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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Christian comfort contrasted with counterfeits
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 121

Psalm 9:1-5

Hymn 64

Hymn 1

Psalm 91:1,2,5

Scripture readings: Proverbs 23:26-35, 1 Peter 1

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 1

* 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 Christ,

A prominent businessman was speaking at a conference near Oxford University in England.  He said, “As you know, I have been very fortunate in my career and I’ve made a lot of money – far more than I ever dreamed of.  Far more than I could ever spend, far more than my family needs.”  He paused for a moment and a tear rolled down his cheek.  He regained his composure and then he went on:  “To be honest, one of my motives for making so much money was simply – to have the money to hire people to do what I don’t like doing.  But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to hire anyone to do for me:  find my own sense of purpose and fulfillment.  I’d give anything to discover that.”

So many people around us are facing the same thing.  They don’t have a real foundation for life.  They don’t have a real purpose.  They don’t have a real direction.  They might have some kind of thing they’re living for, but if the truth be told, it’s ultimately vain and empty.  To use the picture of our Lord Jesus, they’re building their houses on sand. Because they do, they can’t know real comfort either.  They don’t have anything meaningful to get them through the storms of life. 

This is where the gospel makes all the difference for us as Christians.  If we know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, if God is our Father, if the Holy Spirit graciously dwells with us, then our life’s house is built on solid rock.  Through the gospel embraced in our hearts through faith, we have real comfort.  When hard stuff comes our way, when we deal with this broken world and all its misery, we have something solid to lift us up and keep us going. 

The comfort of the gospel is the over-riding theme of our Heidelberg Catechism.  Christian comfort permeates this confession from beginning to end.  The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563.  It was commissioned as a tool for teaching children and young people in a German-speaking region known as the Palatinate.  The Heidelberg Catechism was quickly recognized as a faithful summary of key biblical teachings.  It’s been used by Reformed churches as a teaching tool for over 450 years.  It’s one of our Three Forms of Unity.  Our normal practice is to go through this catechism each year in our afternoon worship services.  The catechism doesn’t replace the Bible, but it’s a summary of what the Bible teaches.  Whereas our morning sermons are based on one passage of Scripture in particular, our catechism sermons are based on a whole range of Scripture texts and how they teach a particular doctrine.

So this afternoon, we’re beginning again at Lord’s Day 1.  Here the Catechism launches with focussing our attention on Christian comfort.  The emphasis here is on what the Bible teaches about how the gospel encourages us in this broken and miserable world.  This afternoon we’ll contrast the Christian comfort confessed in the Catechism with some of the counterfeit comforts out there.  We’re comparing the foundation of solid rock with the foundations of sand.

The first thing I want you to see is that our Christian comfort is Trinitarian.  It’s grounded in the Trinity, the three persons who are the one true God.

The Catechism first of all points us to the faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.  Alluding to our reading from 1 Peter 1, we confess that this Saviour has fully paid for all our sins with his precious blood.  When his blood was spilled before and at the cross, it took care of our most serious problem in life.  The blood of Jesus wiped away all our sins, sins which have earned for us the just wrath of God.  Moreover, through Christ’s sacrifice, we’ve been liberated from the power of Satan.  He has no dominion over Christians.  Forgiveness and liberation are what we have in Jesus – and both are comforting.  It’s comforting to know that your sins will never be used against you.  It’s comforting to know that Satan has no hold on you and you’re free. 

It’s also comforting to know the Father’s providence.  Here the Catechism alludes to what Christ says in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”  The Father has his watchful eye on you at all times.  He has his loving hand in control of your life.  As Romans 8 says, all things are going to work together for your salvation.  This is comfort because we know that everything that happens is being managed by our loving Father, and it’s being managed for our good.  Yes, it is a broken and messed up world, but there is meaning and purpose in everything.

So we find comfort in Christ, we find comfort in the Father, and we also find comfort in the Holy Spirit.  He dwells in our hearts and he gives us assurance of life forever with God.  He does that by pointing us to the Scriptures and God’s gospel promises.  The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts so we trust those promises.  We have comfort from knowing that we are headed for glory in God’s presence.  The Spirit also works in us so that we have an eager desire to live for God.  This is comforting, because the desire actually leads to the thing itself, even if it’s not always consistent.  And living for God in his ways is the way we were designed to live – it’s a good way, designed for human flourishing.

Unbelief offers a counterfeit “Trinity.”  Actually, rather than “Trinity,” it’s probably best to describe it as a three-headed monster.  This three-headed monster is the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. 

