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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:What the gospel promises in our union with the crucified and buried Christ
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 77

Psalm 18:1,2

Hymn 37

Hymn 1

Psalm 93

Scripture readings: Romans 6:1-14, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 16

* 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,

Last Sunday afternoon we gave careful attention to the suffering and death of our Saviour Jesus.  We learned about the cross and the gospel promises found there.  There is so much comfort and encouragement for us, so much assurance.  The cross is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block for Jews, but to those who are called by God, it is the power and wisdom of God.  The world looks down on the cross, but for Christians the cross of Christ is our salvation.

This afternoon, Lord’s Day 16 would have us linger at the cross a little longer, reflecting more deeply on its significance and value.  We have two Lord’s Days in the Catechism that focus on the cross and that tells us something about its importance.  What happened at Golgotha is central to our faith.  Now there are a lot of different directions we could go with Lord’s Day 16.  But for this afternoon, I want to focus on QA 43, about the further benefit we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross.

The New Testament often speaks about our union with Jesus Christ.  For example, in the Gospel of John, it’s revealed that he is the vine and we are the branches.  If we are in him through his Holy Spirit, then we will bear much fruit.  United to Christ, our lives increasingly look like his.  But there is far more that can be said about our union with Jesus.

QA 43 teaches us about how our union with Christ is related to his sacrifice and death on the cross.  We are united to Christ not only in terms of who he is right now, but also in terms of what he has done for us in the past at the cross.   Here too we find gospel promises that will comfort, encourage, and assure us.  Here too we find good news for great sinners through a great Saviour.  So this afternoon we’re going to learn about what the gospel promises in our union with the crucified and buried Christ. 

We’ll see that we are promised victory over:

  1. The curse of sin
  2. The power of sin

What’s the biggest problem in the world today?  If someone were to ask you that question, what would your answer be?  Well, someone once asked the writer G. K. Chesterton that very question.  He was being interviewed and the interviewer asked him, “Mr. Chesterton, what’s the biggest problem in the world today?”  Chesterton replied, “I am.”  He wasn’t trying to be funny; he really meant it.  If you think about it, it’s true, isn’t it?  We are all individually responsible for the mess that this world is in.  If we would be honest and could see things clearly and objectively, we would take full personal responsibility for our own contributions to the brokenness we live in.  We would then also acknowledge that our contributions are sin.  The world is a mess because not only Adam and Eve sinned, but we sin too.  We constantly sin with thought, word, and deed.  Also as regenerated people, even our best deeds are stained with sin.

And sin is a huge problem for a number of reasons.  It’s a problem because it creates so much brokenness on the horizontal level here on earth.  But it’s also a problem because it creates a breach on the vertical level; it creates hostility between the Creator in heaven and the creature here on earth.  One of the reasons sin is a problem is because it invokes the curse of God.

Here we need to lay things out carefully.  We have this tendency to want to separate the sin from the sinner.  You’ll sometimes hear people say, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”  It sounds great.  There is a sense in which it’s true – God loves his own people even though they are sinners.  He hates their sin, but loves them.  True.  But that’s not usually how this expression is used.  It’s usually used to proclaim a universal unconditional love of God for absolutely everyone regardless of what they do.  “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” is said to apply to unbelievers and the unregenerate as well, to those outside of Christ.  But what if there were Bible passages that explicitly said that God hates not only sin, but also sinners?  As it happens, we have Psalm 11:5 in our Bibles, “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”   We also have Psalm 5:5-6 in our Bibles, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”  Still not convinced?  You’ll need to read passages like Nahum 1.  There is no getting away from the fact that God not only hates sin, but also sinners.  “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” may sound nice, but it’s just not the truth for people not in Christ.

You see, sin is not just something we do, as if we can separate it from ourselves.  Sin is not just what we do, it’s who we are.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  In the days of Noah, when God sent that great flood over all the earth, he was punishing sinners.  In the days of Abraham, when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, he wasn’t just hating the sin, but also the sinners, punishing them with his just wrath against them.  Also, it’s not sins that suffer forever in hell under God’s righteous condemnation, but people.  In other words, the curse of sin is a curse upon sinners.  The curse of sin is personal – which means that it rests on the person of the one who committed sin.  I really am the problem. 

