Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 33
Lord's Day 33
What is the true repentance or conversion of man?
It is the dying of the old nature
and the coming to life of the new.
What is the dying of the old nature?
It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow
that we have offended God by our sin,
and more and more to hate it
and flee from it.
What is the coming to life
of the new nature?
It is a heartfelt joy
in God through Christ,
and a love and delight
to live according to the will of God
in all good works.
But what are good works?
Only those which are done
out of true faith,
in accordance with the law of God,
and to His glory,
and not those based
on our own opinion
or on precepts of men.
Q. & A. 88 Turn away from Idols to the Living God
- At the end of the previous LD we already described the nature of a life of thankfulness as “repentance.” For LD 32, Q. 87 said of those who are Ungrateful that they do Not repent. This LD now tells us what repentance is and, thus, describes the nature of thankfulness. The Catechism does not describe the manner in which repentance occurs. That differs substantially from person to person. Lydia's repentance was different from that of the jailer. But the essence of repentance is the same for everyone. And it is the essence that is important. The question is not when or how, but whether we live a life of repentance. We must ensure that we do that!
- The Catechism asks about The repentance or conversion. We do speak about an initial and a continuing repentance, but these are one. They are the beginning and continuation of one and the same thing. Further, the Catechism mentions the True repentance. For there is also a sham conversion which is a turning from sin to virtue. But that is only a superficial change in which man does not turn to God. Repentance is a complete reversal. Man, who lived his life turned away from God and disregarded him, is turned around, converted to God, so that he begins to live for God. (See 1 Thess 1:9). Moreover, the Catechism asks about the conversion of Man. Not only the serious sinners, but Everyone is in need of repentance. For it is true of everyone, as Ps 14:3 says: ". . . there is none that does good, no, not one."
- The Answer says that conversion consists of two parts. These are two sides of the same coin. The one does not follow the other; they always occur together. The old nature dies as the new comes to life.
- The expressions “old nature” and “new nature” are scriptural (see Eph 4:22-24; and Col 3:9, 10). The term “old nature” denotes man born in sin, who says no to God and his Word. The term “new nature” denotes man as renewed by Christ and who is continually being renewed more and more by his Spirit and Word; it is regenerate man, who says yes to God and his Word.
The terms “old nature” and “new nature” do not, therefore, describe two persons, but two ways of life of one and the same person. We call the first way of life “old,” because it is decayed and corrupt, and because it was the first state of life of the converted person. But it must yield more and more to the other state of life which comes into existence, the “new” nature. When we speak about the old and new nature of Man,1.we indicate thereby that sin affected our entire human nature, but that it is also entirely renewed in conversion or regeneration. This is not something that occurs at one moment of time. Man's old nature still lives in regenerate man and continues to act accordingly. (See Rom 7:18-21; CD V, 1). The Catechism also speaks of a dying of the old nature, which connotes a continuing process, not a concluded one. But the old nature does not govern the life of regenerate man any more. On the contrary, it has to yield. What is sinful is pushed back and dies, and the new nature rises and begins to conquer. The Holy Spirit works this in us by the Word. Hence, our responsibility is not excluded. The Bible says as often that we convert ourselves, as that the Lord converts us. Both are true. Phil 2:12, 13 says: ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
B. Cross References
- The CD III/IV, 12 says: ". . . Therefore the will so renewed is not only acted upon and moved by God but, acted upon by God, the will itself also acts. Hence, also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent through the grace he has received."
Q. & A. 89 The Dying of the Old Nature
- The original languages of both the Old and New Testament use two words for “repentance.” One connotes primarily a change in insight and inclination, while the other connotes primarily a change in behaviour and way of life. Thus, Scripture identifies conversion as a matter of our inner self: we begin to think differently about things and nourish other desires; and as a matter of our actions: we begin to speak and act in a different manner. You will find both elements in this Answer of the Catechism. It speaks about a heartfelt sorrow and a fleeing from sin. But we should not suppose that the one without the other is sufficient. A mere external change does not amount to conversion. So also, it is foolish to say about a careless life style that everything is fine on the inside!
