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Author:Rev. George van Popta
 send email...
 www.vanpopta.ca
 
Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
 jubileechurch.ca
 
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
 www.ancasterchurch.on.ca
 
Title:The law, grace, faith and good works
Text:LD 24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works
 
Preached:2003-07-06
Added:2004-01-27
Updated:2007-12-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading of Scripture: Isaiah 64:5-12; Luke 18:9-14; John 15:1-11

Reading of text: Lord's Day 24 of the Heidelberg Catechism

Singing: Ps. 95:1,2,3; Ps. 19:3,5; Hy. 28:1,2,3; Hy. 28:4; Ps. 113:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved:

The question of where good works fit in our lives has been hotly debated and contested over the millennia. The extremes have been from * that one is saved by his good works, to * that it is better to sin than do good works to give God's grace the opportunity to abound. Between these two extremes of salvation by good works to purposefully living in sin lie many variations of both. Legalists and antinomians. Legalists and antinomians usually hurling their epithets at each other. The legalists say that all who disagree with them have no regard for the law of God. The antinomians say that all who disagree with them think they can earn salvation by their good works.

The Bible teaches that we may not be either legalist nor antinomian. We are not saved by our good works done in accordance with the law of God. And yet, the believer, the Christian, will do good works in accordance with the law of God. This afternoon I preach about:

THE PLACE OF GOOD WORKS IN THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN

1. Good works and the law; 2. Good works and God's grace; 3. Good works and true faith.

1.Q. 62 asks two questions.

i) Why can our good works not be our righteousness before God? ii) Why can our good works not be a part of our righteousness before God?

You understand the two questions. The first question asks: Why can our works done in obedience to the law of God not be the whole picture of what it takes to make us right with God? The second question asks: Why can our good works not be part of the picture?

We can go immediately to the second question. For if good works cannot be part of the picture, they certainly cannot be the whole picture. That's what A. 62 does. It answers why our good works cannot even be a part of our righteousness before God.

The reason why our good works cannot be even a part of our righteousness before God is because they would have to be perfect. The righteousness which can stand before the holy judgment of God must be absolutely perfect. It must be in complete agreement with the law of God.

Both the OT and the NT teach this basic principle. You see that both Dt. 27:26 and Gal. 3:10 are given as references under QA 62. In fact, in Gal. 3:10, Paul quoted the Deut. passage. In Gal. 3:10, Paul wrote: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." To be righteous before God on the basis of good works, you would have to continually do everything written in the book of the law. Everything God requires. You would never be able to break a single commandment.

Now, we know that no one is capable of that perfection. No one, except the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever kept each commandment of God and never broke a single one. In fact, we know that even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin. We know that from our own experience. You may do something which can be called a good work.

...(Remember the biblical definition of good works as summarized in LD 33, QA 91: Good works are deeds which are done i)out of true faith, ii)in accordance with the law of God, iii)and to His glory...)...

You may do something which meets this threefold standard for a work to be a good work, but you know that it's not a perfect work. Your own experience tells you that. Your motives are never pure. Does anyone ever act totally for the sake of the glory of God? Even when we do act for the sake of God's glory, is it not true that in the back of our minds or deep down inside of us, we are still a little bit concerned about ourselves? Our reputation? Our self-esteem?

So, our own experience (conscience) tells us that none of our works are absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God. Our conscience and experience is only confirming what the Word of God tells us. The Word tells us that even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

The Heidelberg Catechism refers here to Is. 64:6. This verse is in the middle of a prayer the prophet Isaiah offered up on behalf of the people of Israel. A prayer for mercy and help. In this prayer, Isaiah, on behalf of Israel, made a confession of sin. He said: You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah did not say that the evil deeds of Israel polluted them. He didn't say that the worst things they did were like a polluted garment, like filthy rags. He was speaking of their righteous acts. Their good works. The best things they did-even those things were like filthy rags.

And so the catechism is simply repeating scripture when it says: Even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin. And because this is so, because even the best things we do are imperfect and defiled with sin, therefore our good works cannot be even a small part of our righteousness before God.

Think of that parable the Lord once told about two men who went up to the temple to pray. A Pharisee and a tax collector. One of them thought that his good works could function as part of his righteousness before God?

That man, the Pharisee, stood there and told God all about how good he was. He boasted to God about how he was not like other men: robbers, evildoers, adulterers-much less like that tax collector that was there too. He boasted out loud about his acts of piety and devotion, about his generosity in tithing. Acts of piety and devotion, and tithing, are good, but the Pharisees downfall was that he was quite sure that his good works done according to the law were part of his righteousness before God. But God rejected him.

The tax collector, on the other hand, stood far away. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' He knew he had nothing to offer God. He knew that even his best deeds were filthy rags. He was not going to depend upon his works. He prayed in faith upon the free, forgiving grace of God. The Lord said: "I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the [Pharisee], went home justified before God."

The man who depended upon his works did not go home justified. The man who had faith in God went home justified.

And so we have re-established that our good works cannot be our righteousness before God, and not even the least part of it.

2.We [GvP1]have spoken about good works and the law of God. Secondly we speak about good works and God's grace.

Q. 63 asks: But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next? It could be the Pharisee of the Lord Jesus' parable asking this question. He knows the scriptures well. He knows that God has promised to reward our good works. Indeed, the scripture teach that.

In the Sermon on the Mount, after the Beatitudes -- after the Lord told his disciples how they must live -- then he said: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven...(proof text).

There are many places in both the OT and the NT which speak about a reward. (Psa 19:11) "Moreover by them [the commandments] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." (Psa 58:11) "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth." (Prov 25:21-22) "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; {22} for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you." (Mat 6:3ff) "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you..... {6}But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.... (Heb 11:6 -- proof text) "And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."

God promises rewards. If you live in obedience to God, you can expect God to reward you.

But is there then not a conflict between what the Heidelberg Catechism is teaching and the teaching of the Bible? Do our good works then not earn something after all?

No, they don't. Although God promises to reward those who begin to live according to the commandments of God, this reward is a gift of grace. Even if we were to do everything that God has commanded us, we would have no right to expect a reward. We would only be doing our duty. However, God does promise a reward. But that reward is out of pure grace.

Everything is out of grace, beloved. The call to live with God in obedience is a gracious call. The gift of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is a gracious gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us begin to obey the Lord is a gift of grace. The ability to begin obeying the Lord out of thankfulness is a gift of grace. The reward God promises upon our good works is a gift of grace. Not earned, like nothing is earned, but the gift of grace.

And yet a true reward. God loves to see us do good works. He loves to watch us obey him, his word, his law. And he loves to reward us for obeying him.

Grace from beginning to end, front to back. As Eph 2:10 teaches: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God prepared us for good works. God prepared the good works for us to do. And then he rewards us for the good works that we do.

Grace from beginning to end, front to back.

We have spoken about good works and the law, about good works and God's grace.

3. Good works and true faith.

The Heidelberg Catechism has one more question: Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked? * If our good works cannot be our righteousness before God or even a part of our righteousness before God; * if our good works earn us nothing; * if the reward with which God has promised to award our good works is not earned, but if that too is a gift of grace (undeserved favour) * -don't we end up being careless Christians?

No, says the Bible. And we repeat the teaching of scriptures by saying No. It is impossible for a Christian to live carelessly. It is impossible for a Christian to be careless about good works. It is impossible for a Christian to be careless about obeying the commandments of God and about living out of thankfulness for God's free grace and favour.

As A. 64 puts it:

It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

You see, the faith by which we are righteous before God is not just a matter of believing a few things. That faith is a matter of embracing Christ. True faith embraces Christ and makes him our own. Faith is entering into a union with Christ, a deep relationship with the person of Christ. We said that all the way back in LD 7 already. By true faith we are grafted into Christ.

In QA 64 it also speaks of being grafted into Christ. It takes that image from the Bible. From John 15. The Lord Jesus said that he is the vine and we are the branches. By true faith we are grafted into him. And as we live in him and he in us, as we abide in him, we will bear much fruit. As we, by true faith, remain in Christ, it is impossible for us not to bring forth fruits, deeds, of obedience and thankfulness.

A branch that does not remain in Christ withers away. The vinedresser cuts it off and throws it into the fire.

A fruit farmer will graft small branches onto an existing tree. If the branch takes and bears fruit, then the farmer is, of course, happy. But if the branch does not take, he will cut it off and throw it away-burn it. (This is the image Christ is using.)

Those who do not believe, who do not have the life of the Spirit of Christ in them, will wither. And they will face the judgment of God.

However, those who do, by true faith, abide in Christ will bear much fruit. They are in Christ and Christ is in them. They will bring forth fruits of thankfulness. They will begin to do good works. For the Spirit of Christ will be working in them. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. But as we remain in Christ, we show our love for him by keeping his commandments.

And so, let us abide in Christ. Like wild olive branches grafted into the vine which is Christ, let us remain in him. Let us, by true faith, be fruitful Christians. Rejoice that Christ is working in you bringing forth from you the fruits of faith: love, obedience, and thankfulness to God. Rejoice that God has promised to reward you for your good works. A reward out of grace-free, undeserved favour. But don't depend upon those works for being right with God. We are right with God only through Christ. For our salvation we depend only upon the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In him we have all we need. In him we are righteous before God and heirs of everlasting life. In him we have all we need. Everything. Nothing lacking.

AMEN


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://www.ancasterchurch.on.ca/sermons/july0603pm.html

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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