Have you noticed that the catechism, in its first question and answer, does not mention “God”? It easily could have; it could have said: “My only comfort is that I belong to God…” Instead, it talks about Jesus Christ as our Saviour. As we read on, the catechism also mentions “my heavenly Father” and “his Holy Spirit”. They are two other persons involved in our salvation.
Jesus Christ, his Father, and his Spirit—together they are God, our God. This is the conviction of the Christian church, based on the Bible. It is a deep mystery that there is only one God, yet somehow there are three individual persons: it is the mystery of the Trinity. The catechism does not explain how it works; even when it addresses this question later, in LD 8 q&a 25, it does not give much detail. It simply says: the Bible tells us so. What we need to know is that in our salvation, God is fully involved, with all that he is. God is so great, that he is a Three-Personed God; and all three persons are committed to rescue us from our sin, set us free from evil, and give us true comfort and everlasting life.
God, our saviour.
1. Jesus Christ: God with us
2. His Father: God for us
3. His Spirit: God in us
Jesus Christ: God with us
Our faith is focused on Jesus Christ. The name “Christian” emphasizes this! We confess Jesus Christ and worship him. Jews and Muslims would consider this idolatry. Why would we worship a man rather than God?
But Jesus Christ is our God. The first Christian sermon recorded in the Bible already hints at this: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Jesus is Christ, the special person through whom God would save the world; but he is also Lord, a title that is typically used for God.
When Jesus saves us, it is God who saves us. God gave himself to the world for our sins. He gave himself to be crucified and buried.
It is true that Jesus was born about 2000 years ago; before that time, the man Jesus did not exist. At the same time, Jesus is God the Son, who has been forever, who was involved in the very creation of the world. It is hard to understand this, and one of the deepest mysteries of our faith; the Bible summarizes it by saying that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 4:2).
God has been involved with this world from the very beginning, but we really get to know him through Jesus. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18) Jesus himself said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
This is why Jesus has the wonderful nickname “Emmanuel”, “God with us.” In this man, God himself has come into our world, joined our human existence, and lived among us (John 1:14). The point of Christmas is that God has physically entered our world, even though it began with a little baby in a lowly manger.
So if we were to elaborate on the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, we might say: My only comfort is that I am not my own but belong to God, who has saved me by becoming like me, by entering my human existence; God himself dealt with my sins and shortcomings by taking upon himself my guilt and my death, and giving me his own life. God did all these things openly, visible, as a matter of historical record, by appearing in the person of Jesus Christ.
The catechism doesn’t mention “God” right away, but when it talks about Jesus Christ as our faithful Saviour, it presents to us a divine person. We must know that God saves us; at the same time, we must understand that this God came to us especially in Jesus, and that our salvation is realized in what Jesus did.
His Father: God for us
Let’s now look at the second half of q&a 1. Jesus, who paid for my sins and set me free from the power of the devil, als preserves me. He protects me; he keeps me safe.
If you buy a new car, and pay thousands of dollars, you will probably take good care of it. If you don’t, and it gets scratched and dented, or even stolen, all those dollars are down the drain. If you think about how much it cost you, you will be extra protective of it!
In the same way, our saviour Jesus Christ, who bought us for a very high price, is protective of us. He purchased you with his own blood: he will not allow the devil to snatch you back. While your life may go through ups and downs, with physical and spiritual danger lurking everywhere, he lovingly keeps you safe. Even when you must face death, the most daunting and ugly enemy, the Lord Jesus brings you safely to the other side.
But it is not just Jesus who loves you and cares for you like this. All of God is involved in this way. Sometimes people talk about God as an angry judge from which Jesus must rescue us; as if God the Father and God the Son are at odds with each other. Echoing the Bible, the catechism says that God the Father is just as involved in protecting me.
We think of God the Father as the designer and maker of the universe, as the one so high and exalted that we can never reach up to him, as the ultimate lawmaker and judge of all people. God the Father is all that. But he has become our heavenly Father—a word that emphasizes his care and deep love. He treats us like his children. He can create or snuff out galaxies by speaking a single word; but it is his will to use his power to keep us perfectly safe.
Jesus himself taught this during his earthly ministry. He told his followers: Don’t worry about food or drink or clothing, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Mat. 6:32) To drive the point home, Jesus said: Not a single bird falls to the ground without God the Father allowing it; and you are so much more important than birds, that it is as if God has counted every hair of you to make sure not a single one is lost. The catechism summarizes this by saying: without the will from my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head.
