Q: What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?
ANSWER: One who is truly human and also truly God.
One of the more difficult doctrines of orthodox Christianity is what theologians term the "hypostatic union," which describes the personal union of Jesus' human and divine natures. The term "hypostasis" is a transliteration of the Greek word ὑπόστασις, translated as "nature" in the letter to the Hebrews: "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
The doctrine of the hypostatic union resists all attempts to argue that Christ is only partly human, and therefore not fully subject to the human condition, or only partly divine, and therefore not of one being with the Father. Rather, He is both truly and fully human and simultaneously truly and fully God. He is fully human, in that he endured all of the hardship and temptations that we humans encounter, yet he did so without sin, holy and innocent. He is fully God, being present at the beginning with God, and Himself being God. Jesus Christ is the true God-man. And only such a Person could achieve our redemption, for it is the unity of these two natures in Jesus that makes Him the only possible Redeemer for our sins and the only possible mediator between God and men.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Q20: Who is the Redeemer?
ANSWER: The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, in whom God became man and bore the penalty for sin himself.
We live in a syncretistic world. "Inclusiveness" is the order of the day. "Well that's your truth, not mine," we hear. We may believe whatever we want so long as we do not attempt to impose that belief on others. And of course, no one wants to be accused of being intolerant or close-minded.
But Jesus Christ will hear none of this. His claims are radically exclusive. I am the way, he announces, "the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me."
Most people today are quite comfortable with the notion that Jesus--along with Buddhism, Kabbalah, crystals, or whatever else--offers one of many ways to approach God. But the reaction is altogether different if we claim that Jesus is the Way. Yet this is exactly what God insists we do. The Book of Acts even records that the earliest Christians referred to their faith as "The Way," and it is for this reason, at least in part, that Christianity has always been a scandal and an offense to the world, whether the pagan polytheistic Roman world of the early church or the modern, secular world of today.
The bottom line is that Jesus doesn't purport to be one among many good teachers with high ideals, after whom we can model ourselves. He doesn't give us that option. Rather, he asserts his position as the Second Person of the One True God, come in flesh to redeem us to Himself. Without Him, and Him alone, we are hopeless, lost in our sin. Only through Him and the shedding of His blood are we redeemed.
1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Q19: Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?
ANSWER: Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.
The entire story of the Bible can be summed up as a “Me vs. God” story. We continually sin, and God continually saves; we disobey, and God promises us a path forward. When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that the offspring of the woman would defeat Satan and his dominion over mankind. A Redeemer is coming.
When Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the opening words of the Law of God are premised upon His redemption: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” We are a redeemed people.
When David desired to build a temple to God, the Lord promised David that one of his offspring would build the temple: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him” (2 Samuel 16:13-15). The Redeemer will be the sacrifice for the sins of men.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Hallelujah! Christ, our promised Redeemer, has sacrificed, he has risen, and he is reigning and is interceding for us in glory that we may live forever.
Q18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?
ANSWER: No, every sin against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.
One of the primary questions all men ask themselves over the course of their lifetime is, “Where did life come from?”
There are multiple views regarding where and how life began -- Darwinian evolution, a big-bang theory, and even intelligent design. Yet at the heart of Question 18 in our Catechism, a better question might be, “Where did death come from?”
With the notable exception of Christianity, precious few have an answer to that question. Science can’t explain death, and Islam and Hinduism are largely silent on explaining death.
The Bible clearly teaches that death came by sin. In the Garden of Eden, the Lord God gave Adam one command: “But you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you shall surly die” (Genesis 2:17).
Obedience = life. Disobedience = death.
Adam and Eve disobeyed, yet the Lord did not immediately punish them by death. God granted Adam and Eve a stay of execution, as both lived long and productive lives before eventually succumbing to one of the penalties of sin, physical death.
The universality of death proves the universality of sin. But it doesn’t end there. Question 18 re-states what the Bible teaches, “God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.”
Thankfully, God’s wrath, punishment, and judgment are not the end of the story.
The Lord, addressing the serpent in the Garden of Eden, promised him that the offspring or “seed” of the woman (an impossibility by human standards), would crush his head for deceiving and tempting Adam and Eve into choosing to sin. This extraordinary claim, not fully understood at the time, was the promise of a future Messiah born of a virgin, to take away the sins of the world.
To rescue us from universal sin and universal death, God sent his Son, the universal Savior who promised, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even thought he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Q17: What is idolatry?
ANSWER: Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.
We tend to imagine idolatry as a primitive practice, one we’ve placed firmly in our rearview mirrors as modern scientific knowledge and technological mastery supplant ancient superstition.
