What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins and preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly father not a hair can fall from my head. In him, all things work together for my good and my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me very willing and ready from now on to live for him.
If you are familiar with many of the old catechisms, you will recognize this question as well, and as I’ve mentioned already, you will notice this often. But, one of the things we’ve done in our catechism is to borrow from multiple catechisms, and so this question is the first question of the “Heidelburg Catechism”. It’s a very long answer, and so I’m going to just comment on a few things that I hope will help us appreciate this beautiful answer even more!
First, notice that it begins with the question of “comfort”. As we saw in the last question, the issue of joy, or satisfaction, or as this question puts it – comfort – is an extremely important issue, and the reformers and puritans thought so as well! It is not wrong to want comfort, it is not wrong to want to be satisfied and happy. The issue always comes when we begin to think that we can find true comfort or joy from someone other than God. Well, this question shows otherwise – we have only ONE comfort in life and in death. So, we see first that it’s not wrong to want comfort, and indeed, it is right to remember where our true comfort comes from.
Secondly, we see that this comfort is grounded in the gospel. The answer says that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ. We’ve been purchased by God, and it came at an infinitely costly price! Paul says “you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body!” The comfort we receive, the joy we feel, comes to us because of Christ. His suffering brought about our comfort. His despair led to our joy. Our only comfort and joy in this life is that we have a belonging with God because of Jesus.
Third, this comfort is about physical and spiritual salvation. The catechism reminds us that our salvation isn’t only spiritual, but physical as well. We aren’t gnostics or dualists. We know that our bodies belong to Christ. We know that we are called to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength – with all that we are. And so we know that our comfort is in knowing that God works “all things for our good” and “preserves us” all the way until he takes us home to heaven.
Fourth, this comfort in life finds its perfect end in “eternal life”. Jesus says in John 17:3 that eternal life is all about “knowing God”, and so we see that the consummation of the comforts of the gospel is that we would know and have God. The chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God, and our comfort comes from knowing that we will achieve our end one day. For a christian, there is no greater joy or comfort or encouragement then to be told that one day, even if it’s on the other side of great suffering, we will be with God. Eternal life is everything for a christian, and so the catechism tells us that through the Holy Spirit, this comfort finds its end in eternal life.
Finally, though we could say so much more, we see that the comfort of the gospel for life and death has a motivating purpose – to make us ready and willing to live for God. If the gospel that guarantees your forever peace, joy, and favor with God hasn’t also motivated you to love and serve him, then you haven’t believed the gospel. Our only comfort in life and death is also our greatest motivation for living rightly and dying faithfully. A christian who has experienced the assurance and joy that comes from the gospel has seen what a treasure God is, and is willing to be rid of anything that hinders their relationship with him. For a christian, the motivation to fight sin comes not from the law, but from the gospel. It comes from seeing what their sin cost their savior, and it comes from seeing the way that sin causes us to move away from God, not closer to him. When we sin, we are effectively saying “God, the price you paid to forgive me was too much, because I don’t really want to be free from this”, and we are also saying “God, sin is ultimately about refusing to love you, and I refuse to love you right now.” But for christians, although we do sin, we hate our sin, precisely because of the comfort that has been purchased for us in Christ. And, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are ready and willing to live for God.