How does one go from being under God’s judgment to being a child of God, a member of the kingdom of heaven? Is it praying the sinner’s prayer? Is it making sure that you understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Lord’s Day 6 of the Heidelberg Catechism is part of the section that deals with our deliverance, what God does to bring us from death in sin to new life. We will be looking at some of the steps involved, some of the things that it are crucial to believe in. Those all are important. But don’t lose sight of the fact that your standing before God ultimately rests on your union with a person–the Lord Jesus Christ as 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells you.
You are in Christ. God calls the foolish to himself. The church at Corinth was divided by party spirit. The members compared some of the early leaders of the church. Behind that was the implication that followers of others than one’s favorite were lesser. God does not choose many who are wise by human standards, nor who are influential or noble. The early church had many slaves, many from the lower levels of society. Today the church still has relatively few who are wise or important by the world’s standards. “By human standards” (literally, “after the flesh”), focuses on the human self, sinful in itself. But the emphasis is on what you are apart from God’s call and gracious work. Yet there are a few of these wise, noble, etc., who are chosen. They tend to be exceptions. The church cannot boast or glory in itself. God chooses the “impossible.” He has selected the foolish, the weak, the lowly and despised things. The emphasis is on God’s choice. The climax of the series is reached in God’s choice of “the things that are not.” God’s choice confounds the flesh. He is sovereign in his choice. God uses the weak to accomplish his purpose. He uses the foolish to confound and shame the wise. The ultimate expression of God’s working through weakness is seen in the humiliation and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the power and wisdom of God. God works in Christ who humbled himself for your salvation. His crucifixion is at the heart of the gospel. His humanity is essential because man sinned, and man must make satisfaction. Yet he is the divine wisdom of God. He is the wisdom of God come to its richest expression. Because he is divine, his sacrifice is of infinite worth–it is the God-man, Jesus Christ, who is crucified for us. This message of the cross, foolishness, weakness, and an offense to mankind, is actually the power of God for the salvation of his people. It is not only the source of our forgiveness, it is also the strength in which we serve him. Your hope is not just in his death as an example, but in what he did for you as he died in your place.
Trust the wisdom of God. Christ is your righteousness. sanctification and redemption. He is righteousness. See Jeremiah 23:5,6 for the messianic source of the reference. Union with Christ means that he is your righteousness. The theological term Paul uses elsewhere is justification. Your justification never rests on, is never based on, your works. It is what Christ has done for you, his righteousness, placed on your account. You receive the righteousness of Christ by faith, by faith alone. The heart of the gospel depends on that. Beware of the moralism that is essentially salvation by works: I’m not as bad as my neighbor. Therefore God will look kindly on me.
“One does not in practice take Christ for justification itself or sanctification itself for these are not independent realities to be grasped. One is not united to justification or sanctification. Rather, one receives and is united to Christ, in whom these blessings reside. Therefore, to be united to Christ is necessarily to be made a partaker of all his blessings, not merely a few.”Mark A. Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology, p. 165
But don’t begin to think that justification by faith alone depreciates obedience. Christ is also your holiness, just as much as he is your righteousness. Like justification, sanctification is an aspect of your union with Christ. See Romans 5 & 6. You have been set free from the bondage of sin. People sometimes think of justification as God’s work, and that’s really important. Sanctification, of obedience, is my response of gratitude, often with an emphasis on how poor and imperfect it is. (There is an element of truth in that. Justification is certainly God’s work, and our sanctification does flow out of gratitude.) But as Paul describes it here in 1 Cor. 1, Christ is our holiness no less than our righteousness. The two must go together. Yes, we are active in good works, but only because God is first of all active in us, both to will and do.
“By faith we grasp Christ’s righteousness, by which alone we are reconciled to God. Yet you could not grasp this without at the same time grasping sanctification also. For he “is given unto us for righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption” [1 Corinthians 1:30]. Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies.”John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.16.1.
He is your redemption. The word refers to liberating a slave by the payment of a ransom. It is a comprehensive term that implies Christ’s sacrificial work, cf. Ephesians 1:7. And it includes God’s entire work of redemption, your growth in grace as well as the forgiveness of your sins.
Because of this, boast only in the Lord. The quote is from Jeremiah 9:23, 24. God is about to punish Israel for her sin. He is removing all false security. Glory, boast only in the Lord. His name is here applied to Christ. Boast only in him. You have no grounds for boasting in yourself. God has chosen you, not for who you are, but because of who you are not! The glory is his as the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q & A 1 points out. Glory in Christ, because the Lord has become your righteousness.
Do you see how complete God’s work in Christ is? Do you trust him? And do you find in him, not only your forgiveness, but also your growth in holiness?