Ques. 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?
Ans. No; only those who are ingrafted into him, and receive all his benefits, by a true faith.
Lord’s Day 7, Heidelberg Catechism
The sin burdened soul asks in wretched misery, Is there no way of escape from the righteous judgment of God? Is there no way in which I may be restored to God’s favor and have peace with God? The answer: Yes, there is an only way. Satisfaction must be made. God’s justice must be satisfied. The debt of sin must be paid to the last penny. (Lord’s Day 5).
That raises another anxious question, How can I make satisfaction for my sin? Though I wash myself with strong soaps or powerful antiseptics I cannot wash away a single guilty stain. Scripture answers: What is impossible with man is possible with God. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, nevermore to reckon sin unto His people. There is one only Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Lord’s Day 6, ques. 18).
Yet a question gnaws at the soul: How do I know that this is true? The one and only answer that can ever be given is, Scripture is God’s infallible revelation, fully inspired, completely authoritative. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Therefore the glad tidings of salvation is nothing less than God’s sure promise directed to the heirs of grace. (Lord’s Day 6, ques. 19).
One more question: How do I know that this promise is for me? My own heart responds: By faith, by faith only. For by faith we are ingrafted into Christ, to receive Christ and all the benefits of salvation. The confession is aroused within us, not once, but ever anew, “I believe!” This is my comfort, my only comfort in life and death, for body and soul, that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
How wonderfully this confession harmonizes with all that is taught us in Scripture. Let us recall just a few references. We read that Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord Jehovah counted it to him for righteousness. (Gen. 15:6). Here the word for ‘believed’ means ‘to carry.’ The figure calls to mind one who bears a heavy load; he bears up under it, even though it threatens to crush him. God had promised to the patriarch Abraham a son in his old age. Can God give a son to an old man who is married to a barren woman? Can the promised Seed still be born of two who are as good as dead? Yet Abraham stood firm in accepting the Word of God that promised the impossible. He believed in God. By that faith he was assured that his Savior would surely come to deliver him from sin and guilt and impute to him righteousness, making him worthy of eternal life, as if he himself had merited it. Scripture comes with the recurring assurance, the just man lives. Only he who is just before God has eternal life. He has that life because he is righteous in the sight of the living God. He has that righteousness imputed to him by faith. He carries the assurance within him of eternal life by that same faith. “The just shall live by faith.” What a wonderful experience it is for the sin-troubled soul that cries to God for mercy, to hear Jesus say to him, Thy sins, though they be ever so many, are forgiven thee! Our sins are forgiven as if they never did exist. The word for “believing” in the New Testament means “to bind,” “to join together.” What a rich concept! God binds Himself to us by the bond of living faith, so that we are one with Him as His sons and daughters, the heirs of salvation forever. That faith is like a private telephone line that keeps us in constant contact with God and with our fellow saints. Thus we are kept by the power of Godthrough faith unto the salvation that is waiting to be revealed to us in the last day. (I Pet. 1:5). By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8).
The Gift of God
We are brought back to the question of our Catechism: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?” We readily confess that all men, including ourselves, perished in Adam. “For as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12). The question now is, Are all men saved in Christ? Is Christ eternally appointed to be the Mediator of all men? Was the atonement of the cross intended for all men? Did Christ pay the debt of sin for all men as they perished in Adam? To those questions there is but one positive answer: No! Scripture is very plain on that. Christ did not die for all men. All men are not saved by Christ, neither according to God’s intention, nor in reality.
But who then are saved? Our book of instruction teaches us, “Only those who are ingrafted into him (Christ), and receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”
We are reminded that 90% of an iceberg lies hidden under the surface of the water. A skyscraper has its foundation firmly imbedded in the ground on solid rock. Jesus speaks of the wise builder who by faith builds his house, not on the shifting sands of his own works, but on the solid Rock, Jesus Christ.
That we are ingrafted into Christ has for us tremendous implications.
First, without being ingrafted into Christ by a true faith one cannot be saved. Faith is not a mere assent to the truth of Scripture. It is not a matter of opening the door of one’s heart to allow Jesus to enter. Nor is it a reaching out of the hand to accept the proffered salvation, or a making of a decision to let Christ change one’s life.
