Question 2: How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?
Answer: Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.
If the purpose of the Heidelberg Catechism is to bring gospel-comfort to the believer, its strategy for accomplishing this is by instructing in Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. In this, it follows the structure of Romans, the New Testament letter that most clearly unpacks the nuts and bolts of salvation.
- Rom. 1:18-3:20 – Man’s Guilt (Heidelberg Q&A 3-11)
- Rom. 3:21-11:36 – Grace in Christ (Q&A 12-85)
- Rom. 12:1-15:13 – The life of Christian Gratitude (Q&A 86-129)
If these three aspects of the Christian life are misunderstood, great problems arise. If we fail to understand our sin and guilt, we cannot understand why God would be wrathful toward mankind, and we begin to misrepresent Him as a “God of mere love”. This makes the cross inconsequential to salvation; if there were no problem of sin and guilt, there would be no need for a sacrifice. But if we know our guilt yet fail to understand God’s grace in Christ, we end up in a state of despair, crying out, “How could we ever be saved from His judgment?! How can my works possibly appease God’s justice?!” And if we successfully grasp our guilt and God’s grace but ignore our response of gratitude, we don’t pursue the purpose for which we have been saved, i.e., to be conformed to the image of Christ and growing in obedience to His law.