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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:“Who are we?” – A lesson in identity
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Mercy

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 81:1,2,3                                                                                               

Reading – Romans 5:12 - 6:14

Psalm 32:1,3,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 5

Hymn 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hymn 3:1,2,3 [after Nicene Creed]

Hymn 56:1,2,3,4
* 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 taken a flight, or crossed the border by car, you know you have to produce identification. You have prove that you ARE who you say you ARE. And our identity, of course, is a complex thing. It’s not just that stack of cards that you can produce at a moment’s notice: your driver’s license, your health card, your passport, and so on. Our identify is much more than filling in our first, middle, and last names. It’s also more than writing down our SIN number, our birthday and birthplace.

            No, identity goes beyond what can be expressed with digits or letters. For we’re people with personalities, with relationships, with duties and abilities. We have beliefs, and values, and things we hold dear.

We easily produce “identification” when we need to, but what if someone asked us about our identity? Who are we, really? How would you describe yourself, and the things you believe in? Or how do others know you? If I asked one of your friends or family members, what would they say about you?

There’s something else too, more important than our reputation with others, and more important than how we view ourselves. And that’s how we are known by God! Who does God say we are? In his perfect judgment, what’s our true identity? Let’s then consider Scripture’s answer, summarized in Lord’s Day 5 of the Catechism,

             “Who are we?” – the Bible’s lesson in identity:

1)     we fall with Adam

2)     we rise with Christ

1)     we fall with Adam: When we consider what the Bible says about our identity, we first have to wrap our heads around one major idea. This idea is fundamental to much of what we’ll discuss today.

            And this is the truth that no one stands alone. No one’s entirely his own person, completely individual, through and through. “No man is an island” someone wisely said. We always share in some larger identity. This is a Biblical idea, one of “corporate personality.” That’s a pretty fancy term, but it means simply this: as persons, we’re members of a group. Each of us is part of something that’s much larger than ourselves.

More specifically, the Bible says every human being stands behind one man as our representative—and that’s how our basic identity is determined in the sight of God. It’s true that we’re not used to thinking this way. In our society, we tend to be very much interested in the individual. We talk about being your own boss. We talk about “self-made men” (or women). There’s a lot of talk about self-esteem, and self-image. We say that our personal choices determine who we are, what we’ll do, and how successful we’ll be.

There’s some merit to this, of course. We each have a personal responsibility before God; God calls each person to repentance and to faith in his Name. But the Bible says more, too. For again, what sort of people are we each a part of? Among what kind of community do we find ourselves? It’s a key matter.

            Let’s have an example. Think of being “Canadian.” No one would say that this is our entire identity. But being Canadian, there’s indeed a kind of personality, a kind of “national character” in which we’re all said to share. The world knows us Canadians as tolerant people, easy-going and polite (we don’t always live up to that, but OK). The world assumes that all Canadians love ice hockey, and that we may even live in igloos for part of the year. Whether it’s accurate or not, that’s our Canadian identity, as a group—that’s our “corporate personality.”

            So who are we as humans, according to the Bible? Well, in Romans the Holy Spirit points us all the way back to the beginning. In this letter the apostle is trying to make a case for Christ. Because he’s never visited there, Paul is presenting his gospel message to the church at Rome; he’s carefully laying it out, piece by piece. And like a good teacher, Paul goes back to the basics.

            He’s already proven to the Romans that everyone is sinful, Gentiles and Jews alike. He’s already shown that no sinner can escape God’s judgment on his own strength or goodness. And Paul’s already announced the good news of our deliverance from sin, back in 3:21-22, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, is revealed… the righteousness of God [which comes] through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe.”

            Paul has told us that there’s salvation available, through Jesus Christ. In his teaching, Paul’s brought us along the Romans Road; we’ve travelled the difficult stretch of our “Sin and Misery,” towards the beautiful scenery of our “Deliverance.” But now Paul wants to explain this a little more. How is this salvation actually possible? How do we enter into this right relationship with the Creator? Yes, on the plainest level—down to the nuts and bolts—what is our salvation all about?

            And in chapter 5, Paul says that our salvation is all about a change in identity. This is the main point. Salvation involves a transformation in our status and position! To show this, Paul goes back to who we would be apart from Jesus Christ; he points us back to that original tragedy of the Fall into sin.

He spares us the gory details, and gets right to the heart of what happened: “Through one man sin entered the world” (Rom 5:12). By one man’s choice, one man’s irresponsibility, his rebellion, sin has entered the world. Sin, and all that comes with it! Sin entered the world, “and death through sin” (Rom 5:12). That was the original penalty threatened by God—death. Speaking of that tree in the middle of the Garden, the LORD said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17).

            Because of sin, there is death. Because of sin, there is cancer and diabetes and there are heart attacks and car accidents and plane crashes. Because of sin, we must sometimes stand at the graveside of those we have loved, and we grieve the brokenness of life.

