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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:Our Confession of God's Justice
Text:LD 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-07-14
Updated:2009-12-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 149
Hymn 1A
Psalm 11
Psalm 99:1-3
Hymn 22 (after offertory)
Psalm 48

Readings:  Luke 16:19-31, Romans 3:1-20
Text:  Lord's Day 4
* 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,

 

Who can we blame?  When we’re caught or exposed, this is sometimes the first question that pops into our head.  It’s also the question being explored by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Days 2-4.  Who can we blame for the fact that we cannot keep God’s law perfectly, that we are inclined by nature to hate God and our neighbour?  Who is responsible for this? 

 

Lord’s Day 3 had us take a look at God as Creator.  Did God create man like this?  Well, no, Scripture clearly tells us that God created man good and in his own image.  Man’s depraved nature is man’s own fault and unless he’s regenerated by the Holy Spirit, he is totally unable to do any good in God’s eyes.  So, Lord’s Day 3 was looking at whether we could lay the blame with God’s works. 

 

And now what about God’s character?  Could there be a defect in God’s character that gets us off the hook for our inability to do good and our inclination to do evil?  Specifically, does God have a problem with justice?  So, today using the Bible as our standard, we’re going to consider our confession of God’s justice.

 

According to what we read from Romans 3, all men are under sin.  Paul quotes from Psalm 14 to prove the point that “There is no one righteous, not even one.”  Man cannot do what is in God’s law.  So God requires in his law what man cannot do – doesn’t that sound like injustice?  Imagine a teacher in a school.  But this is not any school, it’s a school for the blind.  Now imagine that the teacher were to come in on Monday morning and put a normal textbook on each of the students’ desks and tell them that they have to read it.  The textbook is not in Braille, it’s just a regular book.  And if the students don’t read it by a certain date, there will be consequences; they will be punished.  I think we’d all agree that the teacher is unreasonable, that he’s unjust in his expectations.  Is that a picture of what God does with mankind?   

 

To get the answer we have to go back to Genesis.  Genesis 1:31 says that the whole creation, including man, was created very good.  To go back to the illustration, the students are not blind.  And if they’re not blind, then the expectation of the teacher is not unreasonable or unjust.  God so created man that, at the beginning, he was able to do the law.  He was able not to sin.  But Adam and Eve listened to the lies of the deceiver.  They were deliberately disobedient.  Their sin wasn’t an accident, something they had no control over.  Like us and all their children, they sinned because they chose to sin.  This choice had consequences. 

 

Because of their sin, Adam and Eve robbed themselves and all their descendants of the ability to do God’s law.  They made themselves blind, or to use the language of Scripture, dead.  As it says in Romans 5:19, by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.  Their choices and their actions had an impact not only on themselves, but on the rest of the human race to come. 

 

Adam was the covenant head of the human race and as such, his actions and choices are passed on to everyone after him.  As we say in Article 15 of the Belgic Confession, “We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has spread throughout the whole human race.”  Maybe you’ve heard the old Puritan saying, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”  That’s just a way of capturing what Scripture says in Romans 5.  But now we could raise the question of whether this idea really makes sense.  We weren’t there at the beginning, why should we be held responsible for something that Adam did? 

 

Some of you are or have been in a school band.  Perhaps you’ve been at a band performance and maybe the band leader said something like, “We’ve selected this lovely song for you this evening, we enjoy it and we hope you do too.”  Meanwhile, you’re sitting there thinking, “I didn’t pick this song and I don’t really enjoy it.”  Nevertheless, the band leader calls the shots and you play the tune.  Or think of a coin toss at a soccer or football game.  The team captain calls heads and you’re thinking, “Tails, you should have called ‘tails’!”  But you’re left to live with the results, whether you like it or not.  Likewise, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” 

 

Adam was disobedient and apostate.  He departed from God.  God is not responsible for the sin of the human race.  God is completely blameless and his justice is vindicated.  No one can ever point a finger at God and say that God did something wrong.

 

So, now we are responsible for the problem of both original sin and actual sin.  Original sin being the sin passed on to us from Adam and Eve.  Actual sin is the sin that we commit each day for ourselves.  Adam and Eve were disobedient and apostate, but so is the entire human race.  Original sin and actual sin, it’s all our fault.          

