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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:The Good Gift of God's Law
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2012
Added:2013-08-22
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 19:1,3                                                                                           

Reading – Romans 2:12-29; 7:7-25

Hymn 11:1,2,3,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 2

Psalm 130:2,3,4

Hymn 7:1,2   [after Nicene Creed]

Hymn 84:1,2,3,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, if you’ve ever watched an old Western, you know the bad guys are constantly on the run from the sheriff. And whenever they see him coming, they’ll duck into a dark alley or something, and they’ll say: “Look out, it’s the law!” They don’t want a run-in with the sheriff (or the law he represents), because for them it’ll mean getting locked up.

            In Christian circles, “the law” sometimes gets treated in a similar way. The law is viewed as something to be avoided, like an unwelcome guest. Part of us knows it’s good to have around, but it’s just so awkward—God’s law clashes with the things we want to do, chafes against the way we prefer to live.

            Indeed, if you had the choice this afternoon, what would you listen to? A sermon about the gospel, or a sermon about the law? I have a hunch many of us would choose to hear about the gospel. It’s the good news of Christ, after all—it’s a bright, positive message, full of encouragement for people who need cheering up. The law, on the other hand, is a lot of rules and regulations. It tells us what we’ve done wrong, and reminds us about our failures. We associate the law with things like guilt and punishment. It’s not a word that conjures up images of people having fun—rather, the law seems like a barrier to our enjoyment of life.

            But today we’re not going to avoid the subject. Today we’re going to look at the law in the proper, Scriptural light. For the LORD tells us his law is an important, necessary thing. The law tells us how to walk in his ways, and so be blessed. It sets boundaries for our behaviour, which might otherwise be out of control. We can even say it this way: the law is a gift of God’s grace! The law is good news. Let’s then consider God’s Word, summarized in Lord’s Day 2 of the Catechism,

 
            Out of his grace, God gives us his holy law. We consider:

1)     not a superficial, but penetrating demand

2)     not a hopeless, but ongoing struggle

3)     not a worthy, but loving obedience

1)     not a superficial, but penetrating demand: In his letter to the Romans, Paul is trying to make a case. Like the best lawyer, he lays out the evidence for all to see, draws the lines of connection, then hammers home his point. And what he’s doing is arguing for Christ. That’s his purpose: to show his readers in Rome the good news in all its glory, the gospel that is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (1:16).

But to do so, Paul first has to show the need for salvation. Before the good news can be appreciated, people have to hear the bad news—and they have to hear just how bad it really is! Only when you understand that you’re afflicted with a terrible disease, will you seek treatment.

So what’s the bad news? In chapter 2, Paul’s getting ready to tell us. First, he says that everyone—of whatever age, nationality, or religion—that everyone stands in some kind of relationship to God. For God is their Maker, their Upholder. That means every human has to give an account of their life to the LORD. As his creatures, we have to appear before him at some point, and answer to him. He sits as heavenly Judge.

By what kind of standard does God evaluate us? We know that the standard is his law. And the question is: have we kept his commands? Paul tells us in verse 13, “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” Those who honour the words of God—these will be accepted by their Maker. Those who obey the decrees of the LORD—about these, the righteous Judge will say, “You’ve done well. You’re free to go.”

            Sounds easy enough. That is, until we stop, and let those words sink in a moment: “The doers of the law will be justified.” For let’s be honest: Who can keep the law? Who would dare claim in the hearing of God, “LORD, I’ve obeyed you, from A to Z, Commandment #1 to 10?” Not the young, and not the old. Not you, and not me. Not anybody!

Paul takes pains to prove this to the Romans. For Rome was a cosmopolitan city, and this was a cosmopolitan church, diverse and international. Among the believers, there were a large number of Jews, and also many people of Gentile descent. And Paul wants to show that all of them, without exception, are confronted by the demands of God’s law.

