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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:Our God is Not a Good Salesman (But He is a Great Saviour)
Text:LD 24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Romans 5

Lesson: Lord’s Day 24



  1. His Product before Our Payment

  2. Our Payment Rejected

  3. Our Payment Rewarded


  1. Psalm 146: 1-3

  2. Psalm 116: 1, 2, 3, 5, 9

  3. Hymn 29: 1-3

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 78: 1-5


Words to Listen For: blanket, bodybuilder, paradox, familiarity, chairs


Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is God different from a businessman?

  2. How did Luther misunderstand Romans 1:16-17?

  3. What are the three kinds of works that human beings produce?  Do any of them count towards our salvation?  Why?

  4. What is the paradox of the gospel?

  5. What saves us from the terror of sinners who heard Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ our Lord,

I am not a good salesman.  I know this well.  I’ve worked in retail before, and working hard to convince someone that what they really need and deserve is an EXTRA LARGE coffee rather than a large coffee, or front row tickets to a show, when they would have been satisfied with the fifth row, was never really a passion of mine, nor is it really in my skillset.  

This thought came to my mind last week as I was listening to Praise 106.5.  A good Christian radio station.  But once or twice a year, they devote an entire day, or few days to raising money for their radio station.  While I somewhat understand the reasoning, these fundraising days on the radio are hard to listen to, as they try hard to get people to give them the funds that they need.

They play off of your love for the gospel, saying things like: If you love the gospel, if God has worked in your life, make sure you give us money so that He can do the same in someone else's life.

Their salesmanship tactics are difficult to defend, saying things like: You must feel a tug at your heart right now.  That tug is God telling you to donate money to us.

That’s not me.  That’s not how I work.  Like I said, I am not a good salesman.  But what’s good for me what’s good for us all, is that:


  1. His Product before our Payment

  2. Our Payment Rejected

  3. Our Payment Rewarded


Our God is not a good salesman.  He gives His product before our payment.

Imagine with me, if you will, that our salvation happened like a business deal.

What do you need in a business deal?

You need a product.  In this case, eternal life.

You need a supplier of that product.  In this case, God.

You need an interested consumer.  Us.

And you need a cost for that product.  In this case, obedience.

And so, if our God was a businessman, if He was a good salesman, He would set up shop, so to speak, and advertise His product.

Come one, come all!  Available right now is this amazing product: eternal life!  Eternal life with me.  Whoever is interested, you can come, with your payment in hand, and we will make a trade.  As long as you are obedient, perfectly obedient, mind you, then eternal life is yours!

And we can see how this sounds similar to the message of the gospel.  This may be your understanding of the gospel message, but I truly hope it’s not.  Because even though it sounds familiar, it sounds similar, may of the right elements are is wrong at every turn.

And there was a man, 503 years ago, who had heard this message.  He heard this message of salvation as a business deal, and God as a salesman.  And it didn’t sit right with him.  This man’s name was Martin Luther.

Now, some of you may know who Martin Luther is.  The children learn about him in school, but rarely do we hear about him off the pulpit.  And, given that yesterday was Reformation Day, it is perhaps fitting to hear a little more about Martin Luther’s story, and how he discovered the true gospel of grace.  Now, please note that this focus on Luther is meant to SERVE the gospel, not to replace it.  For all the good that Luther did, he is not our Saviour.  For all his flaws, he is not the devil.  He is simply a man whom God used for His purpose.

Born in 1483, Martin Luther had been on track to becoming a lawyer.  He studied at University, flying through his courses, and developing a reputation for excelling at public debates.  But, at age 21, now focussing on law full time, in great fear during a thunderstorm, Martin Luther promised to Saint Anne, that he would become a monk if he was saved from the storm.  Despite his parent’s objections, Luther took on a vow of poverty and gave away all his possessions, joining a monastery.  There, he excelled at all the disciplines of a monk, such as prayer, fasting, sleeping on the cold ground of his room without a blanket, and whipping himself when he sinned, so that he would truly suffer.  But none of that actually helped his inner torment before God.  Through his studies, he became more and more aware of his sins, and he began to hate God instead of love Him.

In his reading, Luther kept returning to Romans 1:16 and 17, the words that drew us into worship this afternoon: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But, you see...the focus of Luther was not on the word “faith” but on the word “righteous.”  The RIGHTEOUS shall live by faith.  When Luther looked at his life, he knew that he was not righteous.

Putting it in the language of business once more, Luther desperately desired the product that God was selling.  He desperately wanted eternal life with Him.  And yet, when he tried to pay the price of obedience, by his harsh monastic lifestyle, he always came up short.  Luther realized that he was in DEBT, rather than saving up for eternal life.

And so Luther HATED God.  He hated God, because to him, the gospel was a carrot, dangling just out of reach.  God was mocking humanity by telling them to be righteous and earn eternal life, when they could not possibly do it.

And then, one day, when he was a professor at Wittenberg University, teaching through the book of Romans, he meditated on this passage day and night, with much agony and tears...then he began to realize that the focus should not be on “righteousness” as a prerequisite for faith, but rather, faith as the divinely ordained way to reach righteousness.

