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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God's good law shows my need for the gospel
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-06-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Psalm 25:1-3

Psalm 119:25-27

Hymn 1

Hymn 77

Scripture readings:  Matthew 5:43-49; Mark 10:17-22

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 2

* 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,

During the corona virus pandemic, the government made all kinds of rules so the corona virus didn’t spread.  I think most of us recognized that these rules were for our good.  We accepted laws and rules related to COVID-19 because they save lives.  It was hard to live with them, but we recognized that the rules were there for a good reason. 

It’s strange that we can easily see the good behind human laws and rules, but when it comes to God’s law so many people can only see black.  So many people have a bad attitude towards the law of God.  You’d expect that from people who aren’t Christians.  Of course.  But there are also people who claim to be Christians who have a negative attitude towards God’s law.

There’s a special name for that:  it’s called antinomianism.  ‘Anti’ means ‘against.’  And ‘nomos’ is the Greek word for ‘law.’  So antinomianism is literally ‘against-the-law-ism.’  Sadly, antinomianism isn’t hard to find in the world around us.  However, there is one place where it’s impossible to find antinomianism.  That’s in the Bible.  The Bible won’t allow us to be down on God’s law.  The law of God is an expression of who he is.  The law of God shows us what God is like.  If you dislike or hate God’s law, you actually have a problem with God.  So the Bible teaches us instead to appreciate God’s law and what it does for us.

This afternoon we have Lord’s Day 2 as our Catechism lesson and there’s a focus here on a particular use of God’s law.  Here we’re not looking at the law of God as the guide for our thankfulness.  Instead, here we’re learning about God’s law as it points out our greatest problem.  We’re learning about God’s law and how it points out our sin, our need for forgiveness, and our need for rescue from sin’s consequences.  I’ve summed it up with this theme:  God’s good law shows my need for the gospel.

We’ll learn about:

  1. God’s objective standard
  2. My necessary confession

The world is often confused about moral matters.  So many people talk and act as if some things are absolutely and categorically evil and other things are absolutely and categorically good.  Yet many of these same people will tell you that good and evil are relative.  They’ll tell you that we all have to decide for ourselves what’s good and evil.  They talk out of two sides of their mouth.  On the one hand it’s all subjective, but on the other hand some things are black and white. 

But if we follow what the Bible teaches, we won’t fall into that kind of confusion.  The Bible gives us an objective standard of morality called God’s law.  As I said a moment ago, God’s law is grounded in who he is, his will reflects his character.  Because God never changes, his moral law never changes.  The standard for God’s creatures is objective and unchanging.  It’s not based on how we feel or what we think, but on who God is.

Now when we talk about God’s law in connection with Lord’s Day 2, it’s important that we understand that we’re talking about the moral law.  In the Old Testament, there were ceremonial laws – laws about sacrifices, dietary laws, and so on.  That’s not in view here.  Instead, we’re talking about the moral law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments.  And as QA 4 shows us, that moral law can even be summarized further.  Our Lord Jesus summarized God’s good law in Matthew 22.  When Christ did that, of course, he wasn’t teaching something new.  He was quoting from the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.  The objective standard of God’s moral law has always required love – love for God and love for your neighbour.  Let’s look at each of those individually. 

First, what does it mean to love God in the way taught by Jesus in Matthew 22?  When we think about love, our first inclination is to think about affection, warm feelings within us for someone.  When God’s law commands us to love him, affection is certainly included.  But it goes far beyond that.

To love God is to call on him.  In both Psalm 116 (vv.1-2) and Psalm 18 (vv.1-3), loving God is illustrated by calling on him in prayer.  You show that you love God by communicating with him.  You can’t say you love someone if you’re constantly ignoring them and never speaking with them.  So it is with God too, love for God is demonstrated by speaking to him in prayer.

To love God is to believe his Word.  When he speaks to us in the Bible, we trust what he says. If you love someone, you have confidence in them, you believe what they say and you’ll follow them with trust.  The same is true for God. 

