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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:God's Free Gifts in Christ are Received Only Through Faith.
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faithfulness rewarded

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 61:1-6
Hymn 1A
Psalm 130:1-4
Hymn 24:1-7
Psalm 145:1-2

Readings: Zechariah 3, Romans 3, Hebrews 5
Text: Lord s Day 23
* 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 the Lord Jesus Christ,

It's a question you can often hear among high school students. Why do I have to bother learning this? For me it was always: why do I have to bother with Math and French? Maybe you had the same or other subjects. But the teachers always had an answer, even if it wasn't the answer we wanted to hear. We always wanted to know whether something was worth spending all that time and effort in learning.

The Catechism asks a similar question in Question 59. There is a big difference, however. The Catechism is not concerned simply with the value of knowing everything that we've been learning about in the Apostles Creed since Lord's Day 8. The Catechism focuses instead on the value of believing what it says: But what does it help you now that you believe all this? So, what's the use? Does it do us any good to believe everything we confess in the Creed? The answer is plain and simple: when we believe all this, we are in Christ. And when our identity is in Christ, we are right with God. And when we are right with God, we can inherit the life that lasts forever.

Question 60 goes on to ask how we are right before God. In other words, how do we get in Christ? God has free gifts to offer us in Jesus Christ. How do we receive those gifts? The answer is through faith and through faith only. Faith is like the arms that we use to reach out and take the gifts that God has to offer. At this point, it may be good to stop here a minute and think about what faith is. Perhaps we too often take the meaning of this word for granted. What is faith? Here we could go back to Lord's Day 7: true faith is both a sure knowledge and a firm confidence. The knowledge is that God's Word is true. The confidence is that Christ has brought salvation. We could unpack this further. In the Scriptures, faith is resting, trusting, and hoping in the Lord. It's holding on to him, waiting for him, seeing him as our shield and tower. Faith is taking refuge in God by holding on to Jesus Christ. Faith also involves a certain way of thinking about Jesus Christ: when we have Christian faith, we know that Christ is God himself, whose death brings us salvation from the sinful way of life inherited from our forefathers.

Now that we have a bit of a handle on what faith is, we can move on and take a closer look at those gifts that we receive through this faith. The Catechism speaks of God, out of mere grace, granting certain things to us in Christ. The Catechism also says that the only means by which we receive those things is faith. So, our theme is this:

God's free gifts in Christ are received only through faith.

Those free gifts are:

1. Christ's perfect satisfaction.

2. Christ's perfect righteousness.

3. Christ's perfect holiness.

1. We receive the free gift of Christ's perfect satisfaction only through faith.

The title over Lord's Day 23 says, Our Justification. The word justification in Scripture usually comes along with the idea of a courtroom. In this courtroom, God stands as the judge. This idea is portrayed in our readings. If we take Romans 3 as an example, in verse 4, Psalm 51 is quoted. This penitential Psalm refers to God's actions as a judge. In verse 19, the Scripture speaks of a being held accountable to God. And in verse 20, we find that observing the law will not lead to anyone being declared righteous all courtroom language.

So, when we consider the free gift of Christ's perfect satisfaction, it will be helpful to think of it in terms of a trial in court. God is the judge. We stand accused by Satan and, like the Catechism says, even our own consciences. But the good news is that we have a good defense with Jesus Christ. He is the one who will take our side and persuade the judge. In fact, because of Christ's defense, the judge will come down from his bench and even adopt us for his children. The judge will become our father. But first the accusations have to be dealt with.

The first accusation against us stands: The accused has grievously sinned against all God's commandments. The accused deserves the appropriate punishment. In our consciences, we know this accusation to be true. In our hearts, we know that we are sinners deserving of God's wrath and harsh judgement. And in case we are inclined to suppress that knowledge in any way, God gives us some pretty good reminders in Scripture. One of the most powerful examples is found in Isaiah 64:6, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags Actually, filthy rags does not fully express what the Hebrew says in that passage. I won't tell you what it really means; if you have a good Study Bible or commentary at home, you can find out for yourself. The point is: even the things that we think are good aren't so good after all that is, if we are thinking of these things all by themselves apart from God's sanctifying work. When the Holy Spirit does not touch our deeds, the situation is ugly in God's eyes.