And Luther writes, later reflecting on this moment, “It was as though I were entirely born again, and had entered paradise itself.”  Luther realized and rediscovered the true gospel.

Let’s go through the business metaphor again.

Though it is true that God starts with the product of eternal life, we are not the ones who come to Him, asking for it.  The Pillar at Bethel is not the Tower of Babel.  Bethel is not Babel.  We do not build our way up to God, but rather, He comes down to us.

God has this wonderful product, but none of His consumers actually want it!  And why?  Because the consumers are DEAD!  We were dead in our sins - and loving it!  We were dead, and the sad part is that we didn’t know we were dead.  Our reading in Romans 5 describes us as WEAK, though that is a rather tame translation.  We were without the necessary strength to LIVE.  We were frail and fragile.  Don’t think of this as someone who just isn’t a BODYBUILDER, but rather someone who can’t sit up in bed by themselves.  Who can’t feed themselves without help.

While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We could not walk up to where God had set up shop and ask for the product.  And what’s more, we did not have the payment.  We couldn’t possibly pay the steep cost of obedience that God rightly requires.  Martin Luther knew this, and it wrecked him.  For years it destroyed his confidence, his assurance, and his relationship with God.  Until suddenly his eyes were opened, and he realized that this thing that sounded like the gospel wasn’t actually the gospel at all!

The gospel isn’t a business transaction!  For our God gives us the product before the payment.

WHEN WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.  We have been justified by His blood, before we could pay a single cent.

This is not a sustainable business plan - to give your consumers the product before they pay a single red cent.  Even when buying a house, you need a down-payment.  Even when paying by credit, you need to have reliability and a good credit score.  No good salesman would give his product to a dead man.  And yet, that is what God, our great Saviour did!

Our catechism explains that our good works cannot be our payment, our righteousness and obedience before God, because even AFTER we are saved, they are imperfect and defiled with sin.  How much more BEFORE we were saved?  Any good works that we would have done would not have been done for the glory of God, and so, with a corrupt motivation,and being corrupted with sin themselves, they would have counted for nothing.

And even after we are saved, any payment that we would offer for our sins is rejected by God.  Our second point.

Any payment, any obedience that we render to God after our salvation is also rejected by Him.  Our God is not a good salesman.

But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least part of it?

It is important, at this time, to recognize the different kinds of works that we as human beings produce.

Before we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, before we are saved by faith in Christ, there are two kinds of works that we as human beings can produce: we can produce evil works and we can produce dead works.

The evil works that we produce are sins.  This is what Martin Luther was concerned about.  This is what tormented him.  All his sins were constantly before him.  During his time living in the Monastery, each and every day, his confession before a priest would take hours upon hours.  Whereas the confessions of the other monks would take just a few minutes, with Luther, it would be the thing central to his day.  He did not want to leave a single sin unconfessed, and so he would spend so much time in the confessional booth that he neglected his chores, and his agony was so great that it gave him kidney stones and gall stones.

Without confession, Luther believed that Satan would devour him.

Upon reflection, we can see that Luther had ousted Jesus Christ as his Saviour, and depended on confession, and penance.

And that brings us to the second kind of works that the unregenerate person can do.  Dead works.  Dead works are good works done from the wrong motivation.  Luther’s penance came out of a fear of the Devil and a hatred of God.  Desperately trying to claw his way into God’s favor.  All the “hail Mary’s” and prayers at the stations of the cross in the monastery were simply dead works.

It is clear that neither evil works nor dead works can contribute anything to our salvation.

But the third kind of works, the works that the catechism speaks of here in Lord’s Day 24, and in more detail in Lord’s Day 33 - good works...surely GOOD WORKS can contribute to our salvation!

When we, as redeemed people, begin to obey the law of God, when we have a true and earnest love for God, and truly desire to love our neighbour, putting aside hatred, jealousy, and bitterness...SURELY this could be a partial payment.

But the catechism says no.

And the scriptures say no.

But why?

Obedience is important, is it not?  Why would God continually stress the importance of obedience if it did not contribute to our salvation?  As I’ve said before and I will continue to say, obedience is God’s love language.  Obedience to God’s commandments shows that we love God, and it is the proper response to our salvation!

This is the paradox of the gospel: we are not saved BY our works, and yet, we are not saved WITHOUT them either.

How does this work, you may ask?

It is ONLY Jesus’ perfect obedience, throughout His earthly life, and ONLY His perfect death on the cross that saves us.  Of this, there is no doubt.

HOWEVER.  A tree that bears no fruit to use our Lord’s metaphor, or a Christian that produces no good works, to say the actual words, this Christian is not truly a Christian.  A faith that exists only in the head, not making its way to your heart and your hands...this is not a true and saving faith.

This is a faith like the faith of the demons in James 2 - You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

A faith that shudders in the presence of God instead of falling down in thankfulness...this is not a true and living faith.

