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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:Cod Liver Oil
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 138

Ps. 8

Ps. 51:2,3

Hy. 1

Hy. 36

Reading of Scripture: Psalm 8; Eph 4:17-24


* 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 congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Some of us grew up on cod liver oil. Through the winter months we had to take cod liver oil. If I remember correctly, it had something to do with cod liver oil being able to make up somewhat for the lack of sunshine. Sunshine is, of course, very good for you. We did not get much of that in Edmonton in the winter. The majority of vitamin D in your body is created by a chemical reaction that starts with sunlight exposure to the skin. No sunshine, little vitamin D. And so we had to take cod liver oil which is very rich in vitamin D.

Now, the thing about cod liver oil is that it tastes awful. And yet we had to take it because it was good for us. We were always happy when we turned the calendar to May because it meant that the cod liver oil was put away. We didn't have to take it May through August. Once September rolled around, out came the cod liver oil again.

It tastes awful, but it's good for you. Just like Buckley's cough syrup: It tastes awful, and it's good for you.

The doctrines taught in Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism are like cod liver oil. We don't think they taste very good. We speak about man being wicked, perverse, depraved, disobedient, corrupt, sinful from conception, unable to do any good, and inclined to all evil. Wow, that's like taking the whole bottle at once!

We may not like to hear about this, but it's good for us. We may not pick and choose when it comes to the doctrines taught in scripture. We need to speak about all of them. That's one of the great things about regular Heidelberg Catechism preaching. The Heidelberg Catechism gives an overview of all the main doctrines of scripture. By going through it regularly, we get a balanced menu. Otherwise some congregations would, perhaps, never hear a sermon on total depravity. And others would, perhaps, hear nothing else.

The teachings about the corruption of humanity needs to be heard. Knowledge of our corruption is part of our only comfort. As we grow in knowledge of our total depravity, our enjoyment of the gospel of total salvation from all sin and misery will increase. We need to hear about it because it's good for us. Like cod liver oil.

As I preach to you the gospel and comfort summarized in Lord's Day 3, I'll do so under three points.

I'll speak about: 1. Our perfect origin; 2. the nature and effect of original sin; and, 3. the happy results of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

1. In Lord's Day 2 we heard about how we know what's wrong with us (it's the law of God -- the double love command) that teaches us to know our sin and misery. Lord's Day 3 speaks about the extent of our sin and misery and how it all started.

When we speak about the beginning of sin and misery, then at the outset we need to make sure that we understand very clearly that it did not start with God.

Q. 6: Did God create man wicked and perverse?

A.: No!

1 John 1:5 says: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Anyone who tries to find the cause of human sin and misery in God is a fool. On the contrary (says QA 6), God created man good.

It is the well known first two chapters of Genesis that reveal our perfect origin. God created us. Adam is called “the son of God.” Our origin lies in God. All of mankind -- whether they acknowledge it or not -- finds their origin in God. Trace the ancestry of any human being back far enough and you'll get to Adam, the son of God. As Paul said to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17: 'For in [God] we live and move and have our being.' … 'We are his offspring.' From the beginning, we were good. Good like God is good. As QA 6 says that God created man good and in His image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness.

Genesis 1 teaches that God made man in his image. Just like a son can be the image of his father, so we were created after the image of God. We were to show, and did in fact show, the traits of God.

We need to understand this. It's not that we physically look like God. That's impossible. God is spirit while we are very much physical.

The word "image" says something about the role God gave us in his creation and about the relationship in which he placed us with himself.

a) When God created man as his image, he gave him the task of ruling over creation. God created man to be his governor under him. Psalm 8 teaches the same as Gen 1 & 2 expect in poetic form:

  • You made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
    You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

    the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

God made us to be governors over earth and sea, air and animals. This was man's original dignity.

b) That God created man in his image speaks not only of man's role before God; it speaks also of his relationship with God. We were made and meant to know God, to love him, and to live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him. Man had a relationship with God that the other creatures did not have. It was to man that God would come in the cool of the day. If man had not sinned, he would have continued in that blessed relationship forever. It would have stretched into eternity.

This does not mean that man would have merited the blessed gift of living with God in eternal blessedness. Rather, that’s the original state of man. He was created to live with God in this relationship. He was God's son. And a son is meant to live in a good and happy relationship with his father. He does not need to earn it; it's the going in position.

2. If that was the original state of man -- created to have this wonderful role and to live in such a beautiful relationship -- what happened?

The image broke; the mirror cracked. The governors became rebels. Man can still do amazing things. He can exercise dominion over the creation. Man cultivates and harvests the earth. He has conquered the sky and the sea. Many of you will not remember the first landing on the moon the Summer of 1969, but you know that the frontiers of the solar system are within reach. What man can do is amazing, but, the problem is, that man does not do any of this to praise and glorify God. He does it to praise and glorify himself. The governor became the rebel. Man is sinful, deprave, corrupt.

As QA 7 says: Man now has a depraved nature from the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. Genesis 3 teaches this. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. God had told them not to eat of one specific tree in the Garden. But they disobeyed. They ate of it. That's the origin of evil in humanity. That's as far back as the Bible goes in explaining it.

We want to find out how that could happen. We want to look beyond this teaching of Genesis 3 when it comes to the question of the origin of evil. Before Adam and Eve sinned, there was evil in the heart of the serpent, the devil. Where did that evil come from? God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. And it was all very good. The moment God finished his work of creation on the sixth day, everything was good. No flaw, no evil, no sin.

But from where, then, did the devil come? The devil, was created as an angel. He was part of God's good creation. When, how, why did he rebel? How did evil arise?

