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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Most Important Equation
Text:LD 33 Q& A 88-90; Eph. 4:17-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2014
Added:2021-02-08
Updated:2021-05-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Blue Psalter hymnal unless otherwise noted):
 
402 - Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken  
Responsive Reading: Psalm 51 
94   - God Be Merciful to Me
409 - Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
383 - O For a Thousand Tongues 
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“The Most Important Equation”
Ephesians 4:17-32; H.C. Q&A 88-90
 
Perhaps you young children among us are learning about arithmetic. Maybe you are at the early stage of learning addition, such as 1+1 = 2. Or, if you are older, maybe you are learning multiplication tables or how to divide fractions. All of those mathematical equations will be more helpful than you realize when you are older.
 
But have you learned the most important mathematical equation? Just as 1+1 = 2, so also the catechism and Scripture teach us that genuine repentance + saving faith in Christ = conversion. That is what question and answer 88 is all about. It is an equation, but instead of being a mathematical equation it is a theological one. Instead of saying one plus one equals two, it is saying genuine repentance plus saving faith in Christ equals conversion.
 
The terminology differs from mathematical terms. Genuine repentance is referred to as “the dying-away of the old self.” And saving faith is referred to as “the coming-to-life of the new.”  The language of the catechism, as you probably noticed, is similar to the language of Ephesians 4:22-24 which is one of the Scriptures that the catechism cites.
 
We understand the mathematical equations, but what exactly does it mean to “die to the old self” and what is the “coming-to-life” of the new self?  I'm sure that some of you young children are not alone in having trouble understanding those terms and what is meant by them. Most of the people in our world, even those who have mastered advanced mathematics, are unable or unwilling to understand the theological equation; yet it is the most important equation anyone can ever know.
 
What does it mean to die to the old self?  The catechism gives us a clear, three part definition in Question and Answer 89: “It is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it.”
 
Genuine Sorrow for Sin
 
First, the dying-away of the old self means that we are genuinely sorry for sin. Saying that we are sorry is relatively easy to do.  Many people say they are sorry for what they have done, but sometimes the sorrow is only because they got caught. Often the words, “I’m sorry” are on the tongue but not in the heart. 
 
2 Corinthians 7:10 points out that there is both a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” That verse teaches us that two people can be sorry for what they have done, and yet have dramatically different results from their sorrow.  The sorrow of the worldly person, like the sorrow of Judas Iscariot, leads to death. But the sorrow of a Christian over their sin, such as David expressed in Psalm 51, brings repentance that leads to eternal life.
 
The godly sorrow that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes is the sorrow one has when they realize that their sin has hurt God. It is a realization that we have hurt the very One who loves us more than anyone else in the world. It is a realization that we have hurt the One who sacrificed Himself for us, so that we would be saved through faith in Him. It is a realization that we have grieved the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
 
It is reflections like that which led David Brainerd, the well-known missionary to the North American Indians to say, “I weep before the face of God because of the kind of man that I am in the face of the kind of God that He is.”
 
Another well-known Christian missionary put it this way. George Whitefield said, “The great mark of the true Christian is that his heart is filled with a joy that the world has never known, and his eyes are filled with tears the world has never wept.”
 
When we are truly sorry for our sins, then we will also begin to hate sin more and more. That is the second aspect of “dying-away of the old self”. 
 
One of the things that makes sin so dangerous is that it looks attractive to our fallen, sinful human eyes. We look at something sinful and can so easily be tempted to think that sin will bring joy when in reality it brings great sorrow. 
 
That was true for Adam and Eve. They looked at the forbidden fruit, and it looked so good. The Scripture tells us that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6)
 
But as soon as they disobeyed God and ate from it, they found out just how terrible sin is. They found out that sin is totally deceptive. They found out that sin drove them from Paradise and can keep us from Paradise. And when they saw how deceptive and cruel sin is, they began to have a hatred against it.
 
