Heidelberg 92: What Is The Law Of God?

Moses Parts the WatersGod’s Word teaches us to have the highest, most reverent view of God’s law generally. The Psalmist declares “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97; ESV). To be sure, in Psalm 119 the noun Torah (תּוֹרָה) probably has a broader sense than just the moral law, nevertheless, the Scriptures repeatedly teach the same attitude toward to moral law. After all, God’s moral law is a subset of the broader category. When Psalm 40:8 says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” that surely delight is in God’s moral law. Notice how God’s “will” (i.e., that of which God approves) and his “law” (Torah) is a delight. Tragically, Adam, who was created with the ability to obey God’s law, created in righteousness and true holiness, in order that he might know God, love him, and enter into a state of blessedness with him, freely and mysteriously chose to disobey God’s law (Heidelberg 6). That lawlessness was the original sin (1 John 3:4). In that sin all humanity was plunged into moral darkness and corruption (Rom 5:12–21). As the colonial puritans put it in their catechism, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” St Paul and St Augustine nod in agreement. Israel was tasked with obeying God’s law and, according to the prophets, she did not: “But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do” (Jer 32:23; ESV).

I refer to the moral law in order to honor the biblical and historic Christian threefold distinction in the biblical law. Traditionally the rabbis counted 613 commandments in the Mosaic law but within that body law there were distinct categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral. This distinction was implied by some of the Fathers when they defended the abiding validity of the moral law (e.g., the Decalogue or Ten Commandments) but argued that the civil and ceremonial laws were intentionally temporary and no longer in force after the death of Christ. In the medieval period theologians (e.g., Thomas) made this distinction explicit. The Reformers all embraced this distinction and used it consistently in their explanation of the continuity and discontinuity between Moses (i.e., the old covenant) and Christ (or the new covenant). In the modern period, particularly among evangelicals and especially under the influence of the various types of Dispensationalism, the accent has fallen on discontinuity leading many of them to ignore the old threefold distinction as irrelevant, as if everything that happened in redemptive history is passé.

Another reason, beyond Dispensationalism, that has led evangelicals to think this way is the loss of nature as a category of thought. The Fathers, medievals, and Reformers all used two great categories by which to understand the world: nature (or creation) and redemption (or grace). To be sure, they understood and related those categories differently but they all used the categories. Because the Reformers (including Calvin) had the category nature they had a way of thinking about the way the world was originally ordered, the way things were intended to be. They also had a way of understanding God’s moral law. They knew that God’s law was grounded in his nature (more about that later) and that law was expressed in creation or in nature. They spoke without embarrassment of God’s natural law. In the modern period, particularly after the colorful and influential Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968), the category of natural law came under suspicion among his followers (of whom there are many) and among those evangelicals he influenced. Without the idea that God’s moral law is revealed in creation, in nature, a part of the fabric of human existence, it is more difficult to think about a moral law that is fixed in the consciences of all men, in all times. Nevertheless, the great tradition of the church on this had very good reason to speak as it did. The Apostle Paul taught explicitly that God has revealed his law in nature and impressed it upon the human conscience:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom 1:19–20; ESV).

God has revealed himself and his moral law in creation. That knowledge is universal. It is not, however, as Paul makes clear, a saving knowledge. Indeed, after the fall, the natural knowledge of God is a condemning knowledge but it is a true knowledge. Further, Paul says that, by nature, all humans not only know God but they also know his moral law:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Rom 2:14–15; ESV).

The work of the law is written on the heart of every man. The law known by nature is the same in substance as the moral law revealed to Adam and that was given to Israel at Sinai. Thus, the moral law is perpetual and universal. The Israelite civil laws were intentionally temporary. In Westminster Confession chapter 19 the Reformed confess:

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

The law “commonly called moral,” refers back to the law described in 19.1 as the law God gave to Adam as a “covenant of works” before the fall. It is the same law which was, according to 19.2, given at Sinai. That law is distinct from the ceremonial laws, the laws regarding the religious laws of the Israelites, the laws for washing, ritual purity, the calendar (e.g., new moons and sabbaths), circumcision etc.