That does not mean that our lives will be free from trouble. We live in a world full of dangers, disasters, and disease. Christian believers do not escape suffering; they, too, get sick, and suffer accidents, and even die. But the Bible teaches us that none of those things escape God’s will and plan. It may be hard to understand, but even our sickness and other suffering become part of God’s way with us, a way that brings us eventually to everlasting life. The catechism will say more about this in LD 9 and 10. In q&a 1, it simply states the glorious truth that all things must work together for my salvation.
The God who determines the orbits of planets and stars is also the heavenly Father who arranges the events in our lives. He knows what he is doing, even if we don’t understand. He will bring us safely home, even if it is through great storms and over bumpy roads.
God the Father has the same purpose as Jesus Christ, who is God the Son: he, too, deeply loves us and saves us from beginning to end. The God who is so much greater than us is also the God who is for us.
His Spirit: God in us
Finally, Jesus also gives us his Holy Spirit. Jesus himself, after he had died and been raised again from the grave, went to heaven. We no longer see him, and he is no longer close to us in the way he was physically close to his first disciples. But Jesus sent, as the Bible calls him, “another Comforter”, “another Advocate”, to be with us intimately. This is not a setback; Jesus is God-with-us, but the Holy Spirit is God-in-us!
The Holy Spirit is given to Christian believers, individually and as a community. He is the driving force in the church. He is the one who convinces us of the truth about Jesus, and who grows and strengthens our faith. Because of the Holy Spirit, the gospel message is not just words, not just a theory, but something that we know and feel is true for us. The catechism says it like this: by the Holy Spirit, Jesus also assures me of eternal life. He gives me the heartfelt conviction that Jesus saves me indeed, and that therefore I will escape even death and live forever with my God.
Sometimes people talk about the Christian faith as if it were a theory of life that you can either believe or reject. Here is the gospel; take it or leave it. But God does not give cold theory; rather, God the Holy Spirit brings the gospel to us in a living way, and touches our hearts, so that our faith is alive and active.
When the Holy Spirit drives home the truth about Jesus, it changes our life. If your faith is real, it must change your life thoroughly. Now that you are dead to your sins, you can and should live more and more in the way God intended. Now that you belong to Jesus with body and soul, he is your role model and your teacher; now that he has given you his Spirit, you should listen to the prompting of that Spirit, eager to follow his lead.
The catechism says: he makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. The worst thing about our sin is that we are often unwilling to do what is right. We know what we should do. We know that we should say “no” to bad things, but do them anyway. We know that we should help our friend in need, but pretend we forget. We know that we should be more responsible with our money, but spend it on silly things anyway. We know that we ought to take time to worship and pray, but we allow ourselves to be too busy and distracted by other things. The Holy Spirit changes our unwillingness into a willing attitude.
The Bible famously says that the Spirit produces “fruit” in us. The fruit of the Spirit is a bouquet of healthy attitudes and priorities. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) If we belong to Jesus, he is like a farmer who grows these qualities in our lives. In this way, he makes us ready to live for him.
The catechism adds: from now on. The Holy Spirit is here for you now. When you read this very lesson, the Holy Spirit works with it to open your hearts for the truth of Jesus. Listen to him. Follow his lead. The Spirit kindled a flame of love for Jesus and eagerness to please him. Do not quench that Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), but let him do the work. The Holy Spirit is nothing less than God in us.
Your only hope in life and in death is that God rescues you from your sin and from the devil. We know him especially in Jesus Christ, who came to this earth to give his precious blood for all your sins. He loves you and cares for you. But that is not all he does. God the Father loves you and cares for you, and directs every part of your life. And God the Holy Spirit loves you and cares for you, growing faith and love and hope and good deeds within you.
So put your faith in this Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and let him shape your life!
- What is the mystery of the Trinity?
- In Jesus Christ, God has come close to us in a special way. How?
- How is God the Father involved in our salvation?
- What is the assurance that the Holy Spirit gives?
- What else does the Holy Spirit do for believers?
- “God is the angry judge who wants to punish us, but Jesus stopped him by sacrificing himself.” Is that true?
- When we believe in Jesus Christ, do we also have a special relationship with God the Father?
- In what way does the Holy Spirit assure us?
- Can you be a true believer without being eager to live for Jesus?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||John 1:1-18. What divine qualities does “the Word” have? How is “the Word” related to Jesus? In what way does he bring God closer to us?|
|Tuesday||Ephesians 1:3-14. How are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit involved?|
|Wednesday||Ephesians 1:15-23. How are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit involved?|
|Thursday||Mat. 6:25-34. How does the Father care for us? What should our priority be?|
|Friday||John 14:15-21,25-26. What is the work of the Holy Spirit?|
|Saturday||Galatians 5:13-26. What does it mean to “keep in step” with the Spirit (v. 25)?|