Satan offers counterfeit comforts.  As Jesus said in John 8:44, Satan is “a liar and the father of lies.”  He has lied from the very beginning.  Just like he did with Adam and Eve, Satan tries to get us to doubt God and his promises.  In the place of what God offers in the gospel, Satan offers various alternatives.  At first glance, they may look attractive.  He wants us to believe that we’ll find comfort in this broken world by pursuing things that draw us away from God.  Satan wants us to believe we’ll find comfort in a sinful world by chasing after sin.  When you’re regenerated, you see that this is completely irrational, but that’s the nature of sin.  Sin is irrational – it makes no sense at all.  The comforts that Satan offers to us are both counterfeit and completely unreasonable. 

The world offers counterfeit comforts too.  By “the world” I mean the world of sin and unbelief, sinful human society.  They live in this broken miserable world, and they’re chasing after all kinds of ways to deal with the pain, but none of them are going to work in the long haul.  All the world’s comforts break down.  All the world’s comforts will break you down in the end.  You could think of what we read from Proverbs 23 and what it says there about alcohol.  It mentions “wine” but the application extends to all alcoholic beverages.  The world says, “You can deal with your problems through booze.  You had a hard day or a hard week?  Drink a heap of beer.”  Meanwhile, the wisdom of God’s Word tells us that this kind of “comfort” is a deception.  It’s self-destructive.  It’s destructive to our relationships with others around us.  It’s a counterfeit comfort that will destroy your health, destroy your marriage, destroy everything. 

The third part of this three-headed monster is our own sinful flesh.  The Holy Spirit says in Proverbs 28:26 that a fool trusts in his own mind or heart.  A fool trusts in himself, also when it comes to looking for comfort.  The wise person looks for comfort from the Scriptures.  It’s foolish to turn inward, thinking you have the resources within you to comfort yourself.  This is because, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we are corrupt and sinful.  Our hearts are inclined to hate God and disbelieve him.  Our sinful flesh offers comforts disconnected from God, and therefore fake comforts that will do us no good.

True Christian comfort is not only Trinitarian, but also confident comfort.  You can see that in our reading from 1 Peter 1 as well.  The Holy Spirit tells us in verse 4 that our inheritance is being kept in heaven for us.  That’s for us, who “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.”  Our inheritance is secure and we are guarded, protected by God.  That gives us confident comfort as we go through our pilgrimage in this dark and broken world.  It’s expressed in verse 13 of 1 Peter 1 as well.  There we’re encouraged to set our hope “fully on the grace that will be revealed to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Notice the definite language there.  It’s not “the grace that will probably be revealed to you.”  Rather, it’s “the grace that will be revealed to you.”  When Christ returns, you will definitely see how much grace God has shown.  You will see it and experience it.  You can be confident of it! 

What can counterfeit comforts offer you?  They don’t offer you confidence, but uncertainty.  Think of Proverbs 23 and how it speaks to us about the foolishness of sexual sin.  Verses 26 to 28 speak specifically about prostitution and adultery, but what’s said there can apply to all forms of sexual sin.  You’re looking at a deep pit and a narrow well.  The idea there is that your chance of escape is slim.  Once you’re in that deep pit or narrow well, it’s hard to get out.  Then verse 28, “She lies in wait like a robber…”  A robber waits for a victim to pass by.  You don’t when the robber will strike, but when he does it’s no fun.  Sexual sin is like that.  For a time, it can seem like a good idea, it can seem fun, a great distraction from life’s troubles.   But whether it’s intimacy before marriage, or adultery, or pornography, always looming over you is the question of when it will come to bite you.  Like a robber, it will cost you, but you don’t necessarily know when.  If you’re a player using Tinder to find hook-ups, when will you catch an STD or STI?  If you’re fornicating with a boyfriend or girlfriend, when will a pregnancy test come back positive?  If you’re using pornography, when will you get caught?  If you’re in an adulterous relationship, when will your deception be revealed?  Uncertainty is bound up with all these sorts of counterfeit comforts.  No, loved ones, it’s far better to flee sin and what it offers.  It’s far better to look to the certain comfort offered us in the gospel.  It’s far better to look to the confident comfort found in belonging to Jesus Christ.