So, there stands the accusation. And what can we say? It's true. However, the Lord Jesus has a defense to offer for us. He says, The accused deserves punishment, true enough. But I have taken all his punishment, in his place. He has come into debt, but the debt has been paid in full by me. That's what it means in Romans 3:25 when the Lord Jesus Christ is described as having been presented as a sacrifice of atonement or as other translations used to say, a propitiation. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was offered up for us, in our place. He was our substitute, the one who took the punishment that we should have received. Christ was our propitiation, that means that he is the one who has turned away God's wrath from us who really deserve it.

Christ's satisfaction of God's wrath against us is a free gift that God has for us. However, it is our responsibility to accept this gift with a believing heart. You can find that language used in the Catechism at the end of Answer 60. A believing heart, or we could say, faith, is the only way that we can reach out and receive this gift of God. Romans 3:25 says the same thing, namely that atonement comes through faith in Christ's blood. Faith is the only instrument by which we share in Christ and all his benefits and gifts. So, we must make these words in Answer 60 our own. Perhaps it would be helpful to take this home with you and make it personal. Read those words and put yourself wherever you read my, I, and me. That can be a powerful way to remind yourself that Christ and all his benefits belong to you, you personally, because through faith you have accepted those gifts!

Now let's move on to consider the second gift:

2. We receive the free gift of Christ's perfect righteousness only through faith.

Here again, we can use the image of a courtroom. This time there is a slightly different accusation. It's not that we have just occasionally (but grievously) sinned against all God's commandments. That would be bad enough, but it gets worse: we have never kept any of them. Over and over again, every single commandment. And again, in our consciences we know that to be the truth. If we are honest with ourselves, we can go through the Lord's Days on the Ten Commandments and be quite shaken with how bad we really are. God's Word is clear on this. Romans 3:10 quotes the Psalter to that effect: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Isn't that the truth, also with ourselves? Apart from the grace of God in our lives, would we seek God? Isn't the reverse the case? When we are apart from the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, we do everything in our power to run away from God. Apart from the Lord and giver of life, we are dead.

So, the case against us is solid. But so is the defense offered by our Mediator. Jesus Christ is that Mediator, the one who steps between us and God and says, Yes, that's all true. She has never kept any of the commandments. But I have and I did it for her, in her place. It's good news isn't it? Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. Hebrews 5 tells us that this great High Priest was obedient and perfect. In fact, in one of the most challenging verses in the New Testament, we re told that the Lord Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered. Though Jesus never sinned, he still faced temptations and those temptations were real. He successfully met each temptation, living a life of obedience to the Father in a world full of suffering. His obedience was learned through his humiliation and suffering in this world broken by sin. And thus his perfect obedience, his perfect righteousness really counts for something. It counts for qualifying him to be our perfect High Priest. This High Priest is different from all the others. He's different because he does not need to make offerings for himself. No, he is perfect and so he can devote all his attention to making offerings for his people. He offers up his righteousness for us. And God takes that righteousness, all the perfect obedience of Christ Jesus, and he imputes it to us. That means that even though it is not ours to begin with, God gives it to us and sees it as being ours. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is ours. That means that just as Christ is always right with God, so now we too are right with God.

Christ's righteousness is ours, if only we accept this gift with a believing heart. It is only through faith that this gift too can be ours. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is not something you can receive by thinking you can somehow earn God's favour or that you can gain something with God by trying to measure up in some way. This may seem obvious, but it still needs to be said. We say we believe in God's grace. We believe that the righteousness of Christ can be ours only through faith. We can only be right with God through faith. We say we believe in a God of grace. But does this always work out practically in our lives? Are we perhaps sometimes driven by a feeling of never quite measuring up to what God wants? In this respect, sometimes our stated theology is Reformed and Biblical, but our lives are downright Arminian. We sometimes act as if our salvation hangs on what we do, whether that's good deeds or our cultural norms or whatever else. We sometimes live as if It's up to us to measure up and then maybe we ll please God and be saved.

To be sure, we don't measure up but that's how we are outside of Christ. However, we are in Christ we are a new creation. Our identity is in Christ. So, when God looks at us, he sees Christ. He sees Christ's righteousness. He sees a man, woman, boy or girl, who does measure up. Brothers and sisters, this is the difference between shame, guilt and justice religion and the grace religion of Scripture. The difference is that God's acceptance is not about what we do, It's about who we are, who we are in Christ. So, this is good news: You are accepted in Christ! God tells you that in Ephesians 1:4-6, In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. That last part of verse 6 you could also translate, by which He bestowed grace upon us. If you receive God's gift with a believing heart, you are accepted! In fact, this is the only way you can be accepted! So, take hold of and accept Christ's satisfaction and righteousness. You also need to take hold of and accept his holiness, and we ll consider that now in our final point.