The moral law is also distinct from the Israelite civil laws:

4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Like the ceremonial laws, and in contrast to the moral law, the civil laws were intentionally temporary. They were specific to the Israelite civil polity (government). The movement to bring them back and to put them into force after Christ’s death is known as theonomy, which argues for the “abiding validity” of the civil law “in exhaustive detail.” This way of speaking about the civil laws is in direct opposition to that of the Westminster Confession, which was only summarizing the Patristic, medieval, and Reformation consensus about the threefold distinction in the Mosaic law. According to the Reformed, the Mosaic civil laws among the 613 commandments, have “expired” and no longer obligate any civil magistrate beyond their “general equity.” Through that opening theonomists and Christian Reconstructionists have sought to smuggle theonomy into the Reformed tent, as it were. The expression “general equity,” however, was well understood in the period to refer to the natural law or the general principles of law universally known and reflected in the Israelite civil law. In other words, one could not say to a civil magistrate, “You may not institute law x because it was also instituted under Moses.” What the Reformed opposed was the notion that because a civil law was instituted under Moses that it is necessarily now binding.

Thus, when the catechism answers the question, “what is the law of God?”, it does not recite all 613 commandments but only the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) as a summary of God’s moral law:

92. What is the Law of God?

God spoke all these words, saying:

First Commandment

I am the Lord your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, you shall have no other gods before me.

Second Commandment

You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord your 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; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Third Commandment

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Fourth Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God: in it you shall not do any work, thou, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Fifth Commandment

Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Sixth Commandment

You shall not kill.

Seventh Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

Eighth Commandment

You shall not steal.

Ninth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s (Heidelberg Catechism).

Our Lord Jesus summarized the moral law in Matthew 22:37-40, as Heidelberg 4 says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The moral law is reflected throughout the gospels and the epistles of the New Testament. Typically, the second half of Paul’s epistles are an application of the moral law to the Christian life. In other words, the modern evangelical prejudice against the moral law as “not for today” is without foundation in the broad Christian tradition (Patristic, medieval, Reformation) and it is without foundation in God’s Word. If the moral law is “not for today” then why did the Apostle Paul quote the 5th commandment in Ephesians 6:1–3 and apply it to New Testament Christians? Is that the only commandment quoted or alluded to in the NT? No, not at all. Remember, 1 John 3:4 is in the New Testament and there John defines sin as “lawlessness.” How can there be lawlessness without a law? Which law? God’s law. Where did he create a new law? Yes, our Lord Jesus spoke of a “new commandment” (John 13:34; 15:12) but the Apostle John explains that commandment is not absolutely new (1 John 2:7–8; 2 John 5). We are to love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. It is new in the way it is articulated and in the circumstances in which it is articulated, i.e., in light of the fulfillment of the promise of a Redeemer) but the command to love one’s neighbor is hardly new. One finds partial summaries of the Ten Commandments scattered throughout the NT, e.g., Romans 2:22–24; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; and Galatians 5:19-20. In Matthew 15:3 our Lord Jesus appealed to the moral law as fixed and permanent over against the man-made traditions of the rabbis and pharisees.

When we confess “the law of God” we refer specially to the moral law as we have received it from God in nature and in Scripture, in the history of redemption. In Heidelberg 19 we recognize that law was revealed under types and shadows and thus, in the New Covenant, those types and shadows have been fulfilled. This is why, though we honor the Christian Sabbath, we do not keep a Saturday sabbath because that belongs to the types and shadows. We recognize that the land promise attached to the 5th commandment is no longer in force. God no longer has a national people but the substance of the moral law as expressed at Sinai is still in force. The NT gospels and epistles make that plain. We call that substance the moral law.

The Law Of God Is Not Arbitrary

Above we considered the abiding validity of God’s moral law as revealed first in creation, then at Sinai, and as re-stated under the new covenant or New Testament by our Lord Jesus and the apostles. We also distinguished the moral law from other types of laws within the 613 commandments given under Moses. Failure to distinguish that which is natural, i.e., that which is built into creation (i.e., the fabric of human existence) from that which was intentionally temporary makes it very difficult to see that the moral law is permanent.

