84) Q: What does every sin deserve?
A: Every sin deserves God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
85) Q: What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A: To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with diligent use of all outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
Mark 1:15 ...and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Playing catch-up again because of not being able to get the blog done last week, but it works out well because here, in these two catechism questions, we're presented with both a problem and a solution. The problem is this. We know from examining the 10 commandments, from realizing that no one keeps the commandments perfectly, that we are all guilty before God. And we know that the wages of sin, the penalty for our guilt, is death. Not just physical death, but also spiritual death. That is the curse that the catechism talks about. But not only do we deserve death, the cathecism also says we deserve God's wrath, both in this life and in the life to come. We deserve nothing less than God's anger in this life, and, if we get what we deserve, will receive nothing less than the full wrath of God poured out upon us in the next life.
So what is a sinner's hope? We know we're infinitely guilty before an infinitely holy God. We know we deserve his anger for all of eternity. We know we deserve death in every sense of the word. Where is the hope in all of this? Thank God that the story didn't end in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve rebelled against God! Thank God there's a Genesis 3:15 where God promises that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent! Thank God that the writers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism didn't have to stop with question 84, that they got to go on and write question 85! Thank God that he is not only a God of holy wrath, but he is also a God of holy mercy and holy grace! Question 85 tells of our hope. It speaks of God's mercy. It speaks of his willingness to forgive sinners. BUT, it is conditional, isn't it? God requires something from us in order to be forgiven, in order to be shown mercy and grace. And what does God require? He requires faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and repentance. Faith, as we'll see in the following weeks, is nothing less than a trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It means that we recognize that while we have failed to keep the law of God, Jesus kept it perfectly. And not only did he keep the law perfectly, he then went to the cross, to the altar, to offer himself up as a once-for-all-time perfect sacrifice. He substituted himself for us. Just like in the Old Testament, the animal sacrifices were substitutionary deaths for the sins of God's people (although it's important to note, those sacrifices saved nobody, they were intended to point towards Christ's sacrifice), just as symbolically, the sins of the people of God were laid upon those animal sacrifices, Jesus Christ gave himself as the spotless Lamb of God. He bore the punishment we deserved, both in his body and soul, both by suffering physical and spiritual death. He bore the full weight of God's anger and wrath, not for any sin of his own, but for the sins of his people. Our sins were laid upon him so that we could be declared righteous and spotless. And faith means that we trust in THIS sacrifice alone! Faith means that we trust in what Christ has done for us, because we know we could not satisfy God's righteous demands on our own.
But faith is not all that is required of us. The catechism also talks of repentance. And again, just like we'll be exploring faith over the next several weeks, we'll also be exploring repentance. But for now, let's see that repentance is not merely the recognition that we have sinned, repentance is the turning away from our sinful thoughts, actions, and attitudes. In other words, repentance is a call to stop loving our sin, to turn away from it, and turn our love, our affections, towards God himself. Repentance is the posture of a person who truly has faith in Jesus Christ.
The thing about this is, even faith and repentance is too much for us to do as fallen sinners! But as we'll see over the next few weeks, even faith and repentance are gifts from God. They're workings of the Holy Spirit. They're a grace that God gives us.
One final note on question 85. You have probably noticed that the catechism also mentions that we must make use of "all outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption." What the authors of the catechism have in mind here are what we call the "ordinary means of grace". Again, we'll explore this in more detail in coming weeks, but I do want us to see what these means of grace are, and why they're important. When we talk about the "ordinary means of grace", we're speaking of ways that God ordinarily communicates his grace to us, his people. These are ways that God feeds the faith of his people, and aids us in our lives of repentance. In other words, these means of grace are how God disciples his people. They include the word read and preached, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer. And the catechism this week is right. These things are not optional for God's people. While making use of the means of grace does not merit or earn our salvation (they aren't works that we contribute to salvation), they're signs of a repentant life and they are the means by which God intends for us, his people, to grow in faith, knowledge, and love. We absolutely need them! We need to have our souls fed and nurtured by these means of grace if we are to truly live lives of faith and repentance. But, more on that in weeks to come!