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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:In His Word, God Teaches us how it all Began
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God and our Creation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-02-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 96:1,2,3                                                                                 

Ps 90:1,8  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Romans 1:8-32; 8:1-17

Ps 8:1,2,3,4,5             

Sermon – Lord’s Day 3

Hy 47:2,4,5

Hy 74:1,4

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


Beloved in Christ, they say that to really know someone, to understand a person, you have to look at where they’re from. What was he like when he was younger? What kind of parents did she have, and how was her home-life? These things don’t tell the whole story, of course. And it’s not as if everything is determined by past events. But we can’t deny that the beginning of our life is very important. The stuff of our childhood, our home, our parents—to a large extent, these things set the stage for the future.      

For this reason, the Bible tells us about our origins, how we got started. Our history as mankind says a great deal about who we are today, and about where we’re going. So the Scriptures answer some fundamental questions. Such as: Why was mankind put on this earth, anyway? When did wickedness and death enter the picture? And what was the consequence? Like a lot of world history, this history isn’t always that uplifting to consider, how things in God’s creation became broken, so quickly, and so completely.

Yet we know that God doesn’t let a bad start ruin everything. Because God is God, He can always make a fresh beginning. Even to those who failed from their very first moments on this earth, God grants a change of direction. That’s the new life God tells us about in his Word, when He tells us about a second birth through his Holy Spirit. This is what Lord’s Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism is all about: it’s focused on beginnings. I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,

In his Word, God teaches us how it all began:

  1. our creation
  2. our corruption
  3. our re-creation

 

1) our creation: There’s something wrong with us. I think that’s pretty clear. In Lord’s Day 2, we came to the conclusion that we just can’t keep the law of love. Rather, we’re inclined by nature to hate God and hate our neighbor. That’s the power constantly churning in our hearts: evil is right there with us, making us wretched.

But why are things this way? What’s happened that we’re so incapable of living without always failing? In the first place, we have to say that it’s not a manufacturer’s error! We may want to think that, because nowadays, we purchase many new things. And not only do we buy a lot of goods, we also expect these things to have a high degree of quality. So if the phone we bought a few months ago doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, we take it back. Clearly, this is some kind of manufacturer’s error—it’s the hardware, software, whatever! We return the faulty merchandise to the store and expect a refund or replacement. This is how we think.

So what about mankind? In the words of the Catechism, “Was it God who created man so wicked and perverse?” (Q&A 6). For we certainly don’t do what we’re supposed to, and we often fail when God commands us. You could say that our software is completely corrupted. But is this God’s fault? Was it God who made a mistake in putting us together? The Catechism insists this is not the case: “On the contrary!” (Q&A 6). We’re the way we are, not because of a faulty creation. For we were created good—even perfect, in the image of God, “in true righteousness and holiness.” 

Today, let’s start with that one word, “righteousness.” When God made us in the beginning, the Catechism says, we were righteous. We’ll emphasize that word, because it’s a very important one for Paul in his letter to the Romans. If you read through Romans, you’ll see he’s constantly talking about righteousness: the righteousness of God, people being unrighteous, and sinners being made righteous once again.

That’s even one of the themes of Romans which he lays down in chapter 1: “In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: ‘The just [or the righteous] will live by faith’” (1:17). So, we used to be righteous.

Just what does that mean? I tell my Catechism students that these big words usually have a hint of their meaning conveniently tucked away inside of them. Look at the word “righteousness,” and you see the simple word “right.” And this reminds us: Righteousness is all about having a right relationship with God, being “right” before God.

Being righteous means that the holy God, the Creator and Judge, looks at you, and He’s pleased with you. There’s nothing about you that offends him. Rather, God accepts you in his glorious presence and you’re allowed to stand before Him—not as an equal, to be sure, but nonetheless as a humble friend, as a lowly associate. Despite the huge difference in your status, there’s a good relationship, a solid bond between you and God.

Back in the beginning, the Catechism says, God made us in righteousness. That is to say, we could rightly know God our Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness (Q&A 6). Those three activities are often the markers of a good relationship, also among humans. Like in a marriage, for example: we say the relationship between husband and wife is good and proper if there’s an intimate knowledge of one another—they know each other’s likes and dislikes, their fears and hopes. We say things are right if there’s also a mutual love, and if there’s an ability to live peaceably under one roof. And that’s exactly what we used to have with God! Able to know Him, to love Him, to live with Him.

In his first chapter, Paul reminds us about these things. In his letter to the Romans, he is busy trying to make a case for Christ. He hasn’t visited this congregation yet on his missionary journeys, so via this letter he wants to teach them “his” gospel. And to do so, he goes back to the basics. Paul first speaks about how things should’ve been. We should’ve known God and loved God; we should’ve lived with him forever. For out of all creatures, we alone were meant to have a special relationship with our Maker.

In fact, God desires to be known by people, and God can be known. Today, even those who’ve never opened a Bible, and those who never heard the Christian gospel—even these people can recognize God. They can be aware of his existence and know something about him. Writes Paul in chapter 1, “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (1:19). Even after the fall into sin, the Lord hasn’t taken away a knowledge of himself, but He’s left it for all to see: “Since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (1:20).

