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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:Who Are We?
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 81:1,2,3                                                                                   

Hy 4:1,2,3  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Romans 5:12 - 6:14

Ps 32:1,3,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 5

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 16:1,4,5

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

Beloved in Christ, if you’ve ever taken a flight to another country, you know that you have to produce identification. You have prove that you are who you say you are. And our identity is a complex thing. It’s not just that stack of cards that you can produce at a moment’s notice: your driver’s license, your health card, your passport, and so on. Our identity is much more than filling in our first, middle, and surname, our date of birth and tax number. For we’re people with personalities, with relationships, with duties and abilities. We have beliefs, and values, and things we hold dear.

We easily produce “identification” when we need to, so what if someone asked us about our identity? Who are we, really? How would you describe yourself, and the things that you believe in? Or how do others know you? If I asked one of your friends or family members, what would they say about you? What if we asked one of your unbelieving co-workers, or your neighbours: what would they say about who you really are?

There’s something else too, more important than our reputation with others, and more important than how we view ourselves. And that’s how we are known by God! Who does God say we are? In his perfect judgment, what’s our true identity? Let’s then consider Scripture’s answer, summarized in Lord’s Day 5 of the Catechism,

Who are we? – the Bible’s lesson in identity:

  1. we fall with Adam
  2. we rise with Christ


1) we fall with Adam: When we consider what the Bible says about our identity, we first have to wrap our heads around one major idea. This idea is fundamental to a lot of what we’ll hear in this sermon.

And this is the fact that no one stands on his own. No one is entirely his own person, completely individual, through and through. “No man is an island” someone wisely said. We always share in some identity that is much bigger than us. This is a Biblical idea, and it’s about “corporate personality.” That’s a fancy term, but it means simply this: as persons, we’re all members of a group. More specifically, the Bible says every human being stands behind one man as our representative—and that’s how our basic identity is determined in the sight of God.

It’s true that we’re not used to thinking this way. In our society, we tend to be very much interested in the individual: who a person is, in and of himself. We talk about being your own boss. We talk about “self-made men” (or women). There’s a lot of talk about self-esteem, and self-image. We say that our personal choices determine who we are, what we’ll do, and how successful we’re going to be.

There’s truth to that, of course. We each have a personal responsibility before God, as He calls each person to repentance and to faith in his Name. But the Bible says more, too. For what sort of people are we each a part of? Among what kind of society do we find ourselves? This is a fundamental question.

Let’s have an example. Think of being “Australian.” For people from Australia, there is indeed a kind of corporate personality, a kind of “national character.” The world knows Australians as an easy-going and outdoors-loving people. The world assumes that all Australians love cricket, and use strange words. Whether it’s accurate or not, that’s the Australian identity, as a group, as a nation—that’s a “corporate personality,” just as Canadians are known in a certain way, or like Dutch people are.

So who are we as humans, according to the Bible? In Romans the Holy Spirit points us all the way back to the beginning. In this letter the apostle is trying to make a case for Christ. Because he’s never visited the church at Rome, Paul is presenting his gospel message to these believers. He’s carefully laying it out, piece by piece. And like a good teacher, Paul goes back to the basics.

He’s already proven to the Romans that everyone is sinful, Gentiles and Jews alike. He’s already shown that no sinner can escape God’s judgment on his own strength or goodness. And Paul has already announced the good news of our deliverance from sin, back in 3:21-22, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, is revealed… the righteousness of God [which comes] through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe.” There is salvation available, through Jesus Christ.

In Romans we’ve travelled the difficult stretch of our “Sin and Misery,” towards the beautiful scenery of our “Deliverance.” But now Paul wants to explain this a little more. How is this salvation actually possible? How do we enter into this right relationship with the Creator? Yes, on the plainest level—down to the foundation of it—what is our salvation all about?

And in chapter 5, Paul says that our salvation is all about a change in identity. This is the main point. Salvation involves our status and identity being transformed! To show this, Paul goes back to who we would be apart from Christ; he points us back to that original tragedy of the Fall into sin. He spares us the gory details, and he gets right to the heart of what happened: “Through one man sin entered the world” (Rom 5:12). By one man’s choice, one man’s irresponsibility and rebellion, sin has entered the world. Sin, and all that comes with it!

Sin entered the world, “and death through sin” (Rom 5:12). That was the original punishment that was announced by God—death. Speaking of that tree in the middle of the Garden, He said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Because of sin, there is death. Because of sin, there is cancer and diabetes, and there are heart attacks and car accidents and plane crashes. Because of sin, we must sometimes stand at the graveside of people we have loved, and we grieve the brokenness of life.

Yet God says the effect of sin isn’t witnessed simply in the end of our physical existence. No, the true penalty for sin is death in every way, physically and spiritually. Total death is our separation from the God of life! This is what the Catechism calls “temporal and eternal punishment” (Q&A 12), and “the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin” (Q&A 14).

