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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:We need to know the depth of our depravity to comprehend the height of God's grace
Text:CD 3/4 art 1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2021-01-03
Added:2021-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Psalm 8:1,2,3

Hymn 2

Psalm 51:2,4

Psalm 33:6

Psalm 8:4,5

Read:  Romans 5:12-21; Ephesians 4:17-32

Text:  LD 3; COD III/IV art 1-3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel received a vision in chapter 37.  In that vision he was set down in a valley full of bones.  They were human bones, the skeletons of people who had been dead for a very long time.  And the LORD said to Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?"  To which Ezekiel answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."  In other words: No.  The bones were dead.  They were dry.  There was no life left in them.  But then God said something amazing.  He said to Ezekiel,

"Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."  (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

And that's happened!  And through this vision the LORD gave the assurance to his people Israel, who had gone into exile in Babylon, that although they were effectively dead, although it appeared as though they had no hope and no future, the LORD God himself would breathe new life into them.  He would be their God and they would be his people.

  And for good reason this vision of the valley of dry bones that became an army of living people is seen as a picture of what God does to us.  "You were dead in your trespasses and sins" Ephesians 2:1 says.  And 1 Peter 2:10, "Once you were not a people."  But as Ephesians 2:4,5 says, although we were dead in our trespasses and sins,

"God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us" . . . "made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved."

And 1 Peter 2:10,

"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

And indeed, that's what the gospel, the good news of our salvation is all about.  Our salvation is nothing short of the greatest miracle imaginable, where we who were dead in sin have been made alive in Christ Jesus.  And we need to know that:  we need to know just how dead we were in sin so that we might begin to comprehend the miracle of new life in Christ.  I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

We need to know the depth of our depravity to comprehend the height of God's grace

1. Perfectly made

2. Totally depraved

3. Comprehensively saved

 

1. Perfectly made.

When it comes to an understanding of our salvation and of who we are in Jesus Christ, it is best to start at the very beginning in order to understand how God created humankind and why he created us.  Both the Catechism in Lord's Day 3 as well as the Canons of Dort chapter iii/iv article 1 begin by stating that God created us in his image.  As it says in Genesis 1:27,

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

But what exactly does that mean?  What does it mean to be created in the image of God?  Lord's Day 3, answer 6, says that God created man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness.  This definition of what it means to be created in God's image comes from Ephesians chapter 4, which we read together.  Ephesians 4:23-24 says that you are

"to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

To be created in true righteousness means that Adam and Eve were created to reflect the righteousness of God.  His law was written on their hearts; they knew what God required of them.  And being holy means that their hearts were pure, that to be holy was their very nature.  This was what it meant to be human: to be righteous and to be holy just as God is righteous and is holy.

  The Canons of Dort gives a similar explanation of what it means to be created in the image of God, but it expands it a bit, describing just what it means to be created righteous and holy, just as God is righteous and holy.  The first part of chapter iii/iv, article 1 says,

"In the beginning man was created in the image of God.  He was adorned in his mind with true and wholesome knowledge of his Creator and of all spiritual things; his will and heart were upright, all his affections pure, and therefore man was completely holy."

The Canons begins to describe what it means to be created in the image of God by saying that man "was adorned in his mind with true and wholesome knowledge of his Creator."  God created us that we might know him.  But more than simply knowing God, God gave us a true and wholesome knowledge of him and of all spiritual things.  Using the words of Philippians 4:8, God created us in such a way that our mind would be focused on that which is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence and worthy of praise.  We were created in such a way that these things would be inherent in us. 

  In addition to this, the Canons explain that at creation, man's "will and heart were upright."  At the beginning our hearts were filled with good thoughts and right desires.  God created us so that we might be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. 

  And God also created us so that all our affections might be pure.   By the word "affections" what is meant is our emotions, our inclinations or our dispositions.  Whereas today, Lord's Day 2 of the Catechism teaches us, we are "inclined by nature to hate God and our neighbour", we were created to do the opposite, to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

And so that's how we were created.  That's what it means to be made after the image and likeness of God.  And that's why, after God had made the man and the woman, he declared that it was "very good."

