Question 3: From where do you know your misery?
Answer: From the Law of God.
To us, misery has the connotation of a subjective feeling, e.g., “I feel miserable today.” In the Heidelberg, it refers to a state; therefore, a person may be entirely unaware that he or she is in that state. The New Testament contains a story of a rich, young man that approached Jesus unaware that he was guilty and miserable (Matt. 19:16-26; Mk. 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27). Just like a person may imagine he is healthy until diagnosed by a doctor or a student may mistakenly think she has “aced” an exam before it is compared to the answer sheet, this young man imagined that his obedience was good enough to merit eternal life. Jesus responded by quoting from God’s law, which is the standard of goodness and love. He did it to make him aware that he had failed to perfectly and perpetually obey God.
Jesus’s response to this man is significant, because it shows us how we might avoid being similarly ignorant. God’s law is where we must turn if we are to learn of our true state. Surely, God’s law does more than convict (it also curbs sin and teaches the Christian how to live a grateful life toward God), but the conviction of disobedience is the all-important starting place. The law reveals our Guilt.