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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Renewed in the Image of Christ
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-05-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 138:1,4                                                                                          

Ps 134:1,2,3  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – John 13:1-35; Romans 8:18-30

Ps 143:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 32

Hy 74:1,4

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

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


Beloved congregation, when someone sets out to restore an old car, he’ll often want to do it according to the original. Say he’s got a dented and rusted out car from 1965, and he wants to bring it back to showroom condition. He’ll get out the old manuals and parts catalogues, and he’ll make sure that everything matches exactly how that car was designed that year. No suped-up engine, and no modifications to the body—this restoration should stick in every way to what the manufacturer first intended.

The same thing is true for our own restoration. As believers, we know that God the Holy Spirit is busy working on us and changing us. Our lives are being renewed, day by day. You could say that the rust on our hearts is being stripped off, and the corroded parts are being removed. At the same time, properly-working components are being built in, and dull surfaces are polished. This is what the next Lord’s Day calls “the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new” (Q&A 88).

And as you and I continue to be sanctified by the Spirit, we’re not being restored haphazardly. No, there’s a clear sense of what the “final product” will look like—there’s a sure guide for this work of God in us. And this is what it is: we’re being shaped according to the original pattern of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

We hear this truth in Lord’s Day 32, “Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, to be his image.” It’s a painstaking process—it takes a lifetime—but the miracle is that we’re starting to look like Him! That’s our theme, as we consider the Catechism’s lesson in Lord’s Day 32,

            You are being renewed in the image of Christ. This means:

                        1) a shaping of your life according to Christ

                        2) a thanksgiving to God through Christ

                        3) a winning of others for Christ

 

1. a shaping of your life according to Christ: One of the key teachings of the Bible is our union with Jesus Christ. This means that when we’re joined to Jesus by true faith, God looks at us in the same way that He looks at his own well-beloved Son: He considers us righteous, holy, his dearly beloved. And our union with Christ has all sorts of consequences. Redemption is one, of course. But sanctification is another. Because God sees us so tightly bound up in Christ, God also expects that we will be like Christ.

Let’s look at a text that speaks of this. We find it in Romans 8. This is a chapter filled with many precious truths for the Christian life. But the one truth we want to single out comes in verse 29. We begin reading in verse 28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.” God directs and guides our lives as his children, moment by moment. And even when He sends us hurts and heartache, we know that He has a good plan for us—that all things work for good. Because we are those who are “called according to his purpose.” God has a project in us!

And what is God’s purpose? What is God’s goal for your life, at the end of all your activity? Where will you be once you get to the end of all your joys and tears and struggles? We find his purpose in the very next verse, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v 29). That’s God’s long-term project, and it’s the pattern by which He’s restoring us. God doesn’t want us “to be the best we can be.” He doesn’t even want us to be “authentic.” Today, everyone claims that they need to be authentic, to be real, to be yourself without filters and pretense. But what if the authentic you is self-centred and proud? It is! And that’s not God’s goal for us. Instead, we should become imitators of Christ.

To unpack what that means, remember how we’ve been adopted into God’s family. Apart from His grace, we would’ve been left in our misery forever. But because of what Jesus did for us, God has called us his sons and daughters. And in God’s eyes, we’re the very flesh and blood of Christ. Like it says in Hebrews 2:11, “Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers.” So now the Father wants us bear the family resemblance. We should become like Jesus, and be “conformed to the image of God’s Son.”

Parenting books recommend, of course, that Dad and Mom should never say that to their kids. They should never say, “Why aren’t you more like your older brother? Why can’t you be like your super-talented sister?” Setting up that kind of competition is unwise. But without trying to embarrass us, that’s exactly what God says: “Be more like your brother and Saviour. I want you to imitate my well-beloved Son.” Christ is to be the model, the true pattern for our life in God’s family.

So what is Christ like? The image of the Son goes right back to who the Father is. For in one place, Jesus is said to be the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). In another, Christ is said to be the one who reveals the heavenly Father (John 1:18). Jesus was—and is—the purest reflection of God. In fact, Jesus bears the image that we once did, when we were first created by God in “righteous and holiness.” That used to be our condition—and it can be again.

But it means that we have to set in front of us the pattern of Christ—we have to keep looking at Him. Many of the students among us will have had to work on a self-portrait in Art class. Tough job! And they will know that their sketching and drawing is only accurate when they keep that photo in front of them: draw what you see! It’s the same for conforming to Christ. As believers we must continually look at the original design, the image of God the Son, the portrait of perfection. Once you stop looking at Him, you’re going to go “out of the lines,” and do whatever seems right to you.

So how did Jesus live? That’s the question. How did He show his trust in the Father? How did He speak to other people? How did He suffer injustice? How did he demonstrate a righteous and holy life? Jesus Himself called his disciples to imitate Him: “Follow me,” He said. “It’s enough for a student to be like his Teacher, and a servant like his Master.”

Later we hear the apostles say something similar, like John in his first letter, “He who says he abides in Christ ought to walk just as Jesus walked” (2:6). When we think about the ministry of Jesus, we have the perfect model. For how did He walk around the land of Israel? What was the style of his life? He walked with humble faith in God. He went around with compassion for the poor and lowly. His steps were filled with love and obedience. So it should be for us: “We must walk as Jesus walked.”

