Heidelberg 90: The Making Alive Of The New Man

Having been initially and decisively quickened, renewed, or regenerated we are now, by grace alone, through faith alone, being renewed and sanctified into the image of Christ

What does that mean? As the catechism says, a person who being made alive is increasingly taking delight in living according to God’s moral will revealed in his holy law (more about that last aspect in future posts). Before the Spirit gave us new life we did not have such an orientation or disposition. So, he has graciously changed our stance and more fundamentally has delivered us from death into life.

 

In the 16th century, when the Heidelberg Catechism was written, published, and first adopted by the Reformed Churches the word regeneration was used in two senses at the same time. Sometimes it meant the spiritual awakening from death to life sovereignly and freely worked by the Holy Spirit, which is the way tend to use it most of the time today. It also, and perhaps more frequently, referred to progressive sanctification, the gradual, gracious work of the Spirit in us bring us to conformity to Christ. The same writers who gave us the catechism regularly spoke of sanctification as “regeneration” and “renewal” in the image of Christ. Caspar Olevianus wrote that believers are but “partly regenerated.” That expression does not make sense if it refers to being awakened from spiritual death to new, spiritual life. It makes perfect sense, however, when applied to the Christian’s progressive sanctification. Indeed, we are not wholly sanctified or renewed or regenerated in that sense.

This way of speaking about the gradual renewing of the Christian is the background to the catechism’s discussion of the second aspect of sanctification: vivification or the quickening or making alive of the new man:

90. What is the quickening of the new man?

Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works (Heidelberg Catechism)

In older English usage, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381), we use to speak of Christ judging the “quick and the dead,” i.e., the living and the dead. In medical terms the expression “quickening” has sometimes been used to describe the fetal development. So, having been initially and decisively quickened, renewed, or regenerated we are now, by grace alone, through faith alone, being renewed and sanctified into the image of Christ. The Spirit who gave us life initially and decisively continues, by virtue of our union and communion with Christ, to work in us, through the “due use of ordinary means,” i.e., attending to the preaching of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, and prayer to bring us into conformity to Christ and especially, under this heading, to make us alive more and more.

What does that mean? As the catechism says, a person who being made alive is increasingly taking delight in living according to God’s moral will revealed in his holy law (more about that last aspect in future posts). Before the Spirit gave us new life we did not have such an orientation or disposition. So, he has graciously changed our stance and more fundamentally has delivered us from death into life.

In what is a corpse interested? In nothing. Corpses do what they do: nothing. They just decay. They have nothing to do with the living world. They are literally inanimate. Spiritually, before God made us alive, we were spiritually inanimate. We were dead. We had no interest in Christ nor had we interest in his moral will. Now, by his grace, having been made alive we do. That’s a miracle.

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