Obedience is desperately important, it is true.  But perfect obedience, the obedience that God requires as the payment for salvation...that is out of our grasp.

As our catechism says: The righteousness which can stand before God’s judgement must be absolutely perfect and in completely agreement with the law of God

And our lives, the lives of Christians, redeemed, renewed Christians...our lives are not lives of perfection.  Not yet.  Though we can do good works, and we must do good works, our works in this life, even our best works, are all imperfect and defiled with sin.  For God to accept these imperfect works as payment would go against His justice.  For our God to accept our works now, even as a fraction of our debt before Him, would invalidate and disrespect the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Only through Christ, and His perfect obedience, can we truly have peace in our hearts.  Only through Christ can our souls be washed clean.  Only through Christ can we be reconciled to God.  Our works earn us nothing.  For even our good works need to be forgiven by Christ.  And yet, our God promises to reward them in this life and the next.  Our third point.

There is something so wonderful and so freeing about the fact that our salvation was won for us through the actions of another.  That it was given to us as a free gift.  But this freedom cannot make us careless and wicked.  Rather, it should spur us on to ever increasing acts of good work, for the glory of God.  And this freedom can do this wonderful thing because it is a freedom that takes away fear.  One of you may ask me: “How does freedom take away fear?”

The answer is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 3.  Please turn there with me.

1 Corinthians chapter 3.  The Apostle Paul starts by addressing the Corinthians as merely infants in Christ, because there are divisions among them based on human teachers.  There are those who say they follow Paul, while others say they follow Apollos.  But Paul explains that preachers and teachers are merely servants.  They build up various congregations upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ.  The Corinthian Church is not the body of Paul, it is the body of Christ.

And then, in 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul shares this wonderful theological truth with us.  Listen carefully, because this is a familiar verse.  And familiarity will sometimes make you want to tune out.  But listen carefully

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Many of you have heard this verse before.  But what does it mean?

The foundation of the CHURCH, the foundation of each and every believer, is Jesus Christ.  And when we think of a foundation, we really only think about what is built on top of the foundation.  But what is under the foundation?  In Christianity, this is of vital importance.

There once was a famous preacher named Jonathan Edwards, who delivered a famous sermon.  Maybe you’ve heard of it: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  And this singular sermon caused mass revival.  It caused mass revival because of the power in its words.  Because of the truth in its words.  In this sermon, Edwards describes the wrath of God against sinners.  A great and fearsome wrath against those who reject His covenant of grace and His Messiah.

He describes it in this way: God...holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire...and is dreadfully hang by a slender threat, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder!

Apparently, his words were so powerful and convincing, though he spoke in a quiet monotone, that his listeners grabbed their chairs, grabbed each other, because they were terrified that hell itself would open beneath them.

And this, beloved, is what lies beneath the foundation of Jesus Christ.  For Edwards was right. For the unrepentant sinner, a gaping pit of hell lies beneath you, ready to swallow you at any moment.

But for the repentant believer, for the one who trusts in Jesus Christ, that gaping pit is paved over with the strongest foundation.  It is paved over for you, and there is no chance of you falling in.  The gaping pit of hell is closed FOREVER for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ.

And then, Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 3 about what WE must do on that foundation.

1 Corinthians 3:11 - For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  And thanks be to God it is Him, and not anything we do!  For only Christ is a firm and sure foundation.

Now if anyone (and anyone means ANYONE, not any leader or teacher), Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - 

Paul has switched gears here.  He did so subtly, but he moved on from talking about preachers and teachers, to speaking of each and every Christian.

You see, we do not have to build THE FOUNDATION, but we must build UPON IT.  We must build upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw...and here the Apostle is speaking metaphorically about the works that you do.  Good works, works done for the glory of God, with the heart and soul of the Christian in them...these are seen as gold, silver, and precious stones.

But for the believer who has works that are lacking in number (if she was a deathbed convert), or lacking in quality (if he begrudgingly did good works because he had to, but his heart was not in them)...these works are wood, hay, and straw.

Paul uses this language as he does, because the fire of the last day will reveal the work for what it was.

If it was wood, hay, or straw, it will burn up and count as nothing...though the person will be saved - for it was not the works that saved, but rather the foundation of Jesus Christ.  A true belief, with works lacking in quantity or quality will STILL BE SAVED, but they will have nothing more to show for their time on this earth.

However...if the works were truly good works, done for God’s glory, then they will be as gold, silver, or precious stones - purified in the fire, and then rewarded.  Beloved, think on this for a moment - we will be REWARDED for doing less than what is expected of us.  We will be rewarded for doing less than what is expected of us.

Our best efforts are still so far below what our God created us to do.  Our obedience is slow and weak.  And yet, if it is done whole-heartedly, earnestly, and with pure motivation...these imperfect works will be rewarded.

On that day, we will be told, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

And we will respond, “I only did my duty.”

And not even that, beloved...for Jesus Christ is the one who truly did my duty.

All glory, praise and honour be to Him.  Forever.


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

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