The same is true for every Christian ever since. When we see how terrible sin is, we begin to have a hatred for the same sin that repeatedly causes us to stumble; and we have an increasing hatred for all sins. It was Charles Spurgeon who wrote, “A genuine Christian dreads sin. He will not say, ‘Is it not a little one?’ for he knows that a little sin is like a small dose of a very potent poison.”  
 
Sorrow for sin and hatred of sin are both parts of true repentance. You may have noticed that the catechism cites as one of their Scripture references Joel 2:12: “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning.’” Psalm 51:17 adds: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Sin always brings sorrow, both for the unbeliever who only finds frustration and disappointment in sin, and the believer who is heartbroken that they have sinned against the very God who has loved them and reconciled them to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son.
 
The catechism goes on to teach that if we are sorry for sin and hate sin, then we will run from it. An example of someone running from sin is the example of Joseph. When Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, Joseph ran. Unfortunately, there are not many like Joseph.  As has been duly noted: “Few speed records are set when running from sin.”
 
Yet many Scriptures warn us to run from sin, including 2 Timothy 2:22, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” And 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against their own body.”
 
The reason the Bible warns us so urgently to flee from sin is because if we don’t, we will get drawn to sin just as a moth is drawn to light and then burned to death by the very thing that caught their attention. You children have probably seen your Dad change a light bulb. And when he does, you probably saw that many insects were drawn to the light and killed by it. The same principle is at work with sin. It will entice you, and if you don’t flee from it, it will ensnare you and lead you to eternal death, which is eternal separation from God in the reality of hell.
 
To flee means that you run with all your strength, as fast as you can, exerting all your energy. To do so you need to focus on your Savior and not on the sin that tempts you. And you can’t run to the Lord all the while looking over your shoulder at the so called “pleasures of sin.” It did not work for Lot’s wife, and it won’t work for you or for me either.
 
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned him about false teachers and the sins that accompany them. He warned him about the love of money and the enticements of the world. Then he pointed Timothy to what he should pursue, to what his goals should focus on. He wrote, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). You and I are called to do the same as Timothy: Flee from sin and pursue righteousness.
 
Wholehearted Joy
 
While Question and Answer 89 describe the great sorrow that every Christian has as they hate sin and strive to run from it, Q&A 90 points out that there is a wholehearted joy for every true believer.  Q&A 90 defines what it means to come to life and to have saving faith in Jesus Christ. 
 
Although the first part of conversion is sorrowful, as we confess our sin and run from it, the second part of conversion results in “wholehearted joy in God through Christ”.  As the catechism describes this wholehearted joy, it cites the 51st Psalm (which we read responsively). That Psalm speaks both of the great sorrow of sin which David experienced, but also the joy that he experienced as he realized God’s forgiveness. In verse 8 David had prayed, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.” And in verse 12 David prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
 
Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians who know the sorrow of their sin, but do not seem to be able to experience the joy of salvation. It is almost as though many professing Christians want to wallow in their sin the way a pig wallows in their filth. Consequently, they miss out on the joy that God would have them know through the forgiveness of their sins.
 
Recently I saw a plaque which had a bright ray of sunshine piercing through dark and stormy clouds. Written in bold letters were these words: “God's grace is greater than my sin.” That is a simple truth, yet it is a profound truth, one that brings great joy to everyone who meditates on it through saving faith in Christ. But unfortunately, so many people seem to focus on their sin instead of focusing on the immeasurable grace of our forgiving God. 
 
Of all people on the face of the earth, we who are Christian should be the most joyful! We know what it means to have a sentence of condemnation changed to a full and complete pardon. Jesus bore the full curse and condemnation for all the sins of those who have true saving faith in Him. Because He has, we who have saving faith in Him are cleansed, and have no fear of the judgment to come for “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
 
Consider Peter’s first letter as he quoted from Isaiah 28:16, where the Lord says:
 
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in Him
    will never be put to shame.”
(1 Pet. 2:6)
 
How encouraging do you think that was for Peter? He had done many things that he was ashamed of. Perhaps on the top of his list was his denial of Jesus, repeated three times over with curses, before the rooster crowed. As he heard the rooster crow, and caught the gaze of Jesus, he went outside and wept bitterly.
 
