The first question in the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The appropriate answer is listed as follows: “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…” It goes on to talk about the assurance that comes from this divine belonging. I bring this up to make the point that for the sinner, this answer provides no comfort at all. In fact, it is abhorrent.
Whereas the Christian finds the phrase, “I am not my own,” to be reassuring, the sinner sees it as a threat and denial of rights. They do not want to belong to God; they want to belong to themselves. Why? Because the sinner does not see God in the same way that a redeemed person does. For the Christian, God is their savior. For the sinner, He is their judge. When they think of belonging to Him, they cannot do so without thinking of what they will be denied. Their greatest comfort in life and in death is knowing that “I am my own,” for they know instinctively that to belong to God is to come under the Law, and for them the Law is death.
Instead, they turn to the supposed comforts of sin, but while they believe themselves to be free, they are only as free as the prisoner who chooses to stay in prison. Sin does not seek to build them up, but to destroy them. As the Apostle Peter warned, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
This inability to discern between real freedom and comfort is one of many distortions caused by the sinful nature. These distortions prevent a person from being able to see the truth and step out in faith. Consider the role of guilt in our lives. It can be a positive thing, convicting us of sin and calling us to repentance. Indeed, without a proper appreciation of one’s guilt, it is not possible to look to Jesus Christ as one’s savior.
Yet guilt can work to our detriment when it moves in one of two wrong directions. First, we can rationalize our sins to the point that we are able to explain away our guilt. Second, we can despair of our guilt to such an extent that we do not believe God will forgive us under any circumstances. Whether we slip into denial or defeatism, we end up in the same situation: we do not seek out God for the relief of our guilt.
In addition to the issue of guilt, there is also the matter of trust. Here is the source of much of the fear we hold toward God the judge. In the beginning, humans trusted God implicitly. They knew Him to be the perfect Creator forever concerned with their highest good. When the serpent came to Eve in the Garden of Eden and sought to pull her into sin, his strategy was to cause a breakdown in that trust. For the first time, Eve was introduced to the possibility that God might not be completely good or truthful.
That seed of doubt was all the serpent needed to lure both Eve and Adam into sin. Once they committed the act, they were immediately overwhelmed by two feelings: 1) guilt over what they had done, and 2) fear of what God would do to them. Their trust in the Creator had completely collapsed. They felt more comfort and control being alone than they did being with Him.
But sin doesn’t just make us lose our trust in God. As we wade deeper and deeper into guilt, we also lose our trust in other people, afraid that not only divine justice but also the justice of man will catch up with us. If you look at the biographies of some of the truly evil figures in history, you will discover that they were typically quite paranoid. They lose all ability to trust, and this results in some very irrational behavior.
For the redeemed, the arms of the Lord are wings of protection in which they feel utterly at peace. For the sinner, there is only the arm of judgment spoke of by the prophets. They are not children wrapped in a familial embrace, but “sinners in the hands of an angry God”, to quote Jonathan Edwards. Overwhelming guilt and absence of trust: this is why the prisoner of the sinful nature takes no comfort in the phrase, “I am not my own”.
We must realize that a proper appreciation of one’s guilt before God is a gift that can lead us to the truth, and without which we are lost. Those who do not look to God, but instead attempt to escape judgment, are likely to end up like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Having killed his king to take the throne, he finds himself moving further and further into evil in order to maintain his place. In Act 3, Scene 4, he laments to his wife, “I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” That is, he has tread so far into sin that it would be more difficult to pull himself out than it would be to simply continue down that wrong road.
Macbeth at least understood that he was guilty. He is closer to the other extreme of accepting damnation as a fait accompli. Christ is able to turn back that tide of guilt, even for someone steeped in blood, for He has poured out His own blood on our behalf. Yet, those who do not have the Spirit of God working in their lives are doomed to dwell in that dark place forever, both in life and in death.
Therefore, we must forsake the supposed comforts of sin and cling to the true comfort that is only found in God. None of us has stepped in so far that the Spirit of God cannot pull us back. In His mercy, God frees us from the prison of sin, and for the first time in our lives, we have the chance to live for righteousness. For as surely as sin is our deadly enemy, the Lord is our never-ending friend, who took on flesh that He might die in the flesh, and thus make an end of iniquity.