Today, we are at war. Not with flesh and blood, but in soul. Our heart, soul, mind, and strength are in daily conflicts with the Cosmic Powers. How do you fight? The Apostle Paul wants us to be catechized. We need a catechism—a gospel-driven catechism of victory.
Dust off Your Catechisms
Catechizing believers, teaching a set list of questions and answers, is a long-rooted practice of the Bride of Christ. It's one that seems to be waning, if not already gone. It's definitely dusty, but we can recover it. Catechism is a powerful, helpful, biblical method of teaching others—and yourself.
How ultra-helpful are the Westminster and Heidelberg versions? The Westminster Catechism starts by asking:
Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Question 4: What is God?
Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
The Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer address the entirety of life and death.
Question 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Preaching the Gospel to Our Hearts
We need to become experts in the art of preaching the gospel to ourselves. One of the greatest thinkers and pastors of the past 100 years was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, referred to by many as “The Doctor.” He rightly diagnosed why so many Christians flounder in their daily lives and experiences with God. The Doctor said, "Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?" How right on was he? A defeated, depressed, downtrodden, exasperated, exhausted, joyless, burnt-out Christianity is not Christianity.
We need to lay hold of the cross and remember our new life in Christ. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves. We need to catechize ourselves. Catechisms are a turnkey help in the practice of preaching to yourself.
Catechism ought to be in our spiritual discipline gun cabinet.
The long tested spiritual disciplines need a freshening in our perspectives. What can often be seen as a quiet and cute time around a cup of coffee, Moleskine, ESV Study Bible, assorted pens and highlighters—maybe some instrumental music—is nothing short of Kingdom warfare. We don't read the Bible to get a pick-me-up; we read to grow in the knowledge of the holy—yes, and amen!—and we take up the spiritual disciplines as weaponry against the ancient Reptile and his hobgoblins. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”(2 Corinthians 10:4–5 ESV). The last thing Satan wants of the Church is to obey Jesus, glorify Jesus, honor Jesus, spread the fame of Jesus—and that should be our first thing, the chief aim of all spiritual disciplines.
Attack With Gospel Truth
When the hiss of accusation, doubt, and fiery arrows draw near, Paul walks us through a catechism of victory in Romans 8:31-39; and if we resist the devil, and draw near to God, the snake will bolt (James 4:7-8). As you read Romans 8:31-39, look for the question marks.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul sets up seven questions (in ten verses!) and gives the answers—what is he doing? He is catechizing us. Romans 8:31-39 may be one of the first Christian catechisms. There seems to be four main questions:
Question: Why should I not doubt God's love and care for me? (vv. 31-32)
Answer: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Question: How come charges will not stand against me? (v. 33)
Answer: It is God who justifies.
Question: Can I ever be condemned? (v. 34)
Answer: Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Question: Can anything separate me from the love of Christ? Will I ever be unloved by God? (vv. 37-39)
Answer: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Glory to God!
It All Comes Back to The Gospel
The questions are helpful, but the weapon is the answer. What weapon does Paul give when we are wondering if we'll be condemned? Read your Bible more? Pray harder? No way. He gives gospel truth. Stand-alone spiritual disciplines are not an encouragement; they are a vehicle, meant to help us draw near to God (James 4:8). Spiritual disciplines alone aren't the answer to a struggling heart; they take us to the answer. And each question is answered with gospel glories.
Question: Why should I not doubt God's love and care for me?
Answer: v. 32, He gave us his Son! (Gospel)
Question: How come charges will not stand against me?
Answer: v. 33, It is God who justifies us! How? The Cross & Resurrection (Romans 4:25). (More gospel)
Question: Can I be condemned?
Answer: v. 34, Never! Jesus died for you, is alive for you, is at the Father's right hand for you, and interceding for you. (Yep, more gospel!)
Question: Can anything separate me from the love of Christ?
Answer: vv. 37-39, No! You are a mega-conqueror through Christ. You have victory in him & nothing can separate from him. (And again, more gospel!)
Gospel. Gospel. Gospel. Gospel.
It always comes back to God's love; it's lauded four times in the passage (vv. 35, 37, 39). Always come back to his love. And God's love is made plain and clear in the gospel.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
God wants you to know and feel his love. While else frame every answer with it? You can never feel too loved by God.
Are you sure of his love (v.38)? That's the point of the catechism, to be sure. Preach to yourself the immeasurable, matchless bounty of God's love for you.
Here is responsive reading based off of Romans 8:31-39, that could assist you catechizing yourself with the gospel.
I struggle to believe God's love and care for me. Is there hope?
God is for me. No one can stand against God’s plan for me. He didn't spare his Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Is it true that God won't cast me aside? I've done some bad things; I'll never be good enough.
No one can condemn me, for Jesus died in my place—more than that, He is alive—and he reigns over my life, and is interceding for me.
My life is heavy; things aren't going as I planned. I thought God loved me?
Nothing can separate me from God's love. Trouble, distress, persecution, poverty, danger, and death cannot remove me from God's grace. In all these things, I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me.
Satan prowls around me. I've sinned too much. I've sinned too big. I'm nervous about my future.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.
I confess these truths, clinging to Jesus—I believe and live again.
Christ be praised.
J.A. Medders is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX. He and Natalie have two kids, Ivy and Oliver. Jeff digs caffeinated drinks, books, and the Triune God. He blogs at www.jamedders.com and tweets from @mrmedders. Jeff's first book, Gospel-Formed: Living a Grace-Addicted, Truth-Filled, Jesus-Exalting Life, is set to release this November from Kregel.