Yet the Scriptures repeatedly emphasize the lamentable human propensity to idolatry, depicting it as a constant temptation. And though we may no longer literally bend the knee to graven images as did our ancient forebears, we are not fundamentally different from them. As the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel writes, “men have taken their idols into their hearts.” Modern societies are every bit as idolatrous as ancient Greece or Rome in that we, like them, place our trust in and seek fulfillment from something other than God. Consider all the penultimate things in which we place our hopes, dreams, significance and security: money, political or social power, career success, physical pleasure and beauty—just to name a few. Each of these can become a false god—an idol. Each makes its own demands on us and requires its own elaborate rituals and practices. And ultimately, each fails to satisfy.
The reality of the human condition is that we must place our trust in something larger than ourselves; the question we must answer is what that larger thing will be: the One Triune God, Creator and sustainer of all that is, seen and unseen . . . or something less. As that esteemed theologian Bob Dylan once said, “you gotta serve somebody.”
Romans 1:21 and 25
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?
Q16: What is sin?
ANSWER: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world He created, rebelling against Him by living without reference to Him, not being or doing what He requires in His law--resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.
According to the Scriptures, sin is not simply wrong doing; it is wrong being. It is a fundamentally disordered relationship of deliberate and determined independence from God. Sin is not just an act we do; rather it is a fact of who we are, and it will control us, and eventually destroy us, unless we are rescued by another, stronger power. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Reformer John Calvin elaborates on this crucial distinction between sin as "act" and sin as "fact." He defines sin as a
hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it—such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders—he accordingly calls "fruits of sin" although they are also commonly called "sins" in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.
In other words, our “sins” are only the symptoms. Sin is the disease. And it is a disease that leads to physical and spiritual death.
Think of it this way: a person suffering from cancer might exhibit symptoms like a headache, nausea, or mood swings, but those symptoms, painful and problematic though they may be, are only indicators of the real problem: Cancer. We might be able to temporarily alleviate the headaches with aspirin, but they would surely return if we didn’t also address the underlying condition—the cancer that slowly kills us. In the same way, though we do things that are wrong, those bad acts—what we term “sins”—are only indicators of the real problem: the condition of sin that is slowly killing us. Now we may succeed in temporarily avoiding the commission of certain sins through various disciplinary approaches or the sheer exertion of moral resolve, but we can be sure that those sinful behaviors—or others like them—will eventually return if we don’t address the underlying condition of sin.
Unfortunately for human agency, there is nothing and no one in the created world that can solve our problem. We really ought to know this by now, given that human beings have been trying—and failing—to overcome sin through our own efforts for centuries. The only power stronger than the power of sin—and the only power capable of solving our real problem—is the power of God’s love. Christ offers us hope and new life through his forgiveness of our sin, if we acknowledge the futility of our strategies for dealing with sin and place our trust in Him. And in truth, have we any other choice? Only God can save us from ourselves; we know all too well that we are unable to do so. In faith, we must look to Christ, daily and continuously depending on Him and not on ourselves, to accomplish in us what we cannot.
1 John 3:4
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Q 15: Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
ANSWER: That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.
John Calvin’s magisterial, two-volume Institutes of the Christian Religion begins with the following words: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” And though we can arrive at some partial knowledge of both God and ourselves through our own reflection and observation (this is what theologians refer to as "general revelation"), we nonetheless require instruction in what we cannot ourselves apprehend (this is what theologians call "special revelation"). God’s law supplies this instruction. It first reveals to us Who God is by showing us what He expects of us, and then exposes our own inability to meet His standard. The law teaches us that God is righteous and we are sinners.
But of course, this is not the end of the matter. In teaching us that we cannot meet God’s standard for righteousness, the law also points to our need for a Savior, for the One Who did meet the Father’s standard and Who paid the penalty for our failure to do so. As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Salvation comes not when we perfectly obey God’s law—for of course we cannot do so; rather, salvation comes when we accept, in faith, the glorious, finished work of Christ, who accomplished for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.
Q14: Did God create us unable to keep his law?
ANSWER: No, but because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.
Original sin. It's one of the most controversial and disliked doctrines of orthodox Christianity. The Christian theologian Paul Tillich once observed that "even Christian teachers shy away from the use of the word sin . . .We try to avoid it, or to substitute another word for it." But the truth is, we can't avoid it, because our own lives testify to its reality and power. Better for us to understand what sin is.
