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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:Christ teaches us to pray for obedience to God's will
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 149:1,2

Psalm 1

Hymn 63:1,4

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 49

* 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 our Lord Jesus Christ,

The story is a familiar one, especially if you’re a parent.  Chris Brauns tells of how when his oldest daughter was three years old, she kept playing with a tube of toothpaste.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to, her dad had told her to stop, but she kept doing it.  He was concerned she would make a mess, so he warned her one last time.  There would be discipline if she didn’t listen.  He writes, “My stern warning didn’t faze her.  She looked me directly in the eye, raised the toothpaste about a millimeter off the dresser and said, ‘I picked it up.’  I was amazed.  It was as if a three-year-old version of Clint Eastwood with dark curly hair had looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Go ahead, make my day, punk.’  My daughter found that this ‘punk’ was a man of his word…There is a reason why James Dobson’s book on The Strong-Willed Child sold hundreds of thousands of copies.”

Some kids are like that.  They have strong wills and that strong will clashes with the will of the parents.  Now remember that Scripture teaches us that God is our Father, and we are all his children.  Our sinful human nature has a strong will that resists the will of our Father.  Left to ourselves, without the Holy Spirit living in us, we would always go against what our Father wills for our lives. 

As regenerated believers, we have the Holy Spirit who makes us want to line up our wills with that of our heavenly Father.  And yet there is this struggle because we still have the remnants of our old nature resisting God’s will for our lives.  Our Saviour knows we have this struggle and for that reason he teaches us to pray about it in the Lord’s Prayer.  We’re taught to recognize that we are little children who need help in obeying the will of our Father. 

In the third petition, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  When he speaks of God’s will here, he means the will of God as laid out in the Bible.  This is God’s moral will for our lives, how we are to live and not live, how we are to speak and not speak, how we are to think and not think, what we are to love and not love.  Christ teaches believers that we are to pray for help in setting aside our own sinful wills so that we can follow God’s good will for our lives.  So the theme for the sermon is this:

Christ teaches us to pray for obedience to God’s will

  1. For the right reasons
  2. With the right attitude
  3. Following the right example

Our Saviour is teaching us to pray about obedience.  There’s always a danger that comes along with that.  The danger is related to the fact that we’re hard-wired for law.  We have a natural tendency to be attracted to law-keeping as a way to earn the favour of God, maybe even as a way to contribute to our salvation.  Someone can easily think:  “I do my part my following God’s will and then God does his part by saving me.”  That is not a biblical way of thinking about our obedience as Christians. 

What I’m saying is that there are wrong reasons to want to be obedient to God, and then to pray about it.  One of those wrong reasons would be the idea that we are contributing to our salvation in some way, that we are earning a place with God.  Another wrong reason is connected with the way that we often think of obedience.  We think of it as gratitude.  In itself, that’s a biblical way of speaking about our obedience.  However, it can easily be twisted into something unbiblical.  One author (John Piper) points out that it gets twisted when we think or say things like, “God has done so much for you; now what will you do for him?  He gave you his life; now how much will you give to him?”  This has been described as the “debtor’s ethic” and it’s very appealing to Reformed believers.  God has done something for us, and now we have to pay him back.  He gave us salvation in Jesus Christ, and now we have to pay him back by living an obedient life.  Yes, we might call it gratitude, but it’s really a kind of tit-for-tat, an exchange, a transaction.      

The problem with that way of thinking is that even our obedience is a gift from God.  That’s clear in what we confess from the Scriptures in Lord’s Day 32.  We confess that our good works are Christ working in us with his Holy Spirit.  We could not be obedient if it were not for that.  So our obedience depends on more grace from God – it doesn’t and cannot ever repay the grace that we have received.  Our thankful obedience should never be thought of as our repaying a debt to God.

Instead, we should think about and pray about our obedience as it’s laid out for us in Scripture.  The Bible gives us many good reasons to obey God’s will.  Let’s look for a moment at what we read from 1 Thessalonians 4.  This passage speaks of how believers are to live.  It speaks about the will of God.  Verse 3 is explicit:  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification:  that you abstain from sexual immorality…”  Now for our purposes we’re interested in the reasons why we should do these things and why we should pray for strength to do these things.

