The Heidelberg Catechism – 5

Marty Cates   -  

Week 5


I’m a fix-it person, and my wife is not always the biggest fan of this mentality. Any time she comes to me with a problem I, of course, immediately try to fix-it.  There must be a solution!  Occasionally I get it right and people praise me for my creative problem solving. More often though, my solutions are completely void of emotional intelligence or rational logical thought, and sometimes both. In my mind though, there is always a solution.


The first 11 questions of the Heidelberg Catechism present us with a problem, mainly our sinfulness and the brokenness of the world around us.  This is the human dilemma.  


Dr. Rollo May wrote and spoke extensively about the Human Dilemma throughout the 70s and 80s.  He was an Existential Psychologist whose premise was that humanity has a great anxiety that it must deal with, an identity crisis that we must all face. Christianity says that this dilemma is rooted in our rebellion against God and His original intent and design for our lives. For May, anxiety was the window through which we can look and better understand life.  Anxiety was a window toward creativity, toward courage, toward “fixing it.”  What we experience in life though tells us that no amount of creativity, courage, or fixing can truly solve this dilemma.  Our sin, therefore, cannot be overcome by our creativity, courage, or own fixing.


Questions 12-15 begin to move toward a solution to the human dilemma: God’s redemptive action in the course of history. This next section of the Heidelberg begins to give us answers to how the human dilemma is fixed.  If questions 1-11 diagnosed the problem then, starting with question 12, we begin to get to the solution.



Spend time this week praying and asking God to remind you of His sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, and wisdom. Pray that you aren’t threatened by His perfection but instead drawn to His completeness and that you find fulfillment in Him alone. 


Question 12:

  1. According to God’s righteous judgement we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?


  1. God required that His justice be satisfied. [1] There the claims of His justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another. [2]


[1] Exodus 23:7; Romans 2:1-11. [2] Isaiah 53:11; Romans 8: 3-4.


Question 13:


  1. Q. Can we pay this debt ourselves?


  1. Certainly not. Actually, we increase our guilt every day. [1]


[1] Matthew 6:12; Romans 2:4-5.


Question 14:


  1. Q. Can another creature – any at all – pay this debt for us? 


  1. No. To begin with, God will not punish another creature for what a human is guilty of. [1]


Besides, no mere creature can bear the weight of God’s eternal anger against sin and release others from it. [2]


[1] Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Hebrews 2:14-18 [2] Psalm 49: 7-9; 130:3. 


Question 15:


  1. Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?


  1. One who is truly human [1] and truly righteous [2], yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God. [3]


[1] Romans 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:21; Hebrews 2:17. [2] Isaiah 53:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21; 

Hebrews 7:26. [3] Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Jeremiah 23:6; John 1:1.




Starting here in questions 12-15 we move into the solution of the human dilemma.  God restores order to the creation that is marred in the chaos of the curse.  The evil that haunts us at every turn is dealt with.  The chasm between us and God has been overcome, and now ,through this answer, we can be free.


How has this happened? How has the chasm been bridged? How has the dilemma been solved? What is the solution that fixes it all? All of these are answered through Jesus.  In Him, God brings the holiness and mercy we so desperately need.


These questions begin unfolding the “redemptive narrative.” Wholeness and healing come to us when our relationship with God is restored through Jesus.  This action of God to make us right, to fix all things, is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, and it is the major theme of the Heidelberg Catechism. Of all of the questions within the Heidelberg Catechism, 2 form an introduction, 9 deal with the problem (our guilt), 74 deal with God’s work to bring us back to Himself, and the remaining 44 deal with our response to His grace. If I did my math correctly, that should be 129 questions, and the vast majority of them are all about the grace of God and His redeeming work. 


Unlike my responses to fixing things that often end in more things to fix, God’s plan is perfect.  His steadfast loving kindness doesn’t fail, He is faithful to His covenant promises.  God’s word tells us that His character can’t be satisfied by our efforts, only by the perfect fulfillment of His law – which our own efforts can never achieve; or by perfect atonement – which we are unable to provide.  The human dilemma is that we cannot save ourselves, but the beautiful thing is that God does all the work for us. 


I’m reminded of lyrics to a song by Andrew Peterson:


Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole? Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll? The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave He was David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave Is He worthy? Is He worthy? Of all blessing and honor and glory Is He worthy of this? He is.


There is only one who can open the scroll in Revelation 5.  John tells us that no one is able to open the scroll or to look into it. No one else is able to make sense of this world. No one else is adequate for the task of redeeming such broken people.  


These questions begin to unravel and point to the One who is worthy. The One who is adequate.  The One who can solve the human dilemma and fix this world and us as well.  The One who is able is the same being who is truly human and yet truly God.  It is Jesus and Jesus alone that bridges the chasm, that fixes-it all, with His perfect obedience and atonement for our sins. 



From “Life in the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen


Being a Christian, I first learned this word “beloved” from the story of the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. “No sooner had Jesus come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven; ‘You are my son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you. ‘” For many years I had read these words and even reflected upon them in sermons and lectures, but it is only since our talks in New York that they have taken on a meaning far beyond the boundaries of my own tradition. Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words, “You are my Beloved” revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings…


Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”



Scripture Readings:

Colossians 2:9 (Can you put it to memory)

Romans 8:3-4

Hebrews 2:14-18

Psalm 99

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Isaiah 53


Questions for Reflection:

How do you try to fix the problems in your life? Fix yourself? 


How have you seen your fixing fail? 


Where are you wrestling with the human dilemma?


Why does God demand a sacrifice to pay for our sins? (See Hebrews 2)


Why couldn’t God have made some other Sacrifice?


Is it easier for you to picture the justice or grace of God? Why? How does this affect how you live? Love? Worship?  How does God bring these two things together in Jesus?