Do we earn salvation by doing good works? Can we, then, do without good works?
- Are only sinless people saved? If not, what kind of person does the Catechism refer to?
- Is there any hope for godless people?