Saturday, January 23, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Q12-15

12. Q. Since, according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?

A. God demands that His justice be satisfied. Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another.

13. Q. Can we ourselves make this payment?

A. Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.

14. Q. Can any mere creature pay for us?

A. No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.

15. Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?

A. One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.

The answer to question 14, the part that says, "God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed," seems to contradict scripture.  In Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, which we read aloud minutes ago, this text appears:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

Since all sin boils down to idolatry, this text is saying that the sins of the father receive a punishment that is passed down through the generations, even to four generations. This definitely sounds like God punishes a creature for the sins of another.  Why is this?  Not because sin is magically passed down from father to son.  Original sin is genetic, but actual sin is taught and learned.  Remember catechism question 10?  The answer includes that God is terribly displeased with our inborn as well as actual sins.  The difference is between that of disposition and action.  We are born with unregenerate hearts, predisposed to sin, and so we are under the wrath of God.  Then, when we actually sin, when we learn how to sin and actually commit it, in thought word or deed, we are racking up guilt.  As it says in the answer for question 13: "we daily increase our guilt."

This is why we cannot blame Adam for our sins.  He is responsible for our sinful nature, but we are responsible for the sins that spawn from this nature.  Ezekiel 18 confirms this.  Read all of the chapter:

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

This "proverb" reflects the verses from Exodus 20 and Lamentations 5:7, which says, "Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities."  The Lord is clarifying things through the prophet Ezekiel: fathers are responsible for their own sins and sons are responsible for their own sins.  The soul who sins shall die.  All have sinned, therefore all die.  In Israel, God's people believed that they could lead righteous lives and live without a mediator. Remember, the sins of the father are visited on the son to the third and fourth generations, but the righteousness of the father carries on to the thousandth generation.  Now, one thousand, as we investigated last week, is a symbolic, round number that means a large amount or many.  But Israel believed that since Abraham was righteous in God's eyes, then they must be righteous, no matter what sins they have committed.  The father's righteousness is counted to the children.  But God is saying here in Ezekiel 18 that each is responsible for his own guilt.  The soul who sins shall die.

“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—...—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God. If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), ... shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

This flies in the face of what Israel believed about God's nature.  Surely, they were God's chosen people, born under Abraham, so they must be counted righteous.  God is obligated to count them as righteous! The same goes the other way, if the father is an unrepentant sinner and the son is righteous:

“Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: ... he shall not die for his father's iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, ... behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

God is saying that the iniquities of the father are NOT transferred to the son.  Now, God knows exactly what Israel is thinking, because he hits it head on:

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Not only is God telling Israel, and us as well, that each individual is responsible for his or her own guilt, but that the solution is quite easy.  Turn from your sin and live, he says.  Cast away from you all transgressions.  In other words, repent.  Make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.  Is this possible?  How is the sinner able to give himself a new heart and a new spirit?  Going back a few chapters in Ezekiel, we can read God's clarification.  What he means in chapter 11, he means in chapter 18:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

Once again we need to be reminded: regenerating the heart is God's work.  It is his alone.  Repentance can only be done on a regenerated heart, and it is our response to that regeneration.  Jesus Christ is the mediator and deliverer that we seek.  He is the one who is a true and righteous man, and yet he is more powerful than all creatures, because he is at the same time God incarnate. 

Have faith in the one who died for you.  Once you understand how crucial that fact is and you believe, the Holy Spirit will take away that heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.  He will write the truth on your new heart with everlasting ink.