Some of God’s invisible qualities can be seen in his creation. He’s left his fingerprints all over this world, whispers of his divinity. This is why in many societies and cultures, people view God in ways that seem right. They say God is creator. They say God lives in the heavenly places. God is supreme. God is all-powerful. They say that God is all-knowing, that God is eternal.

If your eyes are open, you can see it: God’s incredible strength, his awesome ability and perfect wisdom. If your ears are open, you’ll hear it; as Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands... There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (vv 1,3). If they’re willing, people can see that God exists. People know there’s more to this world, and more to life, that what we merely touch and experience.

And so a lot of people even have a hunger to be in relationship with Him. You could say that all people are “wired” for God. It’s part of the programming, that we want to connect somehow with a higher power. So there’s this irrepressible urge to pray, to worship (to worship something, anyway), to live with a mindfulness of God. It’s a faint remnant of what He created us for in the beginning: He created us to know him, and He made us for fellowship!

So it used to be: man and woman knew God. They were accepted by God; they lived in God’s presence without any problem. But now that right relationship has gone all wrong. We see this in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that [mankind is] without excuse.” Obviously, those who need “excuses” are those who’ve gotten into trouble. And standing before the Judge, God says there’s no good excuse we can give.

Brothers and sisters, to think about what might’ve been. What should’ve been! To enjoy eternity with our Maker. To know God, and to be known by God. To live in righteousness forever! Yet we must consider a second point,

 

2) our corruption: When we read Romans 1, you might’ve noticed how Paul suddenly changes directions. In verse 17, he announces his happy theme: that God has revealed a life-giving gospel. But see how in verse 18, his tone shifts dramatically. Paul hits us square between the eyes with some bad news: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

Godlessness. Wickedness. Instead of talking about righteousness, Paul’s going to tell us about unrighteousness! Instead of having a whole and healthy relationship with God, our relationship with him is in tatters. And the result of this? God is angry. His wrath is being revealed, Paul says. He can’t stand it when his creatures go their own way.

To see the reason for God’s wrath, we need to go back once more to the beginning. The Catechism asks, “From where… did man’s depraved nature come?” And the answer: “From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin” (Q&A 7). As we said, our parents often have a lot to do with how we turn out. Dad and Mom teach and mold us in good things, but we usually inherit a few of our parents’ bad qualities too. And the bad news is that our first parents are Adam and Eve, the first rebels and the original sinners!

The corruption they’ve passed on to their children is worked out in Romans 1. For, as we’ve seen, God made possible a knowledge of his glory. But what have people done with this? How have they used this privileged and important information? Look at verse 21: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

“Although they knew God,” people everywhere fail to recognize him. By nature, we don’t love him, though He’s worthy of our love. We don’t thank him, though He’s the source of every good thing. We want to worship, but now we worship the gods of our own making. All those things we can know about God are twisted and corrupted, with the result that the Creator isn’t glorified, but his creatures are! “[They] change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (1:23).

Instead of true worship, idolatry has swept the face of the earth—idolatry, the greatest of all wrongdoings in the LORD’s sight! That’s Commandment #1, that we must not have any gods beside the one true God. From the beginning, He wanted praise and glory from his people, but we present it to false gods instead. The LORD wanted our love, but we send it to others.

Here—as always—it’s easy to think how God’s Word applies to others. “I know people who’ve made idols, people who’ve corrupted the good revelation of the LORD. There’s the Muslims. There’s Hindus. There’s even the Roman Catholics, and all their images of Mary and the saints.” But remember, Paul is talking about a universal problem, a global epidemic of idolatry: ALL people, everywhere, have exchanged the glory of God for cheap images, switched out his truth for empty ideas and hollow hopes.

Is it not true, also for us? Reflect for a moment about how we embrace created things, instead of the Creator. In his grace God grants us so many good things, yet it’s his blessings that quickly dominate our lives, instead of God being in the prime place. It’s his gifts that become our treasure, instead of the LORD being our treasure.

God gives us times for leisure and sport—these are good gifts, yet we let these things consume so many of our spare moments. God’s blessings of children and family—somehow these become more important to us than anything else, and our identity becomes wrapped up in them. Having a job is a gift from the LORD, but if we let it, work will stifle our spiritual life. These are created things, shoving aside the Creator. And what about our image, our reputation, our investment portfolio? For these things we pray, and it’s over these things that we might constantly worry.

This is idolatry. This is the basic corruption of the human heart, when we stop seeing the Creator, and we focus on what He has created. When we exchange God’s awesome glory for cheap imitations. This isn’t the kind of life that God created us for. Remember, God created us for righteousness, for a good relationship with him, when we give him our undivided attention. But we have abandoned his design.

You know that when something isn’t used in the way it was designed, there are going to be problems. Paul speaks about this, a bit later in chapter 1. He says there’s serious consequences for our corruption: now God has given mankind over to their sin, and He has left his creatures to do what they please, the very things they wanted in the beginning.