The moral law is also permanent because it reflects the nature and character of God. Ours is not only an antinomian (lawless) age, it is also a nominalist age, i.e., a time in which many doubt that there is any sort of fixed relationship between signs (e.g., words) and established truths and realities. In the wake of French Deconstructionism it is widely assumed, especially by Millennials, who have been raised after Deconstructionism, that there can be no transcendental, objective Truth that is true for you and for me in the same way, at the same time or even for all times and places. They have been taught that all truth can be only subjective, that “truth” (scare quotes intended) is a social construction that can and must be deconstructed. Such a conviction necessarily makes one suspicious about truth claims. This view of the world suspects that behind transcendental truth claims lies an ulterior motive such as a desire for control, authority, or power.

Of course this suspicion is transient and selective. If all truth is nothing more than a social construction and a cloak for some sort of power grab then we may trust the deconstructionist either, may me? What are they after? Who deconstructs the deconstructionists? Then where are we? Nihilism, despair, and desperation. As much as those three nouns describe the spirit of this age they are not Christian ways of thinking nor are they Christian ways of interpreting authors and texts. They are not even reasonable ways of approaching the world and no one actually lives this way. It is nothing but a game. STOP means stop and we all know it.

So, in the world as we actually experience it, as God ordered it, there are fixed truths, he has ordained language to communicate that truth and even himself. One of the chief places where God reveals himself is in his law. When the moral law says, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “you shall not take the name of the Yahweh your God in vain” it reflects God’s holiness. God says of himself, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24; see also Deut 9:3).Leviticus 11:44 reveals to us something of God’s holiness: “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” God is the antithesis of that which is common. He is pure. He is clean. He is righteous. The Levitical laws (e.g,, 10:10; “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean… “) distinguishing between clean and unclean, even though typological (illustrative of future realities) help us to understand the difference between a holy God and us, a fallen, unholy people. The God who redeemed Israel out of Egypt with plagues and through the Red Sea is the God who redeems us graciously and calls us to holiness and purity (James 4:8). According to James, being “double-minded” is the antithesis of purity toward God. The writer to the Hebrews sounds like an Old Testament prophet when says, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 9:3) but he was writing to New Testament believers about very real New Testament realities.

In short, God’s moral law is not some mere convention, some arbitrary word from God that bears no relation to who and what he is. Of course, we do not and, by nature, cannot know God as he is in himself. The Triune God is, in himself, hidden from us (Deus absconditus; Ps 10:5; Isa 55:8, 9; John 1:18; 14:8–11). Nevertheless, what God says to us about himself is true. Our Lord Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). There is a divinely ordained, stable relationship between God’s Word, in this case his law, and who and what God is. His law is what he wants us to know of his character and attributes relative to his moral will for us.

God’s law also reflects our original and fallen condition. In Belgic Confession art. 14 we confess that Adam, and we in him, “transgressed the commandment of life….” The triune God came to Adam as the first head of all humanity, whom he had created in righteousness and true holiness and able to keep the law.

We believe that God created man from the dust of the earth and made and formed him in his image and likeness—good, just, and holy; able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God (BC 14).

The fall is a great mystery. How could righteous Adam fall? Why would he freely choose to disobey? These are questions to which there are no ready answers in this life and we should resist the temptation to give them, since those answers and most often led to mischief and even to heresy. Still, we confess that Adam was able to obey. We were able to obey. Yet, tragically, we chose death over life and glory.

The law was a covenant of works, not a covenant of grace. The “commandment of life” was “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). It was a commandment of life because, if Adam kept the commandment he would have entered into eternal life (see also Heidelberg 6, 9; Rev 22:14). The condition of the covenant was, to use the words of Christ, “do this and live” (Luke 10:28). His status before God was conditioned upon his obedience to God’s holy law.

The law also reveals our own state after the fall. As Paul says, the law has not changed in its character. Is the law sin? “By no means!” (Rom 7:7).

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once “alive” apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died (Rom 7:7-9; ESV).

After the fall, the law is “not for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…(1 Tim 1:9-10; ESV)

Notice how Paul again walks us through the Ten Commandments and applies them to us. His regular use of the Decalogue, as we noted last time, shows us that we may not say that the Ten Commandments are “not for today,” i.e., no longer in force as the standard of Christian ethics.

Paul says the law was added at Sinai “because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (Gal 3:19). This is why we say in Heidelberg 3 that we learn the greatness of our sin and misery not from the gospel nor from grace but from the law.