            The Jewish Christians, of course, were well acquainted with it. The law had been given to Moses, then passed down through the generations by parents and scribes and teachers, so that everyone knew God’s commands.

But Paul says even Gentiles know the law of the Lord. How can this be? For they didn’t have the Commandments. Their grandparents weren’t at Mt. Sinai. Wouldn’t it then be unfair for God to judge them? How could all those people have an idea what the Creator expected from his creatures? Think, if you will, of the First Nations, living on this land for thousands of years before the white man arrived. They weren’t Jews. No one told them about Exodus 20—at least, not ‘till later. And so appearing before the Judge of all the earth, they plead innocent: “How can we be judged for sin?” they say. “We didn’t know the commandments!”

And the Gentiles certainly didn’t have the law in the same way the Jews did. Still, the Lord’s always fair. For He gave to all people those basic moral norms. He even wrote the commandments within us: it’s how God designed us humans, with the ability to know right and wrong. As Paul writes in verse 15, “They [i.e., the Gentiles] show the work of the law written in their hearts.” It’s built-in—a law that everyone should know.

And so people will sometimes do what’s required. That’s why, all across this globe, we see a kind of obedience to God’s commands. It’s why, even in our own culture, people still know evil when they see it. Everyone instinctively understands that kidnapping a little child, raping and murdering her, is just deplorable. When we’re confronted with such things, there’s even an outpouring of indignation. There’s no mistaking that this is evil—and where does that awareness come from? What’s the origin of that moral code everyone’s still expected to honour? Paul will tell us that it’s from God’s law, written within.

To be sure, such moments of moral clarity are on the decline. For in our society we see there’s moral confusion on so much else, on things like respect for authority, and the purpose of sexuality, and the meaning of truth. People have corrupted the knowledge that God’s given, so that right and wrong aren’t always clear. Still, Paul’s made the first part of his case: that the Gentiles, those outside the circle of God’s people, do know the law to some degree.

Now he turns his attention to the Jews. And Paul takes on a very direct approach. It’s as if the Jewish people are sitting on the witness stand, and Paul grills them: “You are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know his will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law…” (2:17-18).

Paul is being hard on them, because his countrymen lived with a false sense of security. They assumed they had good standing with God, because they knew the Ten Commandments, and the 600 other regulations too! If every Sabbath they read the law in the synagogue, and if they didn’t break any commands in an obvious way, they thought they were doing just fine. 

Yet they forgot God’s penetrating demand. The law is never about an outward obedience. It’s not about doing everything right, so that others can see. No, God’s law gets to the heart of the matter. God’s law judges our secret thoughts and searches out our hidden motives. The law is meant to be obeyed from the depths of our being. This is exactly why the law’s summary says we must love God with “heart, soul, and mind” (Q&A 2). Not just with word, or action, but with everything that we are!

Therefore Paul rebukes the Jews. At the same time, he rebukes us, who hear God’s law every Sunday. “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? (v 21). It’s easy to insist, “Of course, I’ve never stolen anything. I’ve never held up the local bank, or even shoplifted a chocolate bar.” But have we coveted things not our own, like your neighbour’s RV, or your friend’s job, or her fine figure? Or have we squandered God’s gifts with our careless spending? Or have we been generous with ourselves, but stingy with the LORD? This is stealing.

“You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?”(v 22). It’s easy to say, “Of course, I’ve never slept with my neighbor’s wife. I’ve never gone to a prostitute.” But have we lusted after someone we saw on the street? Have we entertained thoughts of being unfaithful to our spouse? Have we been polluted by the TV shows we watch? This is adultery.

“You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (v 22). Again, it’s easy to say: “I’ve never worshiped at a pagan temple, and I won’t decorate my home with one those little Buddhas!” We abhor idols, but have we robbed the true God of the things that belong to him? Have we robbed him of our devotion, our trust, our prayers? Have we withheld our worship from the living LORD, and given it some other god? This is idolatry.