Similarly, to love God is obey his Word.  1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”  You show you love God by doing what he says.

But the most important thing about loving God is to treasure him and to be satisfied in him.  To make him our highest delight and joy.  In Psalm 73, Asaph says there’s nothing on earth that he desires besides God.  God is everything to him.  That’s reflective of the kind of love God’s law requires of us.  God’s objective standard requires that we delight in God and hold him as our highest and only joy now and forever.

This love for God is to permeate our whole being.  In Matthew 22, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6 and he speaks of a love for God that involves all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.  What he means is that this love for God is to consume every part of who we are.  We can’t compartmentalize the love of God in our lives.  Our love for him has to soak into every part of who we are and be reflected in every part of who we are.  God’s objective standard requires that we love him for 100% in everything we are, everything we do, everything we say, everything we think.  We’re required to love God perfectly and to love him completely. 

That’s a high standard.  Think about how high it is for a moment.  Think about whether or not you can achieve this standard.  Can you love God perfectly and completely?  Can you love God consistently?  Have you ever done so? 

God’s objective standard also speaks of love for your neighbour.  In Matthew 22, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  What does that mean?  What does that look like?

The key to unlock the answer is in the two words “as yourself.”  The Bible isn’t telling us here to have warm, fuzzy feelings towards ourselves.  And it also isn’t assuming that we all have warm, affectionate feelings about ourselves.  This isn’t in the first place about feelings.  Feelings of affection will factor in, but they’re not the main thing.  The reason why God says to love your neighbour as yourself has to do with our natural, normal inclination to self-preservation.  Normally, we take care of ourselves.  Please note that I said “normally.”  We’re not talking about exceptional circumstances where people are troubled with desires to self-harm and all that.  The usual situation – if we’re healthy -- is that people take care of themselves. 

What I mean is that if you were to go do a walk in the mountains, you’d take a sleeping bag and probably a warm one.  No one wants to be shivering at night in the mountains.  Have you ever had a car door slammed on your fingers?  I don’t think anyone who’s ever had that happen just once to one hand would then go and want to have the same thing done to their other hand.  We try to avoid pain.  If it’s a hot summer day and you’re getting thirsty, you’re going to look for water.  We try to avoid dehydration.  If we go to the swimming pool on that hot summer day and I try to hold your head under water, you’re going to fight back.  These are all examples of the natural human instinct to take care of ourselves, what the Bible calls loving ourselves.

Now, just as we instinctively take care of ourselves, God’s good law requires that we love our neighbours.  God’s objective standard requires that our neighbour gets the same immediate attention that we give ourselves when there’s a threat to our well-being.  God says, “Take care of your neighbour, just like you automatically take care of yourself.”  That’s the over-riding thrust of the commandment Christ quotes in Matthew 22. 

Our Lord Jesus adds some depth to it in what we read from Matthew 5:43-49.  The temptation is to think that when it comes to other human beings, we’re only required to love certain people.  You only have to love the people closest to you, your friends, your family, people in your church perhaps.  Others can be left out.  It’s tempting to think that way, and it’s that way of thinking Jesus is addressing here.  He takes the extreme of enemies.  You may have people who hate you and have it in for you.  They’re nasty to you.  Our Lord Jesus teaches in Matthew 5 that the objective standard of God’s good law requires that we love even our enemies.  Not only are we supposed to love them, to take care of them, God’s law even requires that we pray for them.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  That’s what God’s law demands from you.  It demands that this be done perfectly.  Just as Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Just as God has perfect love, so he demands that you have perfect love. 

Again, let that sink in for a moment.  Think about how high the bar is set for us.  It’s impossibly high, isn’t it?  I don’t have perfect love for God and I don’t have perfect love for other human beings.  Because that perfect love is lacking, I’m in violation of the entire law of God.  I mentioned earlier that Matthew 22 is a condensed form of the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments can be summarized with love.  The first four commandments are really about love for God and the last six are about love for other human beings.  If you don’t have perfect love, you’re falling short of the law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments too. 