But there's something I would like to point out here, however, and that's in connection with the Canons of Dort.  The Canons of Dort were written in response to the teachings of a man called Arminius.  Arminius and his followers also agreed that the man and the woman were created in the image of God.  However what they understood the image of God to be was quite different to how it is confessed in Lord's Day 3 of the Catechism and chapter iii/iv, article 1 in the Canons.  What the Arminians taught was that God created our mind and will not to be holy but to be neutral.  We were not created to be inherently good; God simply made us able to make good decisions, but it was up us to do so.  Why this matters is because the Arminians said that since Adam and Eve were not inherently good, righteous or holy in the first place, they did not lose these things when they fell into sin.  Let me read to you the Rejection of Errors number 2 in chapter iii/iv of the Canons of Dort.

Error: The spiritual gifts or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, cannot have belonged to the will of man when he was first created, and therefore cannot have been separated from his will when he fell.

Refutation: This error is contrary to the description of the image of God which the apostle gives, [in Ephesians 4:24] when he connects it with righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.

 We need to know that we were perfectly made and that we were made to be righteous and holy in all our will, our heart and our affections.  God created us in such a way, Lord's Day 3 says,

"so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him."

But the more we understand how we were created in the beginning, the more we recognise that by nature we aren't like that today.  And that leads us to the obvious question,

"From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?"

That brings us to our second point,

 

2. Totally depraved.

Lord's Day 3, Q&A 7 asks and answers,

Q. From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?

A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Likewise, the second paragraph of chapter iii/iv, article 1 of the Canons of Dort says,

"But rebelling against God through the instigation of the devil and through his own free will, he deprived himself of these excellent gifts, and instead brought upon himself blindness, horrible darkness, futility, and perverseness of judgement in his mind; wickedness, rebelliousness, and stubbornness in his will and heart; and impurity in all his affections."

The fall into sin has affected our minds.  In our fallen state and our sinful nature we are no longer able to truly set our minds on what is true, honourable, just, pure, and worthy of praise.  Instead, by nature we no longer know God, nor the things of God.  Listen once again to how the apostle Paul described our sin-filled state, outside of Christ, in Ephesians 4:17-18.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Paul did not write these words to pat the Christians in Ephesus on the back but to remind them of the evil and the ugliness of our sin-filled, fallen nature.  The Ephesian Christians were not better than their gentile neighbours.  To the contrary, in Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul reminded them that there was a time when there was no difference between them, when they too were dead in their trespasses and sins.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

That's what we had become in Adam:  totally depraved in our mind, in our will, our heart and our affections.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had it so good in the Garden of Eden.  God created us to be perfect, just as he is perfect and to be righteous and to be holy in every respect.  But man, at the instigation of the devil and in deliberate disobedience, fell into sin and robbed himself and all his descendants of all these gifts. 

  Chapter iii/iv, article 2 of the Canons describes the spread of corruption as follows:

Since after the fall man became corrupt, he as a corrupt father brought forth corrupt children. Thus the corruption has spread from Adam to all his descendants, with the exception of Christ alone, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old maintained, but by the propagation of a perverted nature, according to the righteous judgment of God.

This is what we call original sin: how the sin of Adam, who was our head, our representative, is passed on from generation to generation.  Yes, in a limited sense, every person must still be recognized as being made in the image of God.  It was to the man alone, in distinction to the animals, that God breathed into him the breath of life.  And it was with respect to man alone that the Bible says that God created man in his own image.  For that reason we must honor and respect the sanctity of human life, all human life, as the Lord himself said in Genesis 9:6.  But at the same time, God's image in humankind has been drastically affected by the fall into sin.  As Dr. Jason Van Vliet puts it in his book "Growing in the Gospel",

"Those who were created to be God's children now acted like insolent rebels.  Those created to reflect their heavenly Father's likeness in righteousness and holiness now began to act more like the devil, embracing deceit, greed, and even jealousy that could explode into fratricide [murder, even the murder of a brother] (Gen 4:1-16).  Respect for the heavenly Father was replaced with violence and every form of evil inclination (Gen 6:5, 11-12).  Obviously, God's image in man had been totally corrupted from every possible angle."  (Growing in the Gospel, volume 1, p109.)

