The First Prayer: Heidelberg Catechism~ Lord’s Day 47

hallowed-be-thy-name

What is our first priority in prayer? When we pray what is the main goal? Jesus helps us answer this question by placing “Hallowed be your name” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, at the beginning of our fundamental prayer, Christ tells us that the main concern in our prayers should be that God’s name would be hallowed. That God would be worshiped and glorified and praised by our thoughts, words, and lives, as well as all peoples and nations around the world is our first prayer. Jesus will go on to tell us to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. One author noted that this works backward. As God’s will is done, his kingdom is made manifest, and then his name is hallowed.

I pray for many things. I pray for my children, my church, my physical needs, my leaders, my parents, and my in-laws. But rarely do I focus those prayers towards hallowing God’s name. Usually these prayers are about what God provides us, not what we are supposed to give to God. How would our prayer lives change if our primary concern, our first prayer, was that God’s name, that is his character and works, would be glorified?

Which bring us to this week’s Heidelberg Catechism reading says:

Q: 122. Which is the first petition?

A: “Hallowed be thy name”; that is, grant us, first, rightly to know you, and to sanctify, glorify and praise you, in all thy works, in which thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy and truth, are clearly displayed; and further also, that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account. 

 If we were to break this down here is what that first petition is asking.

First, that we might rightly know God. We should study God. Theology is a Christian duty. Knowing God is our great aim. In order to treat God as holy we must know who he is, what his character is like, and what pleases him. We cannot hallow his name if we do not know him.

Second that we might sanctify, glorify, and praise God for all his wonderful works and how those works show forth His character.  What God does tells us who God is.  When we read about his wonderful deeds it should direct us back to his wonderful character, which in turn should lead to unceasing praise.

Third, that we should live in such a way that God’s name is honored on our account and not blasphemed. We can curse God with our lives as well as our tongues. Look at that little phrase. “Order and direct our whole lives…” Those words mean we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. We think about how God might be glorified by our actions. If we are considering sin we don’t just look at the consequences. We consider how our sin might blaspheme the Lord’s great name.  We ask, “How can I in the way I talk, think, and act honor the Lord.”

How would our prayer lives change if the glory of God’s name was our priority?  Would our requests change? Yes, I think they would.  Would our attitude change? Yes, that would change as well. Would our lives and the lives of those around us change? Certainly.  In short when we seek God’s glory above all else in prayer we become consumed by the one thing that ultimately matters; that our Father, who has created this world and redeemed us, should be praised and glorified by all men everywhere.

Kevin DeYoung summarizes it this way:

Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would be regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that you might be praised now and forever.

Calvin says this about the first petition:

To summarize: we should wish God to have the honor He deserves; men should never speak or think of him without the highest reverence…His sternness no less than his leniency should lead us to  praise him, seeing that he has engraved marks of his glory upon a manifold diversity of works, and this rightly calls forth praises from every tongue… But the petition is directed also to this end: that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries  which dim this hallowing or diminish may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty.

How do our prayers need to change so that hallowing God’s name is the priority when we kneel?

Guarding My Neighbor’s Good Name: Heidelberg Catechism~Lord’s Day 43

lie-and-deceit

What does it mean to bear false witness against our neighbor? Here is the Heidelberg Catechism’s answer followed by some commentary by me.

What is the aim of the ninth commandment?

That I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone rashly or without a hearing. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are the very devices the devil uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense wrath. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

Never give false testimony~This refers primarily to a court situation. Don’t lie about someone in court. But as the answer says later this applies both in and out of court. We should never lie about someone else’s deeds, character, or words nor should we lie about ourselves or a particular situation. In short, unless we are at war, we should never lie.  Continue reading

Sexual Purity & the Seventh Commandment: Heidelberg Catechism~Lord’s Day 41

lipstick

This Sunday is the 41st Lord’s Day in 2016. The Heidelberg Catechism reading for this Sunday is:

Q. What does the seventh commandment teach us?

A. That God condemns all unchastity, and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it and live decent and chaste lives, within or outside of the holy state of marriage.

