The Heidelberg Catechism: Back to Basics – A Grim Diagnosis, Lord’s Day 2

Paul says in Galatians 3:24 that the law of God is our schoolmaster until we came to Christ. The law is the standard of holiness. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to keep the law to inherit eternal life, he wasn’t joking. The law is the standard of goodness and it must be kept perfectly. The law isn’t our problem. The Law is holy and righteous and good.1 Our problem is that we (mankind) are completely unable to keep the law. In To Live and Die we looked at the second question of Lord’s Day 1 which asked how we can live and die in the comfort of belonging to Jesus—the answer outlined the catechism to come: know your sin, understand your salvation, and live in service to Jesus who saved you. The three questions of Lord’s Day 2…

3. Q. From where do you know your sins and misery?
A. From the law of God.4. Q. What does God’s law require of us?
A. Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.5. Q. Can you keep all this perfectly?
A. No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor.

Contrary to the prevailing relativist mindset of our culture, God has a standard of living that is applicable for all times, places, and cultures. To even talk about sin and misery presupposes that there is a standard to measure such things. God’s standard is his Law, namely the Ten Commandments.2

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“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.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

In Matthew 22 Jesus was asked by a lawyer what the greatest commandment was—rather than picking one of the ten he said this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And ha second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus wasn’t making up some new commandment with this statement He was quoting two Old Testament passages when he answers the lawyer’s question. He quotes Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 which is a summary of the law. Both parts depend on the other. If you’re not loving your neighbor then you’re not loving God with all that you are and you can’t even begin to truly love your neighbor if you don’t love God. Jesus said that obeying the commandments is how you show that you love him.

Now ask yourself, how many of these have I broken? Be honest.

If you’ve ever told a lie, you’re a liar. If you’ve ever stolen something, you’re a thief. Jesus said in Matthew 5 that if you look with lust or hate someone you’ve broken those commandments in your heart because what goes on in the heart overflows into ones speech and actions (both in person and online).

The standard of God’s law provides a grim diagnosis: no one is good. No one is perfect. No one will inherit eternal life. No one has ever perfectly loved God or his neighbor; in fact, mankind’s default setting is to hate God and neighbor. We don’t just fail to follow God’s Law but we actively rebel against God’s Law in our hearts. This is a big problem and this is where Lord’s Day two leaves us: stewing on our sin and misery with no solution to the problem. (Or so it would seem.)

Historically in the Reformed Churches, the catechism was preached through the year (traditionally in the evenings) and the congregation would be left to think on that Lord’s Day for a whole week. Have you ever thought about your sin and misery for an hour? You need to know your sin and misery; I mean really know it. Think on these things. Let them hit home for you but don’t lose sight of this: God cared enough to tell you that you have a problem. God would be completely justified to keep all of humanity in the dark about their sin but he didn’t do that. He shows his grace by giving us a school master that teaches us to cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” There’s an answer to that question and it’s found in Acts 16:30: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

Lord’s Day two establishes our guilt. Lord’s Day three (6-8) will explain just how we came to be in this predicament. Buckle up. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

End Notes

  1. Romans 7:12
  2. We will look at them when we arrive in section three of the catechism on our thankfulness. Lord’s Day 32/QA 86FF
  3. Exodus 20: 1-17

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