Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
Based on how the book of Romans is divided, the Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three major sections: sin (questions 3-11), salvation (questions 12-85), and service (questions 86-129). This post begins the first main section.
3. From where do you know your misery?
From the law of God.
The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Therefore, the law of God (summarized in the Ten Commandments) reveals to us that we are sinners: “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7). “The Law speaks first to our hearts, and demands purity of love and obedience there; for without a pure heart that seeks only God’s glory, neither our words nor our actions will be pure” (Jones, Study Helps).
4. What does the law of God require of us?
Christ teaches us in sum, Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Question 4 quotes from Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus Himself quotes from the Old Testament. The command to love the Lord with all your heart is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5, and the command to love your neighbor is taken from Leviticus 19:8. The phrase law and prophets is another way of referring to the entire OT. The entire OT hangs on these two commands: love God and love your neighbor. Everything God commands has to do with either loving Him or loving our neighbor.
5. Can you keep all this perfectly?
No, for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.
The law demands whole-hearted love to God and to our neighbor, but we are prone (we have a natural tendency) to hate God and our neighbor; “the fleshly mind is enmity [hostile] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). We show our hatred of God by disobeying or disregarding His law–which is also written in our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), leaving us no excuse for our disobedience. We do not love our neighbor as our self. We naturally hate our neighbor. Prior to salvation, we live “in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Our hatred does not always openly show itself, but it is still there. “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart” (Psalm 55:21). We lie to ourselves, thinking we are not a bad person. But the Bible tells us the truth: we cannot keep God’s law perfectly because by nature we are prone to hate God and our neighbor. This truth is designed to make us see our disease and our need for the Great Physician, who came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17).