Sin has entered the world, and at the same time death entered, “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Notice Paul started the verse talking about just that one man—Adam—who sinned so long ago. But by the end of the verse, notice how he’s talking about everyone sinning, everyone dying, everyone being under God’s judgment. There’s an inseparable connection between what Adam did, and who we are today: “Death spread to all, because all sinned.” We share in it—it’s on us, too!

Now, theologians have debated for a long time what the exact connection is. How does Adam’s fall into sin affect us, from day to day? Does it mean that we imitate what Adam did, that we copy his first rebellious choice? Like him, we see the “forbidden fruit” that is offered in the world around us—things we like, things that we think will give us pleasure—and just like Adam, we read out the hand and we take what hasn’t been given to us.

Or does the connection mean that we’ve inherited sin from our first father, like it’s some kind of hereditary or genetic disease? Like when Mom or Dad have diabetes, their children are more likely to have it too?

Or does Paul mean we actually share in Adam’s guilt for that original transgression? Does he mean that when Adam sinned, we all sinned with him? That when he failed, we all failed right along with him?

This last view might be the most difficult to accept. This view might be the one we’re most likely to protest. “It’s not fair,” we say, “for God to condemn me, simply because of a sin Adam committed so long ago. I wasn’t there, was I?” Sounds like identity theft! Like he’s hijacked our life, and we had no say in the matter.

But Paul is talking about the kind of people we’re a part of. Either our identity is defined and wrapped up in Adam, or it’s become defined and wrapped up in someone else. Lest we have any doubt about it, our unity with Adam is put explicitly in verse 18. There Paul writes, “Through one man’s offense, judgment came to all men.”

It’s why the Form for Baptism says, “We and our children are conceived and born in sin, and are therefore by nature children of wrath.” Without doing anything good or bad, even a little infant is under God’s judgment, born a child of Adam. It was once put into a little rhyme for children, so they could remember this basic truth: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” You won’t find it in Mother Goose, but this rhyme’s very true! This is who we are.

Of course, we’ve added to that original sin. And you could say that we do imitate what Adam did, when we choose what is right for ourselves, and when we ignore God’s commands and warnings. As the Catechism says, “We daily increase our debt” (Q&A 13).

Yet all of it stems from that one root, way down below, underneath our family tree. And that’s not meant as an excuse, something that we can blame in order to get away with what we’ve done wrong. Yet knowing about our identity can help us as Christians. A little personal awareness, some self-evaluation, is a very necessary thing. It’s even a very useful thing in our walk with the Lord.

Let me explain. Beloved, each day we should understand the true character of our hearts, and what we’re capable of. When we look in the mirror in the morning, we should admit that we’re not innocent. We should confess that we’re not so great after all. We should acknowledge that we can’t be “do-it-yourself-ers” and get to heaven based on the length of our prayers, or on the number of our good deeds. Rather, we should recognize that we’re naturally going to choose the wrong path. Every day we should admit that we all have this basic willingness to be deceived by the devil. We should see that generally we put ourselves first, and God and everyone else last. Apart from God’s help, it’s who we are.

And as I said, this knowledge of our identity might be bleak, but it can help us. Because we should know not ever to stand near sin. We should know not to put ourselves in places where evil is thriving—because with our inherent weakness, we’re probably going to fall for it. We should know not to depend on ourselves, or let ourselves become proud—because then we’ll certainly fail. Sometimes when we’re being tempted to sin, we start hearing voices that rationalize our sin, that explain why it’s allowed. But if we know our true nature, if we remember who we are as sons and daughters of Adam, we should also know not to listen to those voices—because we’re only letting ourselves be fooled.

No, if we really know who we are in Adam our father, if we understand it and face up to it, then we’ll admit that we need help. We’ll confess our shortcomings, and we’ll cry out for salvation through our only mediator and saviour (Q&A 15).


2) we rise with Christ: Paul doesn’t want to leave us hanging. He tells us about our sins, not to sink us into depression, but so that we cherish our salvation more joyfully. He’s not explaining our unity with Adam so we go home feeling worthless. No, Paul wants to tell us about the incredible change in who we are. Call it a complete makeover—not just on the surface, but God has changed us deep down, to soul and spirit!

At the end of Romans 5:14, he hints at where he’s headed. He says that Adam “is a type [or a pattern] of the one to come.” He’s saying that while Adam might’ve put us all on the wrong track, there’s also someone who can re-route this train. There’s someone who can do just the same kind of image-transformation that Adam did, another who can shape our very identity—but this time for our blessing, and not for curse.

Who could it be? We know that He’d have to be “one who is a true and righteous man” (Q&A 15), so that He can satisfy God’s justice against human sin. What’s more, we know He’d have to be “one who is at the same time true God” (Q&A 15), so He can bear the full burden of God’s wrath. Man and God: that’s a tall order. That’s a person we could never find on our own!    

But thankfully, there’s no surprise about the identity of our Saviour. Paul told us who it is, already back in Romans 1. The Catechism told us who it is, back in Lord’s Day 1. And now it gets worked out. Writes Paul, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Rom 5:15).

