What are you living for? What makes your life meaningful? What keeps you going?
As long as things go well, we may avoid thinking about this. Especially while you are young and healthy. But sooner or later, we all face discomfort, suffering, sickness, loss. Then we cannot escape those questions. Then we need something to hold on to, to make it worth it. Eventually, all of us are destined to die. Does that mean that your life was for nothing? Is there anything bigger to look forward to? What real comfort do we have if we face the reality of life and death?
This is the first question asked in the Heidelberg Catechism. It wants to make the Christian faith practical and personal for us. What is your comfort? What is the one thing that keeps you confident, even happy, in the difficulties of life and even death?
A Christian believer knows the answer: the only way in which you can be truly happy is by belonging to Jesus, the Saviour. Of course, there is much to say about him and about salvation and about the Christian life. In q&a 1, the Catechism only gives a summary of the most important things. In this lesson we look at the first half of that answer.
My only comfort:
1. I am not my own
2. Jesus is my Saviour
3. He saves me all the way
I am not my own
The catechism says: My only comfort is that I am not my own. I do not belong to myself. I am not my own boss, in charge of my life. I leave that to someone else, to Jesus.
This is the opposite of what most people want. The world around us keeps telling us: Follow your own dreams! Be yourself, never mind what others think! But the same people who insist on being their own boss are often unhappy. The simple fact is that we often make wrong decisions. We hurt ourselves and others. We don’t know how to find true happiness. Moreover, many things can happen in our lives to which we have no answer. You may try to be in charge of your life, but you can still suffer loss, pain, and sickness. You may try to be your own boss, but you cannot escape death. Being your own is not so great, after all.
But it is not just about making mistakes or dealing with bad circumstances. The Christian faith recognizes that the problem lies much deeper. The catechism says, in q&a 2, that we must first know how great my sins and misery are. Only then do we understand how badly we need a saviour. Only then can we appreciate how wonderful it is to belong to Jesus.
The problem of sin
Every human being has the problem of sin. Sin means that we go wrong in our lives. We do not live up to what we are supposed to be. We violate the plan and purpose for which God made us. Ultimately, sin is rebellion against the Maker of the universe, including ourselves. Our sin is not a little thing.
If someone treats you wrongly, you cannot just let that go. Justice must be done. Criminals must be punished, innocent people released. In the same way, sin is a wrong that must be righted. Sin makes us guilty in the eyes of God, the judge. Our sins must be paid for, by punishment, by removing guilt and restoring justice.
We will talk much more about sin in the lessons that follow. For now, we simply recognize that we all sin. Our behaviour is far from the perfection for which God made us. As long as we try to be our own, our sins stay with us; we remain guilty forever, and our lives are failures.
The power of the devil
In q&a 1, the catechism goes a step further yet. The reason why we cannot stop sinning is that we are in the power of the devil. There is a spiritual force of evil in this world, who is directly opposed to God and all that is good, and this evil enemy is the devil. By default, the devil has great power over us. We may think that we are our own master, but in reality we do his bidding. As long as we are in the power of the devil, it is natural for us to sin and to offend God. The power of the devil is especially clear in people who live with addictions and with destructive personalities. But he has a hand in everything that is wrong.
That is the true nature of our problem. On our own, we are thoroughly miserable creatures; not just people who make mistakes and deal with challenges in life, but people who serve evil and deserve to be punished. The more you realize that, the more you will understand how much we need a saviour.
Jesus is my Saviour
The Christian faith teaches that there is one way out. There is one person, one saviour, who can get rid of our guilt and of the power of the devil over us. His name is Jesus.
Who Jesus is
Jesus was a Jewish man, born in Israel about 2000 years ago. The Bible tells about his life, his preaching ministry, and his awful death on a cross. Jesus lived long ago, but we believe that he returned from death and is still alive today, in heaven to prepare for the final stage of history. This man Jesus, says the Christian believer, is the only one who gives me real comfort and hope. Without him, I would have nothing to live for.
Some people say that Jesus is the “co-pilot” in their life; they somehow want Jesus’ help, but they are still mostly in charge. But the real Christian faith is much more radical. It means that Jesus is completely in charge of our lives. He is, in a very real and practical way, our Lord and Master. A Christian learns to say: I am not my own, but belong to Jesus. Not my own boss, because that would get me nowhere. Jesus is my Lord, and because he is in charge everything is right.
We often call him Jesus Christ. “Christ” means “Anointed One”. This title underscores that he is the person officially appointed by God to save us. We do not worship a random person from history. No, we recognize that Jesus is the heart of God’s plan, a plan made even before history began. Jesus is the Christ: he is the one and only!
And he is called my Saviour. In fact, the very name “Jesus” means: “He saves.” All of Jesus’ life, and even his death, were for a specific purpose: to save people, to rescue them from the misery and meaninglessness of a life apart from God.
How Jesus saves us
How does Jesus save us? There is much to say about it; for now, we summarize it by saying two things: He has paid for my sins with his blood; and he has set me free from the power of the devil.
