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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:We are raised with Christ to a new life of obedience
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2014-03-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

BoP:

Ps. 139: 1, 9, 10

Ps. 139: 12, 13

Ps. 25: 2 – 6

Ps. 19: 3 – 6

Ps. 96: 1, 2, 8

 

Scripture reading:          Deut. 6 and 30; Rom. 8: 1 – 17  

Text:                            LD 32

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


A life of thankful obedience

Ps. 139: 1, 9, 10

Ps. 139: 12, 13

Ps. 25: 2 – 6

Ps. 19: 3 – 6

Ps. 96: 1, 2, 8

 

Scripture reading:          Deut. 6 and 30; Rom. 8: 1 – 17  

Text:                            LD 32

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.   Our only comfort in life and in death is what God has promised us Christ: complete salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We confess this in Lord’s Day 1.  

In LD 1 we also confess what we need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort.    Or, as we may translate the original text:

“How many things are necessary for you to know, that you, in the joy of this comfort, may live and die blessed?”

We need to know three things:

First, how great my sins and misery are.

Second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery.

And third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

 

Here in Lord’s Day 32 we start with the third part: how I am to be thankful to God for His deliverance.   And thus you will note the heading above LD 32: “The Third Part: Our Thankfulness.”

 

The greatness of our sins and misery has been made clear to us.

We also saw the way in which God deliver us from all our sins and misery.

Here, in the third part, we will now be instructed how we are to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

 

When we look at this structure of the Catechism we should not understand the second part of the Catechism as gospel, and the third part as law, and place the two parts over against each other.    Our sanctification in and through Christ is part of the gospel.   A new life of holiness in accordance to God’s law is part of our salvation; part of our deliverance from sin and death.

Christ does not save us only from the guilt of our sin, but also from the power and defilement of sin.   He sets us free from slavery to sin in order that we may live unto God.

 

The third part of the Catechism deals with our new life in and through Christ.   It is a new life of sanctification and obedience through the blood and Spirit of Christ.    And thus, rightly perceived, this third part of the Catechism is part of our deliverance.   The very purpose of our salvation is that we may be holy and glorify God by keeping His commandments.  

 

So then, when we come to Lord’s Day 32 we are not turning from grace to law, but from grace to grace; from the grace of justification to the grace of sanctification.

 

Now that God has made us alive in Christ and raised us with Christ to live unto Him – how are we to serve and glorify God?    In which way must we show our love and thankfulness to Him?

 

On Sundays, when we read God’s covenant law as summarised in the Ten Commandments, the minister often calls the congregation to examine their lives by listening to these commandments as “the rule of thankfulness”.

Yes, God’s law, as summarised in the Ten Commandments, is the rule for our thankfulness.   That is what we confess here in the third part of the Catechism.

God’s law defines the thankfulness which we owe Him.

 

If you want to know how to thank God, the answer is simple: obey His law.   That is how we are to show our thankfulness.   We thank and glorify God by keeping His commandments.

 

Now, our Catechism uses the word thankfulness.  

It is indeed Scriptural to describe our response to God’s salvation with the word thankful. We are to thank God in all we do, as the apostle Paul says:

 

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” – Col. 3: 17

 

Now that we are saved through Christ our whole life becomes a thank offering to God through Christ.  

 

Our thankfulness is the fruit of God’s salvation.  

But in this context there is another word which Scripture uses even more frequently: the word love.   When we believe God’s sure promise of complete salvation in Christ, we love God.   We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4: 19).   We love Him much, because we were forgiven much (Luke 7: 47).   And we show our love to Him by keeping His commandments.   As Christ said:

 

       “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…” – John 14: 21

 

And that is exactly what the Catechism has in mind when it uses this word thankfulness.

It is the love we owe God – love for God and our neighbour as spelled out in His commandments.

 

Dear congregation, this is the only rule for thankfulness.   There is no other way of glorifying God.  

Here in the third part of the Catechism we also find an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, but the Lord’s Prayer is not added as a second rule of thankfulness next to the Ten Commandments.   Instead, what God requires in His law – that we love Him and our neighbour – finds its manifestation most prominently in our prayers.   Our prayers are not a different rule of thankfulness.   Also our prayers, which are an expression of our love and thankfulness, are regulated by God’s law.

 

Let us not try to invent a different rule for glorifying God.   Also in Lord’s Day 33 we confess that good works are only those which are done in accordance with the law of God.    There is no other definition for good works.   Good works are obeying God’s commandments.  