Second, we are like dead branches of the old, gnarled tree of Adam, dead and rotting. A dead corpse cannot see, or hear, or respond. Jesus teaches us that except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven, much less enter. We are not worthy to be saved, nor can we want to be saved, nor will we be saved if that salvation depends on us. We need to be tom loose from the fallen human race to be ingrafted into Christ, in order to be saved.
Third, ingrafting implies a union with Christ. There is what is sometimes referred to as a mystical union with Christ, which goes back to eternity. Paul makes the confession, “For to me to live is Christ.” (Phil. 1:21). This already implies that we have no real life apart from Christ. We lie in the midst of death under God’s righteous judgment. Christ is the sole reason for our salvation. God chose Christ as the great Servant in His House, the revelation of His glory, the Head of the church, which is given to Christ as His body. We are as intimately one with Christ as the body is one with its head. We are chosen in Christ as individual members of His Body. The overwhelming wonder of grace, so deeply humiliating, is that we should be counted among that people that God has chosen unto. Himself as His peculiar possession in everlasting glory. O the depths of the riches of that grace! Each of us can only ask, Why me? Why me, who only deserves eternal condemnation as the worst of sinners?
There is also that wonder already mentioned in our Catechism, that God has established a mediatorial union between us and Christ. Eternally Christ stands as the representative Head of His people, their Prophet, their High priest, their eternal King. The Son of God takes on our flesh and blood, to become like unto His brethren in all things, only sin excluded. Born out of the sons of Adam, in the covenant line of Abraham, as the royal Seed of David He joins Himself with His people as one with them, their Mediator and Savior. Just think of it: when He took upon Himself the wrath of God, it was God’s wrath against our sins that He took. When He stretched out His arms to be spiked to the cross, we were nailed with Him on that accursed tree. When He suffered torments of hell, we suffered those torments in Him. When He cried, “It is finished,” we shouted our victory in Him. When He died, we died. When He arose, we arose. When He ascended to heaven, we were exalted into heavenly perfection with Him. I lend my ear to Paul’s testimony, “And you . . . were dead in trespasses and sins. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.Eph. 2:1, 4-6).
Fourth, Christ establishes a vital union between Himself and us by His work of grace in us. Our High priest in the heavens intercedes for His people on the basis of His atoning work of the cross. He is also heard by the Father, Who ladens Him with every spiritual blessing, which, Christ, in turn, bestows on His people. The first blessing, that is, the first work of grace in the heart of the dead sinner is regeneration. Regeneration is the implanting of the heavenly life of Christ in our hearts. Or, to express it a bit differently, regeneration is that act of God whereby we are ingrafted into Christ to become partakers of Christ and of all His benefits. Paul speaks of the fact that we as natural branches of the wild olive tree of Adam are broken off to be ingrafted as living branches into Christ. that we may bear fruit in Him. (Rom. 11:17). In John 15 Jesus calls Himself the true vine and refers to His disciples as branches, which draw their life from the vine, and only thereby are able to/ bear fruit. Christ bears fruits unto life eternal in us. The bond that unites us to Christ is the bond of faith. Our Canons speak of that faith as a gift of God, “conferred, breathed, and infused.” “He who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.” (Canons III, IV, article 14).
Fifth, along with faith the Lord spreads His love abroad in our hearts. Our hatred is turned to love, love to God and to the neighbor, by the very fact that our heart is renewed. The life of Christ pulsates within us. What a radical change that brings in our lives. Our entire attitude toward God and toward His dealings with us undergoes a radical change. We repeat the cry of Psalm 38,
“O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
“For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore.
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.
“For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.”
The plea of Ephraim becomes our plea: “Turn me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.” (Jer. 31:18). We experience a common bond with the publican as he stands hardly within the temple gate, beating his breast with the cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13). With the Philippian jailer we ask, “What must I do to be saved?” We hear the voice of Jesus calling, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden it light.”
“How blest is he whose trespass hath freely been forgiven,
Whose sin is wholly covered before the sight of heaven.
Blest he to whom Jehovah imputeth not his sin.
Who hath a guileless spirit, whose heart it true within.”
With the apostle we can say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).
For me to live is CHRIST.