HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAY 24
Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?
Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
How can you say that the good we do doesn’t earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?
This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.
But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not produce fruits of gratitude.
Sunday, June 4: Ephesians 2:1-10
We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved to do good works. This raises the question: “What is the relationship between faith and good works?” The Heidelberg Catechism gives us a clear and concise answer: “the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law.” Think of this in terms of revelation and response. God reveals His grace in His Word. The Bible teaches that Christ has made me right with God (Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:10). It also teaches that, because the Father “credits to me” Christ’s “perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness,” He looks at me “as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner” (Lord’s Day 23; Romans 4:18-25, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Finally, the Word reveals that Christ’s “once for all” work is completely sufficient for faith and life (Hebrews 7:27; cf. 9:26, 10:10, 1 Peter 3:18). It is Christ’s work alone that has passed God scrutiny and that measures up to the divine law. God’s revelation of grace in Christ also invites our response. So, in gratitude for grace we trust the work of Jesus (Hebrews 2:5-18), we embrace our new identity as a “new creation” in Him (2 Corinthians 5:16-21), and we learn to discern His will (Romans 12:1-2). Regardless of this teaching – revelation and response – some implicitly or explicitly suggest that our good works are necessary to contribute to our salvation. The assumption seems to be that things like religious rituals, prayers, or feelings are either required for or proof of divine acceptance. This emphasis on performance, however, is miserable. It leaves one stuck in a world of perpetual failure, guilt and shame. I can’t help but ask, how many times must one be saved and rebaptized to be good enough for God? Worse yet, the whole enterprise is demeaning of sovereign grace. The Reformed faith sets us free from such emptiness. It roots faith and works in God’s revelation, not in the fleeting and ever-changing winds of feelings and emotions. The Bible alone bears witness to Christ alone and is the objective standard for understanding the relationship of faith and works (John 20:20-31). The truth is this: God’s revelation invites us to rest in Christ’s gracious salvation work before it invites us to gratefully engage in ours. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn