August 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
53. Q. What do you believe concerning the Holy Spirit?
A. First, He is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God. Second, He is also given to me, to make me by true faith share in Christ and all His benefits, to comfort me, and to remain with me forever.
There is much that can be said (and has been already here) of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, but this question focuses less on His daily functions, and more on who He is to us personally.
So after reminding us that He is God (see above regarding the Trinity), we are taken to His core work – that which most deeply speaks into our own spirits, which is His work of assuring us that we have a place in the Family of God – that we belong.
In the most personal of terms, Paul states unequivocally in Romans 8:16 that, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Even those words, ‘The Spirit himself…’ are powerful. God is not a celebrity who leaves His work with the ‘little people’ up to some underling. No, the work of assuring His people of their status as His children is one He alone undertakes. Our unfathomable God is utterly personal at our point of greatest need. That is unfathomable! And it is good.
52. Q. What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?
A. In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.
The prospect of judgment is terrifying without the element of mercy, but the promise of justice is sweet when one rests in the work of Christ on their behalf. For those who are in Christ, justice has been served – at the Cross. In recent years the reality of hell has been attacked from ‘inside’ the evangelical Church, but without judgment, there is no assurance of redemption. We have been forgiven of something, and this matters.
What is easy to miss is that we are born into judgment – it isn’t something we bring on by ruining an otherwise perfect life. The sentence was in place at conception. And this judgment is something we ‘feel’ within ourselves, because Paul teaches that when we are set free by the gospel, we are freed from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2).
This means that whatever trials and injustices I experience in this life, one day, God will make it right, through Jesus. It also frees me from the need to live in the misery of revenge and vindication. Because Jesus is our righteous Judge, He is also our Vindicator and Avenger.
51. Q. How does the glory of Christ, our Head, benefit us?
A. First, by His Holy Spirit He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members. Second, by His power He defends and preserves us against all enemies.
‘Glory’ is one of those words that we say and hear with regularity, but when it comes to practical understanding, it is difficult to grasp. Is it a brilliant glow? Is it greatness? And then, once we settle on it, what does it mean to us in every day life?
The word itself finds its roots in ‘weightiness’ or ‘gravitas.’ It is the power of the presence of someone greater than anyone else in the room, so to speak. So when it comes to Jesus, to say that He has been ‘glorified,’ is to say that He has been given the full weight of His greatness, with nothing held back. The glory He laid aside (Philippians 2:5-11), He has had restored to Him. No creature or person could now look at Him and not see that He is every bit God and Lord and King. His flesh no longer masks His deity (god-ness).
And so we are cared for, not by a Jesus who relegated Himself to human limitation (though He was still God, He allowed Himself to be limited by time and space while on earth), but by the enthroned and glorified Sustainer and Ruler of the Universe. And amazingly, when God is glorified, we are restored to all that we were created to be. In other words, there is no greater expression and experience of human life than when Christ is seen and known for all He is, in us.
50. Q. Why is it added, And sits at the right hand of God?
A. Christ ascended into heaven to manifest Himself there as Head of His Church, through whom the Father governs all things.
Jesus ‘sits’ because He is enthroned, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is as much a statement of His role and rule as it is about His position. In this we have the assurance that He is Sovereign and over all things. Interestingly, in the scriptures we find Him standing in one instance, in Acts 7 – and once again it involves Stephen’s martyrdom. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he caught a glimpse of Jesus, and as he died, he exclaimed, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man [Jesus] standing at the right hand of God.” We can only conclude that Jesus was fulfilling His word in Matthew 10, where He promised that as we testify of Him before men, He will testify of us to the Father.
When we put the two together we are presented with an almost impossible-to-grasp and beautiful reality: that the Sovereign King and Lord of all things, is at one and the same time is our Advocate before the Father. A stunningly wonderful reality.
49. Q. How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?
A. First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.
We have addressed much that is in this Q&A, but what stands out is those words, ‘He is our Advocate…’ Jesus is more than ‘in heaven.’ And not only does He now reign as our risen King, but He is always present, before the Father, advocating our needs, and more specifically, our status as His sons and daughters. His promise to ‘be with us always…’ is fulfilled, not only in the presence of His Spirit within us, but in the daily activity of advocacy on our behalf. As Stephen did under the severest of persecution, and in death, even in our dark moments of trial, doubt and uncertainty, we have Christ.
48. Q. But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if His human nature is not present wherever His divinity is?
A. Not at all, for His divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that His divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which He has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.
How do we explain the unexplainable? We just try… So Jesus has two natures, divine and human. Are they separate? No. Are they distinct? Yes. Jesus has a resurrected, completely and perfectly human body. And His divinity is every bit as real. But here is the thing. Jesus is divine in that where His body is in time and space, there is His ‘godness.’ But by design, His flesh – His body – is limited in space, as are ours. But this does not limit His presence. Why? Because as God (divine), He is eternal.
When it comes to God, eternity is manifested in two ways: In time and in space. His eternity applied to time is called infinity. We can’t begin to grasp this, but God has no beginning or end. His eternity applied to space is what we call ‘immensity,’ or ‘omnipresence’ – He is everywhere, another impossible-to-grasp reality. It is impossible because when we say that God is omnipresent we are not saying that His chin is in Africa and His bellybutton in London, kind of thing. We are saying, beyond all comprehension, that all of God is in all places all at once!
I could go on and on with this (would that be an eternity?), but let me simply say this. The fact that Jesus is both God and Man, both in space and in eternity, completely and simultaneously, albeit mysteriously, everywhere with everyone, is not something for us to grasp, but to enjoy and be grateful for. Because the alternative is for Him to not be present, and when all is said and done, the absence of God is hell. Praise God for His holy, divine and very present Son!
47. Q. Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as He has promised us?
A. Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us.
This Q&A reminds of the little boy who tells his mother that he wants ‘Jesus with skin on Him.’ We’re not much different – we live in the longing of a physical Jesus, as the disciples had, and as we will one day have when God makes all things new. But for now, we have His Spirit, and this is a good thing. The Spirit fills us, and none of the conviction, encouragement, teaching or passion of Christ is lost on us.
This means that we live in the very real presence of Jesus, spiritual though it is. And we live in the promise that matters – that He is with us – always (Matthew 28:20). Here is the thing: The very faith the disciples were given to ‘see’ Jesus for who He was, is the same we are given. In fact, if you remember, most rejected the physical Christ (and ultimately all have!) when He was physically present. So our hope and strength are found in a Redeemer who, though physically absent, has not left us without a single benefit of His vital presence in our journey, until we Home.
46. Q. What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven?
A. That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
Honestly, I wish I could have witnessed that moment! But what was it all about? It was about conquest and hope. When Jesus ascended He resumed His rightful place, enthroned in heaven. His ascension was visible evidence of His conquest over sin and death, and the validation of every prophecy and statement made about Him as Lord and King. It also put into motion His words in the Upper Room when He told His disciples that He was leaving them for a while, but would one day return.
What makes the ascension even more significant is that it was physical. The flesh Jesus took on when He was born of Mary would be His from then on, throughout eternity, and it validated Job’s prophetic assertion that, “…in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself…” (Job 19:26-27). Somewhere in the cosmos is a physical Jesus who understands and sympathizes with us as humans, in every way, and who will one day make us just as physically resurrected as He is. Wow!
45. Q. How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
A. First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He had obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we too are raised up to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.
If one word were to describe the resurrection of Jesus for the believer, it would be hope. Because Jesus conquered death we have hope that death is not the end. Because of the resurrection we have the hope that every promise in the scriptures will one day be reality. Because Jesus did not remain in the grave, we can look at a fallen world hopefully rather than in despair and resignation.
In short, for the Christ-follower, the resurrection is everything. In the resurrection Jesus’ death is vindicated and His message validated.
Jurgen Moltmann says that, “Everything which is divided by death will be found again in the resurrection” (In The End – The Beginning, the life of hope).
44. Q. Why is there added: He descended into hell?
A. In my greatest sorrows and temptations I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.
It isn’t uncommon to hear someone say that they had ‘been through hell,’ in describing a painful event, or trying time. But Jesus did just this. He experienced hell in His death. There is all kinds of conjecture when it comes His suffering in this regard, but suffice it to say that for Jesus, His ‘hell’ was the Cross.
It was on the Cross that Jesus bore the sins of the world. On the Cross He the perfect Lamb of God was publicly humiliated and slaughtered. And it was on the Cross that Jesus experienced the rejection of His Father. Remember His cry? “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). For Jesus, and mankind, hell ultimately is the forsakenness of God.
And, believe it or not, but in this is our comfort – that no night could ever be so dark, no pain so excruciating, no loss so great, where we do not have a Savior who cannot identify with our sorrows, and One (here is the comfort!) who not only endured our hell, but who survived and conquered it too.
43. Q. What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
A. Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves to Him as a sacrifice of thankfulness.
I recently said this in a message in which we touched on the Trinity: “The Son, Jesus, is our Savior and Lord. As Savior He died for us. As Lord, He is our new King. We are no longer citizens of the kingdom that trades in fear, shame and death. In Jesus we belong to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of light and life.”
If you want to put the effect of Jesus’ death into a nutshell, then go to Revelation `11:15, where John writes, “…The kingdom of this world, it is become the kingdom of our God, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
More than anything else, Jesus’ death involved a clash of Kingdoms – the kingdom of ‘this world,’ which is a kingdom of sin, along with the finality of death, and God’s Kingdom. In His death and burial, Jesus took Adam’s curse head on, and He prevailed.
This means that through faith in Jesus we are no longer cursed to the finality of death and an eternity of judgment, and until we do, we live safely in the realm of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s Rule.
42. Q. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
A. Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life.
This may be the most natural question to come out of the atonement. It is understandable to ask why we have to die if Jesus’ death is sufficient for our salvation (and it is!). Even more to the point, if Jesus conquered death, why is death our destiny? Did He even conquer it?
The answer is a resounding yes. And once again the Gospel is not an escapist religion. So here is the story. Jesus’ death is only half the story. It is His resurrection that is our great clue. In the resurrection we live in the promise that we will survive death! IE, the resurrection of Jesus assures that while our flesh is corrupted by the fall, and therefore we will experience physical death, we will also survive it – spiritually and physically!
And until that day, we live in this promise. Jesus teaches that what will one day be is already our reality through faith in Him – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24
One last thing on this: A lot of Christians speak of death as though it is a beautiful thing, but never in the scriptures is it characterized in such a way. Death is horrible. It is the last vestige of the curse. It is the most hideous expression of sin’s ugly existence. But when we die (and in the scriptures, death for the believer is often characterized as ‘sleep’) everything that accompanied the ‘fumes’ of the curse, in us, will be gone – and we will be given new bodies to accompany our life in the new heavens and the new earth. Wow.
41. Q. Why was he buried?
A. His burial testified that He had really died.
I love this answer because it is a simple response to a simple question – talk about stating the obvious! But it is no small detail. The burial of Jesus was crucial. There could be no secrecy or mystery in what would happen to Jesus’ body upon death. Without a formal burial speculation would abound and the resurrection would forever be disputed – even among believers. Can you imagine what would happen on Twitter or Reddit?
No, if Jesus had to die, then the grave was where His corpse belonged. And with the burial comes yet one more example of a Redeemer who has entered into our world, our brokenness, even our death, with supreme humility and unimaginable love. What an amazing Savior and King.
40. Q. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble Himself even unto death?
A. Because of the justice and truth of God satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.
This question takes us back to the Garden of Eden. God clearly told Adam and Eve that to disobey Him meant to die. For atonement to be made, it would be unsatisfactory for Jesus to be severely punished yet spared of death. Death was the only sufficient punishment, and the blood of animals would only suffice temporarily.
Every Old Testament image of atonement signaled a day when final payment would be made, beginning in the Garden when God covered Adam & Eve with animal skin, demonstrating that only blood could cover sin, and culminating at the Cross, not the death of an unsuspecting animal, but by the sacrifice of the very Son of God
39. Q. Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way?
A. Yes. Thereby I am assured that He took upon Himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by God.
In Jesus’ day there was no more humiliating and cruel way to die than to be crucified. It was humiliating because it was so public. A person was naked, shamed and hoisted publicly, for all to see. All dignity was lost in crucifixion. The cruelty was in the slowness in which death came to the victim. Most died by a slow asphyxiation that would take hours before one’s body and lungs gave way to exhaustion and death. If it took too long, the Romans would break the legs of the criminal in order to take away his ability to raise himself in order to breathe. Jesus’ torture from the night before was so intense, that the breaking of legs was unnecessary.
Those who would follow Him need to understand that every shameful act of rebellion has been put on display – in Jesus. Sin was being atoned for, and the Father would not allow us to think He struck a backroom deal to avoid punishment. It would be exacted on His only begotten Son.