It’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you’re doing all right.  Look at the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22.  He comes to Jesus and asks a question which shows already a problem in his heart:  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  His question assumes there’s something he can do to gain salvation from God.   Then Jesus outlines the commandments – he focusses on the second table of the law dealing with other human beings.  And then this young man says, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  He apparently thinks that he’s doing all right.  He thinks that he’s a righteous person and not a law-breaker.  And that has to count for something, right?  Now notice the reaction of Jesus in verse 21.  It says he loved him.  Even though this person was self-righteous and self-deceived, Jesus still loved him.  He loved him enough to prick him at exactly right place with the demand of God’s law.  He told him to go and sell everything and give to the poor, and then come follow him, follow Jesus.  But this is the one thing the young man couldn’t do.  He not only had many possessions, but his possessions had him.  Jesus pointed out his idol.  Jesus pointed out one serious way in which he was failing to love both God and the people around him.  His idol was more important to him than both God and neighbour.  Instead of confessing his sin, repenting and believing, the young man left Jesus behind and went on his way disheartened and sorrowful.  He had a worldly sorrow because God’s law had shown his great shameful sin to everyone.

Many people react that way to the law of God.  It rubs them the wrong way and they don’t want a bar of it.  In his book Loving Jesus More, Phil Ryken tells of a wealthy duchess who’d been invited to hear the great evangelist George Whitefield [pronounced ‘Whit-field’].  Another noblewoman, a countess, invited the wealthy duchess.  The duchess was a proud woman.  She’d heard about George Whitefield’s preaching.  He took sin seriously.  He preached God’s law and showed how people needed the gospel.  But this duchess didn’t want anyone telling her that she needed to turn from her sin.  She wrote back to the countess who’d invited her:  “It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.  This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.”  You don’t have to have blue blood to react that way.  You just have to be a sinful human being who’s stuck in their pride and unbelief.

You see, rather than love for God and other human beings, our inclination is towards hatred.  Hatred is the direction we tend to go because of our sinful hearts.  I once heard my cousin Reuben (pastor at Mount Nasura Free Reformed Church) compare the situation to a car with its steering out of alignment.  You know if you have a car where the steering is bad, it’s always pulling in that one direction.  That’s exactly the way things are with sinful human beings like you and me.  Our sinful hearts are always pulling in the direction of hatred.  God’s Word calls us to see this and to confess it. 

We’re called to see that we’re inclined by nature to hate God.  Now just like with love, we’re accustomed to think of hate as a strong emotion, and usually an emotion that gets expressed with loud words and/or maybe violent actions.  But in biblical terms, hatred can be quite a bit more nuanced.  If we’re talking about hatred for God, that can be reflected in several ways.

Let me mention five common ways that people hate God.  I’ve adapted these five ways from a blog post by Dr. David Murray on this topic. 

One way that people hate God is by belittling him.  You can do that by ignoring him, not talking to him, or not listening to him.  By not praying, not reading your Bible, not attending church (when you can) to listen to his Word. 

A second way people hate God is by taking from him.  We’re glad to receive all kinds of things from God, but we don’t stop and give him thanks and praise for his blessings.  Perhaps it’s with daily food – so many people just act like the animals and tear into their food without stopping to thank the giver of their food.  This is hatred for God. 

Another way people hate God is by distorting him.  People love to talk about God as love.  But they don’t want to hear how the Bible describes him also as holy, and as a consuming fire.  They don’t want to see God revealed as being just and having wrath against sin and sinners.  People make God to be the way they want him to be.  That’s not love for God – it’s the opposite. 

A fourth way people hate God is by using him.  When times are tough, when people are desperate, they expect him to be their emergency help line.  But otherwise, life goes on without much thought of God at all.  Using God when he’s convenient and useful amounts to hatred for him.  God is there on your terms, as your servant, at your beck and call.