Sin is transgression of His commandments.   There is also no other definition for sin.   Sin is everything that is against God’s law (1 John 3: 4 - avnomi,a).  

 

Good works are to keep God’s commandments.

Lord’s Day 33 does add that we can do this only through faith, and that good works are always directed to God’s glory, but it is God’s law that defines good and bad, right and wrong.   Therefore, the obedience of faith, which is to God’s glory, is always in accordance with God’s law.

Yes, that is the only rule for thankfulness.  

 

And thus, in order to be instructed in the thankfulness we owe God, we turn to His commandments.

 

But note the context in which we do this.   We do not turn to God’s law in order to learn how we may save ourselves, or how we may earn God’s favour; we turn to God’s law to instruct us in the good and holy will of our heavenly Father who has adopted us in Christ as His beloved children, who has delivered us from sin and death, who now restores us to His image that we may live with Him and unto Him.   We do not receive this law from a slave master who wants to keep us in bondage, but from our Redeemer who has set us free in order that we may live unto God’s glory.

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

We are raised with Christ to a new life of obedience

We will note

  1. The obligation to live according to God’s law
  2. The freedom to live according to God’s law
  3. The blessings of a life in obedience to God’s law

 

In the first place we note…

The obligation to live according to God’s law

 

We confess here in Lord’s Day 32 that we must obey God’s law.   We must do good works.

And the first question is: why must we obey God’s law?   Why must we do good works?

 

“Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?” (Q 86)

 

Note the tension in this question.   We have been saved by grace alone, through Christ alone; why then must we “yet” do good works?   Do we not draw a line through our confession of salvation by grace only, if we “yet” continue to preach: “You must obey God’s law!”?

We confess in this Lord’s Day that we, having been saved and delivered by Christ, are under the obligation to keep God’s commandments; and that those who live contrary to God’s law will not inherit the kingdom.   And the first question is whether this obligation – which will be confessed and explained in the following Lord’s Days – does not contradict the gospel of salvation by grace only.

 

And the answer is: No!   God’s grace includes not only justification, but also sanctification.

Our new life of obedience is part of God’s grace; part of our salvation.   

God does not deliver us only from the guilt of sin, but also from the power and defilement of sin.   He sets us free from slavery to sin and restores us to His image in order that we may glorify Him with a new life of obedience.

 

Through the sanctifying work of Christ we now find our pleasure in obeying God; through Christ His law becomes to us sweet as honey.

 

Yet, it would not be correct to say that we are simply allowed or enabled to do good works; we are commanded to do good works.

God commands us in His law.

His law still stands.

He does not save us by breaking His law, or by abolishing His law.

He saves us with a righteous salvation which is in full agreement with His law.

 

This afternoon we read from Romans chapter 8.   We read that God through Christ destroyed the power and dominion that sin had over us, and that He did this “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Rom. 8: 4

 

That means: He saved us from sin, including the power and dominion of sin, in order that we may live according to the law; in order that the law may be fulfilled also in our walk of life.

He saved us in order that we may live according to the righteous requirements of the law.

Our sanctification is aimed at obedience to God’s law.   God is glorified when the righteous requirements of His law finds its manifestation and fulfilment in our lives.

 

We must do good works, because God demands it in His law.  

However, the law itself does not present itself to us without the introduction of liberation:

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

 

We receive the law from the hand of the One who has set us free – free from the bondage to sin in order that we may live unto Him.

 

Yes, we must do good works, because the law is still valid, and the law will be valid for all eternity.   And as long as there is a law, it must be obeyed.  

Without Christ this means death to us; but through Christ this obligation becomes our joy and delight.   

 

Now, we get the notion among Lutherans and many evangelicals that they are afraid of the word “must”.   They are afraid of any exhortation that commands us to do good works.  They reckon that good works must always be spontaneous without obligation.   But that is not the gospel.

We do not start to obey God’s commandments automatically without any effort.   Not in this life.   We are freed from the dominion of sin.   We are no longer slaves of sin, but we still have sinful desires that war against God and His law.   As the apostle Paul says to the saints in Galatia:

 

“…the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” – Gal. 5: 17

 

We still have a struggle to crucify our sinful desires, and we still have to exert ourselves to seek and to do what God commands.  

And we still need to hear the commands: “You shall!” and: “You shall not!”

We confess in LD 44 that we also need the strict preaching of God’s law.   God still wants His law to be preached to us “so strictly” (Q 115).

 

The gospel does not remove our obligation.  It does not even remove the strictness or exactness of the law.  Not at all!  It does not delete the words: you must!   But by the grace of God, through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s command has now become our delight.  

