Lord’s Day 24: A Gift of Grace

Catechism and Psalter

“How are you right with God?  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.”  Through its sixty-one questions and answers thus far, the Heidelberg Catechism has been unequivocally clear: Mankind is sinful beyond hope and deserving of God’s wrath, and our salvation comes only from the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  We can never hope to be saved by our good works.

However, in Lord’s Day 24 (today’s focus in our URC Psalmody series), the Catechism pauses to probe this possibility one last time: Do good works help us not at all, not even a tiny little bit?  These are common challenges from opponents of Calvinism, but the Catechism’s answers are wonderfully sound.

62 Q.  Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?

A.  Because the righteousness
which can pass God’s scrutiny
must be entirely perfect
and must in every way measure up to the divine law.
Even the very best we do in this life
is imperfect
and stained with sin.

63 Q.  How can you say that the good we do doesn’t earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?

A.  This reward is not earned;
it is a gift of grace.

64 Q.  But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A.  No.
It is impossible
for those grafted into Christ by true faith
not to produce fruits of gratitude.

Suggested Songs

20, “Who, O Lord, with Thee Abiding” (Psalm 15)

“The righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect.”  Psalm 15 opens by asking, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (ESV)  Indeed, who can measure up to the perfect standard of God’s law?  If viewed apart from the saving grace of Christ, this psalm leaves us feeling empty and despairing.  The Psalter Hymnal versifies it thus:

He that slanders not his brother,
Does no evil to a friend;
To reproaches of another
He refuses to attend.
Wicked men win not his favor,
But the good who fear the Lord;
From his vow he will not waver,
Though it bring him sad reward.

Freely to the needy lending,
No excess he asks again;
And the innocent befriending,
He desires not praise of men.
Doing this, and evil spurning,
He shall nevermore be moved;
This the man with Thee sojourning,
This the man by Thee approved.

2, “Blest is He Who Loves God’s Precepts” (Psalm 1)

(Sung on YouTube)

“Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.”  Such a bleak truth clashes horribly with the beautiful descriptions of the “righteous man” in Psalm 1.  But how comforting it is to know that these requirements have been fulfilled by the truly righteous God-man, Jesus Christ—and that we are saved through faith in him:

Blest is he who makes the statutes
Of the Lord his chief delight,
In the law of God rejoicing,
Meditating day and night.

Well the Lord will guard the righteous,
For their way to Him is known;
But the way of evildoers
Shall by Him be overthrown.

303, “O Sing Ye Hallelujah” (Psalm 147)

“This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.”  Psalm 147 extols God for his goodness and abundant blessings to those who deserve nothing from him:

O sing ye Hallelujah!
‘Tis good our God to praise;
‘Tis pleasant and becoming
To Him our songs to raise;
He builds the walls of Zion,
He seeks her wandering sons;
He binds their wounds
The brokenhearted ones.

No human power delights Him,
No earthly pomp or pride;
He loves the meek who fear Him
And in His love confide;
Then praise thy God, O Zion,
His gracious aid confess;
He gives thee peace and plenty,
His gifts thy children bless.

His statutes and His judgments
He makes His people know;
To them as to no others
His grace He loves to show;
For matchless grace and mercy
Your grateful praises bring;
To Him give thanks forever,
And Hallelujah sing.

240, “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and at Synod 2012)

“It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.”  With an understanding of God’s grace and true faith, passages like Psalms 15 and 1 suddenly make sense.  We do good not so that we can be saved, but because we have been saved.  This is set forth in beautiful terms in “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth,” a Psalter Hymnal favorite from Psalm 119:33-40.

Teach me, O Lord, Thy way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may stedfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In Thy commandments make me walk,
For in Thy law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
O let Thy servant prove Thy Word
And thus to godly fear be led.

Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
Thy righteous judgments I confess;
To know Thy precepts I desire;
Revive me in Thy righteousness.

–MRK

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