Once you understand the nature of the problem, you can also understand the solution offered.  Once you understand how bad the bad news is, you can begin to appreciate how really good the good news is.  The good news is found in passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21.  Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians 5 about reconciliation with God.  There is a holy God and there are unholy sinners.  How can they be brought together in fellowship?  This is where the gospel comes to the rescue.  The gospel is summarized in those beautiful, encouraging words, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  That’s speaking about Jesus Christ.  The person of Jesus was made what we are in ourselves:  sin.  Even though he knew no sin, our sin was accounted or imputed to him.  Thus, in the sight of God, he became what God hates as he hung on the cross.  But there is another side:  even though we are not righteous in ourselves, his righteousness has been accounted or imputed to us.  Thus, in the sight of God, we are what God loves, we are his own righteousness.  Righteousness is what characterizes our person.  This is what we call the “sweet swap.”  All our sin is imputed to Jesus, all his righteousness is imputed to us.  It’s an exchange that brings about the defeat of the curse and brings about our reconciliation with God. 

But there’s more.  What I want you to notice right now in 2 Corinthians 5:21 are two little words, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  “In him” – it’s easy to pass over those two words without giving them any thought.  But these words are key.  “In him” refers to our personal union with Christ in his suffering and death.  It’s because we are joined to him that God looks at us and sees people who are no longer under the curse of sin.  When Jesus was on the cross suffering and dying, it’s as if we ourselves were there in him.

Paul makes that very same point in Romans 6.  We are united with Jesus in his suffering, death, and burial.  Because we are united to him, we are dead to sin (verse 2).  The curse of sin has been overcome by Christ on the cross.  As he obtained that victory, we were “in him” sharing that victory.  We have died with Christ and have been buried with him.  Because we are united to this crucified and buried Saviour, the curse of sin is completely gone. 

Our Catechism captures that with the words, “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him…”  Our old nature is the sin nature that characterizes those who are not believers.  As we look to Christ in faith, we can be confident that this is gone, it’s dead, and we are free from God’s curse on sin and sinners.  In our union with Christ, we have victory over the curse. Loved ones, the gospel promises us this and we’re called to believe it.  Believe that when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, you were there in him.  It’s as if he became you in your sin, so that you might become him in his righteousness.  And as a result, believe that you have peace with God.  In Christ, he doesn’t look at you as an accursed sinner, but as his beloved child.  Because we are in Jesus Christ, we have been accepted by the Father and welcomed into his family.  The curse is gone and blessings abound.

Now as we move on, we have to make a very important distinction between the curse of sin and the power of sin.  For those who believe in Jesus Christ, the curse of sin is completely gone.  Yet there remains a struggle with the power of sin in our lives.  Before God we have been declared righteous, but as we live here sin remains with its power in our lives.  So we need to distinguish between the curse of sin and the power of sin.  The curse is gone, the power remains.  Our problem with God has been addressed; the problem within is still there.

Paul writes about that power of sin in Galatians 5.  There he calls that power “the desires of the flesh.”  He says that there is a struggle between those desires and the desires of the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5:17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things that you want to do.”  In every Christian, there is a battle taking place with the remaining power of sin, with the remnants or left-overs of the sinful nature.  You could say it this way:  we have peace with God through Christ, but this is a peace which has started a war.  The war is with the remaining power of sin in our lives.

And this war is so frustrating, isn’t it?   Don’t you wish you could wake up one morning perfect and glorified?  Wouldn’t it be great to have even just one day when you didn’t have to struggle with sin in your life?  The battle with sin is hard and sometimes it’s really tempting to give up.  We can be encouraged with the knowledge that we’re not the first ones to face this frustration with the power of sin.  There’s that well-known passage from Romans 7 where Paul exclaims, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  Who is going to deliver me from the remaining power of sin in my life?  Paul’s answer in Romans 7 is God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Through Christ, we are promised victory not only over the curse of sin, but also over the power of sin.

Listen to how Scripture expresses it in Romans 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  Union with Christ factors in here.  We have a Saviour who has conquered sin and will conquer sin.  As we look to him in faith with his Spirit in us, we can be confident that the body of sin (what remains of our sinful nature), that is going to be brought to nothing.  The power of sin is being gutted by Christ.

