Hope Baptist Catechism, Part I, Question IV
Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins and preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head. In him, all things work together for my good and salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me very willing and ready from now on to live for him.
This question comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, though it happens to be the first question in the Heidelberg. I believe others have stated the reasoning for the order of our first few questions and why we put the questions first that we put there. For those who are not familiar the Heidelberg Catechism is a reformation era catechism from the 1500’s originating in Heidelberg Germany, for historical reference. You will find it in the back of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal if you ever want to look through it. However, if you were to look at the answer to this question in the Heidelberg Catechism, you will notice that our answer has some small differences. There is no theological disagreement to the Heidelberg’s answer to this question, we simply summarized and shortened the answer for our purposes.
The first phrase in the answer is the same in both catechisms, “That I am not my own,” and this, as it begins the answer, lays the foundation for the rest of the answer. The first thing that this does is place the comfort and hope of man outside of himself. Our only comfort in life and death does not have anything to do with ourselves and it doesn’t come from within; it comes from without, and has everything to do with Christ. It takes the foundation of our hope off of our own instability and places it on the God who never changes – the best of beings who has the ultimate track record of being worthy of hoping in. We know who the best of beings is, we know His ultimate purpose, we know our ultimate purpose, and now we have a place to find comfort in life and death.
It is important that this question does come next in the sequence of questions, because once we’ve established the big picture foundation – God, His chief end, our chief end – we now need to have gospel comfort before we can go into the deeper things of God, or else our lack of comfort will drive us crazy, or to despair. It is from a gospel foundation of comfort and hope that we can now rightly study theology and these important questions.
Our only comfort in life and death comes from outside of ourselves, found namely in the person of Jesus Christ. This furthermore shows us that the unbeliever does not and cannot have any true comfort in life and death. One of the ways we have comfort in life, as the answer teaches us, is through the providential care of our Heavenly Father, that nothing happens apart from His will. The unbeliever doesn’t have that comfort. Without God they can make no sense out of great tragedies or evils and certainly cannot have comfort knowing it is for their good and that there is a judge of all the earth who will do what is right.
For the reformation era writers of the Heidelberg catechism, unbelief, in an atheistic, agnostic, or secular sense was not a huge worldview they were battling. The big enemies of the true Church and the gospel at that day would’ve been the Roman Catholic Church, or the libertines. So when you consider the reason that the Heidelberg Catechism inserted the word “only” in the question (what is your only comfort in life and in death?), they are specifically couching this against the predominant Roman Catholic doctrines of the day. So when they are saying my only comfort is in Jesus Christ, this is a statement against things like indulgences, where they could literally pay money to lessen the severity of punishment or purgatory for themselves or even loved ones. This is also a statement against finding comfort in synergistic systems of salvation such as Rome taught, and such as is alive and well in Christian churches today. This can be a temptation to our flesh as well, the temptation to find comfort in our own good works, lifestyle, or things that we do and accomplish. The word “only” in this question is very important. Rome could agree that you can find comfort in Jesus Christ, they just wouldn’t stop there. But the Protestants stop there. Our only comfort in life and in death is in Jesus Christ. Here I’ll read Romans 14:7-9, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” This is the controlling thought here: Jesus is Lord, in life and in death. We are not our own, but we belong to Him. He rightfully owns us because He died for that purpose – to purchase us and to be Lord of the living and the dead. In a world in which Jesus is Lord both of the living and the dead, it is only in Him in which we can have any comfort in either condition.
Having laid this foundation that we are not our own and our comfort comes from outside of ourselves, I now will summarize in one sentence what our comfort is: I am Christ’s in life and death. From this one sentence we will walk through the rest of this answer.
I am Christ’s in Life
We will first look at the how and the why we are Christ’s in life. Jesus is the Lord of life. As we read from Romans 14 a moment ago, none of us lives to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord.
He Paid For All My Sins With His Precious Blood
First and foremost Christ is my comfort in life because He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood. We cannot live with peace and comfort if we have the guilt of sin weighing us down. I don’t simply mean the emotional feeling of guilt, but the legal pronouncement of guilt. As long as we are guilty before God, we will not be at peace with God, and we will not be reconciled to God. Therefore, we will have no comfort in this life, as we are living in God’s world. Without the removal of the guilt of our sin we will live burdened and out of place in God’s world. I always think of the scene in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian is carrying around the burden of sin on his back, and then how it rolls off when he gets to the cross – such a weight and burden removed. When we experience the forgiveness of sins and the removal of our guilt before God we are free, we can live now, we don’t have to be worried about messing things up or walking on eggshells through life. We are forgiven and free. There is such comfort in knowing that our sins are forgiven. I like how the Heidelberg Catechism says that Christ has freed us from the tyranny of the devil. That’s such a good phrase, for we have been brought from the domain of darkness into His marvelous light. They get it right that the devil is tyrant, and just as he is, so is sin a tyrant. It is a cruel taskmaster that gives no rest for the weary, but enslaves us. But Christ has freed us, He is our Lord, He shed His precious blood for our ugly sins and we are free. This is where our Christian life begins. We are forgiven, and so now we can live in light of this reality, living unto God.
