Our New Lord and Master
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (vv. 1–2).- Romans 6:1–14
Today we return to our study of the biblical doctrines summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism. Having studied questions and answers 1–85, we have considered such topics as the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, the sacraments, and church discipline. Question and answer 86 begin the catechism’s section on how Christians must respond in gratitude for the salvation purchased by Jesus and proclaimed by His church. We now turn to that question and answer.
Good works, the subject of question and answer 86, have been at the center of many of the most serious theological controversies in church history. The Reformation was sparked by the debate over whether the good works of believers earn for them a right standing before God. Scripture is decisively on the side of historic Protestantism in this argument. Fallen human beings cannot achieve what our Father requires for citizenship in His kingdom. We cannot do enough good to make up for our evil. Even the best of our works are tainted by sin, so the Father cannot justify us—He cannot declare us righteous—if He takes our good deeds into account. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:21–26; Gal. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 5:21).
Yet justification by faith alone does not eliminate our duty to do good works, however imperfect they may be. We do not do good deeds to get into heaven, but they display that God has brought us into His kingdom by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (James 2:14–26). Serving God and neighbor, we live a life of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. That is the point of today’s passage.
In Romans 1–5, Paul details God’s grace and His provision of salvation for sinners apart from works. He deals with a potential objection to his teaching in Romans 6:1–14, namely, that it means redeemed people should go on sinning in order to receive even more grace (v. 1). Such a view, however, reflects a complete misunderstanding of our salvation. By grace we have been set free from the power of sin. Before Christ, we could not serve God, but now we can and must present ourselves to Him in righteousness (vv. 12–13). We must serve Him with good works in order to thank Him for His precious gift of redemption, and if we do not do that, we prove that our profession of faith is invalid and that we are still ruled by sin and death (v. 2).
Throughout the New Testament especially, we find that the evidence of true Christian faith is a life of gratitude in which our love for Jesus is proved by our willingness to obey Him (John 14:15). This does not mean perfect obedience, but it does mean a sincere effort to understand and apply His commandments as well as repentance when we find that we have fallen short. Let us show God how grateful we are for His salvation by doing what He says.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 5:1–5