For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q85


“Deer caught in the headlights” is a phrase few of us have actually experienced, though most of us have seen those yellow road signs warning of deer crossings. But many years ago, as I drove down from the Rocky Mountains toward Utah on a road trip very late at night, those signs were unnecessary. Lifeless deer lay alongside the road, and I drove carefully; on several occasions large green eyes reflected auto headlights in wide-eyed fear. I have no idea why there where so many deer crossing the highway that night, but it was an unnerving experience and an illustration of what the phrase “deer caught in the headlights” actually means: a deer is blinded by sudden and unexpected light, disoriented and dismayed, not understanding the danger, not knowing whether to run or freeze. The wrong decision—even indecision—could be deadly.
As I consider this catechism question, those deer come to mind. To escape danger, they needed the right information, understanding, and the ability to take proper action. Of course they possessed none of this. For us, the illustration should be clear. God has made a way for us to escape the impending destruction which our sins deserve. If we ignore that provision, we assuredly face death when we are caught in the headlights of God’s truth and ultimate justice. Like the deer, we need the right information, understanding, and the ability to take proper action. Praise God, he has given us the life-saving light of his Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding and move us toward his saving grace. The question is whether we will heed the message or suffer what will surely come if we don’t.
We need to pray for ourselves, our family, and our friends, that we would learn and diligently apply this lesson in faith and repentance. May we who call upon Christ for salvation, make on-going use of the means of grace towards the benefits of redemption secured by our loving Savior.
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WSC Q85. What doth 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 requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life[a], with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption[b].
[a] Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21
[b] Acts 2:38; I Cor. 11:24-25; Col. 3:16
Question 85 asks what God requires from us to escape his anger and curse, which we deserve for our sin, and answers that to escape God’s anger and curse, which we deserve for our sin, God requires from us faith in Jesus Christ and repentance unto life along with diligent involvement in all the external means Christ uses to bring us the benefits of redemption.
Comments and considerations:
We learned in the previous catechism question that “every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and that which is to come” (WSC Q84). Given that dilemma, what must we do to be saved? The response of today’s average evangelical Christian might match the first third of the answer above, or maybe two-thirds, but probably no more. Those who agree that something is in fact required of us, apart from works righteousness, generally agree that the requirement is faith in Jesus Christ; apart from him there is no hope (as the next catechism question will explain more fully). But there are some who would try to rationalize the idea of repentance and what that means as a requirement for salvation. And others might wonder what the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption has to do with escaping God’s wrath and curse.
The problem with the question is in the asking, and the assumptions that often align with it. Many consider the question in a limited fashion, somewhat likening it to a fire-insurance issue. If the question is merely, “How may I escape future punishment for sin, God’s wrath and curse in the life to come?” the answer is clear: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and though shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31 KJV). But that is not the question the catechism asks. When we combine the ideas of WSC Q84 and Q85, the question is actually, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin, both in this life, and that which is to come?” The Christian life is not just about escaping future judgment; it is about living a life pleasing to our heavenly Father now, while we are still breathing, growing in grace and knowledge, bearing the peaceable fruits of righteousness, letting our light shine before men—all in order that our Father in heaven might be glorified now (Matt 5:6). The benefits of redemption are both temporal and eternal; and Christ communicates (i.e., verifies, teaches, instructs, and expects to be performed) those benefits through the means of grace, as they are diligently used. What part of “a tree is known by its fruit” don’t we understand? If we truly have exercised saving faith in Christ, and have turned from our sin in true repentance, we will validate that truth by our desire for the things of Christ. Thus we will escape the wrath and curse due to us for sin, both now and in the life to come.
The next several catechism lessons will fill in some details, but we should note a few things now. First, that which is needed to escape God’s wrath and curse for sin is faith in Christ, accompanied by repentance unto life (explained more fully in WSC Q87). The diligent use of the means of grace yields the benefits of redemption, which will test and assure our faith (II Tim. 3:16). Christ once asked rhetorically, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) In many other Scripture passages, we are exhorted to examine ourselves to make sure we are really “in the faith” (II Cor. 3:15). This is an on-going exercise that can 1) give us the benefit of assurance, 2) provide a course correction if we find we are straying off the path, and 3) provide crash recovery if we have in fact taken a wrong turn, or find that we have been faking our faith all along.
Secondly, although the question emphasizes our escape from God’s wrath, his covenant with us also provides the promise of positive blessings. Commenting on Deut. 28:47-48, Jeremy Taylor once said, “God threatens terrible things, if we will not be happy!” God intends his people to be a joyous and happy people; that is part of our chief end! Actually, I like the way the Westminster Larger Catechism begins: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. The joy of the Lord echoes throughout Scripture, echoing Neh. 8:10: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” To escape the terrible effects of sin and unbelief by God’s wondrous means of grace is to run headlong into the arms of the Father’s love and joy! (See Luke 15, the parable of the Prodigal Son.) We must not attempt to receive the blessings of redemption without bearing fruit as covenant-keepers. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).
Far from originating joy, humans are meant to be like an echo, reverberating with God’s joy and sending it back to Him. The very word “rejoice” contains (in the prefix “re”) this idea of “over again” or “back.” The message of joy bears repeating, for in this dark world we need to hear about joy again and again. Paul obviously thought so when he wrote from a prison cell, “I will say it again, Rejoice!” (M. Mason)
Here’s something to think about. If I am not, at heart, joyful in the Lord, maybe, just maybe, I am not…?
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
Read Acts 13:38-39. Summarize these verses. Look at the entire context, starting with verse 26.
1.        When we turn to God in faith and know his forgiveness, we must also turn away from our sins and sinful life. What is this called and how is it described in Acts 20:21?
2.        The catechism describes the use of external means or ways that God has chosen to bring faith and repentance to reality. What are these means? Some are described in Heb. 10:19-25 and Acts 2:40-47? (1)
3.        Of the various means of grace, the ways that God brings us to himself, what is described in I Cor. 15:1-2? What is described in Acts 8:22-23? And what is described in Acts 2:28 and I Cor. 11:23-26?
Answer: 1) The ministry of the word (hearing the Gospel preached), prayer, and sacraments (baptism and communion).
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q85 and WLC 153
WSC Q85. What doth 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 requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life[a], with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption[b].
      [a]  Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21
[b]  Acts 2:38; ICor. 11:24-25; Col. 3:16
WLC Q153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A.  That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ[a], and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation[b].
      [a]  Acts 20:21; Mat. 3:7-8; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 16:30- 31; John 3:16, 18
      [b]  Prov. 2:1-5; 8:33-36
Question(s) for further study:

Here we see how the Larger Catechism question adds to the Shorter Catechism with the addition of what phrases? How does this add to our instruction and heart attitude approach to the question under consideration?

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