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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Preserved saints *MUST* take sin seriously
Text:CD 5 Articles 4-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 99

Hymn 70

Hymn 1

Psalm 147:1,5,6

Scripture readings:  2 Samuel 11, Mark 14:66-72

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 5.4-5

* 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 our Lord Jesus,

The Three Capes Track in Tasmania’s southeast is an incredible part of God’s creation.  One of the unique features of this track is that for most of it there are absolutely no guardrails or fences.  You’re walking along the top of the highest sea-cliffs in the southern hemisphere and for most of it there’s nothing between you and three hundred meters of air down to the rocks and ocean below.  The only place with a fence is at the tip of Cape Hauy.  But you can go to Cape Pillar, hike up the Blade and look right across at Tasman Island and down, down, down to the water below with nothing to hold you back

Now imagine that you were standing along one of those cliffs on the Tasman Peninsula.  Let’s say you had someone standing behind you who had lightning fast reflexes.  He also has long arms with incredibly strong muscles.  You look at him and you know that if you went over the edge, he would be able to instantly reach out and grab you and pull you back.  But let’s say that someone might also have it in his mind to teach you a lesson, so he might be letting you fall a meter or so before he pulls you back – remember he has long, powerful arms.  Knowing that, would you still try and get as close as possible to the edge?  I know I would still think twice.

But when it comes to sin, we often don’t think twice.  When it comes to sin, we often don’t recognize we’re standing before a cliff.  Sin deceives you like that.  It puts you in a fantasy world.  You think you’re looking at a beautiful green meadow, all sunshine and flowers, but the objective reality is that sin is a cliff with a deadly drop.  When we’re tempted, we’re drawn close to the cliff.  When we sin, we go ahead and jump off the cliff.  In the fantasy in our own minds, we’re leaping through a meadow having a great old time.  But the biblical reality is that we put ourselves at great harm. 

Now there is also this biblical truth that God promises to preserve the elect.  We confess in the Canons of Dort that whether it’s with daily sins of weakness or serious sins, God will always pull the elect back from out over the cliff.  That is an encouraging truth, a teaching which speaks of God’s amazing grace towards us.  But the Arminians in the days of the Canons of Dort said that this kind of teaching would make people presumptuous.  They said it would make people sin carelessly, because they would tell themselves, “God will always preserve me anyway.”  If God is always going to pull you back from destruction, why not just enjoy yourself and keep on sinning?  You have to admit that kind of thinking could sound persuasive.  But we’re going to see this afternoon that true Christians can’t think like that.  As believers, God’s Word calls us to stay away from the edge as far as we can.

This afternoon we’ll listen to the teaching of God’s Word:  Preserved saints must take sin seriously.  We’re going to answer three questions:

  1. What are “serious” sins?
  2. How might we fall into them?
  3. What are the effects of such sins?

Many Christians think all sins are equal.  They think there’s no difference between one kind of sin and another.  In one sense, this is true.  This is true in the sense that all sin is rebellion against God and all sin is worthy of God’s judgment and condemnation.  Any sin committed is sin committed against the infinite majesty of God.  If you commit any sin against infinite majesty, you deserve infinite punishment.  In that sense, all sin is equally bad. 

However, the Bible does teach us that there are ways in which some sins are worse than others.  This is reflected in the Reformed confessions.  Think of what we confess in Lord’s Day 36 about the Third Commandment:  “…no sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name.”  Blasphemy is clearly a worse sin than, say, lying.  A couple of weeks ago, we looked at article 2 of chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort.  It speaks of “daily sins of weakness.”  These are sins that we struggle with every day.  But then article 4 speaks about “serious and atrocious sins.”  Article 5 calls them “gross sins.”  Clearly some sins are worse than others.

But how do you define “serious” sins?  Our Three Forms of Unity don’t give us a definition.  For that we could turn to the Westminster Standards used by some of our sister churches.  The Westminster Standards are Reformed confessions which came later and are held by mostly Presbyterian churches.  The Westminster Larger Catechism has a question and answer about “serious sins.”  Question 151 asks, “What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?”  The answer is quite long and I’m not going to read it all to you.  But there are four main headings.  Let me outline them for you. 

