[This is the full text of an article I was able to publish in the local paper.]
I hope you have been following Soli Deo Gloria’s series on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is a collection of questions and answers written in 1563 and used to instruct children and adults in the faith.
As we continue the articles, we approach Lord’s Day 7, which contains four questions and answers. These four questions and answers reference 27 passages of the Bible in the original catechism.
Question and Answer 20 reads, “Are all people then saved through Christ just as they were lost through Adam? No. Only those are saved who through true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his benefits.”
We must hold this truth near and dear to our hearts. Some teachers say that people can be saved without conscious faith in Christ, or even without direct knowledge of what Christ did in His perfect life and sacrificial death. It is an awful sin to fail to tell someone the gospel because we incorrectly assume he is saved based on the way he lives his life. We must call others to “true faith.”
Question and Answer 21 define the “true faith” mentioned in 21, “What is true faith? True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.”
“True faith” is a “sure knowledge.” It holds the facts the Bible teaches to be certainly true, including facts about how to live one’s life. “True faith” goes beyond mere head knowledge, however. It moves into the area of “wholehearted trust.” Belief in certain facts is not enough; one must trust that “God has freely granted…forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness and salvation” not just to people in general, but “to me” in particular.
“True faith” is to depend on Christ alone, to depend on what He earned for us in His perfect life and sacrificial death. It is to trust in Christ “solely.” That is, to trust what He did without trusting in anything or anyone else; not my good works, not my baptism, not the Lord’s Supper, and certainly not some aisle that I walked down or some insincere prayer that I said.
“True faith” is to acknowledge that only God’s grace can save me. Grace is completely unearned favor. Grace can be explained with an acrostic: G-R-A-C-E, God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. It can be explained in Latin, “De Favor Dei Propter Christum,” the favor of God on account of Christ.
“True faith” and all it entails are “gifts of sheer grace.” Faith is a free gift of God’s grace alone, and it is not dependent on my own reasoning that helped me make a good decision. Faith is something that the Holy Spirit “creates in me.”
Question and answer 22 says, “What then must a Christian believe? All that is promised us in the gospel, a summary of which is taught us in the articles of our universal and undisputed Christian faith.”
The Heidelberg Catechism will have none of the modern Christian notion that only a few minimal facts must be known and believed in order to be saved. A person must understand the Christian faith and trust in what it reveals before they can be a Christian.
People express these facts in many ways, but The Apostle's Creed is probably the oldest short statement of them. The catechism gives that creed as the answer to question twenty-three.
Question and answer 23 read, “What are these articles?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic [ or universal] church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The next set of questions and answers in the catechism will explain the words of the Apostle’s Creed in more detail. Please continue to read these Soli Deo Gloria articles because there are several parts of the creed that many have misunderstood.