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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Right with God
Text:LD 23 Q&A 60, 61; Eph. 2:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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

“Right with God”
Ephesians 2:1-10; H.C. Q&A 60-61

According to statisticians, more than one million people have died since we worshipped together last Sunday. More than 55 million people die in an average year around the world. That breaks down to about 155,000 deaths per day, 1.78 per second or about 107 deaths per minute.

And it is at the deathbed, when our life on earth is over and done and eternity is set before us, that we realize in a special way the importance of Heidelberg Catechism question 60, “How are you right with God?” That is the most important question throughout our lives. It must be foremost in the minds and hearts of people of every age. That’s why Solomon reminds us, in Ecclesiastes 12:1, Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them...”

We have a great need to be right with God. He is holy, pure, without any sin whatsoever. We are sinful from the time we were conceived in our mother’s wombs.  We are born into this world, not as innocent babies, but as human beings infected with the original sin of Adam.

Original sin is more than a disease. It is death itself, as Ephesians 2:1 declares, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Unless we are born again, born spiritually through faith in Christ, we remain dead spiritually, separated from God’s redeeming love, objects of His righteous and proper wrath.

We see our true condition in the answer to question 60. After telling us that we are right with God only through true faith in Jesus Christ, the catechism goes on to show us from Scripture that our conscience accuses us of breaking all God’s commands.

Sin and Our Conscience

The catechism describes with striking clarity how great a sin problem we have. It teaches: “My conscience accuses me of grievously sinned...” The catechism is reminding us that our sin against God is no trivial thing in His sight. Perhaps Nadab and Abihu thought it was a trivial thing to offer strange (unauthorized) fire as they served in the tabernacle. But God struck them dead. (Leviticus 10:1-3).

Or perhaps Ananias and Sapphira thought it was a small “white lie” to say that they brought all the money from the sale of their property to the Lord, even though that was not required. They, too, were struck dead. (Acts 5:1-11). They serve as examples that our sin is not a trivial thing in God’s sight. They serve as an eternal reminder, that apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

The answer to question 60 goes on to point out that we have sinned against all God’s commandments.  Quite often we are tempted to be more than a little smug. “Maybe I’ve failed to keep every single commandment as I ought,” we might think, “but I obey most of them...” The catechism, echoing Scripture flatly tells us: “No way.”

In fact, the next phrase reminds us we have “never kept any of them.”  Every command God has given we have broken. Jesus gives examples of how we break commandments by our thoughts and attitudes in His Sermon on the Mount. He taught that by hatred we commit murder in our heart; our thoughts can effectively kill others, as can our words.  He also said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 6 27-28).

And our conscience reminds us that we have often broken those commandments with impunity, sinning defiantly, willfully, with presumption.

And then the catechism adds this confession, “I am still inclined toward all evil.”  Not just some evil, - but all evil. Ephesians 2:3 speaks to that inclination, All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

And the Apostle Paul, in Romans 7, does a most effective job of showing the inclination toward all evil that still lives within us, even when we are redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus. He writes: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin (Romans 7:15...25).

Debtors to Grace

From those passages, and other passages of Scripture, it should be clear that we are totally undeserving of God’s grace. As Ephesians 2:4 points out, Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Yet, although we are by nature objects of wrath, totally undeserving of God’s grace, we are yet made right with God through saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

In that sense we are no different from the lost or prodigal son that Jesus told about in Luke 15. He traveled to a distant country and squandered all the wealth his father had given him. But after spending everything he had by living wildly, a severe famine set in. He ended up in the pig sty, hungry, homeless, thoroughly miserable after squandering his wealth and messing up his life. But Jesus said, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’”

And most of you know how the story ends. His father received him with open arms; his father rejoiced that his lost child was home, that he had come to his senses. He slaughtered the fattened calf and threw a great celebration, saying, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”      

It was all by grace that his father received him back with compassionate open arms. And it is all by grace that we are right with God the Father through faith in Jesus, the Son. As we read in Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8 is referenced by the catechism, which after describing our true condition as sinners, goes on to teach, “Nevertheless, without my deserving it all, out of sheer grace God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ...”

The catechism is teaching a total transformation! Without deserving it in the least bit God in immeasurable grace grants us the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ. But what does it mean, when the catechism says that the perfect satisfaction of Christ is granted to us?

It is speaking about how God the Father, being just and holy, requires that a sentence be paid for the penalty of sin. He is not like so many human judges who excuse the lawbreaker because they had a tough childhood, or society seemed to neglect them, or they claimed they were not in their right mind so they can’t be held responsible.

God the Father, as a holy and just God, needs satisfaction that the penalty for sin has been fully paid. We have already seen, in Scripture and in the catechism as it follows Scripture, that none of us could pay that penalty. None of us can render satisfaction to God for our sins. Psalm 49:7-8 says, No man can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom for him - the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.

