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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Created in Christ Jesus for good works
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 78

Psalm 1

Hymn 28:6

Hymn 1

Psalm 147:1,4,6

Scripture readings:  Ephesians 2:1-10, Colossians 3:1-17

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 32

 

 

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


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Why should we strive to do good works?  Lord’s Day 32 begins with this question.  It’s a “why” question and our human nature loves those kinds of questions.  You see it often with kids.  When their parents tell them to do something, they ask, “But why?  Why should I do this?  Why should I not do that?  Give me a good reason.”  And if the parents can’t come up with a good reason, it’s going to be difficult to get the kids to obey. 

Recently I saw a news story about the United States Marine Corps.  The Marines traditionally have a reputation as an elite American fighting force.  But their reputation has recently been falling on hard times.  There are increasing reports of sexual assault, drunk driving, poor dress and deportment, and so on.  The commandant has just announced tough new measures to turn the Marine Corps around.  There are strict new guidelines, but the commandant also understands human nature.  Even Marines need to be given the reasons why they should do this or not do that.  He says that the Marines have to do a better job of explaining the “why” behind institutional decisions.     

When we can see the reason for something, we’re much more likely to follow along.  We have this innate tendency to want to understand why something should be done or not done.  So it’s good that we have a question in our Catechism, “Why must we yet do good works?”  Our confession understands human nature.

The Bible often speaks of good works.  Sometimes good works are contrasted with the gospel of grace.  Scripture is clear that there is no room for good works in our justification through Christ alone.  But at other times, the Bible puts good works in a positive light, as something that Christians ought to strive for.  Ephesians 2:10 is one of those places.  Our good works are put in a positive light, and we’re given reasons why we should strive for them.  Paul says there that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 

Through Ephesians 1 and the first part of Ephesians 2, it’s amply clear that our salvation comes to us through God’s grace alone.  In Ephesians 1, we find that we were chosen to salvation before the world was created.  The basis of our election is not in ourselves or anything we’ve done, but in God’s grace in Christ.  In Ephesians 2:5, Paul stresses again that it is by grace that we are saved.  Our merits or good works simply do not factor in.  We have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own. 

But what about good works?  Already in Ephesians 1, Paul says that our election was not because we were holy and blameless, but so that we would be holy and blameless.  Personal holiness is part of the goal.  The same thing is then stressed in Ephesians 2:10.  We were created in Christ Jesus, we believers were put on this earth, not because of our good works, but for good works, to do them.  God’s plan is that we would walk in his paths, obediently living according to his Word.  Therefore, for believers saved by grace, good works still matter.  We are going to strive for holiness, not in order to measure up for God, but because this is what we were saved to do.  We were redeemed from sin, in order that we might live to God’s glory.  The way we live to God’s glory is by following his will. 

This afternoon, we’ll see in more detail that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works.  We will consider good works and their:

  1. Source
  2. Motivation
  3. Benefits

With Lord’s Day 32, we begin the third and final section of the Catechism.  The first part dealt with our sin and misery.  The second dealt with our deliverance through Christ.  This third part deals with our thankfulness.  Our thankfulness, it says.  So you might be tempted to think that this is really about us.  Our deliverance is about what Christ has done for us, our thankfulness is about what we do for Christ.  He’s done his part, now we have to do our part.  You could be forgiven for thinking that, because the question also says, “why must we yet do good works?”  -- making it sound as if this is really about us somehow contributing something from ourselves.

That’s why it’s remarkable that the answer doesn’t begin with us.  Look at the first two words of answer 86, “Because Christ…”  Those two words are critical.  They put the emphasis in our sanctification on Christ and his work in us. 

We’re speaking about sanctification.  To review the definition, sanctification here is the process by which we become more and more Christ-like.  It’s important to remember that it is a process.  It’s something in which we have to grow, day by day.  Sanctification is the process through which we are more and more reflecting the Saviour to whom we are united. 

The emphasis falls first on the work of Christ in this process.  He has redeemed us by his blood.  He bought us to be his own possession, not with silver or gold, but with something far more valuable, his own blood.  We have been paid for in full, so that we are his possession.  He is our Lord, our master, our owner.  He has laid claim to us.  We belong to him.   

Because we belong to him, he goes further with us.  He gives us his Holy Spirit so that we will be renewed after his image.  The Holy Spirit dwells in every believer.  He is the one who makes all the difference when it comes to actually living a holy life.  The Holy Spirit of Christ is the fountain-head of our good works, the true and ultimate source.