Q. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?

A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.

Kevin DeYoung sets the stage by saying:

Is there any command more ridiculed in our culture than the Seventh Commandment? Adultery is a joke; homosexuality is a right; sex before marriage is the norm; no fault divorce and remarriage is assumed; bestiality is increasingly considered avant gard. This is the world we live in. Sex has always been a leading vote-getter in the most popular sin contest, but never before in this country has sexual deviance been made to look so normal and God’s standard make to look so obscene…The Seventh Commandment is not just broken in this country; it’s being smashed to pieces.

Our bodies are rarely pure, much less our thoughts and desires. We are so at home with sexual immorality in our TV shows and music, but perhaps more deadly in our churches. The Heidelberg says we should “thoroughly detest unchastity. We are not encouraged to a mild disdain for sexual immorality. But to a deep, abiding hatred of lust. We are not encouraged to a casual approach to sexual purity, but to a whole-hearted pursuit of it. Is that our attitude towards sexual immorality? How many of us detest the idea of getting caught looking porn, but do not detest the porn itself? How many of us hate that a friend or spouse might see us lusting after that girl in yoga pants or that guy in a tight jeans, but do not hate the fact that we want to lust after her/him? For most of us, the consequences of sexual sin are what we hate, not the sin itself. Until we learn to hate the sin and the desires that give birth to those sins we will never gain the victory.  Continue reading

Where to Find Assurance: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 27

Baptism-Infant

Tomorrow is Lord’s Day 27. Here are the questions from the Heidelberg Catechism for this Sunday.

Q: 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?
A: Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

Q: 73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism “the washing of regeneration,” and “the washing away of sins”?
A: God speaks thus not without great cause, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really, as we are externally washed with water.

Q: 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
A: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.

There is a theme in these sections on the sacraments; assurance. The answer to question 67 says, “The Holy Spirit assures us in the sacraments.” Question 69 says that as surely as I am washed externally with water so I am “certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all pollution of my soul.” And here in question 73 we see that baptism is given so that we might be assured that we are spiritually clean. Not to belabor the point, but the sacraments are given, like the promise of the Gospel, to assure us that Christ has paid all and our sins can be forgiven in him. When we struggle with doubt, we need to look at the gospel, which is given to us in the Word and in the sacraments.  Here is one good reason to have weekly communion and to baptize publicly in worship. We are reminded of Christ’s work every time we take communion and see someone baptized.

Children should be baptized. They belong to the covenant people. To refuse to baptize children is to say they are excluded from the church of God and strangers to the covenants of promise. This is contrary to both the Old Testament and New Testament teaching, as well as the teaching of the Reformers. Bringing children into the covenant is one of the greatest privileges we have as parents and is a great spur to trust in God’s grace as we bring them up.

These questions rule out that baptism automatically saves you or imparts faith. What saves us is trust in Christ and his shed blood. It is possible to be baptized and to eat the Lord’s Supper every week and be damned. Those of us who love the sacraments need to be reminded of this.

Signs and Seals: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 25

Lord's Supper 1

Our church is reciting the appropriate section of the Heidelberg Catechism each Sunday. Tomorrow is Lord’s Day 25, which focuses on the sacraments. Here are the questions with their answers.

Q: 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?
A: From the Holy Spirit, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.
Q: 66. What are the sacraments?
A: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, that is, that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.
Q: 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?
A: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.
Q: 68. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant, or testament?

A: Two: namely, holy baptism, and the holy supper.

What are some things we can learn from these four questions? Kevin DeYoung in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot gives us four points. 

First, we are not saved by the sacraments, but by faith alone…The sacraments are means of grace only insofar as we receive by faith the gospel truths promised in the elements. 

This is important because at Christ Church we love to baptize and we love to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In an environment like this it is easy to assume that the sacraments will work some magic to save us. They do not. Christ saves. The sacraments confirm.

Second, the Reformers agreed, against the Roman Catholic Church, that the number of sacraments instituted by Christ was only two: baptism and the Lord’s supper.

