************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 62-64 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 10, 2011
Q & A 62-64
Last time, if you remember, we dealt with the question, "How are you right with God?" And the answer was, "by grace through faith."
The Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation hated this answer. It railed against this answer. It protested against this answer. It declared us Protestants to be anathema on account of this answer. Why? Because we gave no saving grace to works.
Today we want to ask why our good works cannot save us. And, if they cannot save us, what really is their place in the life of the Christian.
Looking at the Catechism's three questions and answers in front of us we see three points: good works are rejected, good works are accepted, and good works are expected.
I Good Works are Rejected
A Good works, my brothers and sisters, are loaded with danger. That's because we are so proud and independent. We just cannot get it through our hearts and our heads that we can make no contribution to our salvation, that we cannot help Christ make payment for our sins.
As you know, the do-it-yourself craze has taken hold of us in all sorts of areas. We can go to Ikea and buy and make/assemble our own furniture. We can try do-it-yourself plumbing, electrical, auto, pool, and home repairs. We want to do these things ourselves. Or, we don't want to pay someone else to do them for us. This do-it-yourself attitude starts at a young age already. A child, for instance, loudly and impatiently insists on doing things by himself – eating, dressing, walking, tying shoelaces, and so on. And it continues into old age when we insist on doing things for ourselves that we cannot do or should not do anymore – things like driving and banking and keeping our medications straight.
Unfortunately, this do-it-yourself craze can so easily take hold of us in matters of faith too. Our sinful hearts want a do-it-yourself religion. We don't want to depend on someone else. We are too independent and proud and stubborn for that. We always try to make a contribution to our salvation. Not that we don't know better. For we do. We know we cannot earn our way into heaven. We are told and we tell ourselves that salvation is a gift from God.
But our hearts are so treacherous. Before we realize it, our heart twists things around so that we get some proud satisfaction out of our spiritual struggles. But our sighs and tears and trials cannot bring us one inch closer to God. Oh, indeed, the Lord does lead us at times through deep valleys and dangerous rivers, but our journey does not entitle us to salvation.
B It is by grace alone that we are saved. We have absolutely nothing to offer. As we see in the Lord's Supper, we are saved only by the blood of the Lamb. We come to the Lord's Table realizing we have nothing to offer and nothing to contribute to our salvation. We come only in faith, trusting it is Jesus Who saves us.
How hard it is for us to accept God's free gift of salvation in Christ. We think we need to do something to earn it. We think that absolutely nothing is free. You can buy bottled water and canned air so surely salvation is also up for sale. So what do we do? We try to buy salvation, we try to earn salvation, by good works.
There is a song we sing which goes straight to the heart of the matter:
Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole ...
C So, why can't the good we do make us right with God or at least help make us right with God? The reason? Very simple really: the good we do is not good enough.
Remember what James says in the letter that bears his name? He says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). To earn salvation by good works we must never ever sin; we must always perfectly love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. Against the yard stick of the law our deeds must be perfect in order to save us and get us into heaven. And this, of course, is impossible for us poor, miserable, sinful creatures. As the Catechism states, "Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin."
Let me tell you a story about a hundred dollar bill that illustrates so very well the heresy of salvation by works.
A rich man gave a needy woman a hundred dollar bill as a gift. She, in turn, used it to buy groceries for her hungry children. The grocer used the same bill to pay his rent. The landlord used it to pay his dentist. The dentist dropped the same bill in the collection plate at church. The deacons deposited the bill in the bank. The bank took one look at the bill and declared it to be counterfeit.
Now, we might say, "But that hundred dollar bill did so much good! The bank should accept it."
And, we might say, "Our good works do so much good! God should accept them."
However, if the bank accepted these standards it soon would not be a bank anymore. And, if God accepted our counterfeit efforts or contributions to salvation He would no longer be God. God is holy and good and perfect. To demand anything less from us would be to deny Himself.
Doing good works to gain God's favor is like hanging plastic apples in a tree. From a distance they look like the real thing. But when you come up close you realize the fruit is worthless for eating. Likewise, our good works may look good to others but the One Who looks close, Who looks inside our hearts, knows better. He knows the good we do is not good enough. He knows our good works are counterfeit when applied to salvation. They are of no value in saving us.
When it comes to salvation, my brothers and sisters, God will not and cannot accept our good works. Good works are rejected by God as a means of salvation
II God Works are Accepted
A When you first look at Q & A 63 it seems to contradict Q & A 62. We are told that the good we do doesn't earn anything, especially not salvation. Yet, we are also told that God rewards good works both in this life and in the life to come. Isn't this a contradiction? How do we resolve these two seemingly contradictory positions?
B The Catechism, based upon Scripture, tells us that even though good works don't earn us salvation they are rewarded. But "this reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace."
