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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:What a rich and full salvation we have in Christ!
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Thankfulness
 
Preached:2015
Added:2016-07-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 6

Psalm 116:1-4

Psalm 116:9-10

Hymn 1

Psalm 148

Scripture readings:  1 Corinthians 6, Titus 2

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 Jesus,

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of Christian blogs, you might know that the last couple of years have seen a huge debate going on about good works.  There are some who say that we need to focus more on the gospel and talk less about good works.  These people are often accused of being antinomians – against the law.  Others are saying, no, we need to speak both about the gospel and about living a Christian life consistent with the gospel.  These people are often accused of being legalists – turning the law into a system of works righteousness.  Both groups are found in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. 

The debate is really nothing new.  In some form or other, this type of debate has been going on for centuries.  Even in the New Testament we find this issue arising.  People accused Paul of preaching too much grace and making it sound like works don’t matter.  Paul was accused of being an antinomian.  During the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church made the same accusations against Protestants.  “With your preaching of a free and gracious gift in the gospel, you’ll make people stop trying to be holy!”  Martin Luther compared the situation to a drunk man on a horse.  He climbs up and he falls off on the left side.  He climbs up again and tells himself that he’ll never fall off the left side and then promptly falls off the right side.  Swinging from one error to the other.

Our Catechism comes out of that era when this was a hotly debated issue.  As we’ll see this afternoon, our confession outlines a sober and balanced approach to the relationship between the gospel and our good works.  Here we have a good biblical perspective on how to avoid both legalism and antinomianism, works-righteousness and carelessness about Christian living.     

With Lord’s Day 32 we’ve come to the third part of the Catechism.  That part has the title, “Our Thankfulness.”  We might be tempted to think that this is going to be all about us.  We messed things up in the first section with our sin and misery.  God redeemed us in the second part with our salvation in Christ.  And now with the third section, we get to do our part and show our thankfulness. 

But if we’re thinking this way, the Catechism stops us in our tracks.  The first question wants to pull us in a man-centered direction:  we’re saved by grace alone through Christ, then why must we do good works?   But the answer begins, not with us, but with Christ.  Notice those two words, “Because Christ…”  He is first and foremost here.  It makes you think of those other two great words in Ephesians 2:4, “But God…”  In the first verses of Ephesians 2, Paul says that we are dead in sins and trespasses, by nature children of wrath.  And then in verse 4, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”  Likewise here in the Catechism, we don’t take the initiative:  Christ does.  He is first and foremost, his grace extends to our entire salvation.  So we have to say:  What a rich and full salvation we have in Christ!  That will be our theme this afternoon as we consider this Lord’s Day.  We’ll look at:

  1. How he redeems us with his blood  
  2. How he renews us with his Spirit. 

Up till this Lord’s Day, the Catechism has been primarily concerned with our redemption through Christ’s blood.  After establishing that we are in fact sinners who deserve temporal and eternal punishment, we’re reminded that there is a way of escape.  It’s through a mediator and deliverer who is true and righteous man and at the same time true God.  All those will be saved who by true faith are grafted into Jesus Christ and accept all his benefits.  Starting with Lord’s Day 7, we’re reminded of all that is promised us in the gospel by way of the Apostles’ Creed.  From front to back, the Creed is about what the Triune God does, entirely gospel, good news.  Then in Lord’s Day 23, we learn that justification is by faith alone and that it is entirely grounded in the work of Christ.  We are declared right with God because of Christ alone.  When the Judge declares us right, we are right with him once and for all.  That’s justification.  Following that, we explored how that faith is created (by the preaching of the Word) and strengthened (by the sacraments).  And in the last couple of catechism sermons, we looked at the keys of the kingdom of heaven and indeed, these too are about our redemption.  The preaching brings us into our redemption and church discipline guards us in our redemption. 

So when the Catechism says here that Christ has redeemed us by his blood – this is nothing new.  But just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean that we can pass it over.  In fact, an important part of the ministry of the Word is to repeat glorious yet familiar truths.  This is biblical.  Christ often repeated himself and reminded his followers of what was important.  The apostle Peter learned well from his master.  In 2 Peter 1:12 we read, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.”  Paul said the same in Philippians 3:1, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”  Our Lord Jesus, Peter and Paul, they reminded their listeners and readers of things they already knew because this was what they needed.  And so when the Catechism does that here again, we should be thankful.  It’s always good for us to be reminded of the gospel!              

We find that beautiful good news announced in what we read from 1 Corinthians 6.  Right now I just want to focus on the last two verses, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  As a quick aside, this is a great passage to memorize.  Note the kind of language that Paul is using here.  It’s a building, a temple, what Peter calls a spiritual house.  Let’s take the image a step back.  Before God’s work, there was no temple.  Instead, there was a pile of ugly rubble.  But guess what?  God bought the rubble.  “You were bought at a price.”  What was the price?  According to 1 Peter 1:19, it was the precious blood of Christ.  In Acts 20:28, Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”  Loved ones, this is a humbling thought.  You were rubble, a heap of lifeless stones, you were dead in sins and trespasses.  There was nothing, absolutely nothing, in you to make God love you or desire you, quite the opposite really.  But yet…yet you were bought with the price of the blood of the Son of God.  God gave his own Son for you.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wrap my head around that.  Truly amazing. 

