The Heidelberg Catechism: Back to Basics – To Live and Die

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 1—QA 2

A few years ago I was at a funeral and while at the cemetery for the grave side service, I noticed something about the tombstones—the dates are slowly catching up to me. Now I’m a young guy (as far as I know—I mean I might not have many more years left), but I’ve noticed that the start dates are starting to get closer to my start date. That’s a sobering thought. Those are the two things we all get in life: a start date and an end date.

Back to the funeral. It was for a non-Christian, and even though the family and friends (non-Christians also) of the deceased wanted to focus on the good memories, the grief weighed heavily on everyone. They would never see this man again. He was gone. He was dead. There was no comfort.

I stayed silent–what comfort could I offer when there was no hope? When my grandparents died, it was sad, but there was hope. Paul writes to the Thessalonian church reminding them that Christians do not grieve like those without hope. Jesus died and rose again, and so will all who believe in him.[1] Jesus is the only hope. He is our only comfort in life and in death.

The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism tells us what this comfort is: Jesus saved us, owns us, and takes care of us. But how does one live and die in that comfort?

Question two sets the outline for the rest of the Catechism with the answer.

What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

  • First, how great my sins and misery are;
  • Second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;
  • Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

There are three things that each of us must know in order to live and die in this comfort. First, we must understand the terrible weight of our sin. I know it’s unpleasant to think about our sins. Not only does it bring the Christian sorrow, but it should also bring a certain amount of fear. I’ve offended a Holy God by the sins I’ve committed and it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. But we need to know this. We need this knowledge because it drives us to our Savior, much like knowing our disease drives us to a doctor for treatment. We cannot look for redemption until we know why we need redemption.

Secondly, we need to know that Jesus, by his sacrifice on the cross, has paid for each and every sin for all those who turn from their sins and put their trust in him.

Yes, even that one.

That one too.

Every. Last. One.

When Jesus went to the cross, there was nothing hypothetical about what he was doing. He had a mission in mind and he accomplished it. When he cried out “It is finished,” he surely meant it. Jesus actually paid for sins. The wrath of God was propitiated by his work on the cross and that work is applied to each one who runs to him in repentance and faith. This is a wonderful thing and is the reason for the Catechism’s last statement.

The third leg of this stool is thankfulness to God for his great deliverance. God saved you, Christian. Jesus prayed for you in the garden in John 17. He set his love on you before time began and he endured not only a brutal physical death, but he endured the wrath of the Father on your behalf. What a kind God! Who has ever been so kind? Who can deserve unwavering thanksgiving and gratitude more than this God? This gratitude has implications. Both the Old and New Testaments bear out this truth that the people of God should be as a people set apart. God calls his people to let their light shine before others to glorify God.[2] We are to walk as children of light, doing the things that will please God.[3] Our aim is to be pleasing to him![4] Why? Because we are a royal priesthood![5]

Lord’s Day one (QA 1-2) is the outline for what follows in the rest of the Catechism. What does it mean to belong to Jesus? It is to know your sin, how he saved you, and how to live in light of that salvation. In other words: sin, salvation, and service. The basics of Christianity.

We will explore more next time.


[1]1 Thessalonians 4:14-15; John 11:25
[2]Matthew 5:16
[3]Ephesians 5:8-10
[4]2 Corinthians 5:9
[5]1 Peter 2:9-10

Photo by R Martinez via Flickr

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