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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Use godly deeds and words to win people for Christ!
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-12-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,4                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – 1 Peter 2:11-25; 1 Peter 3:8-17

Ps 71:1,6,7,8

Sermon – Lord’s Day 32

Hy 28:1,6,7

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

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


Beloved in Christ, it’s possible to know all the right words. We can talk about Christian love, God’s greatness, and the authority of Scripture. We can give the right answers at home visits, mentioning things like prayer, personal devotions, and how bad the world is getting these days. Yet words are empty without deeds. We can know the right words, yet our actions might reveal something different, that we’re actually impatient, we hardly ever pray, and we’re captivated by worldly things.

If you look back in the Catechism, you’ll notice that both Lord’s Day 30 and 31 mention “hypocrites.” A hypocrite is a pretender. He’ll claim to be a person of proper values and right belief, while the reality is quite different. A hypocrite is an actor, someone playing a part. Those fine Christian words are an act, and after a while, people generally come to see this and to doubt both what you say and what you believe.

I realize that’s a negative way to start a sermon. More positively, we can say that when confession and life are in sync, a Christian gains great credibility. When there’s a consistency between a person’s words and deeds, other people will be more inclined to listen. Your neighbour might even want to share in what you do, and to believe what you believe.

This is what the Catechism speaks about in Lord’s Day 32. It’s teaching us about God’s desire for our life of good works. And one of the reasons it gives is “that by our godly walk of life, we may win our neighbors for Christ” (Q&A 86). That’s making the gospel known to others, not so much by preaching John 3:16, or by handing out pamphlets on the street corner, but making the gospel known by the way we live. This is our theme,

Use godly deeds and words to win people for Christ!

  1. our present challenge
  2. our holy calling
  3. the sure result

 

1) our present challenge: Earlier we read a couple selections from 1 Peter. In this letter, he’s describing the Christian style of life, teaching about holiness in the family, the community, and the church. In 2:11, he picks up this theme again, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims…” Those are two key words for our identity in this world.

First, what’s a sojourner? It’s like how a person might live in another country on a temporary basis. Think of the foreign students who come to this country for a few years. They don’t change all their cultural practices, and they don’t apply for a different passport. Rather, they remain loyal to their country of birth, because they know one day they’re heading back there. They’re sojourners.

And what’s a pilgrim? A pilgrim is a someone who’s got his heart set on a destination—even a sacred place. Because he so wants to get there, he might even undergo intense hardship. For example, the Old Testament believers were pilgrims because every year they’d make a trip to Jerusalem in order to worship at the temple.

If you’re a pilgrim, you’re a traveler. And being a traveler means that you’re leaving something behind. The Christian life is a journey towards, and it’s also a journey away from. So as pilgrims our perspective must be that this present world, and everything it has to offer, are not really what we want. Being a pilgrim means that we shouldn’t find our meaning, or our security, or our hope, in any of the earthly things that we see or hear or experience.

That’s hard. Our big challenge is that this world is an inviting place. The society of which we’re a part is prosperous and secure, and it offers so many interesting things and fascinating experiences. If you compare it to being on a long journey, these are like all those flashing neon signs along the highway that distract us and urge us to pull over and stay awhile, even to change our destination altogether.

But we must be “sojourners and pilgrims.” That means we shouldn’t let ourselves be attracted or distracted. We’re on this earth only for a while, and while we’re here we know that we belong to another country. As Paul would say, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). We’re hoping for something better.

If you don’t really belong here, and your identity is rooted someplace else, then you also shouldn’t live like a citizen of this world and take over all its practices. This is how Peter puts it: “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (2:11). That calls us to break with our former way of life. After all, we’ve been “redeemed by Christ’s blood.” We’ve been “renewed by his Spirit.” And now we’ve called “with our whole life to show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits” (Q&A 86). This is who we are.

So what will our neighbors say when they see this style of living? How are unbelievers going to treat us when we’re meaningfully committed to Christ? Peter is convinced that people will take notice. And by and large, they probably won’t hurt us. As he says in these chapters, the people who suffer the most are those who do wrong. It’s the citizen who rebels against the government that gets thrown in jail. It’s the slave who fails to do his work properly that receives a beating from his master.

We don’t usually have to worry about such things—not if we put our faith into practice. We’re shielded from a lot of harm, because there’s many good things about the Christian lifestyle. We try to be honest in our business practices. We try to be kind to people who live around us on our street. We speak with gentleness. We value faithfulness in marriage. We place an importance on hard work.

And in this sinful world, these can be remarkable things! Unbelievers can hardly ignore it when they look at Christians and they see stable homes, and friendly people, and active churches. They might be impressed. They might even be attracted to it.