“You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (v 23). There’s the main question. As Christians, we might feel superior because we know what God wants. We might even look down on those in our society; not going to church, living for self, being perverted. But do we keep the law? Do we honour God’s demands with heart, soul and mind? Can we really face the penetrating demands of God’s law?

2)     not a hopeless, but ongoing struggle: Paul the lawyer can be pretty tough on people as he makes his case. Sure, he says, pagans and unbelievers know the demands of God’s law—but do they keep them? Maybe once in a blue moon, or maybe to look good in front of others, or to serve a false god. For the Gentiles’ hearts are all wrong, and their minds are corrupt.

            As for the Jews, Paul’s already made clear that hearing the Word isn’t the same as doing it. As he writes in chapter 3, “Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin” (3:9). A little further, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22-23). The law convicts all.

            And Paul doesn’t exclude himself from cross-examination. For in chapter 7 he takes his own turn in the stand, as it were. There Paul gives a very personal testimony about the place of the law in his life. In the first place, Paul knows we can all be down about the law. Not surprising—it reveals us as criminals. So people will urge, “Let’s be rid of the law! More gospel!” Paul anticipates this: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin?” (v 7). Is the law of God bad because it accuses us so sharply?

            We have to answer “no.” For what God’s law does is bring clarity. It presents the things of our life as they really are. Argues Paul, “I would not have known sin except through the law” (v 8). Instead of being ignorant about sins, now we know our sins. We know how deep they go, how wide they spread.

As we said, it’s good to understand these things. If you don’t realize what kind of trouble you’re in, you won’t ask for help. So Paul is honest about his problem. He admits that God’s law makes a demand we just can’t meet: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal” (v 14). That is to say, we’re often still enslaved to our natural desires. The law calls us to love, but we’ll still incline to hatred of God and neighbour (Q&A 3).

Even as reborn Christians, this struggle continues. Listen as Paul shares his frustrations: “What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (v 15). “I just can’t carry it out!,” he says. And how often haven’t similar words been said by us? For we all know the commandments, #1 to #10. They’re pretty basic, black-and-white. We hear them every Sunday morning; a few times over, we’ve learned their explanation in Catechism class; we’ve listened to them preached, year after year. From his law we know what God wants us to do, the way He wants us to live.

At the same time, there are many things we know we shouldn’t do. There are even sins we’ve come to hate, repulsive things we don’t want to do anymore. Paul had his own weaknesses; I have my own; you have yours—wicked temptations that we’ve always fallen for, sins that we’ve always been drawn to. Different for each child of God, yet one thing is the same: We know we shouldn’t commit them, because we belong to God! We know we shouldn’t, because God has done so much for us in Christ!

But what happens, beloved? We do the very things we hate. We do the very things that we know are wrong. Again and again, we sin against the God who saved us. Sometimes we even do it without thinking, without realizing that we’re choosing sin once more.

Where does such evil come from? How can such wickedness still live within God’s people? Paul answers: “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v 17). Understand that correctly. Paul isn’t looking for excuses. He’s not saying our hearts have been hijacked, so we can’t help it and we’re not guilty. Instead, he’s making us aware of just how powerful sin can be. If we let it, sin can overpower us. If we’re not wise, sin can confuse us. Maybe you fall in with the wrong crowd, and they gradually pull you from God. Or you start doing a certain sin, and you come to realize you might not be able to stop.

Yes, even with God working in us by his Spirit, we can badly fail. “For to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (v 18). We can often have good intentions: we make resolutions, and try turn a new leaf. And we might know exactly what’s required of us in this or that situation: “I have to give to God from out of my firstfruits. I have to go and talk to her and confess my wrongs. I have to read the Bible more often, and be more diligent in prayer.”

Yet Paul’s experience rings true for us: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (v 19). The good things we aspire to, our desire to change, our knowledge of what must be done—so quickly it’s forgotten, or it’s beaten back by that stubborn old sin.