The Roman Catholics hold to seven sacraments: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, penance, confirmation, holy orders (Priesthood), and last rites. The Reformers rejected all of these except baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You can consult any standard Protestant systematic theology to see why.

Third, the Reformers agreed that the sacraments could in no way add to or repeat Christ’s one sacrifice upon the cross.

This was directed at the Roman Catholic idea of the Mass, which in various ways describes each Mass as a sort re-sacrifice of Christ. There is a lot of discussion of what this exactly means. Here is the Roman Catholic Catechism’s description of the Mass. Notice especially sections 1362-1368.

Fourth, the sacraments are signs and seals…The sacraments do not create faith; rather they confirm it, make us understand the gospel promises more clearly and assure of us of our salvation…They are holy signs symbolizing  the spiritual realities of the gospel, and seals reminding us of God’s sure promises.

DeYoung closes with this:

We often forget amidst the calls for sensory worship and appeals to visual learning styles that God has  already given us His own self-appointed means of using our senses in worship. He’s given us the sacraments that we might see, smell, taste, and touch the same promises of the gospel we hear proclaimed in the preaching of the Word.

Our culture is a visual culture. We are told this time after time. We need to use all our senses in worship. The Lord has given us two ways to do this, two ways that show us over and over again our Lord and His grace. That is one reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week at Christ Church.

Nothing but the Blood: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 5

 

Blood 4

There is a hymn that says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Why is that? Why can only Jesus’ blood satisfy the demands of God’s justice and and at the same time show us mercy. There are three options for the removal of our sins. First, we could satisfy for our own sins. Second, another creature could satisfy for our sins. Finally, Jesus could satisfy.  Why can I not atone for my own sins? Why could the bulls and goats in the Old Testament not take away my sins? Why is Jesus the only option?

The Heidelberg Catechism gives an answer to this in questions 12-15.

Q: 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor? A: God will have his justice satisfied and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Q: 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?A: By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.

Q: 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?A: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed;  and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.

Q: 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?A: For one who is very man, and perfectly  righteous;  and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.

Question 12 follows up on question 11, which says that God’s mercy does not trump his justice. His justice will be satisfied. Since God’s justice must be satisfied, how can we escape punishment?

Question 13 asks can we atone for ourselves. Is it possible that we can take away our own sin? The answer is no. G.I. Williamson gives a good illustration of why this is the case.

Suppose, for example, that you owed an infinite sum of money-so much money that even the fastest computer could never add it all up. Suppose, too, that you repaid that money at the rate of one thousand dollars a day for one million years. Do you realize that you would still be at the beginning of repayment? The reason is that an infinite sum of money cannot be repaid by any number of finite payments…We have sinned against an infinite God, and there is no way that we can fully repay him by suffering as finite creatures.

Our sins pile up day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. But not only do they pile up, but we have sinned against God, not against a creature. The amount of sins and the one we have sinned against mean we cannot now or ever atone for our own sins. This is also why Hell is eternal. We cannot ever atone for our own sins.Having more time does not help when the sins are infinite.

But what about another creature, such as an animal. That is addressed in question 14. There are two reasons why an animal cannot atone. First, a human must atone for the sins of the human race. Second, an animal cannot bear the weight of God’s wrath. Hebrews says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Animals kept dying day after day, which meant their blood did not atone.

What do we need in order for atonement to happen? We need a true man. Someone who takes on our flesh and blood, a human who will atone for the sins of the human race. But he also must be God because no creature can bear God’s wrath.  That leads directly to question 15. If true atonement is going to happen we need Jesus.

A couple of thoughts follow from this. First, in order for Jesus to atone for our sins, he must be fully God, to bear God’s wrath, and fully man, to take the sins of man upon himself. Without Jesus being fully God and fully man we are still in our sins.

Second, because God’s justice must be satisfied the only options are trusting in Christ or an eternal Hell. There is no third option of our sins be slowly atoned by ourselves in Hell or of God’s justice overlooking sins and annihilating people. Sin must be dealt with. God’s holiness demands justice. Since our sins are against an infinite God only the infinite can bear his wrath. That means Jesus or an infinite time in Hell.