This is why it is perfectly right and faithful to Reformed theology, as Mr Murray taught us, to distinguish between the principle of law and the principle of gospel or grace: “…the purity and integrity of the gospel stands or falls with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, one the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other” (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 186).

When Mr Murray wrote of “potency” he was thinking of “power” or what the law is able to do relative to what the gospel is able to do. One of the first things (sometimes referred to as the “first use of the law”) is to teach us the greatness of our sin and misery. Again, Mr Murray wrote:

Recognition of this datum of awful sanctity, and republication of it with conviction and authority is the only path of repentance and restoration. As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability. We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, “Woe is me for I am undone.” “Surely I am more brutish than any man and I have not the understanding of a man.” (Isa. 6:5; Prov 30:2). But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3;13). We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.” (John Murray, “Sanctity of the Moral Law” in Collected Works of John Murray vol. 1.”

Here he was following in the broad and consistent Reformed tradition, which has been documented many times here. Both principles are reconciled in God even though they remain distinct to us.

Finally, the because God’s law is grounded in God himself, because it is an appropriate reflection of his nature and character, it is justly the pattern of the Christian life. This is the pattern we see in Psalm 40. The needy sinner cries out to God for salvation (v. 1), which God graciously gives—it was he who caused us to see that we were blind and in danger, in a “pit of destruction (v. 2)”—and in response to God’s free grace to us, in Christ, the believer says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (v. 8).

Ours is a selectively skeptical age. The Deconstructionist asks us to read his text the way he intends it to be understood but to deconstruct everything else. In that way, he is a literary vandal. The believer, however, is selectively critical. He accepts God’s Word, he receives it, and trusts it implicitly but, on the basis of God’s sufficient word (sola Scriptura) he sits in judgment over all other claims to authority.

The Three Uses Of God’s Law

Above we looked at how the law reveals the character and nature of God, particularly his righteousness and holiness. We have also considered the historic Christian threefold distinction in the law. We have seen that the moral law is permanent in a way that the civil and ceremonial Mosaic laws were not. Since God’s moral law has abiding validity, how does it in the new covenant? The Reformation churches have distinguished three uses: the pedagogical, the civil, and the normative. The three uses have been shared, in principle, by the Reformation churches since the 1520s. The nomenclature developed over time and the uses have been ordered differently, by different writers (e.g., Calvin and Berkhof), at different times. For example, in his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther (1483–1546) described the civil use as the first use of the law:

The first use of the law, then, is to bridle wicked people. The devil reigns throughout the world and forces people to do all kinds of horrible wickedness. Therefore, God has ordained magistrates, parents, ministers, laws, and civil ordinances, so that if they cannot do anything else, at least they may bind the devil’s hands so that he does not rage in his slaves as he wants to do. This civil restraint is very necessary and appointed by God both for public peace and for the preservation of everything, but especially so that the course of the Gospel should not be hindered by wicked people.1

The Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof (1873–1957) also described the civil or political use as the first use.2 The uses of the law, however, have been numbered differently by different writers. The Heidelberg Catechism does not mention the civil use (at least not explicitly) and the first use of the law it mentions is the pedagogical use.

The civil use is the application of the moral law to public or civil life. Here we are not talking about “theonomy,” which is the theory that God intends, in the new covenant, after the abrogation of the Mosaic (old) covenant, that the civil magistrate institute and enforce the civil aspects and punishments of the 613 laws of Moses. Contrary to the repeated claims by theonomists, this has never been Reformed teaching. As we saw in part 2, the Westminster Confession 19.4 explicitly teaches that the Mosaic civil law has “expired.” It is true that in the 16th and 17th centuries, in Christendom, under the influence of Constantinianism, the Reformed did expect the magistrate to enforce both tables (commandments 1–4; 5–10) of the moral law. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, most Reformed folk came to see that Constantinianism was a mistake, that the magistrate is not called by the New Testament to enforce the first table (or at least the first three commandments–an argument can be made for civil recognition for a day of rest). Nevertheless, the Reformed all did affirm the doctrine of natural (creational) law. In recent years there has been an attempt to recover the older doctrine of natural law but to apply it without bringing back Constantinianism.