38. Q. Why did He suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?
A. Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.
It is difficult to grasp the depth of humiliation that Jesus experienced in securing our redemption. It isn’t only that He was unjustly sentenced to die, but in spite of the fact that He is holy and divine, He intentionally placed Himself in a subservient role to fallen mankind, even a corrupt, weak and cowardly man (Pilate).
The irony of the gospel is that God entrusted Himself in the hands of sinful people who exercised power He allowed them to exert, in order to crucify Him, that we may flee into the hands of a Father who exercises His power in order to save us.
37. Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.
The next few questions deal with Christ’s suffering and death, so in this Q&A, let’s consider this: That Jesus was the willing recipient of God’s wrath. Regardless of what was done to Him by the people who betrayed, tortured and killed Him, at the end of the day Jesus came to reconcile us to God, and there was nothing accidental or surprising to Him in what He endured, in fact, quite the opposite. As Paul said in his sermon at Pentecost, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” – Acts 2:23.
What can this mean? For one thing, it means that we can be assured that even though this world is broken and flawed, God’s plan for good will never be thwarted or disturbed, even by evil. We have a Father in heaven whose heart beats for redemption, and He uses the broken shards of this world’s expressions to bring healing.
36. Q. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
A. He is our Mediator, and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born.
Someone once said that Jesus is everything God wants in man, and everything man wants in God. At its core, the birth of Jesus means that God has provided a ‘Mediator.’ He is the go-between for both the Father, and for us. Paul teaches that “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Only One can speak for God, and it is God Himself. And only a God who was made flesh could fully understand the state of humanity.
When you bring them together, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, you have a perfectly innocent (pure and without sin) man who would be a willing sacrifice for sins He didn’t commit, and a holy God who willingly offers forgiveness in such a sacrifice, with complete satisfaction.
35. Q. What do you confess when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
A. The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon Himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Thus He is also the true seed of David, and like His brothers in every respect, yet without sin.
Once again, we encounter a mystery of the gospel, that Jesus, being God, would also be born, the son of a human mother, who was impregnated by God’s Spirit. Do we understand this? Impossible! As with so many mysteries we can become more consumed with our inability to wrap our heads around what we don’t understand, than to simply enjoy the reality itself. Here is the crux of the importance of this truth: In Jesus, we have one who is both divine, and of human lineage. Another way of putting it is that Jesus is eternally God, and He became human – all part of God’s redemption story in making us His. Not a bad storyline…
34. Q. Why do you call Him our Lord?
A. Because He has ransomed us, body and soul, from all our sins, not with silver or gold but with His precious blood, and has freed us from all the power of the devil to make us His own possession.
To follow Jesus is to acknowledge His Lordship, that is, to surrender our lives to Him completely. In a sense, it is a moment of clarity and a renouncement of anything we would otherwise turn to for meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
The thing with rulers is that they have the power to enslave in cruelty, or to liberate in love. This can be true of a person, a pursuit or an obsession. We are easily enslaved by our passions. Because Jesus’ entire mission on earth was to free us from the power of sin, and was successful in doing so, we owe Him our full devotion. The price for His purchase (our salvation) was no less than His own blood. For our salvation Jesus gave His own life. It is obvious that there was no ‘upside’ to Christ’s sacrifice other than the glory it brought to His Father in what it accomplished on our behalves. What amazing love!
The ‘take-away’ is more than a devoted life, but also a settled one. To know that we are perfectly loved by God through Jesus is to discover what every human desperately longs for, and what Paul exclaims (Romans 5) – ‘peace with God.’
33. Q. Why is He called God’s only begotten Son, since we also are children of God?
A. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. We, however, are children of God by adoption, through grace, for Christ’s sake.
The oft quoted verse, John 3:16, contains the term, ‘his only begotten Son,’ in referring to Jesus. This is one of those deep mysteries in the scriptures, so let’s break it down this way: God has many children, and all but One are adopted. Those of us who belong to God were adopted into His family through Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus is eternally ‘begotten,’ that is, He comes from the Father, but without beginning or end, which means that He has no eternal birthday. Do you understand this? I don’t! But this is what I understand: Whatever mysterious dynamic exists between the Father and the Son – in eternity – We have been invited into the family. Amazing.
32. Q. Why are you called a Christian?
A. Because I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in His anointing, so that I may as prophet confess His Name, as priest present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and as king fight with a free and good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter reign with Him eternally over all creatures.