Finally, the glory of Jesus is on full display here. Jesus became the true man (Hebrews 2:14, 17) in order that he might bear the full wrath of God so that those of us who have sinned against God might be delivered from eternal damnation. What a Savior!

Mercy Shown-Justice Satisfied: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 4

Q: 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?

A: Not at all, for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil,  and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Q: 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

A: By no means, but is terribly displeased  with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally,  as he has declared, “Cursed is every one that continues not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

Q: 11. Is not God then also merciful?

A: God is indeed merciful,  but also just;  therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

It is tempting to believe that at the cross mercy triumphed over justice. We all stood condemned. God because he was such a nice God and did not want men to go to Hell, pulled a fast one and sent Jesus to earth so men could be let off the hook. And poof, mercy trumps judgment. Like a magic eraser, God takes away ours sins. But if that occurred, if God allowed the debt of sin to pass unpaid for, then God is not just. He is a trickster, who says sin is really, really bad, but I can just wipe it away without payment being made.

The Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 4 gets at a problem that most of us do not consider. What about the justice of God? We often think on God’s grace shown to us at the cross. We know we are miserable, wretched sinners separated from God. We also know at the cross that Jesus dealt with our sins.  We focus on the mercy of God. You can see that assumption woven into Question 11. Questions 9 and 10 focus on judgement and wrath and the loss of divine gifts. But we say, “Is not God then also merciful?” In other words, “Doesn’t God’s mercy do away with all that punishment and wrath?”  Or we could say, “Doesn’t mercy triumph over justice?”

The Heidelberg’s answer is no. Mercy does not triumph over justice. God does not say, “Well mercy wins. Therefore now your sins are gone.” He does not magically remove our sins. As the next question states:

Q: 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?

A: God will have his justice satisfied and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

God’s justice must be satisfied. At the cross, Jesus fully satisfied the demands of God’s justice. Why is it mercy? Because the Innocent stood in for the guilty. It is not mercy because God decided to make our sins magically disappear or decided to overlook how bad we were. They were really and truly paid for.

Why does this matter?

First, it matters for the character of God. This is part of Paul’s argument in Romans 3. How can a righteous God allow unrighteous men into his presence and not compromise his righteous? Here is Paul’s answer:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Paul says that God sent Jesus as a propitiation so God might be just (righteous) and the justifier, that is the one who makes men righteous. If God let sin slide with a wink, wink then he is unrighteous and wicked. His holiness demands that sin be paid for. Jesus did that. Therefore God is righteous and can make us righteous.

Second, it clarifies what happened to Christ at the cross. He did not die just as an example to us or to be a pipeline for God’s mercy. He did not just die to overcome death. He hung on the cross so our sins might be laid upon him. He took our sins. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is why we love Jesus. He did what we could not. He took God’s justice so we might be ushered back into God’s presence.

Finally, it matters for our understanding of our salvation. We can be confident that we are saved because our sins are actually paid for by Christ. They are not sitting out there, hidden away somewhere.  They have been actually taken away, actually paid for. Imagine you owed a huge debt, millions of dollars. Someone comes to you and says, “I took care of that.” Oh you mean you paid it off. No. I just took care of it. Would that make you comfortable? Would you sleep easier knowing it was “taken care of” but not paid off? My guess is no. What you need to know is that the debt is gone never to be heard from again. That is what Christ did. Jesus our substitute took our sins upon himself and fully satisfied the justice of God. All of our sins are taken away in Christ.

We think often about the mercy of God and the kindness shown to us at the cross.  But the justice of God is just as important. If God is not just then our salvation unravels. How can we trust a God who does not righteously deal with sin? How can we trust that we are truly saved if our sins have not been paid for? The cross is not a place where mercy and justice fought and mercy won. At the cross God showed us mercy by sending his Son to fully to satisfy his justice. Mercy shown. Justice satisfied. Salvation accomplished.