Yet it’s important to remember his mode of working.  When we do good works, the ultimate source is in Christ and his Holy Spirit.  But there is also the reality that we are involved.  The good works that we do as redeemed Christians are our good works.  Turn with me to chapter 3-4 of the Canons of Dort and article 11 (page 571).  Let’s read that together.  Do you see?  The Holy Spirit makes our dead wills come alive to God.  We can produce good works because the Holy Spirit enables us to, he gives us the power and strength to do it.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are dead in sin.  Ephesians 2:1 is clear about that.  The Holy Spirit resuscitates us and when we are spiritually alive through his work, we can and we do see “a prompt and sincere obedience of the Spirit” beginning to prevail.

So you know that someone is spiritually alive when they have faith and then produce this fruit of good works.  But what about those who don’t?  What about those who say they’re Christians but then live ungodly lives, living unrepentantly in sin?  Our Catechism appeals to the teaching of Scripture in places like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  The Catechism paraphrases this passage.  It’s abundantly clear that people who live in sin are in spiritual danger.  If they continue to live in sin, they cannot have the hope of heaven.

But what happened in Corinth?  Paul goes on in verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 6.  He has just referred to all those sins in which people live.  And then he says, “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  They are no longer all those things, because by God’s grace they had turned to Christ.  They had his Spirit living in them.  That reminds us again of the power of the gospel to save.  Having done any of those things mentioned in QA 87 or 1 Corinthians 6 does not disqualify you from the kingdom of heaven.  Continuing in those things without repentance disqualifies you.  This is a good reminder that Christ can and does save people from the most terrible sins and the hardest falls.  God’s grace in him can cover any sin.  But to have Christ as your Saviour, you need to turn from your ungrateful and impenitent walk of life and turn to Christ, resting and trusting in him alone. 

So, the source of our good works is in Christ and specifically with his Holy Spirit who makes our wills come alive so that we can begin to be obedient.  Now what about the motives for our good works? 

Our Catechism says that the motive is thankfulness and praise.  We are renewed by the Holy Spirit so that we would show ourselves thankful to God for our salvation and that he may be praised by us.  Because of our training with the Catechism we’re accustomed to having thankfulness as the main motive, or maybe even the only motive for our good works.  After all, the heading over the third part does say, “Our Thankfulness.”  Now it needs to be said that it is a good motive.  Thankfulness is a biblical motive.  We could think of Romans 12:1,2 and how it speaks of our offering our lives to God as thank offerings.  But it would be a mistake to think that this is the only motive for good works.  The Bible does give us more motives besides thankfulness. 

Please take your Bible and turn back to Colossians 3 with me for a moment.  Colossians 3 is a great summary of the life of a Christian who has been redeemed by God’s grace.  It also provides numerous ways in which we should be motivated to pursue good works. 

Look at verse 1.  There the motivation is the fact that you have been raised with Christ.  Because you are not dead, but alive in him, therefore seek the things that are above. 

Look at verse 3.  There the motivation is the fact that your old nature has died with Christ on the cross and your true life is in heaven where Christ is right now. 

In verse 4, you are going to appear with Christ in glory.  You should be motivated by that knowledge.  If you’re going to appear with him in glory, get ready for that now by putting to death everything that belongs to your old nature. 

Then there is verse 6.  All those earthly or worldly things provoke the wrath of God.  Why would you want to provoke his wrath when he has saved you in his grace? 

Look at verse 9.  You have put off the old self, the old nature and its sinful deeds.  By believing in Christ, you have turned your back on sinful ways.  Why should you go back and live in them?  That would be inconsistent.

In verse 10, Paul says that you have put on the new self.  You are a new creation in Christ.  That should motivate you to live like the new creation that you are.  Be consistent with your true identity in Christ. 

Then there’s verse 12.  You are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.  God chose you, he set you apart and he loved you though you were unlovable.  Recognizing that, put on what fits with these truths:  compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forebearance, forgiveness. 

In verse 13, we are to forgive because we have been forgiven by Christ.  Recognizing the infinite amount we have been forgiven should motivate us to be forgiving people. 

Then finally, in verse 17, Paul does come around to thankfulness too.  “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

Loved ones, do you see from this one chapter that there are so many biblical reasons why we should do good works?  There is thankfulness, but there is much more.  We have so many reasons why we should love to heed God’s Word and walk in his ways.  But none of these reasons have anything to do with measuring up for God.  None of them have anything to do with contributing to our salvation in any way.  Our salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone and we must have that clearly fixed in our minds.  But if we begin to understand the magnitude of grace and the great worth of the gospel, then we also begin to love God.  We begin to earnestly want to please him in all good works.            