The term ‘Christian’ is first found in the scriptures to describe Christ-followers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Obviously they were identified with Jesus, as we are too. Obtaining a new name is not foreign in our day and world. At the marriage altar the bride takes on the name of her husband’s family, and in some lands, when people are converted to Christ, they are ‘christened’ into the Faith, not only with new lives, but with new names that identify them with their new family, the Family of God, some at great personal expense.
As people who follow Jesus we not only bear His name, but, as with any great leader and his or her people, we assume His passions, identity and mission as well. To this end, as Christians, Christ enters freshly into the world though us in all those offices He fulfilled when He came, died and rose from the grave (see Q&A 31). And in us, the Image of God that was shattered in the garden is restored through Christ in us – God manifests Himself to the world through this peculiar people He has renamed after His Son.
31. Q. Why is He called Christ, that is, Anointed?
A. Because He has been ordained by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body has redeemed us, and who continually intercedes for us before the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.
In Old Testament (OT) times, after the time of the judges, God anointed the people He chose to lead Israel, that is, He set them apart. They were prophets, priests and kings. The term ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed,’ and it refers to the Father’s call on Jesus to embody all three offices – He too was set apart. As Prophet, He is the living Word and ultimate expression of God. As Priest, He has made the final sacrifice, by His blood. And as King, He is forever enthroned, having conquered sin and death.
Back in OT times God’s Spirit would come upon the individuals who served in these offices, and when He did He would effect amazing things. If you remember in John’s gospel (chapter 1), as John baptized Jesus, God’s Spirit descended on Him like a dove. As with the prophets, priests and kings that went before Him, Jesus too was anointed, but in this case all three of the ‘persons’ of the ‘godhead’ were present, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God had shown up and it was a powerful moment.
The King was present, and the coming Kingdom was inaugurated. Jesus still reigns, serving in all three roles on our behalf. His anointing will never end, nor will His Kingdom.
30. Q. Do those believe in the only Saviour Jesus who seek their salvation and well-being from saints, in themselves, or anywhere else?
A. No. Though they boast of Him in words, they in fact deny the only Saviour Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or those who by true faith accept this Saviour must find in Him all that is necessary for their salvation.
This question takes us to C.S. Lewis’ argument that Jesus must be who He says He is, or else He is a liar or lunatic. There is no middle ground with Jesus. Whether in His teachings or claims about Himself and the Kingdom of Heaven, He commands that we accept Him completely as He presents Himself, and that we follow Him and no other, or we utterly reject Him – no middle ground.
But it also takes us to the depths of our own hearts and our natural tendency to worship temporary things and people. There is a huge moment in John’s vision in the book of Revelation, where he is given a glimpse of heaven and of Jesus in His glory. His immediate response is to fall on his knees in worship and awe. The problem is that he bows to his guide, who responds by saying, “‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’” (19:10).
The gospel really simplifies life, faith and hope. It says that there is a God – He is both Creator and Deliverer – and amazingly, He has given Himself. Everything else pales, and to look to anyone other than Him is idolatrous and an assertion of unbelief, even rejection. And on a practical level it is an exercise in futility that will leave us disappointed and unsatisfied.
29. Q. Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Saviour?
A. Because He saves us from all our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.
In some way this catechism answer to Q29 could have been better ordered. It really should read, “Why is Jesus, called ‘Savior’?” The reason for this is that Jesus’ true name is Jesus! His titles are ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ.’
But His personal name is a clue as to what He came for. Jesus is a derivative of the name, Joshua, which means, ‘Yahweh (the Old Testament Saves,’ so in His name, given by His birth parents (Matthew 1:21) we discover the nature of His mission – to Save. And this is what He has done, and why there is no other from whom we would receive redemption, and the forgiveness of sins.
What I love is this: Jesus is what His name says. I too am called a ‘Christian,’ but unfortunately I often don’t bear that name well, and my guess is that you are the same. But thank God for a Son who is what His name announces!
28. Q. What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by His providence?
A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love; for all creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.
At the end of the day, deep within, and in spite of our assertions to the contrary, we want someone or something larger than ourselves. We want to know that our limitations aren’t THE limitations. And they aren’t.
And because there is a sovereign God, we can are relieved of a burden we could never realize. We get to be human, with all the imperfections, flaws and limitations that come with it. But here is the kicker: We are human, but we are also loved.
