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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:God Teaches Us How It All Began
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God and our Creation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1,3                                                                                          

Reading – Romans 1:8-32; 8:1-17

Psalm 8:1,2,3,4,5                   

Sermon – Lord’s Day 3

Hymn 47:2,4,5

Hymn 1

Hymn 55:1,2,3
* 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, they say that to really know someone, you have to look at where they’re from. To understand people, you have to consider their history. What was this fellow like when he was younger? What kind of parents did a person have, and how was her home-life?

These things don’t tell the whole story, of course. Sometimes people go places you’d never have expected. Nor should we let everything be determined by those old circumstances and past events. But we can’t deny that the beginning of our life is very important. The stuff of our childhood, our home, our parents—to a large degree, these things set the stage for the future.    

For this reason, the Bible tells us about our origins. God in his Word tells us how we got started. For also our human history says a great deal about who we are today, and about where we’re going. The Scriptures answer some fundamental questions. Like why were we put on this earth, anyway? And when and how did wickedness and death enter this world? Like a lot of world history, this history isn’t always that uplifting to read. It’s not a “feel-good” story, hearing how things in God’s creation went sour, so quickly, so completely.

            Yet we know God doesn’t let a bad start ruin everything. Because God is God, He can always make a fresh beginning. Even to those who got off on the wrong foot, the LORD grants an unexpected change of direction. That’s the new life God also tells us about in his holy Word; He tells us about a second birth—yes, where’s this new life from? And what does it mean for where we’re headed?

This is what Lord’s Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism is all about: it’s focused on beginnings. And so I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,

             In his Word, God teaches us how it all began:

1)     our creation

2)     our corruption

3)     our re-creation

1)     our creation: There’s something wrong with us. I think that’s pretty clear. In Lord’s Day 2, we came to the conclusion that we just can’t keep the law of love. Rather, we’re inclined by nature to hate God and our neighbor. That’s the power at work in our hearts: Evil is right there with us.

But why are things this way? What happened that we’re so incapable of living without constantly failing? Well, it’s not what we think: It’s not a manufacturer’s error! We may want to think that, because nowadays, we purchase many things. And not only do we buy a lot of goods, we also expect these things to have a high degree of quality. So if the phone we bought a few months ago doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, we take it back. Clearly, this is some kind of manufacturer’s error—hardware, software, whatever! We return the faulty merchandise and expect a refund or replacement. This is how we think.

            So what about mankind? In the words of the Catechism, “Was it God who created man so wicked and perverse?” (Q&A 6). For we certainly don’t do what we’re supposed to; we so often fail when God commands us. But is this God’s fault? Was it God who made a mistake in putting us together? The Catechism insists this is not the case: “On the contrary!” (Q&A 6). We’re the way we are, not because of a faulty creation. For we were created good—even perfect, in the image of God, “in true righteousness and holiness.” 

            Today we want to focus (first of all) on the meaning of that one word, “righteousness.” When God made us in the beginning, the Catechism says, we were righteous. We’ll emphasize that word, because it’s an essential one for the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. If you read through, you’ll see he’s constantly talking about righteousness: the righteousness of God, people being unrighteous, and sinners being made righteous once again.

            That’s even one of the themes of Romans, stated there in chapter 1 (which we read): “In [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: ‘The just [or the righteous] will live by faith’” (v 17). So, we were righteous.

Just what does that mean? Usually these big words have a hint of their meaning nicely tucked away inside of them. Look at the word “righteousness,” and you see the simple word “right.” And this reminds us: Righteousness is all about having a right relationship with God, being “right” before God. Being righteous means that the holy God, the Creator and Judge, looks at you, and He’s pleased with you. There’s nothing about you that offends him. Rather, God accepts you in his glorious presence. There’s a good relationship; there’s a solid bond; you’re on the same wavelength, you and God.

            Back in the beginning, the Catechism says, God made us in righteousness. That is to say, we could rightly know God our Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness (Q&A 6). That’s all evidence of a good relationship, also among humans. Like in a marriage, we say the relationship is good and proper if there’s an intimate knowledge of one another. We say things are right if there’s a mutual love, if there’s an ability to live together daily in peace. And that’s exactly what we used to have with God!

            In his first chapter, Paul reminds us of these things. Paul’s busy trying to make a case for Christ. He’s never visited the Roman congregation, so he wants to teach them “his” gospel. And to do so, he goes back to the basics. Paul first speaks about how things should’ve been. We should’ve known God; we should’ve lived with him forever in worship. For out of all creatures, we alone were meant to have a special relationship with the Creator.

            God wants people to know him. And in a sense, we can see this is still true. Today, even those who’ve never opened a Bible, those who never heard the Christian gospel—even these people can recognize God. They can be aware of his existence and know something about him. Writes Paul in chapter 1, “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown itto them” (v 19). The Lord hasn’t taken away a knowledge of himself, but He’s left it there for all people to see: “Since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (v 20).

