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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:Excuses thrown out, and salvation laid out!
Text:LD 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 9:1,4,5                                                                                             

Reading – Romans 2:1-11; 3:1-8; 6:15-23

Psalm 65:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 4

Hymn 81:1,2,4,5,7

Hymn 10:1,2 [after Apostles’ Creed]

Hymn 80:1,2,5,6

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

Beloved, here are some words we’ve all heard before, maybe said them ourselves: “Excuses, excuses.” They’re familiar, for the simple fact that no one likes to have their wrong-doings pointed out. So when we’re confronted with our failures, our first reaction is often to evade and deny. We make excuses. Change the subject. Anything to escape the prying eyes! Even when an accusation is well-founded, it’s a remarkable “talent” we have, that we can come across so sincere and heartfelt: “It wasn’t me, honest!” we say. We might insist upon it—at least until we’ve thought of a good excuse.

It’s not a new development, as far as human behaviour goes. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After their disobedience, they tried to hide. And how they surely cringed when God posed his searching question: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:11).

Recall how Adam replied with the classic, two-pronged excuse. At once he blamed both God and his wife, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v 12). Or then Eve, who quickly deflected man’s pointing finger, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v 13). Excuses, and more excuses.

In many ways, we stick to the pattern set in the beginning. We say, “Let the blame fall on anyone but me!” We say, “There were circumstances that made me sin—I’ve got my reasons. It’s not my fault.” We even say, like our first mother did, “The devil made me do it.” And in Lord’s Day 4, we find three more of those typical human responses.

For this is God’s charge against mankind; in the words of Romans 3: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.” (v 10). We might twist and turn, but we can’t escape it. And we shouldn’t try to escape it. It’s far better to nail your sins to the cross, than to try excuse them with weak words. With our hearts laid bare before the LORD, let’s not deny the charge against us, but let us flee to his glorious Son. That’s our theme from Lord’s Day 4, under this theme,

            Excuses thrown out, and salvation laid out!

1)     our total accountability

2)     God’s majestic personality

3)     our new responsibility

1)     our total accountability: We’re all quick to point it out when something’s unfair. If we’re not given an equal portion of cake, if something doesn’t meet our expectations, or seems unjust, we’re going to speak up in a hurry. We’ll do this in our own defense, of course—and sometimes in defense of others. For example, we say it’s unfair to demand of a child what only an adult can do. Parents do well to remember this when they’re assigning chores: that a seven-year old can’t be expected to mow the lawn, or put away all the groceries. The ability’s not there, so the demand is unfair.

            So what about the demand on mankind? We saw it in Lord’s Day 2: The demand is love, for God and for neighbor. And what’s the ability of mankind? We saw that in Lord’s Day 3: We are naturally very talented in evil, but incompetent in good. And that brings us to the first question—or the first excuse—in Lord’s Day 4: “Does not God do man an injustice by requiring in his law what man cannot do?” (Q&A 9). That’s our excuse: God’s high expectations are beyond our reach. He’s set the bar so high, and how can we ever attain to it?

But there was no “manufacturer’s error” to blame in the failure of Adam and Eve. Our God’s a good God, and He’d never demand what we could not do. Yes, who can accuse God of any neglect or shortcoming in putting us together? We were made good and in his image. So the Catechism quickly rebuts this excuse with the words, “God so created man that he was able to do [God’s law]” (Q&A 9).

To our first parents God gave those basic commands: “Be fruitful and increase. Fill the earth and subdue it. And don’t eat from that tree in the middle of the garden.” These were commandments that our parents were fully able to obey, but they chose not to. Also to us, God gives some basic rules. “You shall have no other gods before me. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Honour your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not steal.” And so on, as we’ve heard them many times before.

Someone might still try to be clever, and get out of it: “OK, Adam and Eve once had the ability to do God’s commands, and they chose to disobey. But when God gave us his law, we were already unable, already sinful. We never had it in us! God could’ve known exactly what would happen when He gave sinners his law at Mt. Sinai.”

Sounds like a foolproof excuse. But Paul in chapter 5 will tell us something very important. There he tells us that we’re actually included with Adam, our first father. We’re included in the perfect ability he once had, and we’re also included in the failure he once chose. Because he’s our father, we sinned, right along with him! Think of Romans 5:12, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin…because all sinned.”

And that means we’re totally accountable. It means we too, have to answer to God for everything on our record. For the LORD had expectations for us—equitable, fair and just expectations—and if we can’t meet them, God will have something to say. If we sin, there’s going to be a price.

This accountability that we have as humans, as God’s creatures, throws out all of our excuses. And excuses we have many! Maybe we like to blame our sin on people around us. “My friends and neighbours pressure me to do wrong things. It’s their fault, their bad influence—I can’t help it. You really expect me to stand up to them?” Yet accountability says that friends and companions are things we choose; we can choose bad ones, or godly ones.