And as Christ continues to sanctify us and to restore us more and more to the image of God, we grow in obedience and grow in the thankfulness we owe God, so that more and more we delight ourselves in keeping His commandments.

 

We note this in the second place…

The freedom to live according to God’s law

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

 

The day of Israel’s deliverance was the day of the Passover.   That night the Passover lamb was slaughtered and the blood applied to the doorposts.   And thus Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt became a picture that foreshadowed our deliverance from the bondage of sin through the blood of Christ.

And thus these words also come to us:

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

 

Dear congregation, we have the fulfilment in Christ, our Passover.   And thus we see all the more clearly in the New Testament how God’s commandments come to us from the One who has set as free from slavery; and how His liberation forms the introduction to each commandment.  

I have set you free from slavery to sin, therefore, keep My commandments.

And each of the commandments spells out how the liberated have to live their liberation. 

 

Brother, sister, when you obey the law, you experience your liberation.  

Doing good works is enjoying the fruit of your salvation.

 

The Ten Commandments are not just a set of rules.  It is called God’s covenant word:

 

“So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone” – Deut. 4: 13.

 

His covenant: the Ten Commandments.

 

            “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb” – Deut. 5: 2.

 

The words given at Sinai He calls: His covenant.

 

“…I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you…” – Deut. 9: 9.

 

The tablets of stone given on Sinai were the tablets of the covenant.

 

It means that the Ten Commandments are not just a set of rules, no, it contains the promise of life: true life in communion with our covenant God.   Whoever lives according to this covenant has true communion with God.

 

And that was right from the beginning the purpose of His salvation.   With the blood of the Passover Lamb on Israel’s doorposts God had their eternal salvation in mind.

We ought to read the law in this festive light of liberation.   A life in obedience to the law is true liberation; it is both the purpose and the fruit of God’s redemption.

 

The Lord speaks to us in exactly the same words as He spoke to the liberated people of Israel, for we belong to the same people and the same covenant.   We too are children of Abraham.   The Lord has not forgotten His covenant in the New Testament, but upholds and fulfils His covenant in Christ.

 

“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him with fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” – Luke 1: 68 – 75.

 

The Father has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, because He is mindful of His covenant with Abraham.   And when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven in great power and glory, then the exodus will be complete.   Then we will enter the Promised Land, for His covenant lasts for all eternity.

 

Thus the introduction to the law is still valid and addressed to us.  He is also our Redeemer who teaches us to live in holiness and righteousness before His face.

 

“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.   For indeed Christ, our Passover, was crucified for us.   Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” – 1 Cor. 5: 7, 8.

 

Do you see the application of this liberation?  Our Passover, Christ was crucified for us.   We are now all the days of our life feasting on Him, and thus the feast of unleavened bread also applies to our daily life as Christians.   Whoever feasts on Christ, has to remove all the leaven from his house.   Whoever eats of Christ with the mouth of faith, has to remove all sin and wickedness from him.   That was the meaning of the Passover and the unleavened bread, and that is how the apostle applies it to the church in the New Testament.

 

Our whole life has now become a Passover feast – a new life of holiness and righteousness which started the night of our liberation.

 

Whoever eats of Christ, rejoices in His law.   Yes, for the liberated God’s covenant law becomes sweeter than honey.   It has become our joy to obey God. 

 

In Christ we died to sin.   We were also raised with Christ and made alive in Him in order that we may live unto God (Romans 6).  

 

            “…having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” – Rom. 6: 18

 

It is the most glorious freedom to be a slave of righteousness!

Through Christ we are forever bound to do righteousness!

What a glorious salvation!

 

Christ, by His Spirit, restores us to the image of God, so that God’s will becomes our will, and His command our delight.

 

In the third place we note…

The blessings of a life in obedience to God’s law

 

This afternoon we also read two passages from Deuteronomy where God’s law is presented to us as true life and goodness.   All deviation from His law is described as death and evil.

 

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, that you may live…”

“But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish…” – Deut. 30: 15 – 18

 

God’s law prescribes to us true covenant communion with God and our neighbour.   Apart from this law there is no communion with God.   Everything that deviates from this law is death and evil.

 

And thus the blessings of true life cannot be enjoyed in any way that deviates from this law.   The new and glorious life which we receive in Christ is a life according to this law.

Only in obedience to this law do we enjoy the fruit of our salvation.

 

Blessed are those who obey this law; cursed are those who do not obey this law.

Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the blessing of true life, not by abolishing this law, but by restoring us to the image of God in order that we may enjoy the blessings of a holy and righteous life.