Only Jesus could render that perfect satisfaction. And Jesus did render that perfect satisfaction, both through His perfect life on earth - His “active obedience” to the Father, as He kept every law for us - and also, Jesus rendered perfect satisfaction for sin through His “passive obedience” as He allowed Himself to be crucified as a propitiation for our sins, that is, a covering of our sins by His blood in such a way that the proper and righteous wrath of His Father is placated and satisfied. Out of sheer grace that perfect satisfaction of Jesus Christ is granted to you and to me! No wonder we are “debtors to grace!”

The catechism also teaches that the righteousness of Christ is credited – imputed – to us. The catechism is echoing the words of Romans 3:21-22, But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

The righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to us by faith in Him, is the only righteousness that can save us. Unfortunately, so many millions of people believe that somehow their righteous deeds will be sufficient in God’s sight to grant them a free pass into heaven. After all, haven’t most of us done some good deeds?  Haven’t we tried to be “good people”? Sure, we have sinned, too, but if you weigh the sins on one side of the scale, and the good deeds on the other, the good deeds we have done will outweigh the bad - right?

The common thought that human righteousness is sufficient in God’s sight is flatly refuted in Scripture. Isaiah 64:6 declares: 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.    

That is why in Philippians 3:8-9 the Apostle Paul writes: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

The third thing that God grants and credits to us, out of sheer grace, without us deserving it at all, is the holiness of Jesus Christ. Just as there is a human righteousness that we are to strive for, even though our righteous deeds can’t save us, so too we are commanded repeatedly in Scripture to live a holy life. To be holy is to be separate, specifically to be separate from sin and separated to God.

The command to be holy is one of the most persistent commands in Scripture. 1 Peter 2:15 is just one of many Scriptures which stipulates our need to be holy: Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do, for it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.” 

But even though we strive to live a holy life, we recognize that our holiness, just like our righteousness, can never save us. For although we strive to separate ourselves from sin and conform ourselves to Christ, we still fail; we still sin.  

But Jesus, as a truly human yet divine Person is perfectly holy, just as He is perfectly righteous.  And God credits and grants that holiness of Jesus Christ to us “out of sheer grace...without us deserving it at all.”

Accepted by Faith

However, the catechism points out that this wonderful gift of sheer grace – the imputation of the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ to undeserving sinners – must be accepted by faith.

The last sentence in the answer to Question 60 says, “All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.” And this, too - having a believing heart - is a gift of God’s sovereign grace. In other words, we do not accept the gift of saving grace because our hearts are good. Jeremiah 17:9 teaches that The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?

The only reason you and I accept the gift of God’s grace is because God has given us a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26-27 records this promise of God to His people: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a  heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

That is why we can take no credit for our faith. As we read in Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 adds: It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Is it any wonder that in our opening hymn we sang about being debtors to grace?

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee. (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson,1758)

True Saving Faith: The Bridge to Salvation

Lord’s Day 23 concludes, in the answer to Question 61, by teaching us that faith is how the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is imputed to us.

It might seem surprising that the catechism says: “It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.”

The catechism is addressing a theological point that we don’t often think about, that is, that we are made right with God, not by the value of faith, but only by Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness and holiness. Faith is merely the means – the instrument, the bridge – that God uses to grant and credit the merits of Christ to us.

Faith is the vehicle that brings us to heaven, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But faith is not the reality. The object of our faith, Jesus Christ, is the reality. In that sense, it is His righteousness that saves us; faith is merely the means or instrument by which we receive Him.

Another way to see it: faith is the bridge that brings the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ into our hearts. Many of our church members cross the Cal Sag Canal to get home. To cross the canal, you go over a bridge. Without that bridge you would not get home. The bridge is not your home, but it is a vital means to get to your home. In a similar way, faith is the bridge, or the instrument, that God gives us so that we receive the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ and are brought to our eternal home.

* * *

The catechism does an excellent job, as it follows the teaching of Scripture, to point out to us, clearly and bluntly, our true condition and our great need for saving faith. If the story ended there - with our true condition and great need for salvation - it would truly be a sad story: Our conscience accuses us. We have grievously sinned against all God's commandments. We have never perfectly kept any of them. We are still inclined toward all evil.

If the story ended there, what a sad picture it would portray! But because the catechism follows Scripture, it goes on to say:

   without my deserving it at all,
   out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
    as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
    as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.

All I need to do
is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.

May that be said of you and me. May it be said that by God’s grace we have a new heart, a heart that acknowledges our sin, but has the blessed assurance of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  Amen!


                                               - bulletin outline -
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9
                                              “Right with God”
                                    Ephesians 2:1-10; H.C. Q&A 60-61
I. We have a great need to be right with God. The catechism follows Scripture in teaching:
     1) Our conscience accuses us of breaking all God’s commands (1-2)
      2) We are inclined toward all evil (3; Romans 7:14-20)
      3) We are undeserving of God’s grace (3-5; Titus 3:4, 5)
II. We are right with God only by true faith in Jesus Christ, which:
     1) Is given us by God’s grace (8-9; Romans 3:21-28)
     2) Requires us to accept His gift with a believing heart, which is also given
          to us by God in grace (8-9; Ezekiel 36:26)
     3) Is the means by which we receive Christ’s righteousness (8-9;1 Corinthians 1:30-31)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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