            God’s invisible qualities can be seen in his creation. And so in many societies and cultures around this world, people view God in ways that—on the surface, anyway—seem right. They say God is creator. They say God lives in the skies. God is supreme. God is all-powerful. They say that God is all-knowing, that God is eternal.

            Because if your eyes are open, you can see it: God’s might, God’s divinity. If your ears are open, you’ll hear it; like Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands... There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (vv 1,3). If they’re willing, all people can see that God exists, and they even have a longing to be in relationship with him, to somehow connect with that higher power. Because that’s what God created us for in the beginning: He created us to know him, He made us for fellowship!

And that’s how it used to be: man and woman knew God. They were accepted by God; they lived in God’s presence without any problem. But now that right relationship has gone all wrong. We see this in the otherwise marvelous verse 20 of Romans 1, “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that [mankind is] without excuse.” Obviously, those who need “excuses” are those who’ve gotten into trouble. And standing before the Judge, God says there’s no good excuse we can give.

To think: What might’ve been! What should’ve been! To enjoy eternity with our Maker. To know God, and to be known by God. To live in righteousness forever! Yet we must consider a second point,

 2)     our corruption: When we read Romans 1, you might’ve noticed how Paul suddenly changes directions. In verse 17, he announces his happy theme: that God has revealed a life-giving gospel. But see how in verse 18, his tone shifts dramatically. Paul hits us square with some bad news: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v 18).

            Godlessness. Wickedness. Instead of talking about righteousness, Paul’s going to tell us about unrighteousness! Instead of having a good relationship with God, our relationship with him is in tatters. And the result of this? God is angry. His wrath is being revealed. He can’t stand it when his creatures go their own way.

To see the reason for God’s wrath, we go back to the square one. The Catechism asks, “From where… did man’s depraved nature come?” And the answer: “From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin” (Q&A 7). As we said, our parents often have a lot to do with how we turn out—and our first parents are Adam and Eve, the original sinners!

The corruption they’ve passed on to their children is worked out in Romans 1. For, as we’ve seen, God’s made possible a knowledge of his glory, even after the Fall. But what have people done with this? How have they used this privileged information? “Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v 21)  

            “Although they knew God,” people everywhere fail to give him his due. By nature, we don’t love him, though He’s worthy of our love. We don’t thank him, though He’s the source of every good thing. And instead of worshiping the true God, we worship the gods of their own making. Why, all those things we can know about God are twisted and corrupted, with the result that the Creator isn’t glorified at all, but his creatures are! Writes Paul, “[They] change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (v 23).

            Instead of true worship, idolatry has swept the face of the earth—idolatry, that greatest offense to the LORD! That’s Commandment #1, that we not have any gods beside the one true God. From the beginning, the LORD wanted praise and glory from his people, but now we present it to false gods instead.

            And here—as always—it’s easy to think how God’s Word applies to others. “I know people who’ve made idols, or people who’ve corrupted the revelation of the LORD. There’s those Muslims. There’s Hindus. There’s even the Roman Catholics, and all their images.” But remember, Paul is talking about a universal problem: ALL people, everywhere, have exchanged the glory of God for cheap images, for empty ideas, for hollow hopes.

            Is it not true, also for us? That we’ve worshiped created things, and not the Creator? In his grace God grants us so many good things, yet it’s his blessings that quickly take first place in our lives. It’s his gifts that become our treasure, instead of God being our treasure.

Our leisure and recreation and sports—these things might consume so many of our spare moments. Our children and our family—these could become more important than anything else. Our job—if we let it, this might take over every other responsibility. Our income and savings—these could receive the greatest share of our devotion. Our attractive image, our solid reputation—for these things we pray, over these things we might worry, it’s these things we might constantly seek.

            This is idolatry. This is the basic corruption of the human heart, when we stop seeing the Creator, and we simply see what He has created. When, as Paul says, we exchange God’s awesome glory for cheap imitations, for stuff that’ll only pass away. This isn’t the kind of life that God created us for. God created us for righteousness, for a good relationship with him.

You know that when something isn’t used for what it was designed, there are going to be problems. Paul speaks about this, a bit later in chapter 1. He says there are serious consequences for our corruption: now God has given mankind over to their sin, and He has left his creatures to do what they please.

At first that might not sound so bad. Sometimes we think that sin is the ultimate freedom. Sin is doing what we want, when we want. Yet the Bible so often speaks of sin as slavery. For when you’re captive to sin, you can’t help but choose evil. When you’re a slave to Satan, you can only do his will. Sin quickly loses its novelty, its excitement—and it becomes a hopeless, pointless, life. Sin can become its own punishment.

