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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:Sinner, and Saved, and Servant
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-07-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 30:1,2,5                                                                 

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Deuteronomy 4:1-40

Ps 105:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 1

Ps 40:1,2,3

Hy 64:1,2

* 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, the Catechism students all know that Lord’s Day 1 is important—so important that they’re ready to say it anytime. “Johnny,” I will ask, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” And (hopefully) he’ll say it. “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ,” and so on.

Of course, I don’t want my students to recite this answer without thinking, but with a good understanding, and a firm conviction. The beautiful truths of this Q&A should become fixed on their hearts, and central in their minds, so that they never forget.

To another student I’ll ask the second question of Lord’s Day 1, “Janey, what you do need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” The students like this one, because its answer is much shorter, and easier to remember. But it’s no less important! It actually gives us the foundation for understanding the first Q&A, and it provides a good structure for living out our Christian comfort each new day.

Today we’ll examine especially the second Q&A and the three-fold riches of our comfort. For this is something we all must know, not just the Catechism students. As the second question asks of every child of God, “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” We might be in Grade 7, or we might be 27; we might be an elder, or we might be elderly; we might be a mom, a dad, a child—but we all have to know it: We are sinful, but we are saved, and now we get to serve.

And we have to look at these three truths all together. We can’t separate the first part from the second part, or from the third. These things should be like “a three-fold cord,” braided and bound together as inseparable: the sinner’s guilt, God’s grace, and our gratitude. We listen to them ‘in stereo,’ fully in harmony with each other. So that our comfort might become more steadfast, let’s see who we are in the eyes of God, according to LD 1.

In the eyes of God, I am:

  1. a sinful person
  2. who has been saved
  3. and who now gets to serve

 

1) In the eyes of God, I am sinful person: When it comes to our sinfulness, the testimony of Scripture is clear. Under Q&A 2, the Catechism references Romans 3. That’s the text where Paul concludes that “Jews and Gentiles alike”—all people in the world—are utterly lost in their sin. Quoting passage after passage from the Old Testament, he makes his point, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (vv 9-10).

That’s obvious enough. It has been said that the doctrine of human sin is the one doctrine from the Bible that you can actually prove; it’s the one doctrine for which there is hard evidence. Just look around to see how widespread sin against the Lord really is. We live in a world that idolizes immoral celebrities, and which celebrates all kinds of perversions of sexuality, and makes personal freedom the ultimate truth. We live in a country that proudly kills unborn babies—and sometimes even babies that have been born. Our society tramples the Word of God at every turn, and every indication is that it’s only going to get worse.

So it’s impossible to deny that this is a wicked world, or to deny that the human heart overflows with evil. As the apostle John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Even so, a personal knowledge of our sinfulness—the kind of awareness that the Catechism is really speaking about—is often missing from our hearts and minds. It’s easy to say that this is a wicked world, and of course we’d never claim to be sinless. But there are probably days when we don’t feel too badly about ourselves. That is, we don’t feel too bad when we look at the world around us, a world so full of wickedness and sin.

Seeing the behaviour of our co-workers or university classmates, watching the news, listening to the radio talk shows in our car, it’s hard not to feel a little superior. “I might be sinful, but I’m not like that! I still uphold the institution of marriage, between one man and one woman. I pay my taxes, and I don’t go around looting or vandalizing public property. At least I have morals and try to live by them!”

Looking at our fellow human beings, we might echo the proud words of the Pharisee in Luke 18. Remember that he was the one who stood next to the tax collector in the temple courts, the one who said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers” (v 12).

And in a sense, that is true. As God’s children, we’re not ‘just like’ the world. By God’s grace, we’re different in status from those around us. By God’s grace and Spirit, we’re becoming different in our thoughts and deeds, too. But we’re not better. If we think that we’re better, then it means we’ve forgotten the first section of the Catechism, and what it means for us to sin against God.

Yes, sometimes we put our own spin on those proud words: “God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee. I would never be so proud as him, and look down on others so obviously. I would never minimize my sin, like he did, and think that I can stand on my own two feet before God.”

But have we really grasped how sinful we still are? Our sin—even our small sins, our respectable sins, and the ones we keep hidden from everyone—our sin is a breaking and scorning of the perfect law of the holy God. We should know beyond any doubt that sin is something that God detests, every time. Sin is something that’s even cursed by God, He is so against it.

If we look at ourselves the way that God looks at us, we ought to be more like the tax collector kneeling next to the Pharisee. The tax collector was so humbled in his sin that he cried out from his knees, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (v 13). Have you ever said those words? How often have you said them? They’re uncomfortable if you really say them from the heart: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But we should say them, and regularly.