All the same, we shouldn’t be naïve about the kind of world we live in. Holiness gets noticed, but it’s not always applauded. Say there’s a believer who strives to be obedient to Christ at the workplace or at school. He won’t go to the bar afterwards. He won’t join in the office lottery. He doesn’t swear. This kind of godliness can make people uncomfortable. Some will mock it and try to make Christians look silly.

Why is that? Perhaps people don’t like the reminder of their own sin, when they see someone else resisting evil and doing good. Holiness can be convicting. So unbelievers might put the pressure on a Christian to conform, to blend in.

Unbelievers might also have a problem with a Christian’s motive in doing good. As the Catechism explains well, we do it for Christ! Christ is the whole reason we’re different—and people don’t like that. For Christ is exclusive: He claims that He’s the only way to God. In salvation, He does everything for people who really wanted to do it ourselves. And once He saves them, Christ makes serious demands, like asking for our holiness and service and worship. Altogether, it’s an uncomfortable gospel. So we shouldn’t be surprised: if people in this world are bothered by the Christ, they’ll be bothered by those who follow him!

In the church’s history, there are many examples of this hostility. Already in the first century, stories were going around that Christians engaged in incest. This was because they called each other “brother and sister,” and they spoke so much about loving each other.

Or there were stories that the Christians were actually cannibals. They were accused of being man-eaters because they had ceremonies where they talked about eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. What kind of strange people were these Christians?

These were ridiculous accusations. The accusations that the church is facing today are different, but not so different. For example, in the fight to protect unborn children from abortion, Christians are often said to be against women’s health, or opposed to personal freedom. It’s an absurd accusation, but it sticks. 

Or the Scriptural teaching on sexuality is rejected as being harmful and hateful. We’re finding out that in today’s society, affirming Biblical truth is said to be dangerous and worthy of being suppressed. It’s not so different from what Peter said already centuries ago, “They speak against us as evildoers” (2:12).

Where do these attacks come from? They’re not simply from those on the left side of the political spectrum, those in positions of influence and power today. Ultimately, these attacks come from Satan himself! He wants Christians to feel ashamed of our faith. He wants us to have a hard time in this world. He wants us to withdraw, for fear of offending or getting into trouble.

And this is when it becomes very tempting to let our faith consist of words and not deeds. We can easily affirm that we’re Christians, but what about when this commitment becomes more difficult to maintain? We could protest that we mean no harm, that we’re tolerant in the best sense of the word, that we’re quiet and productive members of society. But these words might have no effect. Then we start to realize the cost of commitment to Christ. We start to understand that pilgrims often have to endure pain and suffering. Jesus so often warned us about persecution—because He knew that it was coming.

Today we can start to feel a bit like Peter in the courtyard of the high priest on that night of Jesus’ trial—uncomfortable, even threatened—when the easiest way of escape is to say, “I don’t know the man!” So as Christ’s people, what should we do?

 

2) our holy calling: Today there’s a lot of talk about apologetics. Christian apologetics is trying to defend the faith in reasonable and logical ways, with carefully built arguments. And there’s much worthwhile about this. But Scripture says that the first defense against those who attack Christians isn’t a defense in words, but in deeds. By our actions, we’re called to show the world that faith is living!

It’s part of our thankfulness to God, of course. In response to all his gifts in Christ, we want to show ourselves “thankful to God for his benefits… with our whole life” (Q&A 86). A holy and obedient life brings praise to God because by it we show that He is everything to us, we show that our life really is his to command.

But this kind of life also serves as a testimony to our neighbours. That’s the encouragement in 1 Peter 2:12, “Have your conduct honourable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God.” We start to overcome slander and mockery with the simple message of who we are! When we lead a life that is consistent, honest, and faithful, people can recognize that the charges so often levelled against Christians are false. Deeds and words can be united as a powerful testimony to the true God!

We’ve touched on this earlier, and I think we all understand how this works. Sadly, we’ve probably all seen how it’s not supposed to go, when a hypocritical Christian does damage to the cause of Christ.

It was a long time ago now, but I still remember clearly a conversation that I overheard when I was in university. It was in a lecture hall before class started, and there was a group of young women in the row behind me; they were talking about a good-looking young man who was known all around campus as a vocal Christian. He wore t-shirts with a Christian message, he was involved in evangelism projects, and he spoke up in class whenever there was a point to be made from the Bible’s perspective. If anyone would be identified as a Christian, it’d be him.

And yet when these ladies spoke about him, they were scorning him. Because apparently he was also widely known as a womanizer, someone who was always ready to go on another date, using his good looks and charm. Like everyone on campus, these ladies knew his religion. And even if they didn’t know a lot about it, they also knew that he didn’t practice what he preached. To them, he was a fraud.

Maybe it was all unfair, and this Christian was being slandered. But at the very least, it illustrated the kind of scrutiny that Christians can receive. People are watching. A person can make no secret of the fact that she goes to church, that she believes in God, that she reads the Bible. Yet what if she doesn’t live up to this confession? Maybe she’s rude to the people in her class, or she dresses immodestly. We can expect an unbeliever to take notice.

