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 24 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism and I will be talking to you today about questions 62 - 64.
This week, we are going to discuss the role that our individual good works play in the big picture of our salvation and our Christian life. Last week, we learned that it is 100% necessary for us to possess a perfect righteousness in order to be made right with God. But we also learned that this necessary righteousness is not something that we earn but something that is given to us by faith.
In other words, the righteousness that gets us back into fellowship with God is not our own, it is a gift. We are saved by grace. We are made righteous by faith. We are saved by Jesus’ good works, not our own. But, if all this is true, and it is, then what is the point of being good? If we are saved by grace, what part does our personal pursuit of righteousness play in our lives?
Lord’s Day Focus...
Question 62: But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
Answer: Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
In order to give some commentary on question 62 and its answer, I want us to think about something that Jesus said at the very beginning of His ministry. I want to draw our attention to the posture of heart that Jesus says is absolutely essential for anyone who is interested in the Kingdom of God. I want to take us all the way back to the Sermon on the Mount.
Of all Jesus’ teaching, none is more readily identified and associated with Him than the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. It appears in the first book of the New Testament and while it is not the first recorded statement of Jesus, it is by far the longest and most comprehensive of His public sermons. It seems clear that Matthew views this message as the foundation upon which Jesus’ life, ministry and kingdom are to be established.
The sermon is ground-breaking on multiple levels. It is the inauguration speech of the King of the Universe. It is the sermon that broke 400 years of divine silence and at the same time it introduced the world to the Kingdom of God in a way that it had never known before. This sermon describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the rule of God’s grace.
Some people love this sermon, some hate it, but ignoring it isn’t really an option. This sermon is intended to shake things up. It takes the value system of our sinful world and turns it upside-down. It points an unflinching finger at religious legalists and hypocrites and tells them that they will have no part in the Kingdom of Heaven. But it also makes clear that not one part of the law of God will be overlooked.
But the sermon doesn’t do what many of us might expect. It doesn’t start with a list of religious duties that we must all perform in order to earn God’s love. Instead, it starts with the posture of heart that is necessary for entry into the Kingdom of God.
Matt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The phrase poor in spirit means to be completely impoverished. It means to recognize one’s own poverty of the soul. Even in our own day we use this term to refer to someone who leads the life of a beggar. This is someone who has no property, no money, no power, no status; someone who is completely dependent on others for support. This person is empty, with nothing to offer and they know it. But the type of poverty that Jesus is after deals with one’s soul.
The poor in spirit are those who have come to see and feel the brokenness in their heart and the bankruptcy in their soul. When it comes to righteousness, true righteousness, they are no better than a beggar on the street. Even if they had a little money in their pocket it wouldn’t come close to paying off the debt they owe to God, they are truly poor in spirit.
No one wants to find themselves in this place. Our natural inclination is to assume that we have much to offer and that our spiritual life, though not perfect, is far from a state of poverty. The Pharisees that gathered around to hear Jesus’ message would have scoffed at this opening statement. This is not what the religious people in the crowd wanted to hear, but this is the point of entry into the Kingdom of God. This is how we are made to feel when the gospel hits our ears for the first time.
The gospel does two things in us; it tears us down and then it builds us back up. The gospel shows that our hearts are so desperately wicked that there is no hope that we can overcome our past sin much less do enough to earn eternal life. The gospel holds up the law of God demanding that we keep it perfectly, and then shows us that we have no chance. We are utterly incapable of pleasing God on our own. The gospel puts us on our knees before God and that is exactly where Christ wants us to start because only those who have come to understand their poverty of spirit before God are fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
To be poor in spirit means an absence of spiritual pride, an absence of self-assurance and self-reliance. It is this tremendous awareness that we are nothing in the presence of God (Lloyd-Jones).
To be poor in spirit is to be like the prophet Isaiah who saw the Lord high and lifted up, but he fell to knees and cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost…I am unclean and everyone around me is unclean as well.”
To be poor in spirit is to be like the apostle Paul who could quote a spiritual resume that would shame everyone in this room, but when he stood before Christ he came to realize that all of his religious past was worthless. Paul said, “I count it all to be loss…like nothing but rubbish (dung) in the eyes of God.”
To be poor in spirit is to be like the Tax Collector in Luke 18 who would not even look up to heaven but instead beat his chest saying, “O God, be merciful to me as sinner.”
When Jesus says, “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…” He is making it clear that the kingdom is fit only for those who feel that their only hope of salvation lies outside of themselves because on their own they are nothing more than a beggar.
There is no one in the Kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit. It is the fundamental posture of its citizens and it is the entry point into the Christian life.
That’s what question 62 is trying to help us understand. The righteousness that restores our relationship with God is not our own, because our own righteousness is imperfect and full of holes, like swiss cheese. Our good works are incomplete, but Jesus’ good works are perfect, and therein lies our hope.
Question 63: How is it that our good works merit nothing, while yet it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
Answer: The reward comes not of merit but of grace.
Years ago I read a quote that helped put this answer into perspective for me.
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”
This goes against our natural instincts. We naturally think that in order for us to obtain what we desire most we will have to work for it, at least, I think that most of us think that way. We are born with a debtors ethic, which causes us to think this way.
The gospel destroys that ethic. Undeserved mercy and unearned reward don’t make sense in the world, but they do in the Kingdom of God. The rewards of blessings in this life and heaven in the life to come are not the result of our effort, but the work of God’s grace.
Question 64: But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?
Answer: No; for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
Thinking back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we hope to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Does this mean that we must keep all of the 240 commandments and 365 prohibitions that they added to the law of God? No! Christian righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in type not in degree. The righteousness that is pleasing to God is the inward righteousness that begins in the heart and then faithfully seeks to live out the law in life.
We call this sanctification and it is an ongoing work of God’s grace where God’s people are, over the course of their lives, transformed more and more into the image of Christ. God enables us by His Spirit and His Word to grow in faithfulness more and more and to turn from sin more and more. This process starts when we are born again and it continues throughout our lives as a fulfillment of the promise that God made in Ezekiel 36.
Eze 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
If you are a born-again believer in Christ then you have the Spirit of God within you, but that doesn’t mean that you can dispense with the law, because the work of the Spirit is to give us new hearts, to write God’s law on those new hearts, and to enable us to walk in obedience to God. Not in order to earn God’s love, but because God’s love has already been poured out on us by grace.
Jesus is not interested in empty, superficial, hypocritical religious practice. Religion is a word that has the ability to conjure up both positive and negative ideas when it is used. The term religion, when used in a negative sense, refers to the empty religious rituals and formalities that are devised by man and are sadly so prevalent in the church. Behind the negative use of the term is the belief that religious practices are sufficient for us to earn the favor of God. Religion says, “I obey the rules so that God will accept me” and when this idea is full blown it teaches people that in order to be saved we must simply keep all the rules.
But this is a lie and this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel says that “God accepts me on the basis of Jesus ‘works and in response to this grace, I obey (Eph 2:8-10).”
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 25 together and discuss questions 65 – 68 on the Holy Sacraments.
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.
 John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Pg. 18)
 MLJ, pg. 50.