Old Truths for the New Year – Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 1


A new year often offers us hope that things will change for the better and challenges faced in the past will be resolved or overcome. I think 2021 had more hope for change than any other year I can remember. Some of this optimism was the generic kind that comes from “new year, new you”, and some of it was tempered optimism in light of developments late in 2020 (e.g, the COVID-19 vaccines) that indicated things might be improving soon. However, for many, no optimism lasted more than a week!

Rather than looking to a new place for help and comfort in tough times, I want to direct our thoughts to an old truth, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (written in 1563). These words might be familiar to some, while for others, this may be the first time you’ve heard them. Either way, I encourage you to read these words and reflect upon them. I’ll include the text in its entirety and then share a few comments on it.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.


One thing that struck me when I read these words again is that the question asks what is our only comfort in life and death. It is not the greatest or the best. It is only. We often turn to other things for comfort, security, and hope. We might say, “As long as I have _____, I will be okay.” Believers in Christ should have comfort in one place.


The word “comfort” also jumped out. I didn’t do a ton of research on the word, but it seems to me that we need comfort when things are challenging – I don’t look for comfort when things are going well. This is a reminder that in this world, the Christian life will not be all peaches and cream, roses and butterflies. There will be challenges and difficulties, and during these times, we need to really consider where we find comfort.

That I am not my own, but belong…

There has been a lot of talk in the past few months about freedom, and to be honest, we can find comfort in the fact that we are free. This question, though, says that we have comfort because we are NOT free; that is, we are not  able to do whatever we want. We belong to someone else. All of our choices and activities need to reflect not what I want, but what someone else wants. This person is Jesus Christ who tells me to love God and my neighbor with every word, thought, and deed. As the answer ends, I am to be wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. Not for myself or the agenda of any person or group of people. I need to be ready to live for him.

He has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

This question talks about freedom, and this freedom is not to sin or be stuck under the forces of the evil one. These words remind us that this world is not all that there is, and that there is an enemy out there. Fellow human beings are not my enemies (they are fellow image bearers), but the devil is. However, through Christ, I have been set free from his rule. If you feel there is some hurt, habit, or hangup that you cannot shake, know that you have been set free!

He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

People have panicked over quite a few things this past year, but these words should tell me I never need to panic or freak out. God is watching over me and His church. This does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us (otherwise, why would we need to know this comfort?), but it does mean that there is nothing that happens that my heavenly Father does not see; He has a plan that involves working things together for my salvation and deliverance. This does not lead to passivity, but a steadfastness and assurance in hard times.

Wait, there’s more.…..

We don’t have space here to look at the second question which reminds us of how we can discover this comfort (when we remember our guilt, the grace of God, and the call to live in gratitude to him in our conduct). If we want to grow into this comfort, we need to remember and ask God continually to remind us of what we have done wrong (not what others have done, but what we have done!). We need to remember what Christ has done for us — died for us while we were yet his enemies, and ask God what He expects of us. We need to live for him, putting to death our own selfish desires and intentions, and instead doing what God wishes in each moment and situation by the power of His Spirit.

Let’s not be discouraged this year, but instead be comforted by these old words. Words that call us away from ourselves and the idols of this world, and teach us to look to the only One who gives us comfort in life and death.

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