- Conversion is, in the first place, a heartfelt regret: a sorrow towards God! (2 Cor 7:10). Ps 51:4 says: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight. . . ."
It is not a sorrow about the consequences of sin, but because we have angered God by our sin. This sorrow is not more genuine the more troubled you feel and the more tears you shed, but because it is directed to God.
- Further, conversion is a hating of sin. We no longer justify and cover up sin. We are its enemy and flee from it. It is a hero's flight! This flight is the only way to win. He who believes that he can remain close to sin and the places where sin is powerful, because he knows how far he can go, does not know himself. He is like the moth which circles around a flame!
- The Catechism says that we do this “more and more.” For there is growth in conversion. We begin to hate sin more and more, because we begin to see more and more that its nature is hateful and dishonours God.
B. Cross References
- Note also the Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper (Self-examination, First Part).
Q. & A. 90 The Coming to Life of the New Nature
- This Answer, too, describes conversion in accordance with its internal (“heartfelt joy in God . . . and a love and delight”) and its external (“live”) aspects. It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ. Joy in him, who so exceedingly loved us and showers us with his blessings day in day out. And it is a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.
B. Cross References
- Note here also the Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper (Self-examination, Third Part).
C. Questions (Q&A 88-90)
- What is the nature of a life of thankfulness? Is it important how and when our conversion began? If not, what should we pay attention to?
- Why does the Catechism ask about True repentance or conversion? What is a sham conversion? What is repentance or conversion? Who needs to be converted?
- Of how many parts does conversion consist? Does the one follow the other?
- What is the “old nature”? What is the “new nature”? Do these terms describe two persons? If not, what then? Why is the old nature called “old”? Why is the new nature called “new”? Why do we speak of the old and new nature of Man?
- Does the old nature still exist in the regenerate person? But what happens to him?
- Who works conversion? Are we converted, or do we also convert ourselves?
- How many words does the Bible use for conversion? What is the difference between them?
- About what is there sorrow in conversion? What determines the genuineness of conversion? What is the position of generate man towards sin?
- Is conversion something that occurs at one moment of time? Is there progression in conversion?
- About what is there joy in conversion? What is the position of regenerate man toward the will of the Lord?
Q. & A. 91 That Which Is Not Done out of Faith Is Sin
- The previous Answer stated that conversion motivates us to do good works. It is natural, therefore, that this Q. now asks what good works are. The Catechism does not answer by giving a list of certain works. For good works are not separate works of prayer and charity. Good works are all those works to which the Lord calls us by his Word and in the way he directs our lives. So long as they correspond to what the Catechism says in this Answer. Many a Christian home maker, who is unknown to the world, does more good works than any number of persons whose “good works” are common knowledge!
- The Catechism points to the Source, the Rule and the Purpose of good works.
The Source is true faith. Rom 8:8 says: ". . . those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
Rom 14:23 says: ". . . for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."
We cannot do anything unless we abide in Christ (Jn 15:4).
- The Rule is God's law. The Catechism makes it explicit that we are not to be guided by human rules. We do that readily. But Jesus says in Mt 15:9: "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."
Self-willed religion is always impressive, but it is worthless.
- The Purpose of good works is the glory of God.
Mt 6:1: "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."
- None of our works is perfect. (See LD 24, Ans. 62 (conclusion), and LD 44, Ans. 114). But we also confess in the BC, art. 24: "These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace."
- Are “good works” special works which only certain people can do?
- What does the Catechism point out about good works? What is the source of good works?
- According to what rule must they be done? What should we guard against?
- What is the purpose of good works? Are they perfect? Does God delight in them? Why?
- Where does the Catechism speak about the unmeritoriousness of and the reward for works?