Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day #23


Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 23 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism and I will be talking to you today about questions 59 and 61.


This week, we have finally come to the “So what?” moment of the first half of the Catechism. So far we have learned a foundational understand of Christian truth and doctrine. We have worked our way through the Apostle’s Creed. We have learned about God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today, we have come to the point where the Catechism says, “So what?” What does all of this mean to me? It’s detailed, it’s organized and it is profound; but what good does all of this Christian doctrine do for me?

Lord’s Day Focus...

Question 59: What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?

Answer: In Christ I am right with God and heir to everlasting life.

Last week, Heidelberg asked about how the doctrines of the Christian faith give comfort to our souls. This week it is asking, “Why does any of this matter?” and the answer has to do with one of the greatest and most important doctrines of our faith; the doctrine of Justification.

Justification is defined as an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.

Let’s look at an instance of this from a popular New Testament parable…

Luke 18:9-14  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed1 thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'  13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'  14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Here we see Jesus use this term justified and we need to ask ourselves what he means by it. In context does it mean that this man had earned forgiveness based on his righteousness, No! Quite the opposite, he is declared to be righteous and is granted right standing before God over and against a man who was, practically speaking, more righteous. When Jesus says that this man went to his home justified, rather than the other, he means that this man was at peace with God, without respect to his own personal righteousness.

To justify means to make a legal pronouncement that the man in question is righteous before God and it is God himself that makes such a pronouncement. If you study this term very much at all you will read time and again that this is a legal/forensic[1] term and that it means the opposite of condemn. To condemn a man is to declare him evil and guilty of his crimes, but to justify means to declare a man righteous and innocent of all charges. In other words, when Jesus says that this man is justified, he is declaring the man cleared of any moral guilt and that he no longer deserves punishment for his sin.

Since our sin is removed, there is no longer a barrier between us and God. We are ready to be reconciled to Him and that means everything. By faith in Christ we are now right with God!

Question 58: How are you right with God?

Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.  

This answer is beautiful. This truth is the foundation upon which all of salvation stands. This answer, this truth, is the reason that why the work of getting the gospel right is so incredibly important.

How are you right with God? It is not the result of any one of us having achieved perfection through the law. It is not the result of our having overcome our sin on our own. Being right with God is purely and completely a work of sheer grace, where the perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to our account by faith alone.

Martin Luther famously stated that a true Christian is simul iustus et peccator, “at the same time, justified and a sinner.” The catechism is pointing this out when it says that even though my conscience accuses me of my unrighteousness, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ.

Until Christ returns, we will remain sinful saints. On this side of heaven, we will not experience sinless perfection. But praise God, our salvation doesn’t depend on our sinless perfection. Our salvation is based on the sacrificial death of Christ in our place, which removes our guilt. Our justification is rooted in the perfect righteousness of Jesus that is granted to us who believe.

2 Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We have been given an alien righteousness, which is a phrase that theologians use to describe the fact that our righteousness is not our own, it comes from outside of us. Not from outer-space, but from Jesus.

Question 61: Why do you say by that by faith alone you are right with God?

Answer: It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.

The catechism is stressing the object of our faith, not just the presence of faith. In our culture today it is more appealing to have an ambiguous faith, an undefined faith; than it is to have a very specific faith. It is far more popular to be a spiritual person than it is to have a well-defined faith. But the faith that overcomes the world, the faith that alone saves, is a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and risen Savior of the believing world.

To believe in Jesus means that you embrace that He is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh. To believe in Jesus Christ means that you entrust your eternal destiny and your right standing before God entirely to Him. It means that you believe in His substitutionary death on the cross for your sins. You believe that He paid the debt to God that you owe.

It is by faith alone because there is no other way to receive this. You can’t buy it, bargain for it, earn it, or steal it. It is to be received by the empty hands of faith. As needy sinners we bring nothing to the table but empty hands and when we walk away the thing that we cling to with all of our trust is not ourselves, but to Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Thanks for joining me today as I discuss the Heidelberg Catechism. I hope you’ll join me again next week as we look at Lord’s Day 24 together and discuss questions 62 and following.


If you want to learn more about Cornerstone Baptist church, you can find us online at Cornerstonewylie.org. You can follow us on Twitter or Instagram @cbcwylie. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/cornerstonewylie. You can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or google play to stay up to date on all the new content.

Thanks for listening.

[1] Forensic simply means that it is information used in and admissible in a court of law.

Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.