Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favour?
Answer: God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.
As we come to question 12 we begin to consider the 2nd division of the Heidelberg Catechism which deals with the issue of God’s Redemption of man and so man’s deliverance. The 1st division dealt with man’s sin and misery. It’s intent was twofold. First, to convince us how majestic, holy, and transcendent God is. Second, to convince us that we can have no concourse with this God because of our sin and misery. The 2nd part of the catechism is committed to revealing that we may have concourse with this God because of God’s initiative in man’s redemption.
Question 12 serves as a basic summary of the 1st part of the Catechism. The question serves to remind us that all ways are blocked unto being in God’s favor. The effect of the first part of the catechism, psychologically speaking, is to leave the one instructed with both a sense of God’s opposition and a understanding of our peril.
As we consider the answer a glimmer of hope begins to shine through the prison of our sin and misery in the last three words, “or by another.” The Catechism has effectively shut off all other avenues for finding favor with God and with those three words begins to hint to God’s gospel deliverance for those who are convinced of their sin and misery.
Note the theme again in the answer. The theme is legal and personal. God’s honor has been injured (personal) and so the justice that justly rises up against the injured honor of a personal God must be satisfied (legal). This reminds us that God is a personal God and it reminds us that Christianity is a faith that concentrates heavily on legal (forensic) categories. This is important for us to remember Caleb as we continue to move through the Catechism. Contemporary Christianity heavily emphasizes the personal – relational aspect of the Christian faith (though this most commonly is the personal – relational as we envision that and not as Scripture portrays) but often forgets the legal aspect of the Christian faith which sets before us a God who is offended because His law has been violated and who, before He can have a favored relationship with lawbreakers again, must have His law (which is the embodiment of His character) satisfied.
Answer 12 reinforces once again that God’s offended justice will be satisfied. Now keep in mind here that God is not being petulant with this demand for satisfaction. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and has said, “the soul that sinneth, shall surely die (Gen. 2:17).” Either God’s justice is done and someone makes satisfaction or God dies. The catechism gives a flurry of Scriptures that underscoring that God’s justice will be done,
Exod.20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
Exod.23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
Ezek.18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
Matt.5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
2 Thess.1:6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
Luke 16:2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
God will not be mocked and so will have His justice uphold His slighted honor.
The catechism teaches we must satisfy God’s justice either by ourselves or by another. Notice the beginning strains of good news here. First, clearly what is being hinted at here is that another can make our satisfaction. This begins to hint at Gospel truths we will look at later such as atonement, justification, reconciliation, substitution, imputation, reconciliation, propitiation, expiation, redemption, and others. Second, the point that we want to scream here is that the catechism, following Scripture, is opening up a window that we might escape the dungeon of our sin and misery. Someone else might bear the lashings of God’s justice in our place.
In the holding out of this possible substitute God’s law is still satisfied, (the soul that sinneth does die in His substitute) and so the legal requirements that we mentioned earlier are upheld, and we enter into a personal knowing of God who is for us at every turn.
The Scripture that the Catechism offers really should be memorized by all believers.
Romans 8:1 — There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Again Caleb, notice the legal themes here
1.) No condemnation (i.e. — no penalty after judgment)
The threat we were under was a legal threat (condemnation). Because of our substitute was condemned in our place the legal requirement for condemnation has been met in Christ Jesus.
2.) What the law could not do — The law, following God’s holy character, required moral perfection but because of man’s sin the moral law could not give what it required.
3.) Condemned sin in the flesh — Once again, legal categories. Breaking of the law occurred. Satisfaction of the law must be had.
4.) Righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us — The law requires moral perfection and because of Christ’s moral perfection in the life He lived that righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.
More on this later but I wanted to end by emphasizing again that the Christian faith is not the Christian faith unless we understand that it moves in these legal – forensic terms.
Yes, Christianity is relational / personal but it is only relational personal if it is also legal / forensic. Many many modern Christians have forgotten this and their faith languishes because of their forgetfulness.