By contrast, what joy he had when he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about the promise of God that “the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” No wonder Peter had written, in 1 Peter 1:8 and 9: “Though you have not seen Him you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
 
And the same should be true for you and for me! I have done many things that I am deeply ashamed of. And I am sure you have too. But Christ bore the curse of those shameful actions, and in their place He imputes – credits – His perfect record of righteousness.  What joyful, thankful people we should be!
 
The catechism goes on to teach that those who have this “wholehearted joy in God through Christ” will have “a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to.” The purpose for our salvation is the glory of God. And an important part of glorifying God is doing the good that God desires us to do. Have you noticed how many Scriptures tell us that God’s purpose for our lives is to do good for His glory and for our own good?
 
Consider Paul’s words to Titus. In Titus 2:14 he wrote, “He (Jesus) gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” And again, in Titus 3:8, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
 
Likewise, Hebrews 10:24 tells us to, “consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds.” After all, as Ephesians 2:10 teaches, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If we are truly converted, it will show in our life.  We will delight to do good for the glory of God!
 
Not Overnight
 
As you children among us learn mathematical equations, you will stumble from time to time. You won’t always get the answers to mathematical problems immediately, and you won't always have multiplication tables and other mathematical formulas memorized perfectly. In a similar way, we who by God's grace are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, don't live out the theological equation of having godly sorrow and saving faith in all its perfection.
 
In this life none of us have perfect repentance.  Our old self dies very slowly. We should not be surprised. Physical death also comes very slowly, even for those who seem to die suddenly.  
 
I knew a man who died suddenly in his sleep when he was 40.  It was a real shock. Outwardly there was no evidence of illness or disease, but inwardly, he like all of us, was in the process of dying ever since he was born. Perhaps gradually the plaque in his arteries built up until it caused a massive heart attack. To this day we do not know for sure. 
 
But just as death, even “sudden death”, is a lengthy process, so putting to death our old sinful nature takes time. There are many failures and sins, by even the most faithful of Christians.  Furthermore, in this life we never kill the old nature completely.  It stays with us until our physical death.  Only then are we fully sanctified and perfected.  
 
Likewise, our faith is often like a flickering candle; our faith frequently wavers. Doubts can fill our minds and deaden our hearts. But if we are truly saved – if our conversion is real – then these two elements of repentance and faith will be evident in your life and mine. Not instantaneously, but gradually, over time we will experience the progression of God’s grace in our lives. As God continues the good work He began in us, we will see an increase in the dying away of the old self and the coming to life of the new. The two go together hand-in hand.
 
May you and I, through the genuine sorrow of true repentance, and the wholehearted joy of saving faith, always seek to praise God – finding delight in pleasing Him, and delight in doing every kind of good as God wants us to!  Amen!
 
 
Bulletin Outline:
 
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your
old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new
in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like
God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24
 
“The Most Important Equation”
Ephesians 4:17-32; HC Q&A 88-90
 
I.  The most important equation in the world is: (Repentance + Faith in
     Christ) = Conversion (Q&A 88; Ephesians 4:22-24)
 
 
 
 
II.  The dying away of the old self, true repentance, involves (Q&A 89):
       1) Genuine sorrow for sin (Psalm 51:3,4,17; 2 Corinthians 7:10)
 
 
 
       2) Hatred of sin (Joel 2:12-13; Romans 7:14-25)
 
 
 
       3) Running from sin (Genesis 39:12; 1 Timothy 6:11)
 
 
 
III. The coming to life, through saving faith in Christ alone, brings (Q&A 90):
      1) Wholehearted joy in God through Christ (Psalm 51:8, 12)
 
 
 
      2) A delight to do every kind of good (Colossians 1:10)
 
 
 
      3) A deep desire to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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