And they recognized that [Peter and John] had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13b (ESV)
Even if you are not a big fan of football or baseball, it’s hard not to recognize Baltimore’s team colors—they are distinctive and all around us. Some uniforms have even become iconic, like the NY Yankee’s pinstripes. Today’s sports have made it easy to distinguish different teams and their fans, but not everyone is so easily recognized.
God’s people should be distinguishable. This is not a matter of wearing a uniform, but rather of holding to the Bible and striving together to have God’s Word shape our beliefs and behavior. The earliest believers were known as “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2; cf. 22:4), and Paul identified himself as “a follower of the Way” (Acts 22:14), an obvious reference to Jesus’ statement recorded in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow Him—to walk or live according to what Christ has done for us and commands of us. We confess our sin and guilt, crying out in amazement that God has made a way of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus; we confess the Name of Jesus as the only way provided for salvation; and we gratefully confess that we are not our own, we have been born again by the Spirit and gladly offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (see Rom. 12:1) to God.
This pattern of Guilt, Grace, Gratitude is found not only in The Heidelberg Catechism, but as we were recently reminded by Michael Kersten at a Wednesday prayer meeting, is seen in Romans and can aptly be called “Sin, Salvation, Service.” The catechism’s questions 3-11 expose our experience of sin and misery and can be compared to Rom. 1-3:20; questions 12-85 explore God’s gracious redemption in Christ through faith (Rom. 3:21-11:36); and the final part—questions 86-129—explain true gratitude for God’s mercy in delivering us and correspond to Paul’s theme in Rom. 12-16. What a wonderful and profitable focus for us this year! Please take advantage of one of the small groups meeting to discuss this Biblical symbol of the Faith.
Are you familiar with the next verse of Romans 12? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV) If we are walking in the Way instead of conforming to the way of the world, people will notice—we will be distinguishable! Thankful, obedient service to God, in light of God’s mercy and our new life in Christ, is, I trust, our common aim, both individually and corporately. Being transformed by the renewing of your mind requires making the ordinary means of grace—that is, the Word and Prayer—a priority in your life. God has placed you in our Church family for a reason; you are part of a body and we each have a measure of responsibility to one another. God’s work of grace and growth in your life is for the help of others too, not just yourself. Our Heidelberg discussions are for our entire Body’s health. As God strengthens our faith and His grace in our lives is made manifest in our obedience, others will notice. No longer will we as Christians be indistinguishable from the unbelieving world around us, but as noticeable as a Raven’s fan in Pittsburgh. And that will be a good thing! Perhaps then, in God’s good providence, someone might come up to us, as they did to Philip, and say to us, “we would like to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21) because they know that we know Him.
One of my prayers for us in 2016 is that we move forward together in the Faith, better understanding what Scripture teaches us and how Biblical truth can be for our comfort in life and in death. Let’s embrace this catechism, a ‘book of comfort’ and in so doing show our love to God and His Word upon which it is based. And let us do this together!
That this may be, by God’s grace, for our good and God’s glory is my prayer.