Some sins are worse than others because of the person who commits them.  For example, if you’re older and should know better, your sin bears more guilt.  Some sins are worse than others because of who you sin against.  For example, if you sin directly against God (like with blasphemy) or if you sin against weaker people like children.  Some sins are worse than others because of the “nature and quality of the offence.”  For example, sinning against the sixth commandment by actually murdering someone is worse than insulting someone.  Finally, some sins are worse than others because of the time and place in which they’re committed.  For example, if some sin is committed in public, that makes it worse than if it was done in private.

Article 4 of the Canons of Dort mention two examples of serious sins from the Bible.  There’s the example of King David in our reading from 2 Samuel 11.  What made David’s sin so serious?  If we use the guidelines of the Westminster Larger Catechism, it was first of all a sin committed by an older believer.  David was not a young man.  Moreover, he was the King of Israel, one who was expected to lead by example.  Second, David’s sin was against those below him, those entrusted to his care as a king.  Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was committed to David and he trusted him.  David broke that trust by sleeping with Uriah’s wife and then to make matters worse, directly manipulating things so that Uriah would die in battle – David arranged Uriah’s murder.  Third, David’s sin was serious because he didn’t merely lust after Bathsheba.  He sinned directly against the Seventh Commandment by sleeping with her.  Adultery is a serious sin.  And David didn’t hate or insult Uriah, no, he sinned against the Sixth Commandment by arranging his death.  Murder is a serious sin.  In both instances, he did the worst sin that falls under those commandments.  Finally, David’s sin was made worse by the fact that it happened while he was neglecting his duties as a King.  If you look at verses 1 and 2 of 2 Samuel 11, you read that important detail that David stayed at home when it was the time that “kings go out to battle.”  David should have been leading his armies, but instead he took the easy way and ended up committing this horrible sin.  In every way, David’s sin exemplifies a serious sin.

Then there’s Peter in Mark 14.  The Canons of Dort also refer to his sin as serious and atrocious.  What made Peter’s sin so serious?  Again, let’s use the biblical guidelines of the Westminster Larger Catechism.  First of all, when Peter denied Christ three times, he did that as a disciple of Jesus.  He had spent three years with the Master.  He was close to him.  Second, Peter’s sin was directly against God incarnate.  Peter sinned directly against Jesus by denying him.  Third, Peter sinned seriously because he directly broke two commandments.  He broke the Ninth Commandment about false witness.  But a lot of people miss the fact that he also broke the Third Commandment about blasphemy.  Mark 14:71, “But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  Did you ever notice that before?  Peter took God’s Name in vain, swore a false oath in God’s Name, to deny Jesus.  Peter blasphemed.  Last of all, Matthew 26 tells us that Peter did this “before them all.”  His denial wasn’t done privately, but publically.  On every count, Peter’s sin also exemplifies a serious sin. 

Loved ones, we ought to take serious sins seriously.  These are horrible acts of rebellion against God.  Both David and Peter came to see it.  They both came to see that their sins were not light matters.  They repented, they turned from their sin with remorse.  David’s repentance is evident in Psalm 51.  Peter’s repentance is found with the fact that afterwards he went out and wept bitterly.  Neither of them were glib about their sins.  Their sins were serious and when they understood that, it bothered them enormously.  That’s the way it should be for us too. 

Should you commit a serious sin, you need to see it for what it is.  Don’t be casual about sin.  See it the way God sees it.  It’s something seriously evil and wicked, tremendously offensive to the God who loves you.  Loved ones, repent from all your sins and do so quickly, without delay.  Repent:  that means you change your mind about your sin and turn from it, turn to God with sorrow and confession.  Confess your sin to him and seek his forgiveness through the Saviour.  Go to the cross.  The good news promises that with repentance and confession, God’s grace is there to forgive you even your serious sins.  God will blot them out and restore you.  There is no sin so serious that God can’t forgive it when you repent, confess and ask him for forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  There is always a way back to having God’s fatherly face shining upon you.

Now how might we fall into these serious sins?  I want to address that so we can steer clear of these treacherous transgressions.  First of all, notice that article 4 speaks about the sovereignty of God in these things too.  God confirms and preserves true believers in his sovereign grace.  But that doesn’t rule out serious sins in the lives of these true believers.  In fact, God in his sovereign wisdom righteously gives permission for believers to fall into serious sins.  To understand this, think again about the cliff illustration.  He sees us approaching the cliff.  We’re in some delusion or fantasy about what’s in front of us.  God knows that we need to wake up to the reality.  So he allows us to step off the cliff, so that our eyes wake up in terror at the abyss we’re facing below us.  He allows us to plummet for a second before grabbing us by the feet and pulling us back from the abyss.  God does it to wake us up to the reality of how horrifying sin is and the danger it represents.  As our wise and loving Father, he allows us to go over the cliff in order to teach us a lesson.

But there’s also personal responsibility.  Notice how article 4 speaks of “their own fault.”  The believer approaches the cliff and bears responsibility for that.  By committing a serious sin, the believer steps over the cliff and bears responsibility for that too.  Serious sins are our fault.  You can’t blame God for them, even though God will use them for his purposes. 

So when we talk about “serious sins,” there is always a choice before us as responsible creatures. We might fall into serious sins if we’re not careful.  We want to do what we can to avoid falling into serious sins.  I mean, who wants to plummet off a cliff and be terrified at the prospects of finding out that it’s really not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop?

Therefore our confession tells us what can lead to serious sins.  We can “be seduced by and yield to the lusts of the flesh.”  We can be drawn away “by the flesh, the world and Satan into serious and atrocious sins.”  This can happen if we do not watch and pray that we may not be led into temptation.  That’s a reference to Matthew 26:41.  Jesus was in Gethsemane with his disciples.  He was praying and they were falling asleep.  Christ says to them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The question is:  what does it mean for us “to watch and pray”?

Praying is self-evident.  Praying is constantly calling out to our Father in heaven for his help.  We have to constantly be speaking with him and asking him for strength from the Holy Spirit in our battle with sin.  Daily we need to be coming to the throne of grace in the Name of Christ and asking God to help us to stand and fight the good fight.  As Psalm 55:22 says, we have to conscientiously cast our burdens on the LORD so that he will sustain us.  If we’re not being constant in our prayers, we can fall through our own fault into serious sins.  Moreover, if our prayers are just meaningless repetitions where our hearts are not engaged, that’s no better.  If we just utter empty prayers every day as a religious ritual, then we’re also in danger of falling into serious sins.  No, to be helpful in our spiritual struggle, prayer must be genuine and heart-felt.

But Scripture also says “watch.”  “Watch and pray.”  What does “watch” mean?  It means to be alert, to be on your guard.  It means to keep your eyes open and your wits about you.  It means to get educated on the general ideas of how sin works and how it deceives.  For that, you need to be studying the Scriptures.  You have to pay attention to how God teaches us the nature of sin and rebellion against him, so you can see it.  “Watching” also means getting smart about how sin works in your own heart in particular, how sin has deceived you in the past, and how it might in the future.  You have to study yourself and your own weaknesses, so you can be alert to the circumstances where you might be led into serious sins in the future.  You see, if you don’t want to think about these things, you could easily end up going over the cliff.

So loved ones, indeed:  watch and pray.  Learn the Scriptures and what your God says about the deceitfulness of sin.  Apply the Scriptures to yourself, study and learn the weaknesses of your own flesh.  Learn where your weak spots are, so you can resist the seductions of sin.  If you don’t take this seriously, you might very well indeed fall into serious sins and it won’t be a pleasant experience.

That’s really what article 5 sums up for us.  Article 5 describes how serious sins stink.  For everyone involved, serious sins are a very distressing matter.  The knowledge of that is meant to motivate us all the more to hate them and stay away from them as far as we can.  In other words, the knowledge of this is meant to keep us from the edge of the cliff. 