Finally, people hate God by disobeying him.  God forbids certain things, but even when they know what God says, people go ahead and do them anyway.  Or God commands certain things, and people refuse to do what God commands.  If loving God is obeying his commands, then certainly disobeying his commands amounts to hatred. 

When you hear these five ways of hating God, what goes through your mind?  Have you ever belittled, distorted, used, disobeyed or taken advantage of God?  I know I have.  We have to see that as sin.  We have to be honest about it and confess it.   We are inclined to hate God.  That’s the truth we each have to face and confess.  When we do that, then we see that there’s no way of earning fellowship with God.  Instead, we need the gospel.  We need the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

And we need to make that confession when it comes to our neighbours too.  We’re inclined by nature to hate the people around us.  Titus 3:3 talks about sinful human nature:  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

Again, that hatred isn’t just the raw emotion of spite and malice.  It is that, but it’s more.  In Proverbs 13:24 God says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  The Bible says that neglecting the discipline of your children amounts to hatred for them.  Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hates its victims…”  There God says that lying to other people is hatred.  At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul is writing about how husbands should relate to their wives.  Husbands are to love their wives “as their own bodies.”  Then he says in Ephesians 5:29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”  From that we can conclude that failing to nourish, failing to cherish, and take care is hatred.  Not just in marriage, but everywhere in life.  Failing to take care is hatred.  All these passages tell us that we need to have an expanded understanding of what hatred is in order to see how serious our problem is.  It’s not enough to say, “I don’t hate anyone” and mean that you don’t have a strong emotion of spite, malice or contempt for other people.  When the Bible talks about hatred, it goes way deeper than that. 

That depth is meant to bring us to the necessary confession:  it’s true, I am inclined by nature to hate my neighbour.  The good law of God shows me that I’m bad.  I’m twisted and messed up in regard to God, but also in regard to the people around me.  The good law of God shows me I’m a rebel and a traitor before him.  I do the opposite of what he says.  He says love him and love my neighbour, and instead I hate him and hate my neighbour.  I’m someone in desperate need of forgiveness.  I’m someone desperately needing the gospel and needing the Saviour revealed in the gospel.  I need Jesus Christ.  Let me ask you:  is that your confession?  Has the law of God showed you again your great need for the gospel?

Imagine if you had a horrible, deadly disease, but it’s a disease for which there’s a treatment.  What if you went to the doctor and the doctor didn’t tell you the truth about your disease?  What if the doctor didn’t want to upset you, so he kept the truth from you even though he knew it would kill you?  Would you say that’s a good doctor?  Of course not.  We all realize that a good doctor tells the truth.   A good doctor tells you the truth so you can get the life-saving treatment you need.  The law of God is like a good doctor telling us the truth about our condition.  We’re in big trouble.  And once we can admit that and confess that, then we see our need for the solution.  We see our need for the gospel, we see our need for Christ.  Ultimately, what the law does here shows us that God is good.  He is so good that he pricks us with his law, he convicts us of sin, and he drives us to the cross.  And that’s the place we need to be in order to be saved.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Heavenly, glorious God,

We worship you as the holy and righteous One.  There is none like you in uprightness and integrity.  Your law reveals you in your incomparable goodness and righteousness.  At the same time, it also exposes us for who we really are.  Your law demands that we love you with all our heart, soul, and mind.  Instead, Father, we confess that we’re inclined to hate you.  Your law demands that we love our neighbour as ourselves.  Yet we confess that we’re inclined to hate our neighbour.  Father, we are so broken.  We stand in need of your forgiveness.  We need the gospel to bring us hope and healing.  So, Father, we again to look to Christ.  Through him, we ask you to forgive our sinful inclinations to hatred.  And with your Holy Spirit, please help us to put those sinful inclinations to death.  Please fill us more and more instead with love.  Make us look more like Christ and his love for you and his love for us.                       

 

                      




* 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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