Loved ones, the curse of sin has been definitively overcome by Christ.  But his victory over the power of sin in our lives is something that is happening right now.  It’s something that happens step by step, bit by bit, day by day.  His victory over the power of sin in our lives is progressing slowly but surely.  The gospel promises that the Christ who has taken care of our justification is also going to ensure our sanctification.  He has obtained justification for us – through him, we have been declared right once and for all by the Judge.  Christ is also working out our sanctification -- through him, sin is being conquered in our day-to-day lives; we are becoming holy like him.

Notice the way the Catechism puts it in QA 43.  We have been crucified, dead and buried in Christ.  That takes care of our old nature in the sight of God.  But then there is a further result promised and that has to do with the power of sin:  “so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves to him as a sacrifice of thankfulness.”  Through our union with Christ, we have been brought from death to life and that promises real change in the here and now.  That promises real change for the days to come.  Evil desires are going to die.  Evil desires are going to be losing their power over us.  “Sin will have no dominion over you,” says Romans 6:14.   That is a gospel promise.

Sometimes it seems hopeless.  But the gospel promises that if you are united to Christ, you will change, you will grow, and you will advance in holiness.  Evil desires are going to increasingly lose their grip.  It doesn’t happen all at once.  Sometimes it happens very slowly.  Sometimes you may not even be able to tell what kind of victory there is over the power of sin in your life.  Christian counselor David Powlison has this great illustration he uses of a man holding a yo-yo.  That yo-yo is your life.  It seems like it goes up and down.  Sometimes the yo-yo even seems like it stays on the down for a while.  You look at that situation and you might get discouraged.  All you can see is a yo-yo going up and down and it could deflate you.  But you need to see the big picture.  The Bible gives us the big picture of what’s really happening.  The man is holding a yo-yo and yes, that yo-yo is going up and down, and sometimes down even more.  But the man is standing on an escalator going steadily upwards.  Even through your downs, if you are united to Christ, you are moving upward.  He is in control for your good.  He is advancing his plans for you.  In the end, he’s going to bring you to the top where there will be a full and glorious victory over the power of sin in your life.  Brother, sister, be encouraged to know that the gospel promises you that victory.  Be assured that in Christ, you will attain it.  Just as he fully conquered sin, you also will fully conquer sin.  You’ll do that because you’re united to him.

Now I could end here by giving you a set of directions for you to follow to work at putting sin to death in your life.  Christ is the one who drives our victory over the power of sin, but he does it through our own Spirit-led and Spirit-strengthened efforts.  The passage we read from Romans 6 does leave you with motivations to exert yourself in Christian living.  However, our focus this afternoon is different.  Our focus is not on our holy living as such, but on what the gospel promises.  Our focus is on Christ’s power in our lives.  He promises us the gracious gift of victory over the curse and the power of sin.  We share in this gracious gift through the Holy Spirit who lives in him and in us.  So the final application this afternoon is simply this:  fix your eyes on this Saviour who promises you these riches.  Just look to him in faith and believe that you are in him, you are united to him, and therefore you share in everything he’s done.  Believe that because you are united to him, bound to him with the Spirit, you are more than a conqueror, also when it comes to both the curse of sin and its power.  AMEN.


LORD God, our Father,

We thank you that in Jesus, through our union with him, our curse has been overcome.  We praise you that he became sin, so that we might become righteousness.  Thank you for your grace and mercy in the gospel.  Lord, please help each one of us to believe these gospel promises about our curse.  Please work faith and strengthen faith in all of us, also in our children.  We’re also glad that the gospel goes further and promises us victory in Christ over the power of sin in our lives.  Sometimes we get so frustrated with sin.  We want to do what is right, but sin so easily comes to us.  Father, we wish the struggle would be over.  We look forward to the complete victory promised in your Word.  We want to be glorified and perfect, completely conformed to Christ.  As we wait for that day, please work out the victory over sin in our lives more and more.  Please give us help with your Holy Spirit so that we can see sin, hate sin, fight sin and flee sin.  We don’t want those evil desires to reign in us – instead, we want to offer ourselves as living sacrifices of thankfulness.  Please give us more grace to do exactly that, to live for you every day as your children.                                           


* 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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