As we saw in part 2, the Apostle Paul clearly taught a doctrine of natural revelation and natural law. It was this law that the Caesars knew. It was with this understanding that Paul called pagan Caesars “ministers of God” (Rom 13:6). After the Mosaic national, civil covenant had been fulfilled, God’s moral law, revealed in creation and known by our senses and in our consciences, is sufficient to guide civil society, even though we don’t use it correctly (Canons of Dort, 3/4.4).

There is no question is Reformed theology what the law does in its pedagogical use. The Heidelberg Catechism says the first thing a believer must know is “the greatness of” his “sin and misery” (Heidelberg 2). Whence this knowledge? The law of God (Heidelberg 3). This is the pedagogical or elenctic use. Berkhof defines the pedagogical use:

In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.3

This is the use of the law to which Paul refers, in when he says that believers are no longer “under the law:”

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Rom 6:14–15; ESV)

It is vitally important for Christians to understand the distinction between the pedagogical use and the normative (below). Failure to grasp and use this distinction leads either to legalism (moralism) or to antinomianism, i.e., denial of the third or normative use of the law.

In the pedagogical use, the law is a taskmaster or a tutor (Gal 3:24), a harsh teacher with a ruler in hand with which to beat us sinners when we transgress. This use of the law is the expression of God’s holy, relentless righteousness (justice), that must be satisfied either by ourselves or by another. God’s law threatens death for all those who transgress: “The day you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17) The believer cannot be “under the law” in this sense, since the law no longer condemns him. A believer has been declared righteous or just before God on the basis of all that Christ has done, which has been freely credited (imputed) to him and received through faith alone (sola fide). A believer has been united to Christ. He has been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and raised with him. In its pedagogical use, the law demands perfect obedience as the condition of justification and salvation. Romans 11:6 says, however, that for us sinners, salvation is by grace and “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (ESV).

In the third use, however, God’s moral law guides our new life in Christ. The third thing a Christian must know is how he is “to be thankful to God for such redemption.” The law norms our new life. This is why we confess that good works are “only those which proceed from truth faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory….” (Heidelberg 91). Berkhof characterized the third use this way:

The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.4

There is a way of life, i.e., there is a way that believers live. There is a way of salvation, a path that believers walk toward eternal life, in the grace of Christ, in union with Christ. It is essential to distinguish, however, between is and through or because. The moralist wants to turn is into through or because. We are not saved through obedience. That is Romanism. We are not saved because of our obedience. That is sheer Pelagianism. Nevertheless, it is the case that those to whom God has sovereignly given new life, to whom he has given the grace of faith and through it union with Christ, will and shall seek to live, sola gratia, sola fide according to God’s moral law.

Finally, it is sometimes claimed that, for Calvin, the third use of the law was really the first use. This is not only confusing but it is not true. In his 1559 Institutes he wrote:

The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. For even though they have the law written and engraved upon their hearts by the finger of God [Jer 31:33; Heb 10:16], that is, have been so moved and quickened through the directing of the Spirit that they long to obey God, they still profit by the law in two ways. (2.7.12)

First, this section comes in the midst of a larger discussion of the three uses of the law beginning in 2.7.6. There he explicitly enumerated the three uses of the law in sections 6–9. The first use is the pedagogical use. The second use (2.7.10–11) is the civil use and the third use (2.7.12–14) is the normative use. So, Luther’s order (and Berkhof’s) differed from Calvin’s but they taught substantially the same thing. Second, even in the passage to which some have appealed Calvin did use the adjective “third.” He wrote: “Tertius usus, qui est praecipuus est…” “The third use, which is the chief use…” and by that phrase he was echoing what the whole Reformed world was saying before and after him, that we are justified in order that we might be sanctified. Indeed, there is nothing to indicate that, when he wrote those words, he was distinguishing himself from Luther. Rather, Calvin was articulating a Reformation commonplace, that believers are justified in order that they might be “so influenced and actuated by the Spirit,” as he wrote, that we desire to obey God from the heart, out of gratitude, according to his law. That’s all he means. This was not revolutionary and it does not overturn the three uses of the law.


1. Edwin Sandys, “Foreword to the First English Edition,” in Galatians, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 165.

2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 614.

3. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 614.

4. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 615.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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