(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:32-36)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Jesus Christ came to bring us abundant life.
In his lesson about the Good Shepherd in John 10, Jesus said in verse 10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Bringing life to the dead is not rational to us creatures. We know that when someone or something dies, there is nothing we can do to reverse that.
In the early years of maintaining an office, first in my science lab office when I taught school, then again in my first years here as Pastor, I failed in my attempt to have live plants for decorations. They started out alive, but when they died I knew there was nothing I could do for them except to get rid of them. I now have some very nice plastic plants on my desk.
It is a sad adjustment when a loved one is taken away from us by our Lord. King David lost a son who was born to Bathsheba. He deeply grieved when the son was sick. When the baby died his servants were afraid to tell him for fear of how it would effect their leader. When they delivered the sad news, David understood that there was nothing more anyone could do for his child. He rested in God’s covenant promises that his child was taken into the merciful and all powerful hands of God.
In 2 Samuel 12:22-23 David said to his servants, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
Death is a one way barrier that when crossed, we cannot go back. This is how God intends it. It teaches us a very important spiritual fact. Our souls are irretrievably lost in the spiritual death we all inherited from Adam. We are all born in that grip of the curse of spiritual death. There is nothing we can do, nothing any church can do, to make ourselves alive and right with God. In contrast with our inability as lost creatures, our Creator can make the dead alive. It is part of his nature to be able to do what we cannot do.
To illustrate this there were a few times when God reversed physical death. God worked through Elijah to raise the widow’s son. Jesus raised several from the dead, including Lazarus. Our Lord himself rose from the dead. The Apostle Peter raised Tabitha. Paul raised Eutychus. These were all done to show God’s power to overcome death, both physical and spiritual.
But life isn’t a one time event. It is a growing process that matures into something greater than its beginning. It is astounding how tiny cells grow into a baby, then that baby grows into an adult. From a tiny hand full of seeds, we see the growth of an entire forest.
When we become alive in Christ by his redeeming grace, it is not only and end to spiritual death. It is a launch into the adventure of growth toward the perfection God plans for us in eternity.
There are wonderful benefits to all those Christ redeems.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
Answer. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.
Before we can enjoy the benefits of life, we need to be made alive.
Spiritual death is the separation of our souls from fellowship with God. The guilt of sin makes us unacceptable to him. Spiritual life is when the barrier of separation is taken away. To remove the guilt, we need to be Justified.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 33. What is justification?
Answer. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
To preserve the quality of justice, the guilt of our sins needs to be paid for. That is why Jesus came and died. He took the guilt of his people upon himself, and gives his children his own perfect righteousness. They are declared innocent by God as our Judge.
That is what justification is about. It is not that we are really innocent in ourselves. It is that we are judged innocent because our Savior paid our debt in full. It is not anything we do, decide, or desire that makes us innocent. It is an act of God by grace alone. It is not like the catchy phrase some us to define Justification: “Just As If I’d Never Sinned.” That may describe the legal standing we have after justification, but it is not what the word means.
In Romans 8:33 Paul said, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
The means God uses is the faith he implants in us when the work of Christ is applied. As God puts it in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
We say we are justified by faith, but faith is not the reason we are justified. The reason is God’s gracious love in the Savior’s death in our place. Faith is the instrument God puts into us that makes us know and trust the fact of our redemption in Christ.
It is not just that we believe something. It is that we trust fully in the finished work of Christ. None of us would trust in that, if he had not paid the debt for our sins, and grace had not applied that work to reunite us with our Father in Heaven.
By grace God opens our eyes. It makes us see how offensive our sins are to God, and brings us to sincere repentance. It also makes us see the truth of what Jesus did in our place so that we will have faith in his work of redemption.
When the barrier of sin is removed,
the redeemed are adopted into God’s family.
From the time we were conceived physically, we were part of a fallen race of people. Because of Adam’s failure to keep God’s covenant we all were alienated from God’s family. When a person is regenerated by grace through the work of Christ he is adopted as our Creator’s children forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 34. What is adoption?
Answer. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.
When we consider our imperfections and tendencies to sin, it is amazing that anyone could enjoy any privileges at all in God’s family. But through Christ we have a declared right to all those privileges as joint heirs with our Savior.
