Ques. 59. But what doth it profit thee now that thou believest all this?
Ans. That I am righteous in Christ, before God, and am an heir of eternal life.
Ques. 60. How art thou righteous before God?
Ans. Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God without any merit of mine, but only out of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.
Ques. 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Ans. Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.
Heid. Catechism. Lord’s Day 23
What doth it profit thee?
Pause a moment and reflect. Let it be granted that this is not the foremost question in the mind of the believer. His chief concern is the glory of his God. For whether we eat, or whether we drink, or whatever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God. Yet this in no wise minimizes the importance of the question that confronts us now, “what doth it profit thee that thou believest all this?”
Even this question requires an answer of faith. According to our sinful nature we could very well question the advantage of believing in Jesus Christ. There are times in our lives when we with Asaph ofPsalm 73 see the prosperity of the wicked and are set to wondering whether we have cleansed our hands in vain. Measured in dollars and cents we experience the burden of school tuition, church budgets, and other obligations that are involved in the Christian walk of life. And then we have said nothing yet of the scorn and reproach that we must bear as cross bearers after our Lord.
Yet would we for a single moment exchange our faith for the service of sin? Not at all. Even these seeming disadvantages are, upon closer observation, privileges, definite advantages that make all the sufferings of this present time more than worthwhile. All the advantages of our faith in Christ far outweigh our sufferings, and work an exceeding weight of glory.
“All this. . . .”
As believers in Christ Jesus we are confronted with the specific question: “What doth it profit thee that thou believest all this?” “All this” refers back to all that we have confessed with the Heidelberger in the Lord’s Days 7 to 22, in which our fathers discussed the Apostolic Creed. “All this” therefore refers to what we confess concerning our God and all His glorious, mighty works as the triune God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. He is our Creator. He sends His Son to be our Savior through the death of the cross, and exalts Him to power and glory in the heavens, from whence He gathers His church, brings His saints to glory with Him and grants us eternal life. We sum it all up in the one confession, I believe in God. Thus the Catechism now confronts us with the personal question: What does this your faith mean to you? And lays upon our hearts and lips a most concise and beautiful answer.
That I am righteous.
Righteousness is that amazing gift of God whereby the guilty and damn-worthy sinner is assured in his heart that he is free from guilt and worthy of the adoption to sons and the right to eternal life.
This places you and me right now before the tribunal of God.
Our conscience condemns us. That inner voice of conscience which is enlightened and instructed by the Holy Spirit of Christ convicts us, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, of sin and guilt. My own conscience accuses me that I have transgressed, not merely laws laid down by men, but the holy law of the living God. I have defied God and trampled His law under my feet. I have not made myself guilty of transgressing only one command. I realize that when the law is read to me on the Sabbath day, one command condemns me much more than another. But when I search my heart I must admit that I have transgressed all God’s commands, even without exception. Still worse, I have grossly transgressed them all. Even so I have not said enough. Honesty compels me to add that I have kept none of them. Besides my sins of commission, there are also a multitude of sins of omission. For I have not loved the Lord my God with my whole being in all that I did, as I am called to do. Nor can I leave it at that. If I should have the opportunity to live the past over again, or if a promise were pressed from me to keep God’s law in the future, I would have to admit that I can never of myself improve my way, since the very inclination of my nature is only toward all that is evil continually.
I hang my head in shame, for even now as I stand before the judgment seat of God, who knows my innermost thoughts and all my words and deeds, I stand condemned. I deserve only that He should pronounce upon me the death sentence: “Depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity, into everlasting torment of hell!”
If Thou shouldst mark transgressions, O my God, who could stand? I least of all!
“Notwithstanding. . . .”
Yet the verdict is pronounced every day anew: Not guilty! No condemnation! Even more than that, God declares me righteous in His holy sight! He regards me as one who has never committed any evil deed, nor had any inclination to sin. And, as if that were a small matter, He even declares that I have kept all His commands in perfect obedience, so that I am worthy to be His son and the heir of His inheritance that is laid away in the heavens.
Amazing wonder, that can only fill our souls with humble adoration. I am righteous in the sight of the living God according to His own verdict in my heart. I can also appear before His judgment seat in the great Day of days to receive of Him His own, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.” God justifies the ungodly.
Righteous in Christ.
We cannot be satisfied without asking how this possible? For God is not a man that He should lie, nor does He regard the person of men. He is as righteous as He is true. In answer to that question one name stands out in Scripture and before our consciousness: the name Jesus, Who is the Christ. We are righteous in Christ Jesus.
Yet again the question demands an answer. “How can God justify the guilty sinner in Christ?”
Here our Book of Instruction introduces us to a very important word that we must never forget, nor allow anyone to take from us: the word imputes. “God imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ.” The reference of our Catechism is to Romans 4.
Imputes means to set to the account of someone, especially to set to the account of someone that which he does not have. We lack righteousness completely, yet it is imputed to us as if it were our very own. Briefly it comes down to this: God imputes to Christ all our guilt and, in turn, imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. That is the amazing truth of Scripture and the blessed testimony of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. God so completely justifies us that we can face the devil, the whole wicked world and even our accusing conscience with the challenge: It is God Who justifies. Who is the condemner? Romans 8:33, 34.
We must ask, what is the juridical basis for this verdict of righteousness? For God is just. He cannot, may not, and does not allow the sin that is committed against His Most High Majesty to go unpunished. The answer of Scripture is that the eternal basis rests in God Himself and in His Sovereign election. Take that away and the very basis for our salvation no longer exists. God has chosen His people in Christ from eternity, making them members of Christ’s body, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. Christ is our juridical Head. Therefore God can and does declare His people righteous on the meritorious basis of the cross.
We can put it this way: God imputed to Christ all our sins, charging those sins to His account and holding Him responsible for them, as if He had committed them. Christ was made sin for us, the very embodiment, as it were, of our sins. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He was the perfect Substitute, the Lamb for sinners slain. All His life long He suffered willingly and obediently under the wrath of God. He suffered even torments of hell during the three hours of darkness on the cross to atone for our sins and to merit for us eternal life.
His perfect satisfaction is imputed to us, as if we in our own bodies had borne God’s wrath, been nailed to the cross, and suffered under the consuming wrath of God in anguish of hell for our sins.
His righteousness is imputed to us as if we never had had nor committed any sin. Yea, as if we in our own bodies had merited the right to be sons of God and heirs of eternal life.
His holiness is imputed to us, so that we are saints in Christ Jesus, with the Spirit of God’s Son transforming us into the likeness of the image of Christ, to bear the likeness of God in covenant fellowship with Him eternally in His glory.
It is all a free gift of God by imputation. Christ atoned, I did not. He merited my salvation, not I. Humbly I confess, I am righteous in Christ. In His cross I glory.
We hasten to add, that we are justified by a true faith in Jesus Christ. Not on account of our faith, nor because we believe or have reached out a hand to receive Christ. If faith were in any sense of the word our work, then there would be a certain merit of ours which would deny the perfect merit of Jesus Christ. It is all of God, purely by grace, in no sense by the works of mere man.
We become deeply aware of that as we daily stand before the tribunal of our God with our conscience accusing us, that we have kept none of His commandments and can keep none of them as we are in ourselves.
God Himself unites us to Christ by a bond of living faith, whereby we become members of His body, living out of Him. As the body cannot exist without the head, nor the head without the body, so Christ and we cannot exist apart from each other. I belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“We, then, being justified by faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
In the midst of a world of sin and death we are kept by the power of God unto an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, preserved for us in the heavens (I Peter 1:4, 5). Soli Deo Gloria!