It’s such a sure thing, Paul calls it a new law. Kind of like Murphy’s Law, but so much worse: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good” (v 21). It’s an ongoing struggle, a lingering heartache! So Paul gives voice to his despair: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v 24).

And beloved, that’s exactly what Paul wants all of us to do. Not to give up. But to cry out to God. To ask for mercy. Who will rescue us? Who will save us from a life of disobedience? In the midst of our frustrations, there’s hope. For Paul follows up his own cry very simply: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25). That’s all he says. He doesn’t explain his hope. He doesn’t need to, for he told us about it earlier in this letter, in chapters 5 and 6.

Christ has come, and kept God’s law. With heart, soul, mind and strength, our Saviour loved God, and loved his neighbour. With a perfect obedience, He honoured every command. And not only that, Christ carried the just penalty for our rebellion. In God’s court, we were guilty as sin. In his eyes, none of us should’ve lived. But Jesus volunteered himself, to suffer in our place. To be cursed instead of us. To die, for our life!

For Christians who always fail, there is hope. For Christians who are always reminded of their weakness, there is hope. For Christians who never seem to do any better—there is hope in Jesus Christ! On his obedience, we rest. But we’ve got to do what Paul did, and cry out to him. Cry in faith. Cry in humility. Cry in sincerity. Then, on his merits, we can go free. On his sacrifice, we can build a new life, forgiven and restored. Then we say, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

3)     not a worthy, but loving obedience: So what about that law, then? We know it’s been fulfilled, its penalty carried. Do we get rid of it altogether? On the contrary, Paul says, we uphold the law. We even cherish the law. But for the right purpose. It’s not something that’ll earn us brownie points. But the law can show us how to live. For God’s requirements don’t change. His wisdom remains the same.

So after being cleared of our guilt before God, it’s time that we all go through rehab. It’s time for us to learn a whole new way of behaving! This is what we confessed in Lord’s Day 1, “Now I’m heartily willing and ready to live for him.”

When we believe in the Saviour, the Lord also works in us a desire to obey. As Paul says, even in the midst of all his despair and complaints, “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (7:22). Pay attention to those words: As Christians, we can delight in God’s law.

At first, being holy in this world doesn’t seem like it’d be a delight. It’s more like a burden, being self-controlled. And is it really a pleasure to make sacrifices for Christ’s church, and to serve each other in love? Yet for the redeemed sinner, for the thankful sinner, these callings are not a burden! We rejoice in the law, because it gives us a real and concrete way to show our love to God.

            You can go through the commandments, and see how practical this is. Because we love God, we’re going to make him and his kingdom our first priority. Because we love God, we’re going to know and confess his Name in this world. Because we love God, we’re going to honour his holy day, and worship him gladly, even as often as we can. Because we love God, we’re going to respect our parents and elders and leaders; and we’re going to love even those who do us wrong. Because we love God, we’re going to guard our sexual purity and we’re going to treasure our marriage. We’re going to be wise with our material things, and generous too. Because we love God, we’re going to watch what we say and how we say it; and we’re going to strive for contentment with what we’ve been given. All this, because we love God!

            In chapter 12, Paul lays out this road to rehabilitation a little more. He says to us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v 2). He’s saying, “Be changed from someone lawless and useless, into someone with a new calling. Be changed from someone once enslaved to sin, into someone who’s now a servant of Christ!”

Then we’ll be ready to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:2). That’s a new obedience. That’s a loving obedience, always seeking what is pleasing to God. Knowing the law of Christ, and also doing it!

For every new day, the redeemed sinner asks himself, “How is God’s will to be done by me today, in the place where I am?” For every challenge, now we ask, “What would the Father expect of me, his child, in this situation?” And for every new opportunity, and also for every long-standing circumstance, we try to ponder the question: “What does God’s Word say here? Let me do that. Let me pursue that. Even in this, may I show my love to Christ.” Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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