86 Q. Since we have been delivered
from our misery
by grace through Christ
without any merit of our own,
why then should we do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood,
is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image,
so that with our whole lives
we may show that we are thankful to God
for his benefits,^1
so that he may be praised through us,^2
so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits,^3
and so that by our godly living
our neighbors may be won over to Christ.^4
^1 Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10; 1 Cor. 6:20
^2 Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12
^3 1 Pet. 1:[6-]10; Matt. 7:17; Gal. 5:6, 22
^4 1 Pet. 3:1-2; Rom. 14:19
87 Q. Can those be saved
who do not turn to God
from their ungrateful
and unrepentant ways?
A. By no means.
Scripture tells us that
no unchaste person,
no idolater, adulterer, thief,
no covetous person,
no drunkard, slanderer, robber,
or the like
will inherit the kingdom of God.^1
^1 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5-6; 1 John 3:14
LORD’S DAY 32 (Q/A 86-87)
“Signed, Sealed, and Being Delivered”
The ancient office of herald (Greek “kerux”) had the exclusive responsibility of serving the Sovereign. His role was to run from the battlefield to the awaiting city to proclaim that their Sovereign had been victorious. As a witness of the battle, the herald was to tell a faithful account of what he had seen and heard, of what the Sovereign had done in battle to secure the freedom of the city. That was good news for the citizens of the kingdom: their Sovereign protected them, was for them. As a result, they are free citizens of the kingdom and as citizens, they are to live lives worthy of the calling, worthy of the freedom won and secured. They are to live and comport themselves in such a way that exhibits this citizenship.
The Good News of God is that our Sovereign, King Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has decisively freed us from the captivity of sin, death, and evil. By his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, salvation has been secured. For us, we receive it as a covenant of grace.. a gift. For Jesus Christ, it was and is a covenant of works. He works, so that what we receive is gift.
Such amazing grace, such awesome grace is deserving and worthy of our whole lives.
Q/A 86-87 begins the third part of the Catechism called “gratitude.” We do good works not to gain more favor from God, or to prove that we are worth being citizens of the kingdom. There is nothing to prove, nothing we can add to what God has done, nothing to prove to anyone nor to ourselves.
To love God and to love neighbor in the myriad of ways that that takes shape has a four-fold purpose described by Q/A 86:
-to express our thanksgiving to God for the benefits we receive from Christ’s work;
-so that God would be praised through our lives;
-so that good works as fruits of faith can assure us of the gift of faith, proof of faith;
-as outward witness so that others may be drawn to Christ
The main thrust of good works is God – that God would be praised, that God would be thanked, that others would be drawn to Christ; even works as a means to assure us of faith is anchored in God’s own work through us (see Galatians 5:22 as a proof-text in footnote 3). Even as we respond to God’s work in Christ with our own good works, the aim of the work is God, and the power and enabler of all good things is God. This is not to say we are robots. What has become of our old spirit in the new life in Christ is that our wills have been unleashed to live for God, freed to see what honors the triune God and what doesn’t, and the will to seek God, to pray to God.
Does this mean that we will always follow God in our lives? No. We are not consistent. Even with our best intentions, we know our motives are never perfect, always tainted with some self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizement, or a prideful eye for acceptance and acknowledgment by others; that’s who we are. Here’s the paradox that is a significant confession of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful. We affirm that and live it every single day – as we respond with gratitude to God’s work in Christ, we are fully redeemed, while being fully sinful.
Here’s the key: the answer to Q. 86 says that Christ, who not only redeemed us by his blood, is “restoring us by his Spirit into his image.” Christ’s work continues through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s signature on our heart, sealing the sure promises of God in Christ, and delivering the benefits of God’s work in our lives.
And that’s how we understand Q/A 87. Are we thieves? Are we adulterers? Do we covet? Yes. Yes. Yes. James 2:10 humbles us – when we stumble in one part of the law, we break them all. Think of the Ten Commandments. Break any one of them, you knock off all others like a domino. Covet your neighbor’s nicely furnished, decorated house, you replace the truth of God’s sufficient provision for the lie of being content with what your neighbor has. When you fall into temptation of coveting, you dishonor your parents, or do something that would dishonor them. Coveting in the heart can breed a form of hate, which is a form of murder. Finding discontent with what you already have means that you have forgotten your Creator God, the God of the Sabbath. You, as a child of God, dishonor God’s own name by coveting. Your covetous heart has made your selfish desire, the object of our heart, your neighbor’s house as an idol.
And on and on it goes. We find this spiraling cycle in our lives every single day.
Q/A 87 points us to hearts that are “ungrateful” and “unrepentant.” It’s not saying that no one who is unchaste, or an adulterer , etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God; otherwise, no one would be inheritors – we all fall short of the glory of God; you break one part of the law, you break them all.
This section is about gratitude. Q/A 86 was about Christ who works by the Holy Spirit to conform us to his image throughout our lives. We find an increasing and more frequent desire to seek and do the will of God in Christ as we mature in faith. As the triune God causes us to delight in Him, those works, motives, deeds, works which we do that does not delight God and which blurs the image of Christ in our lives, will be revealed to us for what they are. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives illuminates those spaces and places of our lives that don’t honor God and which God does not delight in. The Holy Spirit prompts us to recognize it as such, to seek God, to confess, and to repent. How can it be otherwise? As freed citizens in God’s kingdom, we want to delight in God, offering our lives of gratitude for what He has done in Christ.
Q/A 87 is not so much a section about saying who’s in or who’s out; connected to Q/A 86 and this section of the Catechism on gratitude, it’s to direct us to holiness and righteousness. In reviewing the three proof-texts of answer 87 – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-6, 1 John 3:14 – those verses in their chapter contexts prompt the community to live more in love with God and with one another; the apostolic exhortations in each of those sections is calling the community to rid themselves of immoral living, to live lives of godliness; it’s not questioning their salvation – that’s already been given in Christ. Each of those letters, as like a sovereign herald, is calling the community to live lives worthy of their calling.
And so it is with us. Let us examine our lives – personally and communally. Let us seek the ways of Jesus Christ. If there be any way in us and among us that God does not delight in…let’s pray that the Spirit of Jesus Christ remove it from us, cleanse our hearts, turn our will and our ways toward God, enabling us to live the way of Christ. And may the Spirit of Christ grant us peace, who signs, seals, and delivers the work of God in Christ for us.