Heidelberg 90: The Making Alive Of The New Man

credit: R. Scott Clark

credit: R. Scott Clark

In the 16th century, when the Heidelberg Catechism was written, published, and first adopted by the Reformed Churches the word regeneration was used in two senses at the same time. Sometimes it meant the spiritual awakening from death to life sovereignly and freely worked by the Holy Spirit, which is the way tend to use it most of the time today. It also, and perhaps more frequently, referred to progressive sanctification, the gradual, gracious work of the Spirit in us bring us to conformity to Christ. The same writers who gave us the catechism regularly spoke of sanctification as “regeneration” and “renewal” in the image of Christ. Caspar Olevianus wrote that believers are but “partly regenerated.” That expression does not make sense if it refers to being awakened from spiritual death to new, spiritual life. It makes perfect sense, however, when applied to the Christian’s progressive sanctification. Indeed, we are not wholly sanctified or renewed or regenerated in that sense.

This way of speaking about the gradual renewing of the Christian is the background to the catechism’s discussion of the second aspect of sanctification: vivification or the quickening or making alive of the new man:

90. What is the quickening of the new man?

Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works (Heidelberg Catechism)

In older English usage, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381), we use to speak of Christ judging the “quick and the dead,” i.e., the living and the dead. In medical terms the expression “quickening” has sometimes been used to describe the fetal development. So, having been initially and decisively quickened, renewed, or regenerated we are now, by grace alone, through faith alone, being renewed and sanctified into the image of Christ. The Spirit who gave us life initially and decisively continues, by virtue of our union and communion with Christ, to work in us, through the “due use of ordinary means,” i.e., attending to the preaching of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, and prayer to bring us into conformity to Christ and especially, under this heading, to make us alive more and more.

What does that mean? As the catechism says, a person who being made alive is increasingly taking delight in living according to God’s moral will revealed in his holy law (more about that last aspect in future posts). Before the Spirit gave us new life we did not have such an orientation or disposition. So, he has graciously changed our stance and more fundamentally has delivered us from death into life.

In what is a corpse interested? In nothing. Corpses do what they do: nothing. They just decay. They have nothing to do with the living world. They are literally inanimate. Spiritually, before God made us alive, we were spiritually inanimate. We were dead. We had no interest in Christ nor had we interest in his moral will. Now, by his grace, having been made alive we do. That’s a miracle. We have a new stance, a new disposition toward Christ and his moral will for us because we have new life. It’s imperative that we not reverse that order. We are not sanctified and we are certainly not justified or saved because we have a new disposition. That is Romanism. We have a new disposition and we are developing new habits of godliness because we are alive, because we are no longer spiritual corpses dead to Christ, his gospel, and his law.

One of the fruits and evidences of this new principle granted to us and worked in us by God’s sovereign grace is delight in what is good, true, right, and holy. Here is one strong reason why it seems that Paul is speaking as a Christian in Romans 7:22. He says, “For I delight (συνήδομαι) in the law of God, in my inner being….” The verb that Paul uses only occurs once in the NT and not at all in the LXX but its root is related to the word that is often translated “pleasures” or “passions” in the NT and it refers to strong desires or feelings. In other words, though the context is difficult (Rom 7) and disputed if we can use related terms from other contexts to help us interpret Paul’s language it seems like a strong term and not a passing emotional experience. In Ps 1:2 and 40:8 (39:9 in LXX) the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures translated the Hebrew word for “delight” (“but his delight is in the law of Yahweh” and “I delight to do your will….”) is the noun (θέλημα) that is frequently used in the NT for the moral will of God, e.g.,

  • Matt 6:10, “Your will be done.”
  • Matt 7:21, “but the one who does the will of my Father”
  • Matt 18:14, “whoever does the will of my Father”
  • John 1:13 “My food is to do the will of him who sent me”

In other words, the concepts of delighting in the Lord and the objective, revealed moral will of God are inextricably bound together. The Christian is a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). A Christian is a new creation, wrought by the Spirit, through the Word, who delights in what pleases God and we know what that is through God’s special revelation in his law and gospel, i.e., in his Word. Thus, as citizens in the Kingdom of God, we realize daily and gradually that it ” is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Because we have been crucified with Christ, he now lives in me “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). As new creatures, as members of his new covenant, we love Christ’s “new commandment:” “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34; See also 1 John 2:7). Having been released from the condemnation of the old (Mosaic) law, we “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” We are no longer bound to the 613 Mosaic commandments because, in the New Covenant (Jer 31) the Spirit is writing God’s law not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh (Eph 2:15). We have a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; See also Col 3:10).

The second benefit of the covenant of grace is progressive sanctification and it has two parts: mortification and vivification. Sanctification means all our faculties are being made alive. It is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC 35). By the Spirit we are enabled because all our faculties are being renewed, made alive. This is great news to which we must return again and again, even as we struggle with sin. Despite our sin, we are being renewed. Let the Evil One say and do as he will. He cannot put Jesus back in the tomb and he cannot put us back under condemnation. The law convicts us and guides us but it no longer condemns us who died with Christ and who have been raised with him and who are being vivified by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Here are all the posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.

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  1. Scott,
    This is good. I especially find your Rom. 7 insights to be helpful. Would that more were open to this interpretation. Fits well with earlier HB Q/A’s. Once again, thanks again…

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