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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:In his Grace, God Gives Sinners his Holy Law
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 19:1,3                                                                                      

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Romans 2:12-29; 7:7-25; 12:1-2

Hy 11:1,2,3,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 2

Ps 130:2,3,4      

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation, have you ever watched an old Western film? If you have, then you know that the bad cowboys are constantly on the run from the sheriff. And whenever they see him coming, they duck into a dark alley and they say: “Look out, it’s the law!” They don’t want a run-in with the sheriff, because for them it’ll surely mean getting locked up. They’re always on the run from the law…

In Christian circles, “the law” sometimes gets treated in a similar way. The law is viewed as something to be avoided, like an unwelcome guest. Part of us knows that it’s good to have around, but it’s just so awkward—God’s law clashes with the things we want to do, it goes against the way that we prefer to live.

Actually, if you had the choice today, what would you listen to? A sermon about the gospel, or a sermon about the law? I suspect many of us would choose to hear about the gospel. It’s the good news of Christ, after all—it’s a bright, positive message, full of encouragement for people who need cheering up. The law, on the other hand, is a lot of rules and regulations. It tells us what we’ve done wrong, and reminds us about our failures. We associate the law with things like guilt and punishment.

But today we’re going to look at the law in the proper, Scriptural light. For the LORD tells us that his law is a good and necessary thing. The law exposes our sin to us, and at the same time teaches about our deep need for a Saviour. The law also guides us in God’s wisdom, and teaches us how to live in the way that we were designed for. So we can even say it this way: the law is a gift of God’s grace! Let’s consider God’s Word, summarized in Lord’s Day 2,

In his grace, God gives sinners his holy law.

  1. not a superficial, but a penetrating demand
  2. not a hopeless, but an ongoing struggle
  3. not a worthy, but a loving obedience


1) not a superficial, but penetrating demand: We read a few passages from Romans earlier. We should know that in this letter, Paul is trying to make a case. Like a good lawyer, he lays out the evidence, draws the lines of connection, and then he pounds home his point. And what he’s doing is arguing for Christ. That’s his purpose: he wants to show his readers in the church at Rome the good news in all its glory, the gospel that is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (1:16).

But to do so, Paul first has to show the need for salvation. Before the good news can be welcomed, people have to hear the bad news—and they have to hear how bad it really is! It’s like if your body is afflicted with a terrible disease: you’re only going to seek treatment for the disease when you know about it, when you see it there on the scan, and when you understand how it’s going to destroy your life. Then you ask for help.

So what’s the bad news? In chapter 2, Paul starts telling us. First, he wants us to know that everyone—whatever age, nationality, or religion—that everyone stands in some kind of relationship to God. You do, and your unbelieving neighbour does, for God is our Maker. It means that every human has to give an account of their life to God. As his creatures, we all have to appear before Him at some point, and answer to Him.

What’s the standard by which God evaluates us? The holy standard is his law. And the question is: Have we kept his commands? Paul tells us in 2:13, “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” It’s not enough to know it, you have to put it into practice. Those people who obey God’s rules and directives—about these, the Judge will say, “You’ve done well. You’re free to go.” They are justified, right with God.

Sounds straight-forward enough. Until we stop, and let those words sink in a moment: “The doers of the law will be justified.” For who can make it into that category? Who can keep the law? Who would claim: “LORD, I’ve obeyed you, from A to Z, Commandment #1 to 10. I’ve heard your law, and done it”? Not one of us could make such a claim—not anybody!

Paul wants to lay out this truth to the Romans. For Rome was a cosmopolitan city, and this was a cosmopolitan church, diverse and international. There were quite a few Jews there, and also many people of Gentile background. And he wants to show that all of them, without exception, are confronted by the demands of God’s law.

The Jewish Christians, of course, were very familiar with it. Ages ago the law had been given to Moses at Sinai, then passed down through the generations by parents and scribes and teachers. And so they all knew God’s commands.