            So in his wrath, God’s given people over to their desires. As one example, Paul points to the sin of homosexuality, how “God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves” (v 24). Natural relations are exchanged for unnatural ones; God’s perfect design is completely ignored.

This is the kind of corruption we see today. There are “Gay Pride parades” every spring. There are laws that give approval to such relationships in our society. And sometimes Christians hold a lot of contempt for homosexuals, and we don’t mind to tell crude jokes about them. For we may think that Paul’s words in Romans 1 surely don’t apply to us, they apply to others—to those sinners, gays and lesbians!

But then we need to keep reading. This same corruption has spread everywhere, even to us: “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (v 28). Once God isn’t recognized, the door’s opened to every kind of sin!

Paul explains the further effects of sin’s corruption: people are “filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (vv 29-31). You might read that list again. I think every one of us can find ourselves somewhere on it, in more than one place. You’re not really being honest if you can’t. Because this is the way of human corruption.

And in God’s eyes, all these things are unnatural and debased. Don’t single just one out: all these things are contrary to God’s design—He didn’t create us to live in this way, yet we do! “Envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, pride….” This is the condition of the human heart, the heart without the Spirit.

And this is exactly the kind of life that leads to death. Like Paul says in chapter 8, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (v 13). If we don’t turn from our worthless idols, and change our priorities, we’ll die. If we don’t get serious about worshiping the true God, we’ll die. If we don’t break with sinful desires and evil habits, we’ll die. If we don’t humbly acknowledge God as the Creator and Judge of mankind, we will die. That’s the truth of where sinners are going. But if we seek his abundant mercy in Christ, then we will live.

 3) our re-creation: So your life got off to a bad start. You’ve learned how to sin, and now you can’t stop. Well, that’s not the last word. In Romans, Paul isn’t trying to prove our sinfulness so that we leave the courtroom, dejected and disheartened. No, remember the theme of Paul’s letter: “[In the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed” (1:17). He’s saying it is possible to have a proper relationship with God, to be restored to a right standing.

So how do we get it? How can convicted criminals be made innocent? In the coming sermons in this little series, we’ll look at how Paul explains this, particularly in Romans 4-6. But this same gospel is at the heart of the Easter season. God counts us forgiven in Christ! Because of what Christ has done, God accepts us once again! Here’s the miracle of it: God looks at his Son, and God actually sees us—He considers that in him we are perfect, we are pure, we are holy, we are righteous.

In chapter 8 of his letter, Paul speaks of this comes about. How can these wondrous things happen in us, in a people so wicked? How can we actually believe in the Lord? And beyond that, how can we actually do what pleases God, if we always seek our own will? The answer is hinted at in Q&A 8: “Are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil? Yes, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” Unless regenerated—given a fresh start, a second birth, a new heart.

            What the Spirit does is restore in us that shattered image of God. He restores us to righteousness and holiness. Paul describes it this way, “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom 8:6). Where before there was only death, now we have life. Where before there was only enmity towards God, now we have peace. For now, through the Spirit, we can believe.

By faith, we can accept all that Christ has done: “His suffering, his cross, his death, his resurrection—it’s mine!” we say, “I believe it. I accept it.” By faith, we claim it for ourselves—and at that moment, the heavenly Judge declares us perfectly righteous in his sight. He says it’s as if we had never had nor committed any sin.

            God has made us righteous, and now we can act righteous. Now we can live in a way that shows we have a proper relationship with God. Now to the business of knowing him, and loving him, worshiping him and walking with him!

For by the Spirit, we’re not slaves anymore. By the Spirit, we are sons and daughters of God. Paul says, “By [him] we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom 8:15). That’s right: we’ve become God’s children—what glorious proof that the relationship between God and us has been fully restored! For think of those once-convicted criminals: standing in court, they’re not just cleared of wrong-doing, and released from punishment. No, once the trial is done, the Judge even takes us home. “These are my children, now,” He says, “These forgiven sinners are a people who can live with me. I want them to be a people who will gladly serve me from now on.” For us, it’s a glorious new beginning!

So no matter where we’ve come from; no matter what’s happened; no matter the sins we have committed; God can give us a fresh start. To those who call on his Name, He grants his abundant mercy, grants his overflowing Spirit! Because God wants you to live the kind of life you were first designed for. He wants you to get back to your original purpose, your first calling: glorifying his Name. He wants you, in the place that He’s put you here on earth, to be busy with doing his will.

So is that what we do? Do we show by our lives that we have a real and meaningful fellowship with the LORD? Do we talk to him? Do we listen to him? Do we trust him? Do we do what He says because we love him? Every day, God sends us the grace of his Son, and his life-changing Spirit. May we cherish these gifts, and so may we walk humbly with God: our Creator, our Judge, and our Saviour! 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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