So as far as our motivation for good works goes, we have thankfulness, but we have far more.  Now what about the benefits of good works? 

There are two of them mentioned in the Catechism.  The first has to do with ourselves and our assurance.  An English Puritan named John Preston once compared this to a pregnant woman.  A pregnant woman feels the movement of her baby in the womb and by that she is assured that she is really pregnant and her baby is alive.  Similarly, a Christian receives assurance that faith is alive when there is evidence of good works.

Now to be clear, the primary ground of our assurance is in the promises of the gospel.  As the Canons of Dort say in chapter 5, article 10, assurance comes from “faith in the promises of God.”  God’s gospel promises are sure and reliable.  So when he says in his Word that we are saved by resting and trusting in Christ, when we turn to Christ we can be absolutely confident that this is true.  We can have assurance because God does not lie. 

However, there are secondary grounds of our assurance.  One of those is good works.  These secondary grounds validate the primary ground.  Scripture says in 1 John 2:3, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”  If we aim to live a godly life for the right reasons (not to earn anything from God), we can be assured that we know God in a saving way.  We can be assured that our faith in Christ is the real thing.  When we see the fruits, we know that the tree is alive.  When the fruits are there, we know that we are truly united to Christ, as a branch is grafted on to the vine.        

There is a second benefit to our good works and that has to do with our neighbours.  Martin Luther once said that God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbours do.  Luther was right.  God has everything perfectly within himself and he has no need for us or anything we do.  Our neighbours, on the other hand, they are weak human beings like we are and they need us.  They need us especially if they are not believers.  They need our witness.  That’s why the Catechism speaks us of us winning our neighbours for Christ by our godly walk of life. 

Scripture says this in places like 1 Peter 2:12.   God says there, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”  The Holy Spirit uses our outward walk, our way of life, our good works, to lead people to Christ.  Our good works can spark the curiosity of unbelievers.  Why do you live this way?  Why do you speak that way?  What makes you different?  Those questions can give you opportunities to speak about the gospel of Christ, to witness to your Saviour.   That leads to the ultimate result: when people repent and believe the gospel, there is more glory for God. First Peter 2:12 tells us that this glory comes on “the day of visitation.” That expression is used in other places in the Bible and it often refers to the day that God comes with salvation for somebody. The day of visitation is the day when God works faith and repentance in the hearts of pagans.  Our good works can be the catalyst, the thing that starts the journey for some unbeliever. 

We do want that, don’t we?  We want to win our neighbours for Christ.  Because we care about them, we want to see them with the joy and peace we have now, and we want to see them in the new creation later.  Most of all, we want to see them honouring our God with us, instead of dishonouring him with their sinful lives.  Therefore, it is beneficial for people around us when we aim to do good works.  It serves for their salvation and for the glory of God.

Loved ones, the world around us is set on doing its own thing.  The world tells us to pursue the desires of our own hearts, especially when it comes to how we live.  The Bible teaches Christians something radically different.  Don’t follow your heart, follow the Lord and do it precisely because he is your Lord, because Jesus has bought you with his blood.  You were created in him and you were redeemed by him in order to live for him in good works.   AMEN.

Prayer:           

Gracious God,

You have delivered us from our misery by grace alone through Christ.  We have contributed nothing to our salvation but our sin.  We are thankful for the redemption that we have in the blood of Christ.  This is a precious gift to us.  We want to live as your children, as though bought by Christ.  We want to live you with as our Lord, our commander-in-chief.  We want to acknowledge you in all our ways and glorify you in everything.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit, please continue to renew us after the image of Christ.  We pray for your help in doing good works to show you our thankfulness, give you our praise, and express our love for you.  Father, we ask that you would give us assurance of our faith through our good works.  We ask that you would be pleased to use our good works to win our neighbours for Christ.  Please work through us to bring more people into your kingdom, so that you may be praised by more and more sinners.  Father, please bless what we have been taught from your Word this afternoon.  Help us to take this with us into this new week, so that we die to ourselves and live for you and your praise.

We also pray that there may be no one here this afternoon living in an ungrateful and impenitent life.  You know each one of us and you know the state of our hearts.  If there is anyone here living in sin and not turning from it, we earnestly pray that you would wake them up.  We pray that you would open their eyes to the danger they’re in; please bring them to repentance and faith.  Please work in a mighty way with your Holy Spirit in each one of us. 

 




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

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