But Paul says that even the Gentiles—non-Jewish people, pagans and heathens—know the Lord’s law. How can that be? For their grandparents weren’t at the mountain, and they never learned the commandments. So isn’t it unfair for God to judge them? How could they have any idea what the Creator expected?

For example, think about the people who lived on this continent for thousands of years before the white man arrived. They weren’t Jews. No one told them about the Ten Commandments—at least, not ‘till later. And so at the end of time when they appear before the Judge of the earth like everyone else, they might ask: “Why are we being judged for sin? We didn’t know your law!” And there’s many people in this world who would say that, because they haven’t read the Bible, or been to church.

Gentiles certainly didn’t—or they don’t—have the law in the same way as God’s people. Still, God is always fair. For He gave to everyone a knowledge of basic moral precepts. He wrote his commands inside us, for God designed us humans with the ability to know right and wrong. As Paul writes in verse 15, “They [i.e., the Gentiles] show the work of the law written in their hearts.” It’s built-in, part of our “factory settings”—a law that everyone knows.

And so people will sometimes do what’s required. That’s why, all across this globe, we see a kind of obedience to God’s commands. And it’s why people still know evil when they see it. Even if a country is totally godless, and barely touched by God’s Word, people there understand that kidnapping a child, raping and murdering her, is to be condemned. There’s no hesitation that this is evil—and where does that awareness come from? What’s the origin of that moral code? Paul says it’s from God’s law, written on their hearts. This is what the Canons of Dort call “the light of nature,” those internal notions that everyone has “about the difference between what is honourable and shameful” (3/4:4).

Maybe these moments of moral clarity are on the decline. In our society we see more and more confusion on things like the need to respect authority, and the purpose of sexuality, and the value of human life. It’s why marriage is being redefined, and it’s why unborn babies are murdered every day. People have corrupted the knowledge God has given, so that right and wrong aren’t always clear anymore. Still, you can’t argue against it: Gentiles or pagans, those outside the circle of God’s people, do know the law to some degree.

Now Paul turns to the Jews in his congregation. It’s as if the Jewish people are sitting in the prisoner’s box, and Paul grills them: “You are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know his will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law…” (2:17-18).

Paul is going to be hard on them, because he knew very well how his countrymen lived with a real sense of security. They assumed they were in a good place when it came to God. If they read the law in the synagogue every Sabbath, and they didn’t break any of the commands in an obvious way, they thought they were doing just fine.

Yet they forgot how God’s law penetrates. His commands are never simply about an outward obedience, behaviours that are socially acceptable. No, God’s law goes further, and judges what we think about in the secret place, and his law tests what’s really important to us. His law is meant to be obeyed from the depths of our being. This is why the law’s summary says we must love God with “heart, soul, and mind” (Q&A 2). Not just with word, or action, but with everything that we are!

So Paul rebukes the Jews. At the same time, he rebukes us, who get to hear God’s law every Sunday: “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? (2:21). It’s easy to insist, “Of course, I’ve never stolen anything. Haven’t robbed the local bank, or even shoplifted a chocolate bar from 7-11.” Outwardly, we’re law-abiding. But the law penetrates. Have we been covetous for our neighbour’s nice caravan, our friend’s job, or for someone else’s attractive figure? The commandment condemns us. Or we haven’t stolen anything outright, but have we squandered God’s gifts with careless spending? Have we been generous with ourselves, but stingy with the LORD? This is stealing.

“You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (2:22). It’s easy to say, “I’ve never slept with my neighbor’s wife. I’d never pay money for a prostitute.” But do we lust after someone we see at the beach, or do we entertain sexual fantasies? Are we polluted by what we watch on television, or do we visit porn sites every week? The law exposes all of this as nothing less than adultery.

“You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (2:22). If the command was just about external obedience, we could say: “Nope, never worshiped at a pagan temple, and not about to convert to Islam!” We detest idols, but the law penetrates and asks if we’ve robbed the true God of what belongs to him. Have we robbed him of our devotion, our trust, our prayers? And have we worshiped our own gods of approval, or comfort, or safety, or money? This is idolatry.