Yet God says the effect of sin isn’t seen simply in the end of our physical existence. No, the true penalty for sin is death in every way, physically and spiritually. Total death is our separation from the God of life! This is what the Catechism calls “temporal and eternal punishment” (Q&A 12), and “the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin” (Q&A 14).

            Sin entered the world, and death entered, “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Notice Paul started the verse talking about just that one man—Adam—who sinned (however many) thousands of years ago. But by the end of the verse, notice how he’s talking about everyone sinning, everyone dying, everyone being under God’s judgment. There’s an inseparable connection between what Adam did, and who we are today: “Death spread to all, because all sinned.” We share in it.

            Now, theologians have long debated what the exact connection is. How does Adam’s fall into sin affect us, from day to day? Is it simply that we imitate what Adam did, that we copy his original rebellion? Like him, we take of the “forbidden fruit” that we see offered in the world around us, don’t we? Or is the connection that we’ve inherited sin from our first father, like some kind of hereditary or genetic disease?

Or does Paul mean we actually share in Adam’s guilt for that original transgression? Does he mean that when Adam sinned, we all sinned with him? That when he failed, we all failed with him? This last view might be the most difficult to accept. This view might be the one we’re most likely to protest. “It’s not right,” we say, “for God to condemn me, simply because of a sin Adam committed so long ago. I wasn’t there, was I?” Sounds like identity theft!

            But remember, Paul’s talking about the kind of people we’re a part of. Either our complete identity is defined and wrapped up in Adam, or it’s become defined and wrapped up in someone else. Lest we have any doubt about it, our unity with Adam is put explicitly in verse 18. There Paul writes, “Through one man’s offense, judgment came to all men.”

It’s why the Form for Baptism says, “We and our children are conceived and born in sin, and are therefore by nature children of wrath.” Without doing anything good or bad, even a little infant is under God’s judgment, born a child of Adam. It was once put in a little rhyme for children, so they could remember this basic truth: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” You won’t find it in Mother Goose, but this rhyme’s very true!

Of course, we’ve added to that original sin. And you could say we do imitate what Adam did: we choose what’s right for ourselves, we ignore God’s commands and warnings. As the Catechism says, “We daily increase our debt” (Q&A 13). Yet all of it stems from that one root, way down below, underneath our family tree. And this isn’t meant as an excuse. Yet this knowledge of our identity can help us as Christians. A little personal awareness, some self-evaluation, is a very necessary thing.

Beloved, each day we should understand the true character of our hearts, and what we’re capable of. When we look in the mirror, we should admit we’re not innocent. We should confess that we’re not so great after all. That we can’t be “do-it-yourself-ers” and get to heaven on the length of our prayers, or on the number of our good deeds. Rather, we should recognize that we’ll naturally choose the wrong path. We should admit our willingness to be deceived by the devil. We should see that we so often put ourselves first, and God second, and others last. Apart from God’s help, this is who we are.

And as I said, this knowledge of our identity might be bleak, but it can help us. Because we should know not ever to stand near sin, to put ourselves in places of evil—because in our weakness, we’ll probably fall for it. We should know not to depend on ourselves, or become proud—because then we’ll certainly fail. We should know not to listen to those rationalizing voices at the moment of temptation—because we’re only letting ourselves be fooled.

No, if we really know who we are, if we understand it and face up to it, then we’ll admit that we need help. We’ll confess our shortcomings, and cry out for salvation through our only mediator and saviour (Q&A 15).

 2)     we rise with Christ: Paul’s not one to leave us hanging. He’ll tell us about our sins, but only so we cherish our salvation even more. He’s not explaining our unity with Adam so we go home feeling worthless and hopeless. No, before we go home, Paul wants to tell us about that wondrous change in who we are. Call it a complete makeover—not just on the surface, but God has changed us deep down, to soul and spirit!

            At the end of Romans 5:14, he hints at where he’s headed. He says that Adam “is a type [or a pattern] of the one to come.” He’s saying that while Adam might’ve put us all on the wrong track, there’s also someone who can re-route this train. There’s someone who can do just the same kind of image-transforming as Adam did, the same destiny-altering. There’s another one who can shape our identity—but this time for blessing and not for curse.

            Who could it be? We know He’d have to be “one who is a true and righteous man” (Q&A 15), so He can satisfy God’s justice against human sin. What’s more, we know He’d have to be “one who is at the same time true God” (Q&A 15), so He can bear the full burden of God’s wrath. Man and God: that’s a tall order. That’s a person we could never hope to find on our own!       

But thankfully, there’s no surprise about the identity of our Saviour. Paul told us who it is, already back in Romans 1. The Catechism told us who it is, back in Lord’s Day 1. And now it’s worked out. Writes Paul, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Rom 5:15).

            There’s that powerful comparison. Did you catch it? In this corner, one man; in the other corner, another man: it’s Adam, and Christ. Adam brought us sin; Adam brought us death; Adam brought us condemnation. But Jesus Christ! Christ stood up for us and brought us grace; He brought us life; He brought us salvation.