 

Can God turn a blind eye to all this?  We might wish that he could.  But what does Scripture say?  In Exodus 34, God reveals himself to Moses and proclaims that he is Yahweh, the one who does not leave the guilty unpunished.  We sang Psalm 11 a few moments ago and in that Psalm we find that God is the one who hates the wicked and those who love violence.  He will punish them with fiery coals, burning sulfur and scorching wind.  Psalm 5 likewise says that God hates all those who do wrong, that he will destroy those who tell lies, that he abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  Indeed, Scripture teaches that everyone who does not keep God’s law is under a curse – that’s what we find in Galatians 3:10, drawing on Deuteronomy 27:26. 

 

Though it’s not popular to say so, the Biblical reality is that God will punish sin with a just judgment both now and eternally.  God will not turn a blind eye to sinners and their sin.  Rather, Scripture reveals that God has prepared a hell of eternal conscious torment for those who are disobedient and apostate. 

 

Now there are those who have a lot of trouble with that idea.  In fact, there are those who deny that there is such a place as hell where unbelieving people will consciously experience the wrath of God forever.  Some of these people are universalists – they believe that in the end absolutely everyone will be saved, whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not.  Others are what we call annihilationists – they believe that in the end all those who do not believe in Jesus will simply be annihilated, that they will be destroyed and that their punishment will be non-existence. 

 

So, is there a hell of eternal conscious torment for those who do not believe or not?  This isn’t an academic question, this is something where there’s a lot at stake.  If we deny that there is a hell of eternal conscious torment, then we have cut the nerve of urgency in the missionary cause.  If there is no hell, there’s no need to be concerned about our unbelieving neighbours.  There’s no urgency to pray for them or to witness to them.  They may not have the joy and peace that we do in this life, but in the end everybody is going to the same place.  The more likely it is that people can be saved without the gospel witness, the less urgency there is for gospel witness.  But if it is true that the Bible teaches a hell of eternal conscious torment for the unbelieving, there is a lot of urgency -- we wish no fellow human being to experience such a thing.

 

What does the Bible teach?  Consider what we read from Luke 16.  The Lord Jesus told that parable about the rich man and Lazarus.  Now the main point of the parable is not to portray hell to us, but yet it does reveal what the Lord Jesus taught as the truth about hell.  When the rich man dies, he remains conscious of what is happening around him.  He is in torment – it’s called a place of torment – and he will remain there forever.

 

Now someone might say, “Well, that’s a parable, you can’t take it literally as telling us what hell is really like.”  Well actually we can, if what the parable says fits with what we find elsewhere in the Bible.  In Mark 9, Jesus is not speaking in parables.  He teaches the doctrine of radical amputation – that we’re to cut off anything that causes us to sin.  He says in Mark 9:43, “It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”  And again in verses 47 and 48, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”  That is a description of eternal conscious torment.  Still not convinced?  What about Matthew 25:41 and 46, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  In Revelation 20, those whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire, the second death, a lake of burning sulfur.  There they will be tormented with the devil day and night, forever and ever.  I could go on and cite many other passages, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, but I think you get the point.  Hell is a past, present and future reality.

 

It is a dreadful reality and we should never speak of it lightly.  If we look at the picture of hell in Scripture, there is horror and there are terrors.  One author rightly says, “I know of no one who has overstated the terrors of hell.”  And do you know the one who spoke the most about hell in Scripture?  It was our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He used numerous horrific images to describe what would happen to the unbelieving and unrepentant.  He wants us to sit up, pay attention, and shudder.  But why?  Because in the infinite horrors of hell we discover the true nature of our sin.  Sinners have belittled the infinite value of God’s glory, making him of little account.  We have slapped God in the face.  God’s judgment is just.  Hell is what sinners deserve. 

 

But what about God’s mercy, some will say.  Yes, Scripture does teach that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8).  God is patient and long-suffering with the wicked.  He is merciful.  But his mercy will never cancel out, will never compromise his justice.  Justice will be done.  Both mercy and justice exist in his being without contradiction.  In fact, in Exodus 34 we find them mentioned side by side. 