In verse 1, Paul speaks about walking in a way that pleases God.  Since the Holy Spirit lives in them, Christians love God and want to please him.  You please him by following his will.   He desires that his children be obedient, and since his children love him, they want to do that. 

In verse 7, Paul writes about the calling we have received from God.  It is not to impurity, but to holiness.  God called us out of darkness, not so that we would live in our ways, but in his.  You see, there is a definite purpose attached to God having called us.  It’s to holiness, to be holy as he is holy.

Now there is more in this passage that we could look at in terms of reasons for obedience.  However, we need to move on to consider how this shapes our prayers.  Our prayers should explicitly acknowledge the reasons why we want to be obedient to God.   You don’t have to mention every reason every time you pray.  Still, it’s good to mention reasons why you want to obey so that it’s clear in your heart and clear to the Lord that your intentions are being guided by his Word. 

If we take our cue from 1 Thessalonians 4, in our prayers we would say to God that we want to please him, and it’s for that reason that we’re asking for his help in obeying his will.  In our prayers, we would say to God that we know that he has called us to holiness, and that’s why we beg him for his grace and Spirit so that we can walk in holiness.  And you could add many more biblical reasons.  Among them would be gratitude as well, certainly.  You would pray and tell the LORD that you’re thankful for salvation in Christ, and you want to obey in gratitude, not to pay him back, but because we’re filled with love and joy towards such a gracious God.  Those are some of the right reasons to obey and to pray for obedience. 

We’re also to obey and pray for obedience with the right attitude.  Just like there are wrong reasons, there are also wrong attitudes towards godly obedience.  Our Catechism identifies one of them in QA 124 when it speaks about murmuring.  That’s what our Canadian Reformed edition of the Catechism says.  Other editions more accurately reflect the German original and use the words “back talk.”  Murmuring and back talk reflect an attitude of reluctance and even resentment.  When kids are told to do something by their parents and then they murmur or back talk, but still do what their parents say, we call that begrudging obedience.  They’re obedient, but not from the heart.  They’re doing it because they have to, not because they want to.  That’s the wrong attitude.

The right attitude is also spoken of in QA 124.  We are to carry out the duties God has given us “willingly and faithfully.”  We should want to have willing and eager hearts to serve the LORD.  Willingness means that we don’t have to coerced.  The LORD tells us to do something and we want to obey from our hearts.  Faithfulness means that when we do obey, we will obey exactly as we have been commanded.  In other words, we want to have eager hearts that are entirely loyal to our Father in heaven.

This is taught us in Scripture in places like Colossians 3:23-24.  We read there, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”  What I want you to notice there is how we are to work.  We are to “work heartily.”  The NIV translates, “work at it with all your heart.”  This is how we are to follow the will of God.  Not half-heartedly, but with full devotion and eagerness.  After all, we’re not serving people, but the Lord.

This is not something that comes naturally to us, brothers and sisters.  For human beings to submit to the will of others in general is difficult, it goes against our nature.  People can be made to obey, but to get them to obey willingly and faithfully is another matter altogether.  I remember once seeing a Christian father scolding his child for disobeying him.  That child was rebuked for his misbehaviour but then the father went one step further.  He said, “Now you’re going to try again and do it right.”  So whatever it was that the child had been commanded to do, he was going to do it.  The child did it, but he did it with a big sour grimace on his face.  The father wasn’t satisfied.  He said to the child, “Now you’re going to do it again and this time you’re going to do it with a smile on your face.”  The child obeyed, but of course, the smile was anything but genuine.  That just illustrates how difficult it can be to obey with the right attitude.  Not only do little children struggle with that, but also adults as they’re faced with the will of God.

That’s why prayer has to come into the picture again.  Because we are weak and because this is something we often struggle with, we need to pray about it.  Our Lord Jesus knows about our human weakness and the sin that lives in our hearts and that’s why he teaches us to pray along the lines of the third petition, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  In heaven, God’s will is done willingly and faithfully by all.  Jesus says that we should pray for the same attitude towards obedience with ourselves.  When we pray about our obedience to God’s will, we would then say things like, “Lord, sometimes I struggle to do your will from the heart.  Please change my heart and make it eager and willing to serve you completely.  Please work with your Holy Spirit so that I genuinely want to obey your will for my life.”   When we pray like that,  and in the name of Christ, God will hear our prayer and he will give us the help that we need.  We will begin to grow in having the right attitude towards our Christian obedience.             