At first that might not sound so bad. Sometimes we think that sin is the ultimate freedom. Sin is doing what we want, when we want. Yet the Bible speaks of sin as slavery. For when you’re captive to sin, you can’t help but choose to do evil. When you’re a slave to Satan, you can only do his will. Maybe you can relate to this: the sin you have chosen is nice at first, but it quickly loses its novelty, its excitement—and it becomes a hopeless, pointless, pursuit of pleasure. Sin can become its own punishment.

So in his holy anger, God gives people over to their desires. As one example, Paul points to the sin of homosexuality, how “God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves” (1:24). Natural relations are exchanged for unnatural ones; God’s perfect design is completely ignored.

This is the kind of corruption we see today. Every year in the major cities around the world there are “Gay Pride parades.” Now there are laws that approve of these relationships. And sometimes Christians hold a lot of contempt for homosexuals. We might be disgusted by them, shocked and repulsed. We may think that Romans 1 surely doesn’t apply to us, it applies to those sinners, gays and lesbians!

But then we need to keep reading. The corruption of sin has spread everywhere. For once God isn’t recognized, once He is not worshiped as God alone, the door is opened to every kind of sin! Paul explains more effects of sin’s corruption: people are “filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (1:29-31).

You could read that list again. Are you envious? Are you proud? Are you unforgiving? I am sure that every one of us can find ourselves somewhere on this list, and in more than one place. Because this is the way of human corruption.

And in God’s eyes, all these things are unnatural, all of them are degraded. Let’s not single just one out, like homosexuality, or some other immoral lifestyle that we possibly can’t relate to. No, all these things are contrary to God’s good design. He didn’t create us to live in this way, yet we do! “Envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, pride….” This is always the condition of the human heart, the condition of the heart that hasn’t been changed by the Spirit.

And this is the kind of life that leads to death. Like Paul says in chapter 8, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (8:13). If you don’t turn from worthless idols, you’ll die. If you don’t get serious about worshiping the true God, you’ll die. If you don’t break with your sinful desires and evil habits, you’ll die. If we don’t humbly acknowledge God as the Creator and Judge of mankind, we’ll die. That’s the truth about where sinners are going. But if we seek God’s abundant mercy in Christ, then we’ll live.

 

3) our re-creation: So your life got off to a bad start. You’ve learned to sin and now you can’t stop. Well, that’s not the last word. In Romans, Paul isn’t trying to prove our sinfulness so that we leave the courtroom with our heads hanging low. No, think again about his theme: “[In the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed” (1:17). He’s saying that it is possible to have a proper relationship with God. It is possible to be restored to a right standing and healthy status.

So how do we get it? How can convicted criminals be made innocent? In the coming sermons in this little series, we’ll keep looking at how Paul explains this, especially in Romans 4-6. God counts us forgiven by faith in Christ! Because of what Christ has done, God accepts us once again! Here’s the miracle of it: God looks at his Son, and God actually sees usHe considers that in Him we are perfect, we are pure, we are holy, we are righteous.

Also in chapter 8, Paul speaks of how this miracle comes about. How can these wondrous things happen in us, in a people who were so wicked? How can we actually believe right things about God? Beyond that, how can we actually start to do what pleases him? The answer is hinted at in Q&A 8: “Are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil? Yes, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” What does that word “regenerated” mean? It means that we are given a fresh start, a second birth, a new heart.

What the Spirit does is restore in us that shattered image of God. He restores us to righteousness and holiness. Paul describes it this way, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, [set their minds on] the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). God can bring you under the influence of the Spirit, where each day you keep in step with him, and each day you are transformed. Where there used to be hostility towards God, now you can have peace with Him!

By faith in Christ, God has made us righteous. Now we can act righteous. Now we can live in a way that shows we have a proper relationship with God. Now to the business of knowing him, and loving him, worshiping him and walking with him! For by the Spirit, we’re not slaves anymore. By the Spirit, we are sons and daughters of God. Paul says, “By [him] we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom 8:15). We’ve become God’s children—glorious proof that the relationship between God and us has been restored!

Imagine this kind of situation, if you can: there’s a criminal, totally guilty, worthy of being locked away for the rest of his life. Yet somehow the judge clears him of wrong-doing, and releases from the expected punishment. He’s free! But that’s not all. Now this: once the trial is done and the freedom granted, the judge says to the freed criminal: “I want to take you home. I want you to be my child and live in my house, a place of life and love.” That’s us: forgiven sinners, now adopted sons and daughters, given a glorious new beginning!

Some think that we just cannot change. Because of how you were raised, or because of bad decisions you once made, you say, “This is just how it is. This is my lot. I’m not going to change anymore.” And there are hurts and troubles that can last a lifetime. But God can still help us to carry on in a new way. For He wants us to live the kind of life we were designed for. He wants you to get back to your original purpose, your first calling: glorifying his Name.

Is that what we do? Do we show that we have a meaningful fellowship with the LORD God? Do we talk to him? Do we listen to him? Do we trust him? Do we do what He says, because we love him? Every day, God is willing to send us the grace of his Son, and his life-changing Spirit. May we ask for these gifts and walk humbly with God, knowing that God’s good work in us is just beginning!  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 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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