“You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (2:23). Now we’re coming to the main question. We might feel superior because we know what God wants, and look down on those around us in our city: they don’t go to church, they live for self, they’re so confused. We boast of what we know and where we go to church, but do we keep the law? Do we honour God’s Word, by loving him truly? Can we face the penetrating demand of God’s law?


2) not a hopeless, but ongoing struggle: Paul can be pretty tough on people as he makes his case. Sure, he says, pagans and unbelievers know the demands of God’s law—but do they keep it? Maybe once in a while, or to look good. But beneath the surface, their hearts are all wrong. As for the Jews, Paul explained that hearing the Word isn’t the same as doing it. He writes in chapter 3, “Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin” (v 9). Later he concludes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22-23). The law convicts everyone. We all have to confess Q&A 3, “From where do I know my sins and misery? From the law of God.”

But Paul doesn’t exclude himself from the questioning. In chapter 7 he takes his own turn in the stand, and he gives a very personal testimony about the place of the law in his life. In the first place, Paul knows we can all be down about the law. Not surprising—it reveals us as criminals. So people will urge, “Let’s get rid of the law! More gospel!” Paul anticipates that: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin?” (7:7). Is God’s law bad because it confronts us so sharply?

We have to answer “no.” For God’s law brings clarity. It presents the things of our life as they really are. Argues Paul, “I would not have known sin except through the law” (7:8). Instead of being ignorant, now we know our sins. We know how deep their bitter roots grow, how wide the fallout has reached. As we said, if you don’t realize what kind of trouble you’re in, you won’t ask for help. So Paul is honest. God’s law makes a demand we cannot meet: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal” (7:14 in the NKJV). That word “carnal” means “having to do with the sinful flesh.” God’s law is holy and pure and wise, but we’re enslaved to natural desires. The law calls us to love, but we’re inclined to hate God and neighbour (Q&A 5).

Even as reborn Christians, this struggle continues. Listen as Paul shares his frustrations: “What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (7:15). He says, “I just can’t carry it out! I can’t obey, even when I try.” And how often haven’t we ourselves said similar words?

For we all know the commandments. Every Sunday morning, we hear them. As youth in Catechism class, we learn them. Year after year in the preaching, we hear them explained. From his law we know what God wants us to do, the way He wants us to live. So there are things we know we shouldn’t do.

And maybe some things we don’t do, areas that aren’t a struggle for us. Yet it sounds like Paul had his weaknesses, just like I have my own, and you have yours—temptations we’ve often fallen for, sins that we’re always drawn to. Spiritual weakness comes in different shades and colours for each child of God. They are different because of our character, and because of the events of our past, and because of the influences around us.

Because we know God’s law well, we understand we shouldn’t commit these sins. We know we shouldn’t give in to our pride again, or surrender to drunkenness, or have that bitter spirit, or be lazy, or whatever else. As Paul says, there are sins we’ve come to hate, repulsive things that we don’t want to do anymore. But what happens? We do the very things we hate, the things that we know are wrong. Again and again, we sin against the God who saved us.

Where does such evil come from? How can such wickedness still be lurking inside the people redeemed by Christ? Paul answers: “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v 17). Understand that correctly. Paul isn’t looking for excuses, saying our hearts have been hijacked so we can’t help it. Instead, he’s making us aware of how powerful sin can be. If we let it, sin can overwhelm us. If we’re not discerning, sin can totally confuse us. Maybe you fall in with the wrong crowd, and they pull you from God. Or you start doing a certain sin, and you realize you might not be able to stop. The sin dwelling in you can enslave you and captivate you.

Yes, even with God working in us by his Spirit, we can badly fail. Paul explains what this looks like: “For to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (v 18). We often have good intentions—we have the will to do it—and we make sincere resolutions to change. We might know exactly what’s required: “I need to give to God more faithfully out of my firstfruits. I have to go and talk to her, and share my concerns. I have to read the Bible more often, and be more diligent in prayer.”

But do we? Paul’s experience rings true for us: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (v 19). The good things we aspire to, our desire to change our ways, our knowledge of what must be done—so quickly it’s forgotten, or it’s clawed back by that stubborn old sin: hatred for God and our neighbour.