 

There are those who go further and say that the punishment is disproportionate to the crime.  They use this as an argument against the idea of a hell of eternal conscious torment.  One writer asks, “Would there not be serious disproportion between sins consciously committed in time and torment consciously experienced throughout eternity?”  The way the question is asked it’s meant to arouse our sense of indignation – hey, this is not right, this is not reasonable or just!  There’s nothing new under the sun:  this objection has been around for hundreds of years.  The American preacher Jonathan Edwards had already heard it in the 18th century and he replied, “Degrees of blameworthiness come not from how long you offend dignity but from how high the dignity is that you offend.”  The Catechism speaks of sin against “the most high majesty of God.”  Note those words, “most high.”  When we make this objection about disproportion, our problem is that we think too little of God’s dignity and majesty, we underestimate the seriousness of sin.

 

To strengthen the point, we should also remember that hell does not make sinners stop sinning.  When unbelievers go to hell, their sins go on forever and ever.  They are completely given over to their sin and corruption so that they continue rebelling against God.  They continue to deserve eternal punishment eternally.  Hell is the completely proportionate and just punishment.  God’s justice cannot be reasonably drawn into question.

 

Loved ones, I know that it can be hard to accept and it’s not pleasant to hear, but we can still be thankful that the Catechism draws our attention to these Biblical truths.  We can be thankful first because we’re reminded of what awaits the unbelievers whom we know and hopefully love.  They’re in serious trouble if they do not repent and believe in Christ.  If we truly love the people God has placed on our path, we’re going to pray for and look for opportunities to share the gospel with them.  We want them to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved from the wrath to come.  We won’t hide the truth from them either.   The truth is that the good news is only so good because the bad news is so bad.  The apostles didn’t hide that truth.  Take the example of Paul before Felix in Acts 24.  In verse 25, we’re told that Paul “discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.”  The result was that Felix was afraid – as unbelievers rightly should be if they do not turn to Christ.    

 

The second reason why we can be thankful that the Catechism puts these truths before us is because of what we confess in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession about the church.  We confess that there are hypocrites mixed in the church, those who are outwardly part of the church, but who in reality have no part in Christ, who have no part in the benefits of redemption.  Hypocrites are literally those who wear a mask, who pretend to be Christians, who go through all the motions, but who at the end of the day are as lost as any other unbeliever.  Because there are hypocrites mixed in the church, it’s important that we regularly hear the warnings of Scripture about the judgment to come.  It’s important that we hear what awaits those who do not truly repent and believe.  Hell and God’s wrath and judgment are not pleasant to talk about, but to neglect speaking about these things is ultimately not loving and kind.  As Scripture says in Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  Preaching the whole counsel of God includes preaching the justice of God.

 

God’s justice is nothing to treat lightly.  Justice is what we deserve from God’s hand.  We deserve eternal wrath, everlasting punishment of body and soul.  Let’s again praise God today that those who believe in Christ do not receive what they deserve.  At the cross, grace and justice met each other and we are saved.  God’s justice was poured out on Christ, he received the hell that we deserved.  He suffered God’s just judgment in your place and in my place.  He received justice and we received grace.  Loved ones, God’s Word reveals his justice and that is sobering.  His Word also reveals his grace and that is comforting.  John Newton was the author of the popular hymn Amazing Grace.  He also wrote many other hymns, one of which is entitled “Let us Love and Praise and Wonder.”  One of the verses goes like this:

 

Let us wonder, grace and justice

Join, and point to mercy’s store

When, through grace, in Christ our trust is,

Justice smiles and asks no more.  

 

Accept the promise of the gospel again today and be comforted that God’s justice smiles and asks no more. 

 

Let us pray:

 

O just God, blameless and holy,

 

We adore you for who your Word reveals you to be.  We praise you as the one in whom there is no guile, not even anything remotely sinful.  You always do what is right.  We thank you that you have poured out your justice on Jesus our Saviour and given us your grace.  Help us to believe that good news as often as we hear it today and every day.  We also pray for your help in sharing the gospel with unbelievers around us.  Make our hearts tender for the lost and please give us opportunities to witness to your grace and mercy in Christ.  We pray it for the glory of your Name and in Jesus our Lord, 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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