The third part of our Heidelberg Catechism speaks about our gratitude to God for our great salvation. This gratitude is expressed by our good works. These serve a dual purpose: that each person may be assured of his own faith and that by our godly conversation (good works) others may be gained to Christ.
We understand that it is inevitable that a Christian do good works. We read in I John 5:10, “He that believeth, on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” Romans 6 tells us “. . . that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you. Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.”
What is meant by this “godly conversation”? If we look around we see many people, especially young people, who profess to be Christians. These people are witnessing to others about their love for Jesus Christ. Frequently, our first reaction is that these people are putting us to shame. We are the seed of the church which we believe has the purest doctrine of Jesus Christ. If any Christian has witnessing to do it is us! Is this what is meant by a godly conversation?
Our catechism says good works are, “Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.” Our good works are always to God’s glory and according to His will. We can see then, that these good works involve every minute of our lives. Galatian 5 says: “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance … If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Does this mean that we set aside an evening and say we “are going to go witnessing”? Isn’t our whole life, then, a witness?
We understand that our calling includes more than witnessing to the world around us. We must reflect God’s love for us — His church. This also includes witnessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is true that God may use our witness as a means to bring others to Christ. He may use us to tell an unbeliever about Christ or bring him to church so he may be exposed to the preaching. But then it is God who calls this person through the Word. Romans 10 says, “For whosoever call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
The Word then has its two-fold effect; it calls the elect and hardens the hearts of the unbelievers. But our job doesn’t end here. We must continue to manifest God’s love in us and the joy of our salvation. We read in I Peter 3:15-16, “. . . and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”
Finally, a necessary part of our godly conversation is sorrow for our sin and daily confession to God in prayer. We understand that we fall far short of our great calling. Then we look to the cross and recall the words of our Catechism that even the holiest of believers has only a small beginning of the new obedience.