By that sovereign God that created us. And because of this we are able to live in gratitude and hopefulness rather than despair and terror. How good is that?
27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.
I’m not sure we can completely capture all that this answer presents. God cares for His creation as a father. Reflecting on this simple truth is almost too much to hope for, but it is true. Within it we find that God Himself has a deep yearning to more than rule, but also to relate – an overwhelmingly beautiful thought.
But it also teaches that while we are mortal, and therefore finite, and easily captured in the despair of the moment when the painful effects of the fall present themselves in our lives, this very Father remains in complete control of events and outcomes. None come by chance and all bow to Him.
Hey, I don’t always like how life plays out – in the moment – but just knowing that my Father has redeemed and reigns over this world’s brokenness (and mine!), gives me something hopeful to gaze at beyond the horizon – and that is a good thing.
26. Q. What do you believe when you say: I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.
The first part of this answer drives the parts that follow. It could be put in the form of this logical assertion: ‘If God created all that is, then He is sovereign and cares for His creation. If He is my Father (because of, and through Jesus), then I can be confident that He cares for me.’ If He is sovereign and cares for me personally, then no matter what comes my way, good or bad, He will turn it to good, not only because He is almighty, but because I am His.’
Tuesday & Wednesday
Q.25 Since there is only one God, why do you speak of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
A. Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.
Deuteronomy 29:29 starts out with the words, ‘The secret things belong to the LORD our God…” and this question addresses one of the mysteries of God that we will not fully understand until we see Him in fullness. The scriptures present us with one God who is at one and the same time, three persons. We use all kinds of doctrinal language like, ‘godhead,’ ‘substance,’ and ‘essence,’ but at the end of the day, in the pages of the bible we read of how these three distinct persons, coexist as one God.
Confused yet? They are equal in substance and power, and are distinct and yet one.
What do we do with this? Well, first we look to the scriptures and discover that in Creation and in Redemption, as well as Conversion and all that follows in the life of the believer until and after death, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active and at work.
And this is where the second part of Deuteronomy 29:29 kicks into gear, because it says, “…but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
So how do we reconcile that we serve ‘one God’ who exists as ‘three distinct persons?’ Ultimately, we can’t while here in this life. However we can enjoy what has been revealed, and that is that they do work together on our behalf at every stage of the Gospel’s work in our lives, as well as in all Redemptive history.
One day we’ll understand the rest…
Q.23 What are these articles?
A. III.1.I believe in God the Father almighty, III.1. Creator of heaven and earth. III.2.I believe in Jesus Christ, III.2.His only begotten Son, our Lord; III.3.He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, III.3.born of the virgin Mary; III.4.suffered under Pontius Pilate, III.4.was crucified, dead, and buried; III.4.He descended into hell; III.5.On the third day He arose from the dead; III.6.He ascended into heaven, III.6.and sits at the right hand III.6.of God the Father almighty; III.7.from there He will come to judge III.7.the living and the dead. III.8.I believe in the Holy Spirit; III.9.I believe a holy catholic Christian church, III.9.the communion of saints; III.10.the forgiveness of sins; III.11.the resurrection of the body; III.12.and the life everlasting.
Q.24 How are these articles divided?
A. Into three parts: the first is about God the Father and our creation; the second about God the Son and our redemption; the third about God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
I don’t plan on diving deeply into the Apostle’s Creed, but want to encourage you to read through it and make it part of your weekly diet. We say it together as a church community each month, and have it in print weekly. In the early centuries after Jesus’ ascension this Creed (from its formulation) was rehearsed at the time of baptism for converts. It was also a means by which the church guarded against heresy.
We believe something and it is good. Knowing what we believe does more than protect against heresy (though that would be enough). It also protects against rules that aren’t really rules and practices that are crippling to the Faith. This and other creeds like the Nicaean Creed help to keep us centered and connected to a community that goes before and after us.
Q.22 What, then, must a Christian believe?
A. All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.
The catechism is about to offer a study within the study, as it will address the Apostle’s Creed. But it is worth considering this short answer – it is an important one. What does it mean to believe “all that is promised us in the Gospel?” The fact is that when we first trust Christ, we don’t even know “all that is promised us in the Gospel.” We only know as much as we heard as the Gospel captured our hearts.