Titus 2:14 gives us the same truth in different words, speaking about our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness….”  That the Holy One through whom all things were created would give himself for me, for you, for us…  Wow.  This is too much.  Can it really be true?  It is, it really is.  Because it was bought at such a high price, we have a rich salvation in Christ.  Is it any wonder that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb in Revelation 5 and sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  Christ has redeemed us with his blood!

Now we say that, but do we really know what that means?  We know what he has purchased or redeemed us with:  his precious blood, but I don’t know if we often ask the next question:  from what?  R.C. Sproul often tells of how he encounters street evangelists who will ask him, “Are you saved?”  And he always replies, “Saved from what?”  He says that most people can’t give him a clear answer.  Similarly, we should ask, “Redeemed from what?”  Peter gives us the beginning of the answer in 1 Peter 1:18 when he says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ…”  Redeemed from the empty way of life.  Galatians 3:13 brings us closer to the answer when it says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…”  The empty way of life was under the curse of the law.  But a curse is something personal; inanimate objects do not curse, persons curse.  With the law, who is doing the cursing?  The author of the law, God.  We are redeemed by Christ from the curse of God which rests upon the empty way of life.  That’s exactly what we read in Romans 5:9, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”  Saved from what?  Redeemed from what?  From the wrath of a holy and righteous God, wrath that we deserve.  Only the blood of Jesus could turn away that wrath from us and pay the price.  Believe in him and you will be saved. 

That’s not a message that plays well today.  It never has.  The gospel is always offensive – it’s offensive because it tells us the truth of who we are and who God really is.  It’s offensive because it tells us the way things really are, that there is only hope through the blood of Jesus Christ offered on the cross.  We need to be constantly fixated on him as he is revealed in his Word.  If we don’t, the end result will be how theologian H. Richard Niebuhr described Protestant liberalism, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”  That kind of “good news” is a lie and it will not save us and it will not change hearts and lives.  The Catechism gets it right and reminds us again of how rich we are:  Christ has delivered us from God’s curse on sin with his blood.  Loved ones, that is a truth that can transform lives and that’s what we’re going to look at now. 

Answer 86 continues by telling us that the same Christ who redeems us with his blood also renews by his Holy Spirit to be his image.  There are two different things in view here.  When we speak about the redemption through Christ’s blood, that’s referring to everything related to our justification.  When we speak about the renewal through Christ’s Spirit, that’s speaking about our sanctification.  Sanctification is about the process of renewal in our lives, where we’re being made over into somebody new, someone who looks like Jesus Christ.  This is what’s in view when Titus 2:14 speaks about Christ being the one who purifies “for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” 

Now the Catechism says that this is done by the Holy Spirit.  We might take that a step further and ask, “How?”  How does the Holy Spirit do this work of renewal?  The Spirit works through means or an instrument, a tool.  That tool is the Word of God.  The Scriptures are the Sword of the Spirit according to Ephesians 6:17, meaning that not only does the Bible come from the Holy Spirit, it is also the weapon or instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish God’s purposes.   So, Christ renews us by his Spirit working through his Word. 

But to what end?  What’s the purpose?  The Catechism gives us a three-fold purpose.  The first and most important has to do with God:  that we may show our thankfulness to him and so that he will be praised by us.  Here again we can think of what we read from 1 Corinthians 6.  Remember the image there at the end of that chapter is of a building.  We noted that God bought the building materials, though those materials were a mess, a pile of rubble.  Well, God also took those materials and built something out of them.  He built a temple.  What’s the purpose of a temple?  It’s a building meant for sacrifices.  But because Christ has been sacrificed once and for all for our sins, the sacrifices offered in this new temple can’t have anything to do with atoning for sin.  There’s only one sacrifice left for believers in the New Testament:  the sacrifice of thankfulness.  So, New Testament temples exist for expressing thankfulness, praise and love to the God who saved us.  Our bodies, in fact our whole life, belongs to God and is to dedicated to his service.  And so Paul says, “Therefore honor God with your body.”

So the first purpose has to do with God.  The second has to do with ourselves:  “that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits.”  When Christ renews us with his Spirit and we do good works, we will become more certain of our faith.  The Catechism uses the expression, “fruits.”  We can’t help but think of a tree.  Christ is the tree.  We are grafted into this tree by faith.  Because his sap is flowing through our branches, fruit is going to emerge and when we see that fruit, we know for sure that we’ve been grafted into this tree!  Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  Fruit is the proof of our grafting into Christ by faith. 