This is how the Form for Holy Supper puts it in the section of self-examination. It says that we should “consider [our] sins and accursedness, detesting [ourselves]… before God.” Those are unsettling words, “detesting ourselves” because of our sin. If I’m going to nurture good self-esteem, and have a positive self-image, then detesting myself doesn’t give the right vibe. But God doesn’t want us to have an inflated sense of ourselves. David sings in Psalm 51, “The sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (v 17).

For this reason, it is good that we examine ourselves, taking a good hard look at our personal sinfulness. We see that, in far too many ways, we don’t live according to the life-enriching truths of LD 1. Rather, we live according to this credo: “I am my own, I belong to myself. My body is mine, and my soul is, so I’ll make my own rules.” Go your own way, and do as you see fit. I will watch what I want. I will drink what I want. I will work as much as I want, and treat other people badly all I want, especially if they’ve treated me badly.”

Even if we do try to lead a faithful Christian life, the first part of Q&A 2 remains a present reality: “[I need to know] how great my sins and misery are.” Underline those words “my” and “are,” for that’s personal, and that’s present.

No matter how much grace Christ has given us, and no matter how many years we’ve happily belonged to him, we must not forget where we’ve come from, and we must not deny how we still struggle. It’s present tense: we are sinful people, and our hearts still love all kinds evil. Our minds still dream up all manner of wickedness.

The truth is, if not for the covenant of grace, we’d be in covenant with the devil. If not for the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we would live according to the sinful flesh—and that’s a life that always ends in death.

So are we meant to sink into despair? Must we detest ourselves to the point where we view our life as worthless? Is that what God wants? God delights in broken and contrite hearts, but not for us to live in hopelessness. Because sin is paid for, and we’ve been set free!

God wants people who are humbled in their sins. He wants people so frustrated in their  constant struggle against wickedness that we can only throw themselves onto his mercies. He wants people so convicted of our guilt that we start to realize how amazing his grace really is. For when we are burdened with sin, God will lighten our load. When we finally realize that our hearts are broken, God will mend us and make us whole.

 

2) In the eyes of God, I am a sinful person who’s been saved: If our sins are an ever-present reality, then so is our salvation. That’s the teaching Lord’s Day 1, where in the first answer we confess, “I belong [present tense!] to my faithful Saviour.” And this is what we need to know, says Answer 2: “How I am [present tense!] delivered from all my sins and misery.”

We are delivered, and God has done it. So who does that make us today? In God’s eyes, we are saved. In his eyes, we are precious. To be sure, we are weak, and God is almighty. We are sinful, and God is perfect holy. We are transitory, and God is eternal. But God truly loves us, loves us deeply, loves as like a father loves his own child.

This means that instead of just tolerating us, God values us. We are his possession, and He treasures us. And He values us because of the price that was paid. Listen to Answer 1, “[Jesus Christ] has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.” His blood is what bought us, for it was blood poured out of a true and righteous man, yet one who was also true God. His precious blood saved us from death and redeemed us from the devil’s grip.

In his goodness and grace, God has always desired a people to be his special possession. Think of our fellow citizens in the kingdom of God, the people of Israel. They too, were deeply broken, and utterly helpless. They would never have been able to get out of their miserable condition in Egypt. Even with God helping them across the desert, they were ready to turn back after only a few days. But God in his grace was determined to save them.

We read about this in Deuteronomy 4. In this book, Moses is a Catechism instructor. In speeches that he gives at the end of his life, Moses teaches the people all the things they need to know. In the eyes of God, they are sinful, through and through—that much was clear from their history. But by his mercy and might, they have also been rescued.

Moses reviews the history of salvation with his students, and he says them, “Ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?” (Deut 4:32-33).

He wants Israel to know how incredible it is that the living God has actually spoken to them, that sinners have learned about the gift of salvation—that there even is something called salvation. It’s something we can reflect on too, how blessed we are to know the truth of the gospel, and the truth of Lord’s Day 1.

A few years back, I saw an interesting video where a youth group from a Reformed church went around asking random people on the street the first question of the Catechism: “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

And what do you think people would say? What would your neighbour say, or your coworker? What is their only comfort, their hope, their security? And it was sad, because in the video, some people answered with confusion, “What do you mean?” Or they laughed—they really didn’t know what to say. Others said that their comfort was family or friends. They took comfort in good times, in music, in kindness. And only the occasional person would answer with a confession of faith, saying their only comfort in life and death was Jesus Christ.

Like Moses said to the Israelites, we should really appreciate how rich we are. We should ponder the miracle that we have heard “the voice of God speaking” to us—telling us through his Word all the things that we need to know. In this world, we don’t have to be confused. We don’t have to find security in things that are only passing away and empty. When we’re asked that question about our only comfort, we can answer with confidence, “In life and death, I belong to Christ.”