There’s that powerful comparison. Did you catch it? In this corner, one man; in the other corner, another man: it’s Adam, and Christ. Adam brought us sin; Adam brought us death; Adam introduced condemnation. But Jesus Christ stood up for us and brought us grace; He brought us life; He accomplished our salvation.

Two men, standing at the head of all humanity. Two captains and representatives of all. But two such vastly different people, greatly different lives, totally different results for the world, including for you and for me.

Think about Adam. He had a job to do in the Garden of Eden. In a word, Adam’s job was obedience. He had to listen to the commands of God, the big commands—multiplying, filling, subduing, ruling—and he had to listen to the other commands of God, as well: like keeping his hands off that one tree in the middle of the garden. But he didn’t do it. Under test conditions, Adam failed miserably. And yes, beloved, we failed right along with him, shared in his fall!

Now Christ. Christ too, had a job to do on this earth. In a word, his job was exactly the same as Adam’s: obedience. He had to obey the commands of God, loving God and loving his neighbour. He had to come to earth, and do exactly what God ordered: to open the Kingdom of heaven, to preach the glad tidings to the poor—and yes, to be humiliated, to suffer, and to die. And He did it, perfectly! Facing a life-long test of obedience, our Saviour scored 100%. So at the end of his life, hanging on the cross, He could say, “It is finished,” because it was: Jesus had left nothing undone.

So here’s that comparison again: “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18). “One Man’s righteous act”—that’s how Paul describes the entire life of Christ: it was one perfect display of faithfulness to the Father’s will, unrelenting and unchanging obedience.

Redemption comes through this righteousness of Christ! It’s what makes all the difference in our lives. Christ makes all the difference when we’re carrying a burden of guilt for things we’ve done. Christ makes all the difference when we’re filled with sadness at the death of a loved one. Christ makes all the difference when we’re unsure of our purpose and place in this world. Christ makes all the difference when we’re anxious about many things, when we’re lonely and depressed and can’t see our way through.

Because now in him we have a new promise, now we have peace, even a new life! Formerly condemned in Adam, previously under the sentence of death—now, “how much more [does] God’s grace… abound to many!”

God sees us as a different kind of people. He no longer sees us united with Adam, with all the misery that identity entails. But God now sees us united with Christ. That’s our new character, our new status—we are one with Jesus Christ.

It means that whatever Christ accomplished, whatever Christ achieved, God considers that we did it, too. Christ was obedient—God says we were obedient, too. Christ was righteous—God says we are righteous, too. Christ suffered eternal condemnation—God considers that we suffered it, too. We owed him an eternal death for all our sins and shortcomings, but now that death has already taken place! It took place on the cross.

It’s this blessed reality that our baptism points to. Asks Paul in chapter 6, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3). Baptism is the precious mark that we’re united with Christ. United to him, and to all the glory and blessing that He stands for.

And this is the identity that may have, even from Day One of our lives. As the Form for Baptism says, “Just as [children] share without their knowledge in the condemnation of Adam, so are they, without their knowledge, received into grace in Christ.” That’s the new character of our children—even before they’ve done much of anything at all in this world, they are received into grace in Christ. God has promised them a new identity.

God has placed his Name upon them, and upon us all. In his grace, God says, “No longer are you simply a child of Adam. No longer do you need to stand behind him as your representative and captain. For now you’re a child of God, and part of the people of Christ.”

This is worth so much more than any human position or glory. In this world, we often seek a good reputation with others, and we worry constantly about what people think about us. We might try to shape an identity for ourselves: we’d like to be known for our excellent work, or our good education, or our amazing talent. We might find meaning through our family, or our many interests, or the strength of our character. Along the way, we might try to develop better self-esteem in us or our children. But in the big picture, all these things matter very little.

For how does God look at you, beloved? Does God see you as united to his Son? We once received the promise of this grace, but have we taken hold of this? Have we been united to Christ by a true and living faith? Is this who you are? Forgiven. Set apart. Righteous? This is proper self-image—looking at yourself, and seeing only what God has done in you and for you!

And this identity carries over into our lives. Paul says if we’re united to Christ, we’re dead to sin. We’re done with that old way of living. After all, our sins were nailed to the cross, and our transgression was dealt with completely. Now it’s time for a new beginning: “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:11). There’s no reason for us to go back to “Adam and Sons,” the family business of sinning and dying. Paul exhorts us, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin” (6:13). That’s not why we’re here! “But present yourselves to God, as being alive from the dead” (6:13). He’s given us a new calling and purpose, assigned a new identity for us to embrace with heart, soul, mind and strength.

It means that being a follower of Christ cannot be our secret identity. It can’t be something you keep from the view of others, or something you won’t talk about in public. No, it’s who we are. Christ has something to say about everything we do—because He wants us to serve him in everything!

Be glad to do it. Be glad, because you’re adopted by God the Father. Be glad, because you’re washed by God the Son. Be glad, because you’re filled with God the Spirit. By his grace, this is who you are. More and more, let it be who you are becoming!  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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