First, he has paid for my sins. The amazing claim of the Christian faith is that Jesus took care of the payment, the punishment for all that we have done wrong. He removed our guilt, so that we no longer need to be fearful of God the judge; our lives are no longer terrible failures. Jesus did this with his blood, that is, by sacrificing himself. He allowed himself to be killed in a gruesome way. This sacrifice is the offering to God that covers our guilt. As the Bible says: God “sent his Son (Jesus) to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) This is why Christians talk so much about “the cross”, which was really a horrific instrument of torture. But because Jesus, the special Anointed One from God, died there purposefully, we talk and sing about the cross as the most wonderful thing.
Second, he set me free from the power of the devil. We are no longer slaves of evil. In principle, the devil has no longer anything to say about men and women who belong to Jesus. They are dead to him. In practice, Christians need to learn to shake off that power. It is a long process to get rid of the sinful habits and addictions, and to replace them by good deeds and holy attitude. We will be completely rid of the influence of the devil only after we leave the current, wicked world. But a Christian no longer identifies with the evil and sin in his life. In the words of the apostle Paul, “it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Rom. 7:20)
What we could never do, Jesus does for us, for everyone who belongs to him. My only comfort, therefore, is that I am not my own but belong to my Saviour Jesus Christ, who has paid for my sins with his blood and set me free from the power of the devil.
He saves me all the way
Jesus is not only the Saviour, and he is that all the way. The catechism underscores this by several little words in q&a 1. It wants to convince us that, once we belong to Jesus, there is absolutely nothing that we need to worry about, nothing that we must add to the mix, nothing that we can mess up.
First, it says that we belong to Jesus with body and soul. As human beings, we have a physical body, but there is also a less tangible part, our personality, our will, our spirit. Our Saviour Jesus is involved with all of that. He paid for the sins we commit with our bodies and for the sins we commit in our minds. People often think that religion is only about a small “spiritual” part of us, but the Christian faith is about all that we are. Jesus is Lord and Saviour, not only of our souls but also of our bodies.
Second, we belong to him in life and in death. Saviour Jesus even gives us life after death. Death, which is the most ugly power of the devil, cannot hurt those who belong to Jesus Christ. This is why Christian believers can be hopeful even in the face of an incurable disease, even on their deathbeds! But the Saviour is not only for after death. He already gives us freedom from sin now, so that a true follower of Jesus lives more and more a different, better life. The apostle Paul emphasized the completeness of Jesus’ salvation when he wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
The catechism leaves no doubt that Jesus takes care of all our sin and misery, when it calls him my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. We can always rely on him. Even in the darkest situation in my life, even when I feel the guilt of a terrible sin, even when everything else seems to fail, he takes care of me. Indeed, we can say that he has fully paid for all my sins, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.
Finally, the catechism says that Jesus paid with his precious blood. The sacrifice of the Saviour is so powerful that, as the Bible says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) There is nobody in the whole world who could not benefit from this sacrifice. There is no sin or guilt too big to be covered by this blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus is a complete Saviour.
Everyone needs comfort: to know that their lives are meaningful, to have hope for after death. Our Christian faith gives us that hope. First, it insists that we are sinners, that we were in the devil’s power, and that we cannot escape it on our own. But then it happily shouts out: “I belong to Jesus now! He has paid for my sins! He has set me free!”
Is this true for you? Can it be for you? Yes, because Jesus Christ has come for the whole world. Anyone is invited to belong to him. All you need to do is put your trust in him, and live for him. It is the only way out of a life governed by the devil and dominated by evil. It is the only way to find true comfort and purpose, not only for your life now, but also for when you die, and for the eternal life to come yet.
- What is the problem with trying to be “your own”?
- To understand why we need a saviour, what do we need to know first?
- Why can we not stop sinning on our own?
- How did Jesus pay for your sins?
- What part(s) of us does Jesus save?
- What does the catechism mean by comfort?
- If Jesus set us free from the power of the devil, why do we still sin?
- Are there people so wicked that they cannot be saved?
- In 1 John 2:2, we learn that Jesus is the propitiation … even of the sins of the whole world. Why isn’t everybody saved?
- What does it mean, practically, that you belong to Jesus in your life now?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||John 15:1-11. What word does Jesus use here for “belonging” to him? What happens if we don’t belong to him, but remain on our own?|
|Tuesday||Psalm 49. How much payment is required to escape judgment and death (v. 7)? What is the only way out (v. 15)?|
|Wednesday||Romans 7:7-25. What does the law show us? How does a Christian look at the sin he still commits?|
|Thursday||1 John 1:5–2:6. How can we be sure that Jesus’ blood has paid for our sins?|
|Friday||Philippians 1:18b-26. What two things might happen to Paul? Which one is better, and why?|
|Saturday||Colossians 2:8-15. What are some of the words Paul uses to describe our salvation?|