Moses then recalls the greatest work of God for his people, “Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut 4:34). Incredibly, God was willing to save a people for himself. He was willing to do great things to save them from Egypt—and to save us from the power of sin.

And why has God done it? “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them” (Deut 4:37). Because of God’s love in Christ, God has saved us. Because of his covenant of grace, God draws near. On account of the blood of the Son of God, the Father will preserve us always. Without his will not a hair can fall from our head.

Because even when we are saved, there will be suffering. Moses refers to how Israel passed through “the iron furnace” (4:20). You will find an iron furnace in places where they’re working with metals, melting, purifying, and forming elements and alloys into something useful. In the Scripture, it’s a picture of deep suffering when God’s people go through the iron furnace, their faith “tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:7). Moses knows that there was more suffering ahead for Israel, even suffering that they’d bring on themselves by sin and unfaithfulness.

Even so, God is faithful: “For the LORD your God is a merciful God, He will not forsake you nor destroy you” (Deut 4:31). We have his commitment, his pledge of faithfulness. God binds himself to us; in Christ we have become precious to him. We are saved, and we shall be saved. We are his, both in life and in death.

If we are sick then, it’s not because our God has taken away his protecting hand. If we are lonely, it’s not because God has abandoned us. If we go through mental anguish or physical pain, it’s not because our God has changed his view of us. God is always near, and always working on our salvation.

God doesn’t promise us that everything is going to be better. He doesn’t say that in this life, we’re going to see everything made right. But He is bringing us through the furnace, “to be his people, an inheritance, as you are this day” (Deut 4:20). God makes sure that “all things”—even the terrible, the baffling, the confusing things of life—that all these things “work together for my salvation” (Q&A 1). Let’s see that this gift now calls us to get to work.

 

3)  In the eyes of God, I am a sinful person who’s been saved and who now gets to serve: It’s interesting how the Catechism crafts this final pillar of our knowledge, compared to the first two. First, we talked about “how great my sins and misery are”—present tense, for sin is still part of who we are. Second, we talked about “how I am delivered from my sins and misery”—salvation is present and ongoing.

But now in third place, I must know “how I am to be thankful to God.” Those words ‘to be’ mean that something has to happen yet, it’s something I still have to do. It’s on my agenda for tomorrow, the next day, and every day. ‘To be, or not to be’ thankful to God. What will I do?

Scriptures says there’s no room for ingratitude or laziness in the Christian life. We confess that we’re helpless in our sins, confess we don’t have a penny to contribute to our salvation. Yet it’s impossible that those who are saved should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness. As James tells us, faith must work!

We also see this in Deuteronomy 4. After a long chapter all about God’s salvation for his people, his great works and his steadfast kindness, see what Moses says next: “You shall therefore keep his statutes and his commandments which I command you today” (v 40). Obedience must follow salvation!

It’s also the final word in Q&A 1. After all that has been done for us—the Saviour buying us, the Father preserving us, the Holy Spirit assuring us—after all that, what is left for us to do? “I must be heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.” We must live for God, for it is God who has granted us life.

What does that mean, to live for God? People live for lots of things—it means that it’s their priority. It’s what they think about the most, and it’s what shapes so many of their choices. Some people live for the weekend, for drinks and parties. Some people live for their work. Some live for fishing, or for football, or for family.

What are you living for? What goal and purpose rules your life? What makes you feel better when you’re down? God wants us to live for him, to live like the people we’ve become in Christ. If we’ve been declared righteous through Christ, we must live in a righteous way. If we bear God’s holy Name by baptism, then we must confess and serve this Name every day. If we are known as Christians, then we must show that we’re actually following Christ by doing his will.

Remember, we’re saved entirely by grace. But our thankfulness proves something—it proves that we have truly received. If you have a thankful heart, and a thankful life, it is testimony that you have received Christ, and that the Spirit of God lives in you.

In Deuteronomy 4, Moses says that the task of serving the Lord is a great joy. See how he puts it in verse 8, “And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (v 8). Most people would say that rules are a burden, laws are a chore. Isn’t it better to be free? Isn’t it better to go our own way?  But we are blessed, because we’ve been called as God’s servants! No more futility. No more confusion. But we have purpose: to live for him!

This is what we have to know, for this is how God in heaven sees us: We are sinful people, we are saved people, and we are people who now get to serve. As we look in the mirror each morning, we learn to see ourselves as God himself sees us: once guilty, now granted grace, and called to be grateful always. We look at ourselves with humbled eyes, but at the same time, with eyes lifted up with purpose and joy.

For if we belong to Christ, we have hope. If we belong to Christ, we have a goal and a calling. Let us all be students of this most wondrous knowledge, confessing it with understanding, and living it out with joy!  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 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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