Or perhaps you’re the guy in the lunchroom who prays for his sandwich, but then laughs at all the dirty jokes, or gets easily annoyed with his boss. People notice. And people notice too when Christians seem obsessed with acquiring all the latest toys—in the end, they’re not so different than anyone else.

Much harm is done if we’re not backing up words with deeds. Yet there’s also great good that we can do. In this sinful world, we can have a positive effect. When the people around us see how we live, when they hear how we talk and experience our kindness, they can be attracted to the gospel that we profess.

Like the Catechism says, we might even “win our neighbour for Christ.” Let’s think about what it means to win someone. If we say that a young man was able to “win” the heart of the young lady, we mean that he was able to secure her love and affection. With gifts and promises and kindness, he was able to obtain her loyalty. He won her over, so in a certain sense she is now his.

The Bible speaks this way too. Already in Proverbs, Solomon said this, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls” (11:30). Paul described his task of ministry in the same way, “Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more” (1 Cor 9:19). He would do almost anything to win people over, to secure their hearts for the Lord.

Winning people for Christ should be a natural extension of our faith, an activity that we accept as basic to belonging to the Lord. To illustrate, just think of where we are in the Catechism. We’ve slogged through our sin and misery (part 1), we’ve witnessed the miracle of our deliverance through Christ (part 2), now we’re eager to show God our thanksgiving (part 3). Isn’t it true that if there’s something that you’re really thankful for, you’re going to talk about it?  You’ve been won for Christ, and now you want to win others.

So Christ commands us to make sure people see our light and taste our salt. Let them hear our attitude toward children, and money, and other people. Let them notice the comfort we have in hard times. Peter says that unbelievers should look at our lives, and say, “You know, there’s something different about that person, and the way he speaks and the way he works. There’s something special about that family, how they cherish each other. There’s something unique about that church, how they look out for each other and how they welcome strangers.”

And if we present the gospel like this, then “those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Pet 3:16). As they see Spirit’s work in us, we pray that unbelievers will at least pause and think. Perhaps they’ll be ashamed that they called “evil” people who were actually good. By God’s grace, it might even lead to a change of heart.

It’s true that our neighbours might not really care how we live: “It’s good for you, but it’s not for me.” I read something in the local paper the other day about a group of people who were against building a new church in their neighbourhood. A quotation from the one fellow probably expressed the attitude that many of our fellow citizens have toward the Christian faith: “I couldn’t care less what they believe in and what they follow.”

We’re up against indifference, and we’re up against hostility. Even so, God calls us to keep bringing the message. Bring it by your deeds, by your lifestyle, by your daily conduct. As Paul says somewhere, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside” (Col 4:5).

So do we need to speak as well? There are occasions we’re asked directly about our Christian commitment. Someone can ask us about why we go to church, or how we know that there is a God. Or why does God let bad things happen? How can you be so at peace during this trouble? What’s so great about Jesus anyway?

Peter says we should ready for such questions. Remember that text from 1 Peter we considered earlier this year: “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15). Be ready, for questions will come. If you’re really living as pilgrims and sojourners in this world, then questions will come. And even if we can’t answer every question, we can tell them about the Lord we serve. Even if we can’t debate with every unbeliever, we can direct the attention back to our Saviour. He’s the reason!

 

3) the sure result: What comes of our Christian words and Christian deeds? You can live beside the same people for thirty years, and not see any change. You might pray for your lunch at work every day, and no one ever asks you why. Yet don’t underestimate the effect. There’s a lot of believers who tell of coming to faith through a long process—after a lifetime of encountering sincere and active Christians, here and there and the other place. A Christian at work. A Christian for a neighbour. One you meet in the elevator at the hospital, or on the bus to university.

We might not get to see “the finished product,” when a person professes the faith and joins the church. That doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter if we’re just one link in a long chain of Christians whom God is using to work a change. We don’t know what fruit will come from our godly walk of life, or from our words of witness. But it might be very good fruit.

And whatever happens, there’s one result of our holiness that is sure. There’s one outcome of our righteous words and deeds that is 100% guaranteed. When we live in this way, our God and Father receives the praise. When we live this way, God will be sanctified, and Christ will be glorified.

That brings us back to the primary purpose of doing good in this world: do good for God, so that He would receive much thanks, true worship, and everlasting praise! For God has given the greatest reason—in fact, He’s given the only reason that we need. In Christ his Son and by the Holy Spirit, He’s given us the new desire and ability to do what pleases him: “so that He may be praised by us” (Q&A 86).

In this task you’re not called to be successful, but you are called to be faithful. So may you, a thankful servant, be willingly employed in proclaiming God’s great name every day. Use your words, and use your deeds, so that you may declare to many the glory and honour of our Saviour and God!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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