Maybe we blame our sin on things past. “Because of what’s happened to me, because of my parents, because of this or that event—I just can’t help it anymore. ‘It is what it is,’” we like to say. And the beginning of our life does ingrain a pattern, sometimes very deep. But accountability says that for those who seek it, for those who earnestly ask God, there can be change, a new beginning.

Or maybe we blame our sin on the mind and body we were given. “It was God who created me with these desires,” we say, “a desire for control, or for sex, or for wealth—so who can fight it?” But God says with his help, our desires can be controlled, our minds gotten in line, our selves offered to the Lord instead.

Or maybe you like to give that old excuse: “The devil made me do it. After all, I’ve still got that sinful nature. For a weak person like me, the demons are pretty hard to resist.” And our old nature is stubborn. Nor can we deny that Satan’s mighty strong. Yet again, God never releases us from our personal calling: we’re called to obey him, in thought and word and deed. We can’t just point an easy finger at Satan, for James reminds us, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (1:14).

And what else do we blame? Well, maybe you’ve blamed your sin on your young age—these are the years to have some fun, “to sow those wild oats.” Or maybe you blame our sin on your old age: “I haven’t been able to change these last fifty years, so why bother try now?” Or maybe we blame our sin on all the many stresses and pressures in our life: “I’m too busy to walk closely with God. I’m stretched too thin right now. When I have more time, then I will.”

So many excuses! But the Catechism doesn’t fall for it—doesn’t fall for that basic excuse of our inability. It focuses on how we actually respond to God’s requirements: “deliberate disobedience” (Q&A 9). “Disobedience” is one thing. We might be charged by the local by-law officer for some minor offense, like building our fence too high. In defense of our crime, we might claim ignorance of the minute points of the law. But our disobedience against God is so often deliberate. We know what He asks of us, and we sin anyway.

Perhaps we wish then, that He’d left us in the dark! The Roman Jews felt the same way. Paul had shown them in chapter 2 that their history, their knowledge of the law, their mark of circumcision—that none of these things made them right with the LORD. For God was seeking something more; He was after their hearts.

That’s why Paul begins chapter 3 like he does, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” (3:1). Maybe some Jews said they would’ve been better off without knowing God’s law. Judgment is lighter, then. Maybe we too, sometimes think we’d be better off, without being baptized and all the rest. So what advantage do we have?

Answers Paul, “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them [and to us!] were committed the oracles of God” (3:2). As the LORD’s people, we have to realize the great challenge—and the wondrous blessing—of our position. We have the Word of God. We have the Spirit of God. We have a covenant with God. Yes, these things make us accountable—even more accountable than others. Like Jesus said, “To whom much has been given, much more will be demanded!” But these same things tell us where to go with our sins.  

 2)     God’s majestic personality: When we’re in trouble, we all hope for leniency. When children have broken one of the household rules, they’ll hope for this too: that this time, Mom or Dad won’t make a big deal about it. So in our guilt we wonder: if God is so good, can’t He let our disobedience go unpunished?

That’s the second excuse offered in the Catechism (Q&A 10). Sure, God knows we sinned, but couldn’t He just let it slide? Look the other way? He can do no such thing. He can’t, because God is a God of unfailing justice. God always acts in accordance with what is right—in fact, He IS the standard of what’s right. If God allowed a sin to go unpunished, by that very act He’d contradict who He is. He is holy, so He can’t tolerate what is unholy. He is righteous, so He must oppose all that is unrighteous.

 As Paul says in Romans 2, “[God] will render to each one according to his deeds… to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—[there will be] indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (2:6,8-9). That’s God’s justice.

And notice that breaking the law doesn’t leave God unmoved. With every transgression of his law, God is deeply angered. That’s why the Catechism says “[God] is terribly displeased” with our sins (Q&A 10). When we sin against God, He considers our sins not a minor disappointment. No, as Paul says, “There will be indignation and wrath.” Anger so often arises in us because we’re sinful. But God’s wrath arises out of his majestic personality: He is holy, and this drives him to a holy hatred of all that is evil. And God expresses this wrath in the punishment of those who do wrong.

            After hearing this, a sinner might feebly ask that last question of this Lord’s Day, holding onto a sliver of hope: “But is God not also merciful?” (Q&A 11). That’s all we can hope for, beloved: mercy, a free and undeserved compassion on those who are helpless and pitiful in themselves. How else could anyone stand before this God?

             But as quickly as the door is opened to God’s mercy, the door seems slammed shut, and with some gusto at that! “God is indeed merciful—but He is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul” (Q&A 11).

The Catechism seems a little unkind here, doesn’t it? Hints of mercy at one moment, but declares judgment at the next. Yet even in this section on our Sin and Misery, the Catechism doesn’t leave us without hope. If you read between the lines, you’ll see it. It’s bringing us somewhere. The Catechism is leading us to the gospel, which is announced so wonderfully in Lord’s Day 6. There it will show that in Christ, our God does have abundant mercy—mercy, yet never without perfect justice!