What we are talking about here is not good works as a condition for salvation but as a fruit of salvation. What an immense difference there is between the two. Good works as a fruit of salvation have a completely new root. They come from a different source than good works as a condition for salvation. Good works as a condition for salvation comes from man and utterly fail. Good works as a fruit comes from Christ and are pleasing in God's sight. Good works as a fruit spring from the grace and mercy of Christ. Such good works are the result of His work within us. Such works are not fake or counterfeit. They are the real thing.
What a joy it is to see true faith bloom and develop into fruit-bearing. Such true faith means much to God. Such good works are pleasing in His sight. He is always expecting this kind of response to His grace. In fact, as we learned last time, it is for these kinds of good works that Jesus saves us (Eph 2:10).
C Good works that are a fruit of salvation are rewarded. But, as the Catechism notes, "this reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace." Good works that are rewarded do not arise from within us. We can't claim them as our good works. They, rather, are the work of Christ within us.
Good works, then, that are performed not in our own strength, but in the strength of Christ, are rewarded. Good works done in the power of Christ are good works worthy of the name of Christ. Good works done in the power of Christ are good works that God finds pleasing and acceptable. The reason why is because Christ Himself is the Author. And He is good and holy and perfect. And whatever He does is good and holy and perfect. For His sake, then, our good works are rewarded. For His sake we have a right to that reward; Christ has earned that right for us.
D We can take to heart, my brothers and sisters, the message that God accepts and rewards good works, because of Christ, both in this life and in the life to come. Jesus made that very plain:
(Mk 10:29-30) "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel (30) will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
(Mt 6:3-4) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Luke 19 records Jesus' Parable of the Ten Minas. Ten servants of a nobleman, if you remember, were given ten minas each and were told to put the money to work. When the nobleman returned he rewarded each servant in proportion to the profit he made. This is the way it will be in the Kingdom of God.
I have always been intrigued by the message of 1 Corinthians 3. It talks about building well upon the foundation of Christ and how each person's work will be tested by fire as to its quality.
(1 Cor 3:14) If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
Good works are accepted and rewarded, then, by God – not as payment for sins, not as an entrance fee into heaven, but as the gracious work of Christ in our hearts.
III Good Works Expected
A Q & A 64 concludes by telling us good works are expected of us. God expects us to produce good works.
As I already mentioned, at the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was horrified by the Reformation teaching that we are saved only "by grace through faith and not by works." When he saw this teaching take root in John Calvin's Geneva, a Roman Catholic bishop predicted disaster. "This sort of teaching," he said, "could only bring unchecked sinfulness." People who don't believe their good works can help them win salvation inevitably become indifferent about lifestyle and wicked. According to this bishop, Geneva's morals would go downhill fast because of this teaching.
Much to his surprise, the exact opposite occurred. When a Roman Catholic colleague of his toured the city he noted that those who slandered Geneva should be ashamed of themselves. He called it
a city composed of persons of many countries and nations, so much united, that no other sound is heard than that of hammers and others tools of the workmen. No cursing, no blasphemy, no adultery, no drunkenness, no violence, no contention is tolerated in that place. In short, if there were no other witnesses than the soldiers who recently came home from Rome, passing through Geneva, we would hear how, after leaving the atrocities of the papacy and entering [Geneva], they felt as if they turned their backs on hell and entered a little paradise.
So much for the charge of the bishop. The doctrine that we are saved only by grace through faith and not by works does not lead to an indifferent and wicked lifestyle.
B However, the bishop's point still demands a response. If good works don't earn us salvation or help us earn salvation, why bother doing them? If good works have no effect on salvation, can't we do pretty well what we please? What would stop us from robbery, drunkenness, prostitution, adultery, fornication, using drugs, acting like a playboy or playgirl? As the Catechism asks, "doesn't this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?"
C When we turn to Scripture we see an intimate connection between our final judgment and good works. Listen to these passages:
(Mt 16:27) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.When Christ will come again He will judge us according to our works.
(Rom 2:6) God "will give to each person according to what he has done."
(Rev 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
(Rev 22:12) Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
Why will God look at our works? Because faith, true faith, reveals itself in works. As James puts it, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26). As John Calvin put it, "It is faith alone which saves us, but the faith which saves us is never alone." Why? Because it is accompanied by good works.
D What it comes down to is this: a vital faith expresses itself in good works. Anyone who is saved by grace through faith cannot help but lovingly and thankfully responding in works of gratitude. That is the whole point of our Scripture reading from Luke 6:
(Lk 6:45) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Listen to how the Catechism puts this and note its strong language:
It is impossible for those grafted into Christ not to produce fruits of gratitude.Impossible. It doesn't happen.
What, then, can we say about good works?
Good works are rejected. They are rejected as a means of salvation. Because we are saved only by grace through faith.
Good works are accepted. God rewards them not because of us but because of Jesus.
Good works are expected. Those in Christ Jesus cannot help but produce fruits of gratitude.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page