READ : Romans 14:7-8
In Christ, says the apostle, none of us lives to him- or herself any more; rather, our entire life is lived to him. Our whole self is the Lord’s.
In the church of which I am a part there are no more beloved words anywhere outside the Bible than those which begin the Heidelberg Catechism:
- What is your only comfort in life and in death?
- That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a statement of faith that was written in 1563 for the Reformed Church in the city of Heidelberg, in western Germany. But it soon was adopted by other Protestant churches as well, and it became particularly important to the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. The sixteenth century was not an easy time to live, especially if you were a Dutch Protestant.
Holland was an occupied country, and its people were fighting a seventy-year-long war for independence against the Spanish. The occupation was harsh, the war was brutal, and it was ordinary people men, women and children who suffered the most. The number of Reformed believers who were killed in the Netherlands during the sixteenth century was greater than the total number of Christians who were martyred during the whole time of the Roman Empire.
I think what made the Heidelberg Catechism so appealing to these Dutch believers was the theme with which it began. It doesn’t start out, you see, with abstract theology or ancient dogma. It begins by talking about where ultimate security is to be found. When the catechism talks about “comfort,” it does not mean “comfortable.” The word comfort comes from the same root as fort and fortitude. When we affirm that our “comfort” comes from belonging to the Lord, don’t think “God as my easy chair”; think: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
We Are the Lord’s
One reason this opening theme might not connect as readily with us today is that, unlike the Netherlands in the 1500s, twenty-first-century life in the developed world is pretty comfortable. If you asked the average person what their security for the present and their hope for the future was based upon, they would probably reply, “my job, my savings, my investments, my retirement plan, my health insurance, my family.” After all, who needs God if the government promises to take care of you all your days?
But the truth expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer is just as important today as ever. This has always been the ultimate security and hope of every believer. Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it in a familiar passage from the fourteenth chapter of Romans:
For none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. As Christians we do not belong to ourselves; we belong to him.
Perhaps this is another reason why the Heidelberg Catechism isn’t as popular anymore. After all, the idea that I belong, not to myself, but to somebody else, is rather uncongenial to the modern temperament. Nowadays we like to stress our independence. “My life is my own. I want to be in charge of it. I call the shots. I decide who I am and what I’ll be.”
Advertisers all know that the key to selling something is to stroke people’s egos and play to their natural sense of their own importance. “You’re in control,” they tell us. “It’s your life, and this is for you. You want this, you need this, you deserve this.” Wouldn’t you love to see a commercial sometime that said, “You know, you are not your own, you belong body and soul to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ, so before you buy this new car we’re advertising, maybe you had better ask the Lord if he wants you to do something else with that money, since it’s really his.” How refreshing that would be! How appealing and effective, I don’t know. To tell someone that their life does not belong to them, but to God? It might hurt sales.
Body and Soul, in Life and Death
But this is precisely what the Bible says, and it says it as if it’s good news: I am not my own. I belong to the Lord. This is who I am. This is what gives me courage and makes me strong.
All of me belongs to him. Notice: “My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” In Christ, says the apostle, none of us lives to him or herself any more; rather, our entire life is lived to him. Our whole self is the Lord’s.
The lordship of Christ does not cover merely the spiritual or the religious parts of me. I’m not his only on Sundays but not during the rest of the week. No. His lordship extends over all of me all the time. My body as well as my soul belongs to him. My mind, with its thoughts and memories and imagination; my sensory organs and the things I allow them to take in; my hands and feet, and the places they go and the things they do all of it is not mine but his, all the time, every day.
And so is my property, all of my possessions and belongings; my time, my leisure interests, the things I do for entertainment; my job, my career, my family, my whole world it is all the Lord’s. I can’t wall off any area of my life and say, “No. This is mine. He can have that over there, but I’m keeping this part for myself.” Belonging, you see, is an all-or-nothing affair. You can’t be somewhat Christian, or ask Christ to be your partial Lord. To the extent that you and I still try to reserve anything for ourselves, we show that we don’t really belong to him at all.
If I am a Christian, not only does all of me belong to the Lord, but all of me belongs to him forever. I am his in life and in death, for “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” As far as belonging is concerned, it doesn’t matter, in Paul’s words, “whether we live or whether we die.” Of course it matters whether we live or die. I care whether I live or die, and so do you. But what Paul means to tell us is that living or dying makes absolutely no difference as far as the security of our relationship with God is concerned. Neither life nor death nor anything in between can separate us from Jesus Christ (see Rom. 8:35 ff.).
Now, whether or not that idea appeals to you depends both on how well you know yourself and how much you know of life. If you think you have what it takes to secure your own happiness both now and forever, then, by all means, go it alone. Take complete charge of your life, and good luck! If you’re sure you will never need any help, if you are more than able to meet any crisis, pass every test, face each challenge, triumph over all adversity, then the gospel is not for you. If you have supreme confidence in your own strength, your own wisdom, your own wealth, then maintain your independence.
But if you feel weak and needy and sinful, as I do, if you’re facing something bigger than your own ability to handle it, if you’re wondering what’s going to happen when you die, then this comfort is for you. You see, belonging to the Lord is not like belonging to the country club. It’s not just for the favored few. Every exclusive group, from posh societies to schoolyard cliques, uses the idea of belonging to create a sense of superiority by excluding those who don’t belong.
But for the Christian it’s different. Belonging to the Lord doesn’t inflate our pride or make us feel superior because we know it is not through any merit of ours that we belong to him but only because of God’s grace. Furthermore, what we belong to, or rather whom we belong to, is Christ, and, far from being exclusive, Christ accepts anyone who will come to him. Every last person in the world is a welcome candidate for membership in Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in him belongs to him (and to his body, the church).
Our belonging is a source of comfort and assurance, not of pride or superiority. Belonging to the Lord gives us the courage to face trouble and the strength to endure suffering, knowing that God is with us. Belonging to Christ does not make us haughty toward those who don’t belong. Instead, it kindles the desire that everyone should know him and belong to him just as we do. It makes us eager to see everyone share the same comfort that we enjoy.
A while back I was reading about a new production of an opera called St. Francis. Written by the twentieth-century French composer Olivier Messiaen, the opera is based on the life of the thirteenth-century nobleman turned monk, St. Francis of Assisi. At one point in the story an angel appears at the monastery founded by St. Francis to question his followers. At first no one wants to let the angel in the door, but finally a monk named Brother Bernard opens the door. The angel asks Brother Bernard if he is saved, and the monk replies this way:
I have often thought that after my death, our Lord Jesus Christ will look at me as he looked at the tribute money, saying, “Whose is this image and inscription?” And by God and his grace I would like to be able to answer him, “Yours, Yours.”
I would like to be able to say that too. Wouldn’t you?