It’s such a sure thing, Paul calls it a new law. Kind of like Murphy’s Law, but much worse: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good” (v 21). It’s an ongoing struggle, a lingering heartache for every Christian: the fight against our own sinfulness. And it leads Paul to give voice to his despair: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v 24).

That’s a painful cry. Yet it’s exactly what God wants us all to do. Not to give up. Not to say it’s never going to change. But to cry out to God, and ask for mercy. Who will rescue us? Who will save us from a life of constant disobedience? And then in our frustrations, there’s hope. Because listen to how Paul follows up his own cry: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25). That’s all he says. He doesn’t explain, but the rest of Romans makes it clear.

For Christ came, and He kept God’s law in our place. With heart, soul, mind and strength, our Saviour loved God, and loved his neighbour. With perfect obedience, He honoured every command. And not only that, Christ carried the death penalty for our rebellion. In God’s court, we were guilty and none of us should’ve lived. But Jesus volunteered to suffer in our place. To be cursed, instead of us. To die, for our life.

So for believers who always fail, there’s hope. For we who get reminded every day of our weakness, there is daily hope. We can rest on the perfect obedience and atoning death of Christ Jesus. But don’t forget this one thing: We’ve got to do what Paul did, and cry out to God. “Who will rescue me?” Cry in faith. Cry in humility. Cry in sincerity. Then, on Christ’s merits, we can go free. Then we can build a new life, one that is forgiven and restored and being renewed. Then we say, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”


3) not a worthy, but loving obedience: So what about that law? It’s been fulfilled, and its full penalty has been carried at the cross. Can we get rid of it? No, the Spirit says, we uphold the law. We even cherish it as God’s gift. But for the right purpose. It’s not something that’ll earn us reward points. But the law shows us how to live—“household rules” for children of the Father.

So after being cleared of our guilt before God, it’s time for rehab and re-education. It’s time to learn a new way of behaving! This is what we confessed in Lord’s Day 1, “Now I’m heartily willing and ready to live for him.” For when we believe in the Saviour, Christ also works in us a new desire to obey. Listen to what Paul says, even in the midst of all his despair over the struggle with sin: “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (7:22). Pay attention to those words: As Christians, we can delight in God’s law.

At first, being holy doesn’t seem like a delight. It’s more like a burden, always having to be self-controlled. And is it a pleasure to make sacrifices for Christ’s church? Is there a joy in serving each other? Beloved, there is! For the redeemed sinner, for the thankful child of God, you begin to find that these things aren’t a burden. We start to rejoice in the law, because this law gives us a real and concrete way to show our love to God.

You can go through the commandments, and see how practical this is. Because we love God, we’re going to make God and his kingdom our first priority. Because we love God, we’re going to use his Name rightly, and confess it gladly. Because we love God, we’re going to honour his holy day, and worship him faithfully. Because we love God, we’re going to respect our parents and elders and leaders. And we’re going to love even those who have treated us poorly. Because we love God, we’re going to guard our sexual purity, and treasure our marriage. We’re going to be wise with our material things, and generous too. Because we love God, we’re going to watch what we say and how we say it. And we’re going to strive for contentment with what we’ve been given. All this, because we love God!

In chapter 12, Paul lays out the sinner’s road to recovery. He says to us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v 2). He’s saying, “Pray to be changed from someone lawless and useless, into someone who has a new and holy calling. Pray to be changed from someone who was once enslaved to sin, into someone who is set free, free to be a servant of Christ!”

With God the Holy Spirit changing us on the inside, we’ll be ready to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:2). Beloved, pray for that new obedience. With Scripture open, develop that loving obedience, always seeking what pleases God.

This is what the redeemed sinner needs to ask himself: “How is God’s will going to be done by me today, in the place where I am?”

For every challenge you meet in a day, learn to ask, “What would the Father expect of me, his child, here and now?”

And for each opportunity, ponder the question: “What does God’s Word say? Let me do that. At this moment too, may I show my love for God, through Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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