3. We receive the free gift of Christ's perfect holiness only through faith.

Now the final accusation gets thrown at us. Not only has he grievously sinned against all the commandments, not only has he never kept any of them, but worse yet, he continues to be inclined to all evil. Now don't you know that to be the truth, too? Anybody who thinks otherwise needs to carefully consider Paul's words in Romans 7:21-25, So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul, the one who many refer to as St. Paul, saw himself as a wretched man because of his ongoing struggle with sin! Some say that this passage refers to Paul's life before he was converted. However, without dwelling on it, we should note the use of the present tense throughout verses 14 to 25 in Romans 7. Paul is talking about his present condition, the way he is right now as he's writing this letter to the Romans. And if we re honest with ourselves, we re in the same boat.

Well, with this being true, then holiness might appear to be a completely impossible thing to obtain. And passages like Hebrews 12:14 might really start to weigh down on us. It says there, without holiness no one will see the Lord. Holiness means that we are set apart from sin it means that we have nothing to do with sin, just like God. Well, with this accusation being true, holiness seems to be out of reach. Seeing the Lord, having a meaningful relationship with him, seems to be an impossibility.

However, here too, the Lord Jesus has an answer for you. He is on your side. Jesus says, Now I know that this one does not have any holiness. But I do. I am the Holy One of God. I take my holiness and I place it over this one's unholiness and evil. I cover it totally over and so now all you can see are my perfections. This is your Saviour, brothers and sisters! This is what he really says for you! You can see it in that beautiful passage we read from Zechariah 3.

Zechariah saw Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of the LORD. Now this Joshua was an actual high priest in the time of Zechariah. In his vision, Zechariah sees him standing, not in the temple in Jerusalem, but in the very courts of heaven. Joshua here stands for the people of God. Satan is accusing the people of God. And to be sure, Joshua is dressed in filthy clothes, literally clothes befouled with waste. The image represents the gross sinfulness of the people, their utter unholiness. This Joshua has no place standing before a holy God covered with you-know-what. He's in a dangerous situation.

But then the Angel of the LORD steps in. Now there are lots of people who say that the Angel of the LORD is the second person of the Trinity, meaning that this is the Lord Jesus before he took on our human flesh. There are good arguments for that position, but there are also some good arguments against it. I am inclined to agree that it is the Lord Jesus (at least in some instances), but I am not entirely sure. Regardless, in this instance, the Angel of the LORD freely gives something to Joshua. Joshua's fouled clothes are removed from him. His unholiness is taken out of the way. His sin is removed and then he is clothed with rich garments and a clean turban. This is a graphic picture of what happens with the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ and the people of God today. He removes your unholiness and covers you with his holiness. The end result is that you are acceptable to God. You have the holiness you need in order to see God and have a meaningful relationship with him.

And like with the other gifts, this holiness can only be received through faith. You can make Christ's holiness your own by faith only. And it has to be your faith, you cannot expect to get in on somebody else's coat-tails so to speak. So, growing up in a Christian family is not enough you need to accept God's gift of Christ's holiness, satisfaction, and righteousness for yourself. Going to a Christian school is not enough, you need to make Christ's gifts your own. Going to church every Sunday and going to Catechism classes or Bible Study every week as important as those things are, they are not going to cut it you need to have your own personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, when we have that personal faith, we can be sure that Christ's satisfaction, righteousness and holiness are ours. And this is part of what it means when we say that we are in Christ, when we say we have our identity in Christ. When God looks at us, he sees us as we are in Christ Jesus. He does not see your sins, but Christ's perfections: Christ's satisfaction, Christ's righteousness, Christ's holiness. We have to learn to understand this: in Christ, we are something new. Though sin still clings to us, though we still fall, we are a new creation in Jesus Christ. We have Christ's gifts. God has freely given them to us. As we grow to understand this, we will want to grow more to be who we are. We strive to reflect the righteousness and holiness we have in Christ and so we grow in giving glory to God. And that's really the whole point isn't it? The whole point of holding on to this Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith alone is that we give all the glory to God. His pronouncement of NOT GUILTY! is his gracious gift to us in Jesus Christ. His pronouncement of TOTALLY ACQUITTED OF ALL CHARGES! means that he steps down from the bench to be our loving and gracious Father. Doesn't such a God deserve your praise and honour, now and forever? AMEN.

* 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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