            Two men. Two figures, standing at the head of all humanity. Two representatives of all. But two such vastly different people, vastly different lives, vastly different results for the world, including for you and for me.

            Think about Adam. We all know he had a job to do in the Garden of Eden. In a word, Adam’s job was obedience. He had to heed the commands of God, the big commands—multiplying, filling, subduing, ruling—and the other commands of God, too: like keeping his hands off that one tree. But he didn’t do it. Under exam conditions, Adam failed miserably. And yes, beloved, we failed right along with him!

            Christ too, had a job to do on this earth. In a word, his job was precisely the same as Adam’s: obedience. He had to obey the commands of God, loving God and loving his neighbour. He had to come down to this earth, and to do exactly what God ordered: to open the Kingdom of heaven, to preach the glad tidings to the poor—and yes, to be humiliated, to suffer, and to die. And He did it, perfectly! Facing a life-long test of obedience, our Saviour aced it. So at the end, He could say, “It is finished,” because it was: Jesus had left nothing undone of God’s will.

            So here’s that comparison again: “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18). “One Man’s righteous act”—that’s how Paul describes the entire life of Christ: it was one perfect display of faithfulness to the Father’s will, continual, unrelenting and unwavering obedience.

            And it’s this righteousness of Christ that brings us full redemption! It’s what makes all the difference in our lives. It makes all the difference when we’re carrying a burden of guilt for things we’ve done. It makes all the difference when we’re filled with sadness at the death of a loved one. If makes all the difference when we’re unsure of our purpose and place in this world. It makes all the difference when we’re anxious about many things, when we’re lonely and depressed and can’t see our way through.

Because now we have new promise, now we have new peace, even a new life! Previously condemned in Adam; previously under the sentence of death—now, “how much more [does] God’s grace… abound to many!”

God sees us as a different kind of people. No longer He sees us united with Adam, with all the misery that identity entails. But God now sees us united with Christ. That’s our new character, our new status—we are one with Jesus Christ. It means that whatever Christ accomplished, whatever Christ achieved, God considers that we did it, too. Christ was obedient—God says we were obedient, too. Christ was righteous—God says we are righteous, too. Christ suffered eternal condemnation—God considers that we suffered it, too. God credits all of Christ’s accomplishments to our account! Yes, we owed him an eternal death for all our sins and shortcomings, but now that death has already taken place! It’s taken place on the cross.

It’s this blessed reality that our baptism points to. Asks Paul in chapter 6, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3). Baptism is the precious mark that we’re united with Christ. United to him, and to all the glory and blessing that He stands for.

And this is the identity that may have, even from Day One of our lives. As the Form for Baptism says, “Just as [children] share without their knowledge in the condemnation of Adam, so are they, without their knowledge, received into grace in Christ.” That’s the new character of our children—even before they’ve done much of anything at all in this world, they’re received into grace in Christ. God has promised them a new identity. The Triune God has placed his Name upon them, and upon us all. In his grace, God says, “No longer are you simply the children of Adam. No longer do you need to stand behind him as your representative and captain. For now you’re the children of God. Now you’re the people of Christ.”

And this is worth so much more than any human position or glory. In this world, we often seek a good reputation with others; we could worry constantly about what people think about us. We might try define ourselves by our fine possessions, or by our excellent job, or our good education. We might find our life’s identity and meaning in our family, or in our character, or in our many interests. We might try constantly to develop better self-esteem and self-image, in us, or in our children. But in the big picture, all these things matter very little.

For how does God look at you, beloved? Does God see you as united to his Son? We once received the promise of this grace, but have we taken hold of this? Have we been united to Christ by a true and living faith? Is this who YOU are? Forgiven. Set apart. Righteous? This is proper self-image—looking at yourself, and seeing only what God has done in you and for you!

And this identity carries over into our lives. Paul says if we’re united to Christ, we’re dead to sin. We’re done with that old way of living. After all, our sins were nailed to the cross; our transgression have been dealt with completely. We should view the cross as the final chapter of our previous life. Now it’s time for a new beginning: “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:11).

There’s no reason to go back to “Adam and Sons,” the family business of sinning and dying. Exhorts Paul, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin” (6:13). That’s not what we’re here for! That’s not why Christ saved us! “But present yourselves to God, as being alive from the dead” (6:13). He’s given us a new calling and purpose. He’s assigned a new identity, for us to embrace with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Here you have to realize that being a Christian will take over your life. It can’t be a secret identity, something you keep from the view of others, or something you won’t talk about in public. Christ our Saviour has something to say about everything we do—because He wants us to serve him in everything!

But we’re glad to do it. We’re glad, because we’re adopted by God the Father. We’re glad, because we’re washed by God the Son. We’re glad, because we’re filled with God the Holy Spirit. By his grace, it’s who we are, it’s who we’ve become! 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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