So if we have to believe “all that is promised in the Gospel,” but we don’t intellectually know “all that is promised in the Gospel,” is it true belief at the moment of conversion? The answer is yes.
The best way to look at it is to remember that in Christ our relationship with God is a Father-child relationship. And just as our knowledge of our parents grew as we aged, a core relational love and commitment was there from the moment of birth. The same can be said for the new birth. When we put our trust in Christ, though our intellectual grasp of the Faith is microscopic, that simple belief embraces “all that is promised in the Gospel” and understanding and grows in the Christ-follower throughout the rest of her or his life. At every stage of maturing in the Christian life, wholehearted belief in Jesus is “all that is promised in the Gospel.”
Q.21 What is true faith?
A. True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word. At the same time it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.
You almost have to begin with the end of this response to be able to take it in. The kind of faith we need to know God can only come from God Himself. We are too limited by time and space, by our weakness and our own inner doubts, sins, struggles and failures. It is hard, no, make that impossible, to believe that God could deliver us from who we are. Why? Because we can’t!
So what is faith? At the end of the day it is taking God at His word, believing that what He promises, He delivers. The old theologian (now with the Lord), John Murray broke saving faith down into three progressive steps: Knowledge (that is, knowing the information), Conviction (that is, believing that there is something to deeper and more passionate than mere info), and Trust (that is, wholehearted commitment). IE, Christianity isn’t a crutch for people who merely want to say that they have a belief system. It is a relationship God initiates us into by engaging our minds, hearts and lives – and only He can do it.
There is comfort in this, particularly for those who are struggling with doubt. It isn’t our job to make the gospel credible, or for us to have the ability to believe. Which means that we have room to doubt, wrestle, question and wonder – such honest expressions are often the signals that God is at work in a life.
Q.20 Are all men, then, saved by Christ just as they perished through Adam?
A. No. Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all His benefits.
Question 20 is a natural response to what precedes it. If we are automatically fallen because of Adam’s sin (‘through Adam’), then does it not follow that we are automatically saved through Christ’s righteousness?
The answer has to be no, though it seems contrary to logic. Going back to the Garden, Adam had a righteous nature. In order to ‘fall’ he had to believe something outside of his nature and experience. He had to believe that the serpent’s promise to Eve was true, that in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would make them like God. In a sense his rebellion involved a leap of faith, though a misguided one.
Stay with me here – An act of faith brought man’s downfall, and it has to follow that only an act of faith can facilitate deliverance. Think on this, but more to come…
Q.19 From where do you know this?
A. From the holy gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise. Later, He had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Finally, He had it fulfilled through His only Son.
Don’t make the common mistake of reading the scriptures as a collection of moralisms, isolated stories, or as a pure historical account. Profound as its wisdom is, and though historically accurate in its narratives, to miss the message of the scriptures is to miss the key to understanding everything: It is the Gospel woven throughout its pages, and fulfilled in and through Jesus – a Redemption story.
Every drop of blood, every sacrifice, prophecy, narrative and promise were pointing to the person and work of Jesus. From the clothing made of animal skin in the garden of Eden (blood had to be shed for that to be made possible), to the circumcisions, to the scarlet cord dropped from Rahab’s home, to the ‘Kinsmen Redeemer,’ to the cities of refuge, to the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement – all were ‘shadows’ of what was to come in God’s Son, and His work.
Read the scriptures through this lens and it will come alive as never before!
Q.18 But who is that Mediator who at the same time is true God and a true and righteous man?
A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (I Corinthians 1:30).
So we are introduced to the two natures of Jesus Christ, the perfect God-Man. The early church fathers fought heresies over Christ’s nature and eventually settled on the biblical formula that Jesus is ‘fully God and fully Man’ (Nicaean Creed).
The question is not whether or not God will punish unrighteousness, because in order to maintain His just nature, He has to. But the question is whether we accept – through faith – that in Jesus He has both punished our sin and reconciled our broken relationship with Him. Somehow, either in Jesus or in judgment, our sin will be punished. Can we accept the impossibility of our ability to satisfy God’s wrath at sin, and at the same time, believe that He has made this possible through the sacrifice of His Son?
Q.16 Why must He be a true and righteous man?
A. He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.
Q.17 Why must He at the same time be true God?
A. He must be true God so that by the power of His divine nature He might bear in His human nature the burden of God’s wrath, and might obtain for us and restore to us righteousness and life.