            That’s because God’s personality can’t be in contradiction with itself. You know that we so often we are; we can be kind and generous one day, grumpy the next—and who knows why? Our moods are shifting, inconsistent things. Yet God is constant in who He is. He is just, and He is merciful: without contradiction.

And for proof of this, look once more at our salvation, accomplished on the cross! The Belgic Confession puts it so concisely, “God… [showed] his justice against his Son when He laid our iniquity on him, and poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who were guilty and worthy of damnation” (Art. 20). The justice of a fair punishment, and the mercy of forgiveness—at the same time, shown on the same cross.

Could we really trust in God, if He wasn’t so consistent? Could we worship God, if He wasn’t so majestic and holy? But we take great comfort in knowing this: Our God doesn’t change like shifting shadows! He honours all that He says. Because of who He is, He deals with our sins, fully and completely.

3)     our new responsibility: From watching the news, it seems that many criminals make a career out of it. That is, the police will often arrest the same people, over and over. After doing some time in prison, a criminal will often return to the way of life that he knows best: breaking the law, living on the fringes, being on the run.

            It’s an age-old thing to assume that Christians will do the same. Because once we know God’s grace, the thinking goes, we’ll become lazy, complacent, and we’ll never really make a break with our sinful way of life. After all, we’ll always be forgiven, right? God’s grace is free and unending, right?

It’s sometimes compared to that “Get out of Jail Free” card in the game Monopoly. Knowing about Christ, having a Bible on your shelf, or maybe being baptized in the church once upon a time—that’s our ticket out of trouble. You keep it handy, should you end up on the wrong side of God’s law, “behind the bars” of God’s justice, as it were. And here’s the thing: you can keep using that card, again and again.

            For after every failure, we simply go back to God. God is merciful. God is loving. After a while, we might think of it this way: “This isn’t so bad. My sin actually reveals God’s greatness and majesty. Because every time I do wrong, He can show again just how gracious He is.” This is the kind of thinking that Paul also opposed. He mentions it in chapter 3, “Why not say ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?” (3:8). Or again in chapter 6, he asks, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1).

            Perhaps no Christian would ever say this out loud. And yet—isn’t it true?— as Christians, we might become lazy. Tolerant of certain sins in our lives. Lukewarm about our holiness. We might become this way, because we’ve always told ourselves that God is merciful, that we’ve got our ticket out of trouble. And God is gracious—let no one disagree! But beloved, this is the reality of God’s covenant with us: His mercy places upon us a new responsibility, gives us a new obligation. Those who have been forgiven, released from bondage in Christ—such people must live differently than we did before.

            Paul compares it to a change of masters: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (6:16). He’s saying that in this life, either we’re fully committed to sin, or we’re fully committed to obedience. You’re a slave of one or the other. In our hearts, there’s no middle ground. Our lives will be characterized by one of two things: a seeking after God, or a seeking after ourselves and our will.

            So what’ll we do? To help us decide, Paul asks, “When you were slaves of sin… what fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (6:20-21). It’s as clear as ever: a life of sin will only lead to misery. Disobedience can only bear bitter fruit. “The end of those things is death.”

How much better then, to serve the Lord! “Having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (6:22). By grace, we can take on a new style of living. Now we can live as the slaves of God, being zealous in all things for his will. And when we do, Paul says, we’ll receive as our wages God’s gift of life everlasting. This at last, is a life worth living!

            But perhaps we should back up to that word “slave.” Some don’t like it so much. It brings to mind images of forced labour and oppression. Yet it’s actually a wonderful picture of our new position before God. For a slave doesn’t belong to himself, and he’s not out to please himself. Rather, a slave belongs fully to the lord who bought him. First, it means he’s cared for, protected by his master—even as a prized possession, because he paid a lot for him! And second, that gives a slave the calling to serve his master with devotion. That’s now his all-consuming purpose: to do his lord’s will.

            “Having becomes slaves of God,” that’s our noble calling! Having been bought by Christ’s precious blood, we’re now here to serve the Lord. To serve God in the little things. To serve God in the big things. To serve, in your family, and among your friends, and at your work, and in your leisure, and with your thoughts. To serve gladly, to serve willingly, to serve obediently, and to serve lovingly. As the apostle John would say: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3).

One who’s been forgiven doesn’t make excuses he hears the commands of God. We don’t say, “They’re too hard.” We don’t say, “I have better things to do.” We don’t claim, “I don’t know how.” For to the servants of God, his commands aren’t burdensome. Rather, because we love God, we’re eager to keep them. We’re honoured to obey them. Like unworthy servants, we’re glad to perform our duty. 

            So instead of seeking excuses for sin, let’s seek more opportunities to serve our faithful Lord. Instead of being defensive about our sin, let’s be active in doing good. Not shifting the blame, let’s accept the blame—and then be glad to place it fully on Jesus Christ. Instead of running from our guilt, let’s carry our guilt to the cross, leave it there, and go on our way rejoicing. For sinners like us, that’s the way to salvation. That’s the way to life! 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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