Leroy Forlines and the Heidelberg Catechism on Sanctification

Matt Pinson

Recently I was reading through the Heidelberg Catechism again. This catechism is still in use by Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church, but it is not a Calvinistic confession in its doctrine of salvation. Jacobus Arminius, the forerunner of Arminianism, loved and affirmed the Catechism. It was one of his favorite documents to give people to read after the Bible.

When I was reading the Catechism recently, I came to “Lord’s Day 24,” and I was struck by how much Leroy Forlines’s teaching is spelled out in the teaching of the Catechism.

Lord’s Day 24 [1]

Q & A 62

Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?

A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

(Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10 [Deut. 27:26]; Isa. 64:6)

Q & A 63

Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

(Matt. 5:12; Heb. 11:6; Luke 17:10; 2 Tim. 4:7-8)

Q & A 64

Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.

(Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5)

Look particularly at Question & Answer 64. It says that it is impossible for Christians not to produce fruit. One older translation renders it this way:

Q. 64. But doth not this doctrine make men careless and ungodly?

A. By no means: for it is impossible that any, who by a true faith are ingrafted into Christ, should not bring forth the fruits of thankfulness and holiness. [2]

Sometimes Reformed theology is caricatured as having a light view of sin in the life of the believer, simply because of the teaching of sola fide, or faith alone. If the righteousness of Christ is what justifies us, not our own righteousness, then we don’t need to be righteous, the reasoning goes. But classic Reformed theology of all types—whether the Calvinist version prominent after the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), or the Arminian version allowed prior to Dort—always insists on a life of holiness. [3] While believers cannot live a lives of sinless perfection and do struggle with sin, their lives are not characterized by a pattern of unconfessed sin.

I was struck while reading this with Mr. Forlines’s oft-repeated maxim that justification always produces sanctification. While our justification is not by our own righteousness but by the righteousness of Christ alone imputed through faith, the Christian life is not characterized by a pattern of unconfessed sin. “To speak about continuing in salvation is to speak about continuing in both justification and sanctification,” Forlines says. “The package cannot be broken. We cannot have one without the other. . . . Holiness is not optional but is a guaranteed result of salvation” [4].

Forlines has taught us a balance like what we see in the above questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. This balance keeps us from both antinomianism (literally, “against-the-lawism”) on one hand and legalism on the other. As Thomas Helwys, the founder of the English General Baptists, said:  “man is justified only by the righteousness off CHRIST, apprehended by faith, Roman. 3.28. Gal. 2.16. yet faith without works is dead. Jam. 2.17.” [5]


[1] From the website of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism?language_content_entity=en

[2] The Heidelberg Catechism allowed for both these expressions of soteriology.

[3] The Heidelberg Catechism with Proper Texts Annexed to Each Answer (London, 1773), 110.

[4] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 357.

[5] “A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland, 1611,” reprinted in J. Matthew Pinson, A Free Will Baptist Handbook (Nashville: Randall House, 1998), 125.


1 Comment

  1. “While believers cannot live (a) lives of sinless perfection and do struggle with sin, their lives are not characterized by a pattern of unconfessed sin.”
    Thanks for sharing this thought. To me, the word “unconfessed” in this context is intriguing.

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