The Lord has also given us a right example to follow in this regard.  Our Catechism explains “as it is in heaven” by pointing us to the angels.  The angels are servants of God and they obey him.  Their obedience is a model for our obedience as Christians. 

Scripture only tells us the names of a handful of angels.  One of them is Gabriel.  We know Gabriel especially from the New Testament.  In Luke’s gospel, he was sent to the Virgin Mary to tell her of the child that she will give birth to.  But Gabriel also appears in the Old Testament.  We read about him in the book of Daniel.  In Daniel 8, the angel Gabriel is sent to the prophet Daniel to make him understand the vision.  Gabriel instantly obeys and does what the LORD tells him to do.  In Daniel 9, the prophet prays for the people of God.  Again, the angel Gabriel is sent to bring a reply.  Verse 21 emphasizes that Gabriel came “in swift flight.”  Once again, there is no hesitation on the part of this angel.  He obeys quickly.  He also obeys willingly and comprehensively.  Gabriel is faithful in carrying out the duties of his office and calling.  What’s true of him is certainly true of all the angels in heaven.  They are an example or model for us of what it means to be obedient to the will of God.  We can pray to God and ask him to make us like his angels, make us obedient like them. 

Loved ones, as we look to the obedience that exists in heaven, we can also think about our Saviour Jesus Christ.  He was obedient as he lived on this earth and that obedience is part of the gospel message.  His earthly obedience is imputed to us, credited to our accounts.  But did he stop being obedient when he ascended into heaven?  No, of course not.  He is still the obedient Son of God.  He obediently intercedes for us before the throne of grace, for example.  That too is part of the gospel message.  We have an ascended and glorified Saviour who still obediently works on our behalf as our great High Priest.

Now, through the Holy Spirit, we are grafted into this Saviour, like a branch grafted onto a vine.  We are united to him.  We’re not united to the angels, but to Jesus.  We have union with him through the Holy Spirit and through the faith he creates.  We are in union with an obedient Son.  We want that to be reflected in the way we live.  He is not only the perfect example of obedience, but also the One whose life is in us.  We are the body of Christ and we want that to be evident in every aspect of our lives.

So how will that truth be heard in our prayers?  We can pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that the life of Christ is seen in us.  We can pray and ask the LORD for more grace, so that our obedience is not only like that of the angels, but also like that of our Saviour to whom we’re united.  We would pray then like this, “Father, I am united to Jesus.  Please let his obedience be seen in my life.  I want to obey you like he did and does.  Please help me with the Holy Spirit to do that.”             

Loved ones, our obedience to the will of God is an important part of being a Christian.  It has nothing to do with the foundation or roots of our salvation.  Our status as justified sinners has nothing to do with our obedience.  That’s all because of Christ and his work for us.  But yet Scripture teaches that justified sinners will bear the fruit of a growing obedience to the will of God.  Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  And in Hebrews 12:14, we’re told to strive for holiness, because without it no one will see the Lord.  Obedience is important and because it’s important, we ought to pray for it, praying for it along the lines that our Saviour teaches us.  Our gracious Father in heaven will hear and help us to grow in following his good will for our lives, so that we also grow in honouring him with everything.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

Thank you for the salvation we have in Christ as a free gift of your grace.  Because we are your children through Christ, we want to live for you.  We want to please you with an obedient life.  You have called us to holiness and we want to honour that high calling.  Please give us strength with your Holy Spirit to do that.  Please also strengthen us to obey you with the right attitude.  Make us willing and faithful servants of yours in everything.  Please shape and mould our hearts so that we obey you, not reluctantly, but eagerly and cheerfully.  We also pray that you would help our obedience to be like that found in heaven, both with the angels and especially with our Saviour Jesus.  Father in all of this, help us to live for your praise and glory every day.  We want to live for you and we want to live in your ways.  We’re weak and depend on you.  Please give us the assistance we desperately need for our sanctification.            

 

    

                            




* 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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