We have the promises of the Bible, and the witness of the Holy Spirit in us to assure us that this is a promise we can count on. In Galatians 4:6 it says, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ ”
He has both the common Aramaic word used by the Jews for “father”, Abba (Αββα, אבא), and the word used for “father” by the Greek Gentiles, Pataer (Πατηρ). All who are justified by grace through faith can have this confidence.
In Romans 8:16 it says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
All who are adopted into God’s family grow to live more righteously.
Life means we are growing and maturing into something more than what we were when we were born. We are not only saved from hell, we are changed inwardly by Christ.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 35. What is sanctification?
Answer. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.
Sin is not our way of life anymore. It is not our master. We know we are still very imperfect until we’re taken to Christ after this life is over, but for now we have a different relationship with everything that offends God.
Our sins trouble us. We do no longer make excuses, or try to justify our offenses. We know we should not do what God forbids, and we should never neglect what he commands. We understand that even our apathy about Christ’s truth, love, and kingdom is an inexcusable attitude. Instead, we are humbled when we sin. We come in broken repentance again and again, begging not only to be forgiven, but also to overcome our sins.
We learn that even our moments of obedience are works of God’s grace in us. We give him all the glory. In Philippians 2:12-13 we are reminded to thank God while we work hard to become Christlike. “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Humility is one of the most basic evidences of Christian maturity. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we become aware of how imperfect we are, and of how grateful we ought to be for his constant work of sanctification.
The more we learn about righteousness, the less righteous we realize ourselves to be. Instead of discouraging us, we need the attitude of 1 John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
We understand that our faith is not really a full trust in God if we are content to still excuse our sins. The Book of James tells us in in James 2:20 and 26 that, “faith without works is dead.”
[You may want to read my more complete study on the subject of Sanctification.]
For all who are part of God’s family by grace,
there are enormous benefits in the abundant life God promises.
God’s children are assured of our Savior’s love. 1 John 5:13 says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
Answer. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
As immature believers, we might not always and fully understand or appreciate the certainty of God’s promises. We might not know them well. We may be uncertain that we accurately understand what God has said to us in his word.
As we learn what the Bible actually says, our doubts fade away. We realize that the uncertainty was not a failure to trust God, but a weakness in knowing what he promised.
Real assurance does not come because of emotional moments, or in the stirring words of a preacher. It comes as the Holy Spirit teaches us what God has actually said. As born-again children, we will trust all that we know is God’s truth.
No believer improves without set-backs. It is a growing process. Part of our assurance is to understand that even when we fall back into some sin, we are already forgiven by Christ who died knowing our failures ahead of time.
Peter and David knew what it was like to be brought face-to-face with their moral imperfections. After they failed, they came with sincere repentance and trust in the all-sufficient work of the Savior. We are assured that though our sins seem even more offensive as we learn more, we are constantly growing in our appreciation of our forgiveness and of Christ’s power in us.
As forgiven children we come to our Father in heaven with confidence. Hebrews 4:16 invites us into God’s presence, even in our most weak moments. It says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
God’s children are assured of many blessings as they mature in Christ. They are assured that they are at peace with God, and they find peace in their own souls because they trust God’s promises.
They know they are forgiven, and that their Sovereign God is always in control. They know that “… all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” as Romans 8:28 promises us.
They find a true inward joy in the Holy Spirit through even the hardest of times. They know that abounding grace that does not love them for what they do. It loves them because of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ which is credited to their account in heaven.
God’s children are assured that they will persevere to the completion of God’s promises. In John 10:28 Jesus said, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
Children learn that even when good parents punish them, it’s for their own good. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”
Then in verse 11 it explains this to us, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
A true believer can never fall from God’s mercy and grace. He might, however, fall from his own awareness of both. Those who find no assurance in God’s word, or who make excuses for their sins may never have been regenerated believes to begin with.
In 1 John 2:19 we are warned, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
This is why 2 Peter 1:10 challenges us to prayerfully battle for Christian maturity in our lives. “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”
The redeemed are forever God’s children. 1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is that abundant life God promises us in Christ.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)