This has not been explained to us.Where the Bible is silent, we need to fall silent as well. We remain with our question. But it's not the only one, of course.

Furthermore, the important thing is that we confess our sin. True knowledge of sin does not come about by trying to push back the curtain of time in an effort to find out the origin of evil. True knowledge of sin comes about when you and I confess our guilt before God.

QA 7 calls Adam and Eve "our first parents." That's important. They represented the whole human race -- all their descendants -- when they sinned. The actions of parents affect lives of their children. If parents decide to move across the country, the young children end up moving as well -- even if they don’t want to. The government of a country makes decisions that to which the citizens are bound. Or think of the kings of Israel in the Old Testament: the godliness of the godly kings was a blessing to the whole nation, but the godlessness of the evil kings was a curse to the people.

The principle of representation is deeply embedded in human life. It is taught in scripture. In Romans 5 Paul writes: … sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned… And: … the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men…… through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners

All sinned when Adam sinned. Our first parents represented the whole human race. In them we sinned. With them, we die. We are born sinners. As King David wrote in Psalm 51: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

We need to acknowledge and confess that we are born sinners. We call it "the doctrine of original sin." It's not that our actual sins make us sinners. We are conceived and born as sinners. And this grievous condition is the root and source of all or actual sins. We don't become sinful when we commit sins. Rather, we sin because we are sinners. Let's not try to divide the world between good guys and bad guys. We're all bad guys, by birth, by constitution, disposition, and condition. This is very humbling. For the result is that when we read in the paper about some terrible person who committed a despicable deed -- absolutely horrible, beyond words -- then we will say: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Not only do we share the guilt of our first parents, but we, polluted as we are, on top of the guilt of original sin, commit our own actual sins as well. As if being guilty of original were not enough, we compound our guilt by breaking God's law every day! We add guilt to guilt. And so we demonstrate our total depravity.

"Total depravity" is a theological term. The Bible teaches that man is totally depraved. By "total depravity" we do not mean that each individual person is always as evil as he possibly could be. Thankfully not. Thankfully, in order to make life possible, God restrains somewhat the depravity of mankind. And so people are able to do nice things to each other. And we can live in a relatively law abiding society.

Rather, the doctrine of total depravity teaches that sin has affected every part of every man, woman and child. The mind is not free, as some philosophers like to think. The will is not free, as some theologians like to think. The flesh is not free. Sin has affected every part of us: flesh, will, mind, heart. Yes, the heart. The heart from which all our thoughts, words and deeds flow. Proverbs 4:23 calls the heart "the wellspring of life." All of a man's thoughts, words and deeds are defiled before they leave the heart. In Matthew 15 Jesus said: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'…

Because this is the case, QA 8 must answer: Yes. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil? Yes! Yes, that is the way things are.

Once we have seen our lives in the light of the Word of God, we will acknowledge and confess our wickedness, perversity, depravity, disobedience, corruption, sinfulness from conception, inability to do any good, and inclination to all evil. Yes, we are so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil. We will confess that. We will swallow the cod liver oil, because it's good for us. Because good will come of it.

3. For there's also an "unless." The "unless" of the gospel. Unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

The power of the Holy Spirit which becomes our through faith in Jesus Christ delivers us from the state of total depravity. Paul, Ephesians 2, said: God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions... And in Romans 8: Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

We are totally depraved, unless we are regenerated. We are dead in sin, unless we are raised in Christ.

When we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit to new life in Christ, we begin to live in a different way, like Paul taught in Ephesians 4, the chapter which we read. One who's been regenerated will no longer live in the darkness of unbelief, separated from the life of God. He no longer gives himself over to sensuality so as to indulge himself in every kind of lust. He puts off that old nature which is being corrupted by deceitful desires and puts on a new nature renewed in righteousness and holiness, renewed in Christ, renewed in the image of God.

In Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we have moved from death to life. We will speak of the liberating power of Jesus Christ and rejoice in new found life and freedom. But at the same time, we will live very carefully. For we know that in this life, we are not yet completely free from the power of sin. Old habits die hard. We are not going to write off the depraved nature as a thing of the past that we don't need to give a thought to anymore. A rehabilitated alcoholic or drug addict knows that over confidence is deadly. He will stay away from alcohol, from drugs, for he knows the power of the demons of addiction. The power of the demon has been broken, and so he is free. But they know that to take that freedom for granted will land them back in deep, deep trouble. They knew the joy of freedom, but will never forget the power of the demons.

And so we will rejoice in the liberating power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his Spirit he has set us free. He's paid the debt. The Spirit renews us in the image of God so that we can begin to do good, to do what is pleasing to him. He creates in us a new heart, a clean heart. He creates in us the desire to serve him.

But when we think of our sin, we are not looking back at something that we were finished with many, many years ago. We are looking at something that is still there, deep in our hearts. Yes, we've been set free from it's all-enslaving power. Sin is an enemy that the Spirit has beaten. And yet, we let it crop up, time after time, every day. Yes, the Holy Spirit has changed the inclination of our hearts and life, from hatred to love, from sin to service. We do love Christ and we do want to serve God. And yet, sin continues to rear its ugly head.

It brings us to confession of sin, again and again. It makes us pray ever more for the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. To be filled by the Holy Spirit more and more.

It makes us long for the perfection that will come when Christ returns. For then, in a moment of time, he will transform us, perfect us, renew us a final time, and we will never, ever sin again. As Psalm 138 says it, God will finish perfectly the good work he began in us.

The renewal has begun in this life already. And in the mean time, we hold on to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. 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.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. George van Popta

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