 

Psalm 1 still stands:

 

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffer; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.   He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”

 

That does not mean that the believer will have an easy life, or enjoy worldly prosperity.   The prosperous fruit is holiness and godliness.   And the prosperity is that God is always with us blessing us.

He was with Daniel and made him to prosper even when he was a slave.

He was with Daniel and made him to prosper even when he was in jail.

Daniel prospered and bore fruit even as a slave and a prisoner!

And thus we see the blessedness and fruitfulness and prosperity of Psalm 1 being fulfilled even in the most miserable circumstances of this life.

 

The promise of blessedness for those who keep God’s commandments remains also in the New Testament, as the apostle Paul says for example:

 

“…godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” – 1 Tim. 4: 8

 

When we keep God’s commandments we are blessed, both now and eternally.

And thus the blessing of keeping God’s commandments stretches over all of life.

 

Now, among all the benefits and blessings of keeping God’s commandments, the catechism mentions two major blessings which are also necessities in this life: first, the assurance that we have a true faith in Christ, and second, that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.

And we will shortly note these necessities.

 

The assurance of our faith, the assurance that we belong to Christ in life and in death, is not a luxury.   We need to confess LD 1 with full assurance of faith in order to live and die blessed.

But what does the Catechism mean when it says that we ourselves are being assured of our faith by its fruits?

It does not mean that our faith rests on the good works we do.   Not at all!   Our faith rests completely and only on what Christ has done for us.   His perfect sacrifice on the cross is and remains the only ground for our salvation.  

Our faith may not in the least rest on any perceived merits of our good works.

 

But a tree is known by its fruits.   And thus the genuineness of our faith in Christ is proven by a new life of obedience.   When we keep God’s commandments, that proves that we have indeed been grafted into Christ and that we were indeed raised with Him to a new life.   And thus the fruits of our faith confirm that the true faith is indeed present in us.

 

Scripture says this in many places and in many ways:

 

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.   He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.   But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.   By this we know that we are in Him.” – 1 John 2: 3 – 5

 

And again:

 

“If you know that God is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” – 1 John 2: 29

When someone keeps God’s commandments then his works are a visible proof of his faith.  On the other hand, if someone continues to live an ungodly and unrepentant life, he may say that he believes in Jesus Christ, but his life proves the opposite.

 

In this regard the apostle Paul also tells us that we should not deceive ourselves:

 

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?   Do not be deceived.   Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” – 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10

 

We cannot have a true faith in Christ and continue to live an ungodly life.   And thus we can have no true assurance that our faith is genuine if it does not bear the fruits of righteousness.   In fact, if the fruit of faith is absent, faith itself is absent.

 

Furthermore, the necessity to do good works is also seen in the fact that God uses our example to draw others to Christ.  

The apostle Peter says for example:

 

“Wives…be submissive to your husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” – 1 Peter 3: 1, 2

 

There you see for example how obedience to the fifth commandment – a wife submitting herself to her husband – may be instrumental in winning someone for Christ.

 

Scripture says that bondservants “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” when they are obedient to their masters, when they do not steal anything but prove themselves to be faithful servants – Titus 2: 10.   Then, by their godly walk of life, they adorn the gospel.   The beauty of the gospel becomes visible in their lives, and so also draws others to Christ.

 

The opposite is also true, that the word of God is blasphemed when we do not live godly lives.   Thus the apostle Paul says for example that the young women in the church should love their husbands, love their children, be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” – Titus 2: 4, 5

 

Dear congregation, when we keep God’s commandments, when we live holy and godly lives, we adorn the doctrine of the gospel with good works, and thus by our godly walk of life win our neighbours for Christ.

 

Thus we also read in Mt. 5: 16:

 

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

 

Yes, God is glorified when we do the good works prescribed by His law.  And that is the very purpose of our salvation, to glorify God.

 

Dear congregation, we see then that our salvation in and through Christ is twofold: justification and sanctification.   Without being sanctified, without being made holy, without being restored to God’s image there is no salvation.  

 

We are already sanctified in Christ by His blood, but He also continues to sanctify us by His blood and Spirit, in order that we may glorify God more and more by a new life of obedience.  

 

Let us then not join the crowd who pull a face when they hear of our obligation to obey God’s law, but let us through our Lord Jesus Christ rejoice in all that God commands, and pray with David:

 

            “Oh, how I love Your law!...” (Ps. 119: 97)

 

It is a must.  

By the grace of God it is also our delight.

 

Amen




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

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