This is where that issue of ‘Federal Head’ comes into play again. Just as we had a representative in the garden, so we are once again in need of someone who will represent us in redemption. In His mercy, God has chosen to unleash His wrath for sin upon a representative, that is, another human who stands in our stead.
I know this is difficult, both to grasp (I don’t fully understand), but also to accept. Why would God do this? Actually it may make more sense than we initially think. In each case, one stands for all. The first Adam stood for all humanity. The second does too. Each started out righteous, but only one remained so (Jesus).
But He has to be God as well. No mere human will do this go around. Our nature is forever tainted and no one born of human parents alone can escape the fall. We not only need another ‘Federal Head,’ but one who is unstained by sin. Therefore He must not only be human, but also divine.
We talk and hear of ‘the God of second chances,’ but this takes it to levels of amazing kindness – for God to intentionally enter into a broken humanity, knowing that His sole reason for becoming human was to absorb His Father’s wrath, is overwhelming and beautiful.
Q.15 What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?
A. One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.
Growing up we had what was called a ‘do-over’ in sandlot football (kind of like mulligans in golf). Each game we were allowed so many do-overs where we could replay a snap that didn’t go well the first time. Well, in our case if we were to be granted a do-over, we would need someone to run the play on our behalf, someone sinless, as Adam and Eve were. And someone more powerful than they were too.
We need a ‘mediator,’ that is, someone who will go to the Father on our behalf, one who would plead on our behalf before God, the just Judge. And we need a ‘deliverer,’ someone who will rescue us from our fallen state. What more than a human being could understand the plight of mankind, and who but God could bear the weight of such a rescue? Once again a hopeful cry emerges, Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24b-25).
Q.14 Can any mere creature pay for us?
A. No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.
Q.13 Can we ourselves make this payment?
A. Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.
Q.12 Since, according to God’s righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?
A. God demands that His justice be satisfied. Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another.
I am lumping together these Q’s & A’s because they are so interrelated. First of all, justice always demands full satisfaction. There are intricacies involved, but even if you were to forgive someone’s debt to you, this would mean that you had to absorb the cost. If you don’t believe me, remind yourself of the pain you have sometimes felt after forgiving someone – that is normal – it is part of the cost of justice, and one you chose to absorb. In this, justice is served, but at great price. So there is no escape from the driving guilt we feel apart from full satisfaction. And there is something deep within us that knows this. We know intuitively that until justice is served, that is, until there is full satisfaction for any debt, things are not yet right.
But here is the problem: When it comes to sin, we cannot repay, not with penance, not with righteous acts and not with rationalizations. Our sin debt is an impossible-to-repay obligation. And this debt is compounding daily!
Not only this, but there is no ‘mere creature’ on earth that can bring pardon on our behalf because all are equally affected (and infected) by the fall. In Old Testament times an animal sacrifice would appease God’s wrath for a season, but not permanently – eventually the sin problem has to be dealt with – it is a condition we need deliverance from. So if we can’t find it within ourselves to atone for our own sins, then we need deliverance. We need a Deliverer. Can you see where this is heading?
Q.11 But is God not also merciful?
A. God is indeed merciful, but He is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.
Obviously the question of justice begs one of mercy, and this is exactly how the gospel guides our souls. As soon as one is convinced, to the core, that God is perfectly just, one can only conclude that they are not only guilty but that they will be judged. So one plea remains: Is He also merciful? This too is a grace God gives us. We can know that our guilt is real when we stop making excuses, rationalizing and making attempts to justify our actions, but instead, turn to God and cry for mercy. In fact, because of the gospel, there is no more hopeful moment than when someone cries to God for mercy.
Q.10 Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?
A. Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them (Galatians 3:10).
Everything within my pastoral instincts wants to run ahead of the story here, but it is important to take this question by question at this point, so pardon what will appear to seem a bit hopeless for a few days. Trust me, the story gets better, but the authors are meticulous in taking us step by step in understanding redemption.
With any demand comes conditions, and the demand of perfect righteousness brings the condition of judgment if it is not met. It is that simple. The scriptures teach that there will be a day when our lives are measured against the standard of perfect holiness. God’s grace does not eliminate His demand for us to be pure.
So take today to simply reflect on this: God is holy and we are not, and without some kind of intervention, we have no rescue. There has to be a better way (and there is)…