The gospel has a confident comfort for us, and it also has a complete comfort.  Our Catechism rightly says that the gospel’s comfort is for both body and soul.  We belong with both body and soul to Christ.  He has redeemed both.  Human beings are made up of two parts.  We have a material part we call a body.  We have an immaterial part called a soul.  When we die, body and soul separate.  The physical or material part of us goes in a coffin to the grave.  Our souls go to be with the Lord.  Many Christians just leave it at that.  In the minds of many Christians, our salvation only has to do with what happens to our soul after we die.  But this is incomplete.  Our Catechism reminds us of the biblical truth that Christ has also come to be a Saviour for our bodies.  Our bodies as well as our souls have been bought by Jesus Christ with his precious blood.  And when we die and our souls go to heaven, that’s just part 1 of our glorification.  That’s what we call the intermediate state, the in-between state.  When Jesus returns, our physical bodies are going to be raised from the grave and reunited with our souls.  That’s part 2 of our glorification.  Then we arrive at what’s called the final state.  This biblical truth teaches us that the gospel offers us a complete comfort, comfort for both body and soul.  In our earthly pilgrimage, we experience the breaking down of our bodies as well as sometimes anguish in our souls.  The gospel promises that Christ is going to glorify both and that gives us comfort.  That gives us a complete hope for the future.

Counterfeits can only offer what’s incomplete.  They can’t give us anything for the future of both body and soul.  They might appear to offer you something for your body, but they can’t give you real comfort for your soul.  Even when they appear to offer you something, it’s a lie, it’s a deception.  Think again of Proverbs 23 and what God says about abusing alcohol.  Verse 29:  “Who has woe?  Who has sorrow?  Who has strife?  Who has complaining?  Who has wounds without cause?  Who has redness of eyes?”  Abusing alcohol doesn’t ultimately give you comfort for your body or your soul.  Indeed, what verse 32 says is true: “In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.”  An adder is a kind of venomous snake.  Abusing alcohol isn’t going to do you any physical or spiritual good.  God’s Word says it and you can clearly see it:  it results in liver disease, diabetes, it makes depression worse, cancer, stroke, the list goes on and on.  Unlike counterfeits, the gospel is going to do you good for both body and soul.  Christ was nailed to the cross to redeem both your body and soul.  He sends his Spirit to live in you so that both body and soul would be growing in holiness until the day of your glorification.                                            

So Christian comfort is Trinitarian, confident, and complete.  The gospel also offers us everlasting comfort, permanent comfort.  That’s why the Catechism says that our comfort is in both life and death.  What we have in Jesus Christ speaks to life here and now.  We have joy and hope.  We know that our lives have a purpose in God’s plan.  There’s meaning in what’s happening around us, even if we don’t always see it or understand it.  But there’s also comfort in death and beyond.  When we belong to Christ, we don’t have to fear death.  We don’t have to fear what happens after death.  We know that after we take our last breath, we will be received by God in glory.  Death is an entrance into eternal life.  As Paul says in Romans 14:8, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  That’s a huge comfort for us as Christians.  It’s everlasting comfort that will never fade away. 

But what about the fake comforts?  Counterfeits simply can’t compete.  One counterfeit is false religion.  If you have an unbiblical belief system, it will never measure up to what God promises in the true biblical gospel.  We have the Heidelberg Catechism from around the time of the Reformation.  Around that same time, there were also Roman Catholic catechisms.  One of the most popular was called the Mirror of a Christian Man.  It was written by a German priest, Dietrich Kolde.  Kolde wrote in his catechism, “There are three things I know to be true that frequently make my heart heavy.  The first troubles my spirit, because I have to die.  The second troubles my heart more, because I do not know when.  The third troubles me above all.  I do not know where I will go.”  How sad.  This priest didn’t know where he would go after he died and he taught other people to believe the same.  His false religion gave him no comfort for body and soul, in life and death.  Brothers and sisters, at best, counterfeits can only offer fleeting comforts.  They can only give you something temporary.  They can’t give you anything lasting, anything that will take you through death and beyond.  Nothing can give you what the gospel can give you.  Other comforts flee.  But you can be sure that if your trust is in the Lord, he will abide with you for your comfort. 

So what do you want?  Do you want comfort that’s grounded in the reliable Three-in-One God?  Do you want comfort that’s confident, complete, and everlasting?  Of course you do.  So, loved ones, take the words of Lord’s Day 1 and let them be not only the confession of your church, but also the confession of your heart.  As we sing the rhymed version of Lord’s Day 1, sing these words with personal conviction, that these things are true not only for others, but also for you.  AMEN. 


Our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the great comfort we have in the biblical gospel.  We thank you Saviour for giving yourself on the cross, for shedding your precious blood because we belong to you.  We thank you Father, that our lives are so completely in your hands that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from your will.  We thank you Holy Spirit for dwelling in us and assuring us of eternal life, and making us eager to live holy lives.  LORD God, thank you for gospel comfort that’s confident, complete, and everlasting.  Teach us always to treasure this comfort.  Lead us to see the counterfeits for what they are.  Help us Father God so that we would see that all counterfeits are lies, that they’re ultimately empty and destructive.  Please deliver all of us from these counterfeits and work in our hearts so that we treasure you and the gospel more and more.             


* 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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