I realize that the idea of imitating Christ can be exaggerated. Some people make Jesus into little more than a good example and positive role model, right up there with Gandhi and Mother Teresa. For us, Christ is much more than an example. He is the one who delivered us from our misery, who “redeemed us by his blood” (Q&A 86). But it’s because He did that, that He also renews us “to be his image” (Q&A 86).

And one of the most remarkable things about Christ is his attitude of humble service. In Philippians 2 Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (v 5). Paul goes on to speak of Christ’s deep humility, how He laid aside all the glories of heaven in order to become a man, even a slave—that He gave himself over to death on a cross, all so that He could serve. This is the pattern that needs to be reflected in us: “Let this mind be in you,” says Paul, “the mind of Christ!” What does that mean? “Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in lowliness let each esteem others better than himself” (v 3).

We see the same blueprint in John 13, at the Last Supper. For there, in the midst of his disciples—even in the company of his betrayer!—Christ takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist, and gets onto his knees. What was He going to do? He was going to wash their feet, as an act of hospitality. This was a common thing for servants to do in a dusty country where everyone wore sandals. This was one of the lowest and most thankless jobs that a person could imagine. If you’ve ever washed your own kids’ feet after a hot summer day playing on a dusty campground, you’ll know what I mean. The feet of Jesus’ disciples are dirty, smelly, dry and calloused. This is going to take some scrubbing! But Christ will do it.

When the Lord Jesus approaches him, Peter protests, “You shall never wash my feet” (v 8). He thinks that it’s beneath Christ to do something as humbling as this. But this had to happen. This is what Christ came to do, not to be served, but to serve. This foot-washing was only a symbol of what Jesus was going to do the next day: surrendering himself, pouring out his blood, washing away the filth of sin.

And then that uncomfortable moment in the Upper Room becomes downright confronting. For Jesus says to his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (vv 14-15). Even at the Last Supper, the disciples had argued about who was the greatest. But they’ve got it all wrong. The humility of Christ is our pattern. If you are redeemed in his blood, if you’ll be recognized as one of his disciples, then this is what you need to be busy with: Wash one another’s feet!

This is hard. It means taking off the garments of pride, and clothing yourself in humility. It means considering others better than yourself; listening carefully to what they say; admitting that you were wrong; extending the gift of forgiveness when they were wrong. A lot of times we think we can serve someone if we remain basically as equals. We like a situation when the other person comes half-way, and we come half-way, and no one has to give up too much—especially not us. But Christ-like foot-washing means being lower. It means yielding, not taking but giving, and “esteeming others better than yourself.”

And there are so many ways to serve one another in lowliness, to take the lower place. Think of how often arguments in the home arise because no one is willing to yield. Children will fight about who had what toy first, or who got the bigger piece of cake. Husbands and wives will argue about who was wrong, and who was right, and who needs to apologize. But conform to Christ! Take the lower place. Yield your ground, even if it hurts, or it makes you look weaker—remember the foot-washing!

Or think of how you can serve in your friendship with another person, by giving them your time and attention. Think of how you can serve others in the church, even those who don’t return your kindness. Or serve at school, and at your workplace—be a Christ-like figure through willing service. If we’ll truly serve, it often means we have to give up something valuable. You might have to give up your time. You might have to give up your pride, or let go of your hard-fought opinion. But that’s when the pattern of our restoration becomes most clear—that our image is being renewed according to Christ!

And when we do this, we can be confident of God’s favour. Jesus said it back in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” There is always a blessing for the servants of God. In the first place, we’re freed from the pressures of pride. When we live in pride, we’re often insecure, and we’re worried about our position. But when we have an attitude of humility, God puts our soul at ease. Those petty things don’t matter anymore. You don’t have to worry about how people view you, and you don’t have to worry about getting recognition. We can be free to serve, and can be happy to resemble our Saviour in some small way.

It’s a beautiful, God-pleasing, and glorious image that we take on. Paul writes about this ongoing process in 2 Corinthians 3, “We all are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another” (v 18). Changed into his likeness, evolving into glory. If you are forgiven in Christ, then more and more there should be that sure resemblance to the Saviour.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience: you meet someone for the first time, but somehow they’re already familiar to you. They look like someone you know, they act like someone you met once: same facial features, same mannerisms. “You remind me of someone…” Then a while later you see them next to each other, and it’s perfectly obvious: they’re brothers, they’re sisters. That’s how it should be for us, the adopted brothers and sisters of Christ. By our humility, by our trust in God, through our love and service, other people should be able to see a faint image of Christ in us, a portrait of his glory.

Beloved, is that what people see when they look at you? Do they see a person who is being conformed to Christ? Do they see students who are like their Teacher, servants who resemble the Master?

 

2. thanksgiving to God through Christ: I read a great quote the other day about being thankful. “If what you think you have is greater than what you think you deserve, that’s where thankfulness comes from. If what you think you deserve is greater than what you have, that’s where bitterness comes from.”