And that's how it is for every man, woman and child outside of Christ.  We all share in the sin of Adam, and we all share in its consequences.  Our Bible reading from Romans 5 pointed that out.

Romans 5:12,

". . . sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . ."

Romans 5:15,

". . . many died through one man's trespass . . ."

Romans 5:16,

". . . the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation . . ."

Romans 5:17,

". . . because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man . . ."

Romans 5:18,

". . . as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men . . ."

And verse 19,

". . . by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners . . ."

We cannot escape it. Romans 5 teaches us that we are all sinners in Adam, we are all  polluted in Adam, and we are all condemned in Adam.  As it says in the first half of chapter iii/iv, article 3 of the Canons,

"Therefore all men are conceived in sin and are born as children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin"

The Arminians, whom the Canons of Dort are opposing, did not believe this.  In the Rejection of Errors iii/iv, number 1 they said,

"Properly speaking, it cannot be said that original sin as such is sufficient to condemn the whole human race or to deserve temporary and eternal punishment."

But we've seen in Romans 5 that the Bible says something else.  The Bible clearly says that the sin of Adam is passed on to his descendants so that it can rightly be said that we are all conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath.  But Romans 5 does not end there.  Rather, Romans 5 teaches us that

"as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men."  (Romans 5:18)

And Romans 5:21,

"As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

That brings us to our third point,

3. Comprehensively saved.

Lord's Day 3 asks in question 8,

"But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil?"

To which the short answer is: Yes.  Yes, we really are so corrupt, we really are totally unable to do any good, that is, any saving good, and by nature we are not inclined to do that which is evil.  Left to our own devices, the Canons of Dort chapter iii/iv, article 3 says, mankind

". . . neither will nor can return to God, reform their depraved nature, or prepare themselves for its reformation."

Left to our own devices, we are no more than dry bones in the valley of death.  We could never turn to God with a will that is dead and unable to discern the things of God.

  But this is where the good news of the Gospel comes in.  Because what we could never do, God does do by giving to us his Holy Spirit through whom we are born again to be made alive together with Jesus Christ.  It is in this way that we have been comprehensively saved.  Although in the beginning man was perfectly made, through the fall into sin he became totally depraved.  But through the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit, those whom God has elected to eternal life are comprehensively saved.  Whereas we have no one but ourselves to blame for our sin, our salvation is all from God, from beginning to end.  And that's why we need to know these things.  That's why we need to understand the depth of our sin and misery.  Because the better we understand the depth of our depravity, the greater we will comprehend the height of God's grace.

If it wasn't for his grace, we would still be dead in our sins.  If it wasn't for the regenerating power of His Holy Spirit we'd still be like a pile of dry bones in the valley.  But thanks be to God!  Yes, as it says in 1 Peter 1:3,

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his mercy , he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

And since God has granted us so great a salvation in Jesus Christ, he now restores us to the position we had in paradise.  Having redeemed us by the blood of Christ, God also renews us by his Holy Spirit to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us.  (Heidelberg Catechism LD 32.).

 And that's why Ephesians 4 calls us to live according to the image of God in true righteousness and holiness.  This is why verse 22 and following calls you to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life, and to put on your new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  But that's what God created you to do in the first place.  And that's what God has now redeemed you to do in Jesus Christ.  When God created us in his image, he did this so that we might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.  And now that we're saved in Jesus Christ we may, once more, live to God's praise as we were created to do.  For, 1 Peter 2:9,10 says,

"you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

What a God!  What a Saviour!  Yes, so great a God, so great a salvation.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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