In part 3 we looked at the way the catechism relates good works to assurance. The last major point of Heidelberg 86 is its reference to Christian witness relative to sanctification and good works. This last clause, “and by our godly walk win also others to Christ” is truly important for a variety of reasons. Here is the whole of question and answer 86:
86. Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and also that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ (Heidelberg Catechism 86).
Imagine how Christianity would be viewed has evangelical television preachers not been found to be committing fraud or to have committed immorality. Imagine if we did not have to account for pederasty among Romanist priests, the crusades, the inquisition, or the treatment of Jews in the middle ages (and after)? Sanctification or its absence has a great affect on the Christian witness to the watching world. Our sanctification or lack thereof has an affect on the plausibility of our testimony to the facts of redemption: the incarnation, Christ’s obedience, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Now, regardless of our failings, the facts are the facts. Jesus did what he did and he is returning and when he does he will settle accounts with the skeptics. Nevertheless, just a very brief review of the history of scandals in the church gives plenty of prima facie evidence that keeps us from being cavalier about the corruption of the Christian witness in the world.
The second thing that should be said is that the catechism and the Reformed faith should get at least a little credit for showing some concern about the spiritual welfare of the lost. Even though the catechism was drafted and adopted in a period when the state imposed religion upon its citizens, there is an open recognition that not everyone around us is a believer. This evident concern expressed in the catechism contradicts the assumption often made about the Reformed that they must be indifferent to the spiritual state (and the final state) of those around them who do not believe. The assumption is often made that if God has decreed who is and is not going to come to faith (he has) then Reformed folk must be indifferent (we aren’t). Yes, God is sovereign but that conviction is hardly distinctive to Reformed theology. It was widely held and taught in the church for the 1500 years before the Reformation. Augustine taught it. Anselm taught it, and Aquinas taught it, just to name three. These were all major theologians in the western church. God knows what he has decreed and we know that he has decreed but we do not know whom he has decreed to save and whom he has decreed to reprobate. The church’s duty is to make known the law and the gospel and offer salvation freely, seriously, and promiscuously to all who will recognize the greatness of their sin and misery, turn from it, and embrace Christ in true faith.
Evangelism properly is what the minister does in the pulpit when he proclaims the gospel to the world but each of us as Christians is a witness or gives witness to the faith (the objective facts of redemptive history and the basic truths of Scripture summarized in the creeds) and to our faith, i.e., to our personal appropriation of Christ by grace alone, through faith alone. Each of us is ordinarily surrounded by unbelieving friends, relatives, and co-workers. We must pray for them regularly that God the Spirit might do in them what he has done in us who believe: convict them of their need for Christ, grant them new life, and grant them the grace of faith and through it union with Christ. When we pray that way we should be prepared because God, in his providence, may well give us opportunity to give witness to Christ and to our faith in him.
When, by God’s grace, we do good works that gives witness to our faith and to the truth of the Christian faith. When our lives match our profession opportunities for witness are created. We do not have to choose between a silent witness of good works and a spoken witness to Christ and his truth. We believe in and confess both. They go together. May the Lord give us opportunities to give witness and may he bless that witness when it is given.
Here are all the posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.