Now we come to the third purpose:  “that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.”  In other words, Christ will work through our godly walk of life to draw others to himself.  Renewing us by his Holy Spirit will be his way of redeeming others with his blood!   We see this in Titus 2 when Paul gives a series of exhortations to Titus.  He tells him to instruct the older women to train the younger women, “To love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands…”  Why?  “So that no one will malign (literally: blaspheme) the word of God.”  Paul is interested in seeing behaviour which does not provoke a negative response towards God among those who do not believe.

He turns this a slightly different way in verse 10 when he is writing about how Titus should instruct the slaves.  They’re to be subject to their masters and so forth.  Why?  “…So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.”  Christ wants to use his renewal in our lives as a way to draw others to himself.  The Catechism speaks about us winning our neighbours for Christ, but if we draw that out we know that we are only instruments in his hand.  Ultimately it’s all his doing, part of his rich salvation for us and others

Now given all that, we come to a different question:  can those really be saved who don’t turn to God from an ungrateful and impenitent walk of life?  Let’s first parse out that question and be clear about what’s being asked.  The word “ungrateful” is clear enough:  unthankful.  Impenitent – perhaps not so clear.  Impenitent means unrepentant.  It means that a person just doesn’t care about the way they’re living.  They never have any second thoughts about anything they say, think or do.  They just go on living a sinful life without ever confessing their sins to God and seeking his forgiveness through Christ.  That’s also captured with the words “walk of life.”  This is about a pattern, a way of life, something that characterizes somebody. 

The answer is emphatic:  “By no means!”  And then follows a paraphrase of a number of Scripture passages including the one we read from 1 Corinthians 6.  People who live in sin, who have a sinful way of life and never repent and turn to Christ, they shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t be mistaken:  that means they will not be saved from the wrath of God.  This is a serious warning which needs to be considered carefully.  If we are living a sinful life, the implication is that we have not really believed in Christ.

This goes back to the image of the vine and the branches.  We’re grafted into the vine, into Christ, by faith.  If that graft has really taken, then fruit will inevitably follow.  If there is no fruit, the logical conclusion is that the graft has not taken, there is no faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s why living in sin is not a matter first of all of the externals of lifestyle, as if people just need to hear more about what they have to do.  Living in sin is a matter of unbelief, of not believing in Jesus Christ.  They need to hear and believe the gospel and the fruit of a believing lifestyle will inevitably follow.  It won’t come all at once and it won’t be perfect, but the beginnings will be there.

Hebrews 12:14 tells us, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  “…without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  Loved ones, holiness begins with faith in Christ, being grafted into the Holy One.  That grafting opens our eyes and ears to his Word so that when the Word tells us that we should live a certain way, we’re eager to follow it.  Our union with Christ makes our hearts pliable and impressionable, so that the Scriptures become Christ’s tool to make us increasingly holy.  That’s what happened in the church at Corinth.  Though there were problems in that church, after Paul gives that list of types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, he adds, “And that is what some of you were…”  But they were transformed.  Note that they did not transform themselves.  All of these things were done to them by God: washed, sanctified, justified.  They were united to Christ by the Spirit working faith in them and this is what changed their lives, so that they were no longer sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunks, slanderers and swindlers.  Faith in Christ, believing the gospel, is what made all the difference for them and so it will be with us too.         

In Lord’s Day 33 we’ll consider the nature of repentance or conversion.  After that, we’re going to spend a few weeks with the Ten Commandments again.  As we do that, let no one be under the impression that this has anything to do with the root of our salvation.  Rather, let’s be clear that this section of the Catechism is about our thankfulness.  Our good works are not the root, but the fruit of our salvation.  But even as the fruit of our salvation, they are Christ’s work in us and through us.  We know that our justification is entirely in Christ.  But with sanctification too, we have to be careful that we don’t turn in on ourselves – this is also part of Christ’s work for us, it’s part of the package of his rich salvation.  When we realize that, we’ll grow even more in love for God thankfulness to him.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

O Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We praise you, the God of our salvation.  We thank you for your having redeemed us when we were dead in sins and trespasses.  Father, we praise you for having chosen us before the foundation of the world.  Lord Jesus, we praise you for redeeming us with your blood and renewing us with your Spirit.  We thank you that because of the cross, we need not fear judgment and wrath.  Holy Spirit, we worship you for your work in our lives, creating faith and sustaining us in our new life.  O Lord God, help us so that we would more and more be conformed to Christ.  Please mould us and shape us so that we show ourselves thankful to you for our redemption, that you would be praised by us each and every day.  We pray that your work in us would assure us of our faith and comfort us, also in dark hours.  And we also plead that we would be your instruments to win our neighbours for Christ.  Use us as you will for the advance of your kingdom!  And Father, we also pray that none of us would lead a grateful and impenitent life.  So work in us so that we would always repent of our sins and believe the gospel.  Lord God, please continue to shower your mercy upon 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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