Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day #37


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 37 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, I will be talking to you about questions 101 & 102.


This week we are still looking at the third commandment and how we can apply it in our lives in a positive way. Here is the third commandment:

Deut 5:11 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Last week we tried to figure out why this is such an important issue to God and we learned that the glory of God’s person is directly tied to the holiness of God’s name. There is no way to disconnect the person of God from the name of God, so when we set His name apart in our hearts as holy, we are reverencing Him as holy. Conversely, when we devalue His name by uttering a hateful curse and attach His name to it, we are not just cursing His name we are cursing our God.

But this week we are asking the question, can we use God’s name and even swear by God’s name in a way that is not sinful.

Lord’s Day Focus...

Question 101: May we swear an oath in God’s name if we do it reverently?

Answer: Yes, when the government demands it, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote truth and trustworthiness for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good. Such oaths are approved in God’s Word and were rightly used by Old and New Testament believers.

Now, this hardly seems like the most pressing question that we could discuss. The swearing of oaths by the name of God is not one of those ethical dilemma’s that we tend to wrestle over. In fact, we seldom take such oaths. Also, most of us wouldn’t naturally connect swearing to tell the truth in court, “So, help me God” to be something that may violate the third commandment.

It may not be all that pressing to us, but during the reformation this was a pretty significant issue.

“For starters, the Reformers had to think through their pastoral counsel to ex-Catholics who had made monastic vows, often including the promise of life-long celibacy, and now wanted to break those vows.”[1]

Many of the vows taken by monks and other Catholic churchmen were made with the expectation that spiritual merit was being obtained. The Catholic church taught, and still teaches, that eternal life and other graces of God were to be earned or merited through the outward religious practices defined by the RC church. Since these vows were made in a system that was contrary to Scripture and to the gospel, it was necessary for the men and women who made them to repent of them, and thus they were not bound by God to fulfill them.

So, this was a pretty important issue for the newly reformed Protestant church. Today, the taking of religious oaths is not so common, but we may find ourselves in a position to have been called upon to give testimony in court. If so, we can expect to be asked to raise our right hand and swear, “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” In this case, we are promising before God and making an oath before Him that we will give honest and truthful testimony in everything that we say.

We do this as a way to bring solemnity to the court proceeding and to draw attention to the fact that justice is a matter of grave importance. It is also a matter that is overseen by our Creator God and He will be the final judge over our truthfulness in that trial. The Heidelberg sees this as a good thing for the promotion of truth and trustworthiness in society, and I tend to agree.

Now, we know that God sees everything that we do and He hears everything that we say. We know that we will also be judged by God for everything we do and say whether we swear the oath or not. God’s promise to judge the secret thoughts of men by Jesus Christ (Rom 2:16) is part and parcel of the gospel and that means we should strive to be truth-tellers at all times.

But ultimately, as believers in Christ we know that the judgment for sin that we deserve has already been poured out. Christ received in His flesh the due penalty for the sins of all who believe. What this means is that ultimate judgment for our sin has already been paid, but there is another type of judgment that will come. God will judge our fruitfulness as a token of the genuineness of our faith.

But of even more importance to the Reformers in this matter of oaths was the need to address the fact that it had become customary due to the Catholic influence, that religious people would swear oaths and vows on the name of church saints or even angels.

Question 102: May we swear by saints or other creatures?

Answer: No. A legitimate oath means calling upon God as the one who knows my heart to witness to my truthfulness and to punish me if I swear falsely. No creature is worthy of such honor. 

The reformers corrected this practice by refusing to swear an oath by anyone other than God Himself. Since He is the only One who truly knows the heart of man and the only One who can ultimately hold man accountable to keeping an oath, God is the only one by whom any oath or vow should be sworn.

If you are in the habit, or can remember a time when you were, of swearing “on your mother’s grave” then you would be in violation of what the Heidelberg says is right and good. Your mother’s grave is no doubt an item of importance to every good son, but your mother, whether dead or alive, is not so special that she can truly know your heart and judge your actions with the type of majestic justice as God.

So, of course we shouldn’t swear an oath on the name, head, or even the grave of some mere creature, be it saint, angel or your dear mother. No creature is worthy of such an honor.

I think the real question is not about whether or not to swear an oath, the real question is do you put a premium on speaking the truth and nothing but the truth? The first lie occurred in the Garden in Genesis 3 and from that point forward lying is a sin at the very heart of our fallen human nature. Jesus called Satan the “Father of lies” in John 8:44 and Psalm 116:11 tells us that, “All men are liars.” Our God is a covenant keeper who never lies, but we are covenant breakers who lie naturally and treat it like it is no big deal.

Jesus wants His followers to be men and women who speak the truth.

Matt 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 

The main point of what Jesus is saying in this passage is that it doesn’t matter what verbal formula you use, what matters is whether or not you are going to keep your word. If you make a vow you are bound to keep it. If you make a promise you should do everything in your power to keep it. If we learn to be people of our word, people of honesty and integrity; then there really is no need to make a vow at all. We simply become honest and trustworthy people, like our heavenly father.

Honest people don’t need to swear by anything, they are known for their honesty and their word is enough. That’s what Jesus wants us to understand. He wants us to be honest and truthful the way He and the Father are honest and truthful. Jesus wants us to follow Him and to be men and women of integrity.

Think about it, if we said what we meant and meant what we said there would be no need to make lofty promises. If we kept our word, even down to the smallest thing, it might cause us to be slow in speaking which would be a good thing, but it would also eliminate the need for solemn vows because people could simple trust us. This is what Jesus wants from his people. He wants us to live simple and quiet lives of honesty and trustworthiness.

The Bible is filled with warnings for how our tongues can cause destruction.

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,

Jesus wants us to be people whose tongues give life. He wants us to be a church whose speech is trustworthy.

Next week, we will continue to study these 10 commandments by looking at the fourth commandment, which focuses on the sabbath day and keeping it holy. I hope you will join me for that discussion as we look at Lord’s Day 38 and question 103.


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] Deyoung, Kevin The Good News We Almost Forgot (Pg. 175)

Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.