School of Discipleship Blog
The answer, along with proof texts, from the (modern language) Heidelberg Catechism is:
That I am not my own,[ a ] but belong - body and soul, in life and in death[ b ] - to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.[ c ] He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,[ d ] and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.[ e ] He also watches over me in such a way[ f ] that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;[ g ] in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.[ h ] Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life[ i ] and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.[ j ]
Sometimes I think that I'm "too old" to be going over catechism answers. But, then I reflect that I don't always remember what these answers are supposed in ingrain in me. Jesus Christ is supposed to be my only comfort in life and not only death.
[a] 1 Cor 6:19-20
[b] Rom 14:7-9
[c] 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14
[d] 1 Pet 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
[e] John 8:34-36; Heb 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
[f] John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thes 3:3; 1 Pet 1:5
[g] Matt 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
[h] Rom 8:28
[i] Rom 8:15-16; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14
[j] Rom 8:1-17
God does dwell in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. And, I love the way Pastor Kurt explained the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with which Jesus baptizes us, as a “drenching of the Holy Spirit.” We sometimes expect something overly mystical to be evidence of the Spirit’s dwelling in us and His filling us. It is true that some of the Spirit’s work is not automatic, but some of it is. Theologians such as Herman Bavinck, make it a point to show that the Spirit, along with the other two persons of the Trinity, is at work in our sanctification (cf. Titus 3:5 and 1 Peter 1:2), that the Holy Spirit is indeed the prime agent in sanctification (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11), and that sanctification begins with being set apart and placed in a special relationship with God, but also includes all that is done for and in believers. So, we might say that just recognizing that we are now in a relationship with God is a demonstration of the Spirit’s work. But, everything that is done for us in bringing us to glorification – from present process (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18) to completion (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:49, Philippians 3:21, and Colossians 3:4), is also proof positive. If we step back, we will find that transformation in our lives can be traced over time.
We also sometimes conceive of something overly mystical as the means by which we change by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Bavinck puts it, there is also an active meaning to sanctification, based on the work of God in us, but where we are called and equipped to participate in this sanctification (cf. Romans 12:1, 2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Hebrews 12:14, etc.). While we recognize our self-agency alongside God’s all-encompassing activity in grace, we can sometimes fall off the other side of the road and act as if it is only us and what we do to bring about transformation. Again, theologians like Bavinck point out that the Spirit works with the word (and the other means of grace, the sacraments) to grow us an give us his benefits. The Spirit is the person who is always present with the word, sustaining it and making it active. Yet, practically, I find Unit 4 of the Gospel Transformation workbook to be quite helpful. First, we need to understand that we need the Spirit. When we note the aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry that relied on the Spirit, we conclude we certainly need the same. (Cf. John Harvey’s Anointed with the Spirit and Power for more on this.) Second, we need to ask (cf. Luke 11:13). Third, we need to keep in step with the Spirit and sow to the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:25; 6:8). More are listed on page 200 of the workbook, but I believe these are simple and practical enough that we can commit to doing by the Spirit, what He desires to do anyway. Praise God that we do not have to be Pharisees, moralists, impatient nags, prisoners, workaholics, law givers, bootstrappers, or credit-mongers when it comes to transformation.
 Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 4, Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt, Trans. John Vriend, p. 252-253.
 Ibid., p. 459.
I realize that to pick up the Gospel Transformation material in the middle of the workbook (in unit 3 without first covering unit 2) could give us the impression that we are denying that we are sinners or that we sin. I trust that we realize that living in the “cycle of faith” with an emphasis on understanding our true identity in Christ (as a saint and a child of the Father because of Christ’s righteousness and the Father’s delight in him), does not mean that we deny that we still sin. We are already free from the culpability and penalty of sin, but we are still being freed from the power of sin. We have been made over from old creatures to new creations (2 Cor 5:17), but we still mortify continuously our sinful nature through Jesus Christ (Rom 7:21ff.) We are saints who still sin, but our sin and our sinning is not our identity!
Still, God loves us just the way we are and loves us too much to let us stay that way. We really are his, and God doesn’t treat that lightly. Yes, we are glorious ruins. But, God is not just in the business of retrieving. He’s in the business of restoring. That is why repentance is so important. In God’s economy, genuine repentance accompanying faith sets us up to live as we were meant to live. It would be good for us to really get into the importance of turning to God as God regularly invited his people to do in the Old Testament (in places like Psalm 147:6, Prov 28:13, Isa 57:15, and Jer 15:19). But, I know some who will ask: “what about the New Testament” and “doesn’t repentance and faith in Jesus change things?” Well, if the idea is: “I repented once and believed once, so that should take care of it ‘once for all’” that actually misses the point. First of all, it was God’s people in the OT (justified by faith – looking forward to the promised Messiah) who were regularly called to repentance. Second, God’s people (justified by faith) are called to regular repentance in the New Testament. 1 John 1:9, James 4:6, and Rev 2:5 were written to believers like you and me. Remember also what we are told in 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We are saints who sin regularly, and so we repent regularly – agreeing with God about who we are and what we do.
(Theological) postscript: John Calvin, of whom you may have heard, described early in his Institutes how knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are joined together. (In other words, you do not begin to understand God rightly until you rightly understand yourself. Conversely, you do not rightly understand yourself, until you rightly understand God. It has also been pointed out that in Books I and II of the Institutes, Calvin methodically writes about God as creator and us as created, and then God as redeemer and us as redeemed. Books III and IV flow out of what is established in the first two books. It is of interest then, if you go to Book III, chapter 3, parts 9 through 20 that Calvin details the place and primacy of repentance throughout our lives as believers. Repentance is essentially the renewal of God’s image in us.
I trust that many of you reading this are astute enough already to ask what is meant by "faith" or what aspect of faith am I talking about. Good questions. I think that is where some helpful clarification can be obtained from some of our favorite systematic theologians (at least some from among our circles). Let me begin with a few things I would paraphrase from Louis Berkhof (or St. Louie as one of my theology profs used to call him). [The whole section from page 492 to 537 in the 2003 Banner of Truth Trust printing of his Systematic Theology is very instructive here.] Faith can sometimes be used by speaker or writer to mean simply opinion, an obtained certainty, or a conviction based on the testimony of someone that we trust. Saving faith is "a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirt, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance on the promises of God in Christ." The elements of this faith include the intellectual, emotional, and the volitional. The last element involves the activity of going out towards the object of our faith and appropriating this. It has been simplistic of me to think that it is just the object of our faith (rather than the amount of faith we have) that is important. I missed the importance of this volitional exercise of our faith.
Berkhof goes on to break down what is meant by the object of faith, i.e. the Gospel. He identifies fides specialis as the more special faith for which the object is Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation through Him. What is received by this special act of faith justifies the sinner. He defines fides generalis as the more general faith whose object is the entirety of divine revelation (as taught in Scripture). In both justification and sanctification, faith is the "appropriating organ" (more precise than "instrument"). Justification is mediated by the weakest faith. But, sanctification is proportional to the strength of the Christian's faith. So, in some ways we are sanctified by faith just as we are justified by faith. But, the object of faith are different between them.
We're excited to begin a new class on Gospel Transformation. It is a core course in the School of Discipleship. And, we are excited to have this new School of Discipleship Blog as a pace to add this inteactive online component to the class. From time to time, posts related to the GT workbook and other related material will appear here, and class members have been invited to post comments or further thoughts. I pray it is fun as well as fruitful. [As a note, the first physical (non-virtual) meeting of the class will be on Sunday, December 20, 2009 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Blue Room.]
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