Catechism lesson 40: A matter of the heart (LD 44)

The law of God is not just about our outward behaviour. It is about our motives, thoughts, and desires. This makes it all the more obvious that we can only keep the law if we are renewed by the Holy Spirit.

LD 44 q&a 113.

What does the tenth commandment require of us?

That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any of God’s commandments
should ever arise in our heart.

Rather, with all our heart
we should always hate all sin
and delight in all righteousness.

LD 44 q&a 114.

But can those converted to God
keep these commandments perfectly?


In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning
of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with earnest purpose
they do begin to live
not only according to some
but to all the commandments of God.

LD 44 q&a 115.

If in this life no one
can keep the ten commandments perfectly,
why does God have them
preached so strictly?

so that throughout our life
we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature,
and therefore seek more eagerly
the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ.

so that, while praying to God
for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more
after God’s image,
until after this life we reach
the goal of perfection.

“Do not covet,” says the tenth commandment. What is coveting? What are the kinds of things that people covet, according to the original text of the commandment?

In what way is this commandment similar to the seventh and eighth commandments? In what way is it different?

The Heidelberg Catechism does not really address the specific idea of “coveting”. Rather, it takes the tenth commandment in a broader sense. Murdering, adultery, stealing, and giving false witness are are sinful things you do. But coveting is a thought, a desire. It is a matter of the heart. So God shows us that our holiness should not be only an outside layer, but it must reach inside, to the plans we make and the ideals we pursue.

No, we can’t

“But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?” (q&a 114) No, we can’t.

Throughout history, there have been Christians who stood out because they lived in a beautiful, holy, God-honouring way. Sometimes we call them “saints”, “holy people”. (But remember that the Bible calls all believers “saints”…) But the catechism says that even these saints “have only a small beginning” of obedience to the law of God. Even though they do many good works, there is still sin in their lives. If it is not sin on the outside, then there still is the wicked thoughts, the impure intentions, the incompleteness of love for God and others.

Can you think of examples of Bible characters who were “saints” and did much good, yet were still clearly sinful?

If we understand the law of God—that it is not only about our outward behaviour but also about our motivations—and we are honest with ourselves, we must conclude that we fail God’s law. That is a serious matter!

Read Rom 7:7-11. According to Paul, what is the result of the law coming into our lives?

While God’s law shows us what a holy life looks like and explains how we can show our gratefulness and devotion to God, its primary job is to bring us to Jesus Christ. Because we cannot do it; only he can. Sadly, many people study the Ten Commandments and think that it tells them how to be good enough for God. But the lesson we should learn is that “throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature.” I hope that, as you studied LD 34-44, you have discovered more of your own sinfulness. Because that will push you into the right direction: to “seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ.”

You cannot do this alone. Jesus Christ is the only true “saint”, the only really righteous person. You are not saved by what you do right, but through faith in him, who did everything right.

Yes, we can

When the catechism finishes up the discussion of the Ten Commandments, it makes one final positive point. It is true that none of us are perfect saints. It is true that we must find our righteousness in Jesus and not in our good work.

But we are not hopeless. Through the Holy Spirit we can grow in holiness. He teaches us not only to do more good things, but he gives us new hearts, so that our way of thinking becomes more focused on God, so that our priorities change, and so that we put in practice real love for God and for others.

The catechism talks about “never stopping striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image.” Is it right to say that we must strive, i.e. try hard? Isn’t God the one who does that work?



Younger students: Memorize q&a 114.

Older students: Also memorize q&a 115.

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