He Preserves Me
Next, we are Christ’s in life because He preserves us. He is the one who speaks us into existence and holds us together. In Him we live and move and have our being. We live, because Jesus continues to speak us into existence. He preserves us providentially as creatures, and specially as objects of His salvation.
Every Detail Of My Life Is In His Hands
The Bible teaches us that every detail of our lives are in God’s hands. Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Is that not so comforting? What a comforting thing to live life knowing that God has forgiven our sins in Jesus Christ, and the same God who loves us and adopted us His own children, decrees every hair that falls from our head. Everything that happens to us, happens because the Sovereign God who loves us, sees it fit that that should be what happens to us. This is what it is to trust in God – we give our lives into the hands of the all powerful God who loves us deeply. If God was not sovereign in this way, then we could not have comfort in life, knowing that bad things are happening to us that God did not decree and cannot stop. And if God has not forgiven our sins in Jesus Christ, then it would not be comforting living life knowing our lives are in the hands of an all powerful God who we are enemies of.
All Things Work Together For My Good
Not only is God sovereign over all that happens in our lives, but it is all a part of His greater plan and purposes for us in Christ that it all works together for our good. This is the great Romans 8:28 promise, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That is comforting, that all things, even the bad things, the hard things, and the sad things are all not meaningless. God is weaving together a bigger purpose and story in our lives, as our lives are a part of a much bigger story that God is telling. And since our sins are forgiven, we know that our part turns out for our good. The unbeliever does not have this blessed comfort. What a precious comfort it is for the believer. There are a lot of really difficult things we go through in life. Yet we can have a supernatural comfort knowing that all that happens, happens because God saw fit that it should happen and it is working together for our good.
The Holy Spirit Enables Me To Live Unto God
Because we have such great promises made to us as believers, the Holy Spirit now enables us to live unto God. Because we have received the promises, we are now ready to live unto God. Because Jesus lived for us, we can now live for Him. Romans 8:12-17, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all how are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” God knows that we can’t live this life on our own. So He gives us His Spirit to assure us that we are sons of God and to enable us to live unto God. We can take comfort knowing that we have God’s Spirit to protect, guide, and keep us. We live in a supernatural world where dragons, demons, and angels are real. But what’s also real is the Spirit of the dragon-slaying, serpent-crushing, demon-binding, King of Kings living inside of us. The One who has defeated sin, death, demons, Satan, and hell lives inside us by His Spirit. So no matter what dragons and hobgoblins we face in life, we can take comfort knowing we bear the seal of the King of this very real supernatural world.
I Am Christ’s In Death
Not only are we Christ’s in life, but we are also Christ’s in death. Death is really the thing that frightens so many people. Without Christ, death is a darkness that is full of fearful things for the unbeliever. The unbeliever can have zero comfort in death. Before I was converted, as a child, I would lie awake many nights just absolutely afraid of dying. I feared death. I had no peace with God. Death was a terror to me. But the Christian can have comfort even in death, for whether we live or whether we die, we are Christ’s. There are so many reasons why the Christian can have comfort in death, like the fact that Christ has defeated death, or the promise of the resurrection on the last day, but we will just focus on the reasons given within the answer to our catechism question.
Christ Has Paid For All My Sins With His Precious Blood
The first basis for comfort in death is the same basis for our comfort in life: Christ has paid for all my sins with His precious blood. Hebrews tells us that it is appointed once for man to die and then comes judgment. What made me so terrified of dying as a child was the fact that I was afraid of going to hell. I was afraid of punishment for my sin. And here’s the thing: as an unbeliever, I was right to feel that. But when my sins have been forgiven and I have been cleansed in the precious blood of Jesus, I don’t have to fear punishment for my sins – Jesus was already punished in my stead. There is no hell awaiting me when I die, if my sins have been forgiven in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I have no rational reason to fear death. I am forgiven, I can confidently depart with the body when I die and be with Christ.
The Holy Spirit Assures Me Of Eternal Life
Not only do we avoid punishment when our sins are forgiven, but we receive eternal life. We know that when we die, we aren’t going to just cease to exist. We are not going to just rot in the ground and be eaten by worms. We have eternal life. We will be with Christ when we die, then on the last day we will rise from the grave and enter into the consummation of all things. We will go on with Christ in a world without end – eternal life in Christ. How can we be so sure of all this? Because the Holy Spirit who indwells us, is also the guarantee that will receive our inheritance. The Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life. Ephesians 1:13-14, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
If there’s one take away from this, I just want you to remember that your only comfort in life and death comes from outside of yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we have this comfort in life and death we have every reason to live our lives laughing till our stomach hurts, singing psalms lustily, feasting with bread and wine, dreaming big, being bold, proclaiming the gospel, being missionaries, getting married, having kids, building homes and churches, taking dominion, working hard, slaying dragons, and snoring loudly when we sleep. This is what having comfort in life and in death can do in our lives: we can live comfortably in Christ, with little or much, we have much in Christ. Amen.