That is so true, yet we all have to fight against this sense of entitlement. We believe that we are entitled to certain things: I have a right to be happy, a right to an education, a right to my benefits and comforts. We know that children can be ungrateful, but this afflicts all of us. We move so quickly from receiving a precious gift from God, to wanting more, and wanting it now.          

And being ungrateful isn’t just impolite, like forgetting to say “thank you.” Rather, God considers unthankfulness to be a grievous sin—right up there with unrepentance. Just look at Question 87, “Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent walk of life?” And the answer: “By no means.” Being ungrateful to God is sin. It dishonours Him, and it mocks his goodness. Walking in this attitude—staying in it—is actually on the same level as being unrepentant, hardened in disobedience.

And why? More than anything, God wants a thankful people. He delights in our praise. He wants people to see who He is, to stand in awe of him as God, and to give him their worship. He wants all people, and especially his children, to thank him constantly for his gifts.

There’s a lot we could say about thanksgiving. But I want to focus on thanksgiving in Christ. We often like to connect our gratitude directly to an inventory of gifts and blessings. “I’m thankful to God, because I received a promotion, or a good year at work. I’m thankful, because I received a child, or a grandchild. I received a clean bill of health. I received my diploma. I received another year of life.” Be grateful for what you’ve received—for all these things, and so much more. But don’t miss the point of every blessing from the Father, the gift in which every other gift has its meaning: it is Christ. Like Paul says somewhere, “You have received him!” Or again, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

This is a refrain that we hear in the New Testament, like in Ephesians 5, “Give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v 20). Or 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ for you.”

So why must our thanksgiving take its strength and focus from Christ? Because He is the ultimate reason for our gratitude. Think of where we’ve been in the Catechism. We’ve looked at the full weight of our sin and misery (Section 1). We’ve admired the beauty of our salvation in Christ Jesus (Section 2). Now it’s time in this third section of the Catechism to learn about the one and only possible response, the thing that must become like the very breath in our lungs: thankfulness, and a thankful spirit. Because if you believe that you deserve death and separation from God, then every good gift is an extra—it’s something that you’re in no way entitled to. Like another author said, “Anything better than hell is a bonus, a radical bonus of God’s grace to me.”

This one motive always finds its way to the centre: gratitude. “Why must we yet do good works?” the Catechism asks. And the answer comes: “So that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God and He may be praised by us” (Q&A 86). Our whole life must be channeled in that direction, toward the Father, for the sake of the Son.

Christ himself was a shining example of gratitude. Think of how often He gave thanks to God. He gave thanks for the food He received. He gave thanks for the faith of the people He met. He thanked God for revealing the good news to sinners. “I thank you, Father…” His life was a testimony of gratitude, not just in word but also in deed.

That’s how it should be for us too. If we’re truly conforming to Christ, then we ought to be a thankful people. Notice how the Catechism talks about our “walk of life” (Q&A 87). It’s one thing to be thankful in your morning prayers, or in what you reflect on at the end of a day. But it’s really in the daily routine of life that our gratitude needs to come out. It’s in the weekly work—the countless opportunities and conversations and activities we have from Monday to Saturday—that our attitude shows itself. Are you thankful to God through Christ? Do you realize what you deserve, but how much you have in Him?

Listen to how Paul intertwines thanksgiving into the whole of the Christian life, “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).

 

3) a winning of others for Christ: Let’s return for a moment to that fellow and his classic car. Once he’s got it all restored, see what he does with it. More often than not, he leaves it safely inside. He won’t bring it out in the rain, or into the hottest heat of summer. The conditions have to be just right—for the rest, it’s stored away, under a cloth cover.

A lot of the time we too, try to keep God’s restoration project under wraps, and locked away. As sanctified Christians, we like to keep to ourselves. We shy away from contact with our neighbours, and avoid the tough conversations at work. But this is not how it should be. Let your neighbours see your new character. Let them see something of Christ in you.

They should be able to see it in our general attitude and outlook on life. In the comfort and peace we have during hard times. In the character of our relationships and family life. Let them see it in the things we place importance on, and let them hear it in the things we talk about. This is what the Catechism teaches as another motive for thankful living: “So that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ” (Q&A 86).

Or listen to what Jesus says in John 13, after He has given them that example of lowly and self-giving service, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v 35). This should be our trademark: love for one another. Love shows that we’ve been changed, that we’re the disciples of the one who loved to the greatest extent. Through this kind of testimony, the Catechism says, our neighbours can even be won for Christ.

And whatever else happens, there’s one result of our holiness that is sure. There’s one outcome of our righteous words and deeds that is 100% guaranteed. When we live in this way, our God and Father receives the praise. When we live this way, Christ is glorified.

That brings us back to the primary reason for doing good works, and for conforming to Christ—we do good for God, that He would receive all the thanks, worship, and praise! It starts with God, and it ends with God. For He’s given the greatest reason for thanksgiving—He’s given the only reason that we need. In Christ his Son and by his Spirit, He’s given the life, the ability, and the incentive to do what is pleasing to Him.

Beloved, there’s a new week ahead of us. In this week may God use you, his humble servant, to honour his great Name. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” By this all men will know that you are his disciples!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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