The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the most significant teaching documents in the Reformed Faith. (For some background and the entire document, check this out.) It’s divided into questions and answers for each week (Lord’s Day), and throughout this year I’ll try to offer some brief reflections.
LORD’S DAY 1
Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A. That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Q. 2. How many things must you know that you may live and die in the blessedness of this comfort?
A. Three. First, the greatness of my sin and wretchedness. Second, how I am freed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. Third, what gratitude I owe to God for such redemption.
With perhaps the exception of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (“What is the chief end of man?”), no Reformed confession begins so famously and poignantly. These are heart-warming and soul-stirring words that get right to the heart of our identity.
I belong, “body and soul, in life and in death”, to Jesus Christ. But in order to really and truly marvel at this, I must first understand “the greatness of my sin and wretchedness.” These opening questions set the trajectory for the whole catechism, which many have demarcated as ‘guilt, grace, and gratitude’ (or something of the like).
I must first learn of my guilt before God, as I have violated his holy Law and exist in a state of open rebellion against him. But I must then hear of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the salvation that comes to us in him. Then, and only then, can I be instructed as to how I should live in joyous and humble obedience to the One who has set me free.
The Heidelberg Catechism, in this sense, follows the broad outline of many Reformed confessions. But it notably begins with a word of personal comfort and assurance. I think it resonates so deeply because of this.
Before we get into questions of sin, salvation, and discipleship, isn’t it most important to be reminded once again (or perhaps told for the first time) that “you are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). There is truly no greater comfort than this.