Serious sins are first of all a distressing matter to God.  As article 5 says, these sins “greatly offend God.”  Through Jesus Christ, believers are in a relationship with God.  We are his children and he is our Father.  Just like in a human parent-child relationship, when the children rebel against their Father, the Father takes notice and it grieves him and offends him.  In our case, we have been adopted into God’s family through his grace.  He adopted us despite our sinfulness and rebellion against him as our Creator.  He did so in his grace through the blood of the cross.  We didn’t deserve it.  He lovingly brought us into his family and then called us to live like we’re his children.  We’re to do our Father’s will.  When we fail to do that, we act like spiteful ratbags in God’s family.  Scripture tells us that it affects God.  For example, in Ephesians 4:30 we’re told that our sinning grieves the Holy Spirit.  It saddens him.  Any sin does that, but serious sins all the more.  Why would you want to grieve God?  Why would you want to greatly offend the one who has loved you so much that he took you into his family when you didn’t deserve it?

But serious sins not only affect God, they also affect us, whether we are fully aware of it or not.  First of all, serious sins bring us serious guilt.  You “incur the guilt of death.”  That means you’re carrying around with you guilt that is worthy of death.  That is not a pleasant thing.  Psalm 32:3 says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  Serious sin unconfessed eats you up from the inside out.  You carry around this shame and guilt and it’s going to affect you.  Guaranteed.  So fight the good fight and do all you can to not have to go through that.

Serious sins also “suspend the exercise of faith.”  When you’ve committed a horrible sin and you haven’t repented and asked God’s forgiveness, do you feel like praying?  Do you feel like doing family devotions?  Do you feel like going to church?  No, serious sins put a real damper on all of these things connected to the exercise of faith.  Serious sins put a hold on your spiritual growth.  They make you go backward.  If you do any of these things connected to the exercise of faith, often it’s just empty and meaningless, just going through the motions.  Serious sins derail your faith.  So loved ones, watch and pray that you don’t fall into horrible sins. 

Serious sins severely wound your conscience.  Do you know what your conscience is?  Your conscience is your moral thermostat.  It’s a gift from God to help you determine right from wrong.  Your conscience works properly when it’s informed by the Word of God.  But if your conscience is severely wounded, you can start to lose your sense of moral up and down.  If your conscience is severely wounded, you’re in danger of lapsing into all kinds of moral confusion.  That happens because serious sins interfere with the exercise of faith – until you repent from that serious sin and turn from it, you’re not likely to be reading the Bible to get a better understanding of what God commands for your life.  Your conscience is left on its own, it’s left to flounder without the proper guidance of Scripture.  It’s wounded.  Serious sins do serious damage to your conscience.  You need your conscience on a daily basis, so protect it by being on your guard against sin.   

Last of all, sometimes believers who fall into serious sins can “for a while lose the sense of God’s favour.”  You can lose your confidence and assurance as God’s child.  If you’ve fallen into a serious sin, you can start to doubt whether you were even a believer to begin with.  You can start questioning all kinds of things about your walk with God and your status before him.   You can be faced with a horrible spiritual crisis.  That happens because you, through your own fault, dove over the cliff.  Would you want to experience a spiritual crisis where you don’t even know whether you believe anymore?  Who would want that?  It’s terrible.  Because it’s so terrible, we should be all the more motivated to watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation.  Through prayer and watchfulness, we ought to stay away from the cliff’s edge.  Going over that cliff is not going to be exhilarating, but terrifying.

Loved ones, our God promises to preserve us so that we persevere.  He will never let go of true believers.  However, as we live in this world, we do so still as people with the remnants of an old nature.  As long as we’re still here on this earth, we’re called to the frontlines of a spiritual battle.  We’re called to be actively fighting.  Brothers and sisters, don’t lay down your arms.  Don’t give up the fight.  If you’re a saint, if you’re a believer, you’re calling is to take sin seriously – it’ll be for your good and for the glory of God.  AMEN.  


O God of grace,

Thank you for your promise to preserve us.  Thank you for your Word which warns us against serious sins.  Father, please help us with your Holy Spirit to watch and pray so that we may not be led into temptation.  Teach us with your Word so that we’re aware of the seriousness of rebellion against you.  Teach us more so that we see how terrible sin and its effects are.  Teach us more so that we hate sin and want to fight it.  Father, help us to know ourselves and our own weaknesses.  Please help us always to depend on your grace.  Should we fall into a serious sins, please work in us immediate repentance.  Draw us to the cross where we can always find forgiveness through the blood of our Saviour.       


* 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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