For that, we can look to Romans 7, where the Apostle Paul stresses the reality of every human being's experience of sin. He writes, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
We can all remember circumstances in our own lives when we knew the right thing to do—and maybe even meant to do it—but nonetheless failed. What Paul does here is bring to light something fundamental to our human experience, something resident deep within the human heart. Paul understands that our problem is not merely one of moral knowledge, as the classical philosophers believed, nor is it a problem of intent or desire. If it were, then moral education and moral exhortation would suffice to ensure our success in overcoming sin. But of course, our strategies for sin management fail, because the real human problem that Paul pinpoints is that our wills are not our own.
And if we are truly honest with ourselves, each one of us can recognize the internal experience that Paul describes. Think for a moment of the ways in which even our best and finest achievements carry the taint of internal division. For example, many of us work hard to meet the expectations at the office and achieve our career goals, but sometimes we’re really spending so many late nights at the office to avoid being at home. And we can all relate to the experience of uttering awful words in the midst of our anger and then realizing later, when the time comes to apologize and make amends, that “I didn’t mean to say those hurtful things. But yet I did mean them.” With the remorse comes the recognition that “it was me who said—and at some level even meant—those very things I now claim I didn’t mean.” If we honestly examine our own hearts, we must grudgingly admit to ourselves that our motivations are profoundly mixed; we discover an exact confirmation of Paul’s description of the internal experience of sin in Romans 7. We are compelled to acknowledge that in ourselves, we are powerless to finally control our sin. We just can’t help ourselves.
Why, ultimately, does this matter? It matters because it compels the further conclusion that we need to be rescued by another, stronger power. With Paul in Romans 7:24, we can cry out “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” We discover our desperate need for grace--our need for the Gospel. Once we understand the reality of sin in our own hearts, and our inability to keep God's law, then--and only then--can we truly appreciate the magnificent gift of Christ's work on the cross.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
Romans 7:14 - 8:11
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Q13: Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
ANSWER: Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.
If you worship with us at Christ the King, you may recognize some of the language in this week's question. You're probably thinking, "I've heard this before in church." And of course, you have. The Anglican General Confession, which we recited just this past Palm Sunday in service, reads:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker and judge of us all: We acknowledge and repent of our many sins and offenses, which we have committed by thought, word, and deed, against your divine majesty, provoking most justly your righteous anger against us.
We are deeply sorry for these transgressions.
The burden of them is more than we can bear.
Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may evermore serve and please you in newness of to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The reality of the Fall is central to Christianity, and we accordingly keep it central to our Anglican worship service. We know that despite our best efforts, we fail weekly--and even daily--to keep God's law, both in our outward actions and in our inward dispositions. The need for confession and forgiveness is a constant reality of the human condition. And it is a reality that seems rather depressing--or at least it would be were it not for the further reality that there is One who was able to keep the law of God perfectly, the One whose Passion we remember this Friday and whose glorious bodily resurrection we celebrate this Easter Sunday.
Christ obeyed the Father's will perfectly; as Paul writes, he became "obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." When we understand ourselves, and the reality of our own fallenness, the promise of Christ's faithfulness to His Father and to us becomes all the more central to our lives. We need Him--without Him we are left with our catalog of failures and inadequacies, of disappointments and limitations. This Holy Week, as we remember our fallenness, our lack and our need, let us also remember of the glorious gift of forgiveness and grace that we receive through faith in Christ.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
Q12: What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?
ANSWER: Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.
bridle the tongue.
Contentment is one of the most difficult dispositions for us to cultivate in our late modern world. Each day bombards us with sales pitches and marketing campaigns designed to persuade us of our lack. The marketing research firm Yankelovich estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages per day, compared with up to 5,000 today. That's 5,000 times per day that we are encouraged in and reminded of our discontentment! Every time we open a magazine or newspaper, turn on the television, browse the web or walk down the street we confront a cacophony of voices whispering (well, actually, shouting) that "you won't really be happy until you purchase product X, Y, or Z."
Thanks to increasingly sophisticated social science research, marketers have become more and more sophisticated in cultivating the disposition of need, of desire, of envy. Is it too much to argue that the entire media marketplace constitutes a massive enterprise designed to induce breach of the Tenth Commandment?
I often wonder how much this constant barrage shapes my own loves and desires. If I spend fifteen minutes a day in Scripture, but encounter 5,000 messages to the contrary in the remaining sixteen hours, how am I affected? How does this warp my own desires and my own willingness to be content with what I have. Put another way, if my treasure is in a new car, a new house, a new widescreen "ultra HD 4K TV," then what does that say about my heart?
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.