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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:As a Sinner, I Am Miserable When God Is Fair
Text:LD 4 Psalm 5:1-12, Romans 2:0 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 407 - The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended
Psalter 20 - Unshaken Faith Amid Danger 
TH 257 - Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted 

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

We always desire equality - fairness. We believe everyone deserves equal opportunity. In national economics - some believe a libertarian market-driven economy is not equitable - the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. It’s not fair. In national education - some believe standardized tests do not really reveal the ability of a student, tutoring skews true academic achievement, or perpetuates elitism. It’s not fair. In national politics - well, I won’t even go there. To be clear, I’m only describing what is commonly heard and complained about, and not taking any position.

But this expectation of parity, fairness, and equality spills over to our expectation of God. We always want God to be fair. That person’s rich! Why am I not? God’s not fair! That person did so well in school! Must be because they had more opportunities than I did. God’s not fair! I kept so healthy all my life - but now I’m sick! God’s not fair! When a sick child dies, God’s not fair. When natural disasters strike - God’s not fair.

Today, we shall see in Lord’s Day 4, that if we want God to be fair, we will be very very miserable. If God is fair, he will be completely just across the board. There are 2 learning points today - firstly, the sinful man’s culpability; and secondly, the angry God’s severity. May today’s message increase your knowledge of the misery you have - if you’re not a Christian, that you may seek for relief from that misery; and if you’re a Christian, that you may be thankful that you’ve been released from this misery.

Firstly, sinful man’s culpability. Last week we learned that man is sinful. Adam sinned, and became a sinner. On the other hand, his descendants were born sinners, that’s why we sin. For example, our ancestors came to this land and became citizens. We were born into this land and inherited citizenship. Likewise, while Adam became a sinner by sinning, we were born sinners. It’s our nature to sin.

And as sinners, we can’t and won’t obey God’s laws perfectly. So a question implied by our catechism is - if we’re unable to keep God’s law, are we still required to keep God’s law? If we can’t do it, are we still culpable - responsible - for doing what we can’t and won’t do? And if the answer is “yes”, which it is, then the explicit question is - isn’t God unfair when he requires us to keep his laws which we are unable and unwilling to keep? Or another way, since we’re talented in doing evil, and incompetent in doing good; isn’t the bar God set too high and therefore unfair? 

The answer is no. Man is still culpable. It’s not unfair of God to require of us what we cannot do. Or positively - it’s completely fair of God to require us to keep his laws, which we cannot keep nor desire to keep. Why? Firstly, as our catechism answers - God so created man that he was able to do it. This was our original purity. Our original ability. At creation, after each day, God said it was good. But only at the end of the 6th day, after God created man, he said everything was very good. You see, man was God’s best creation, created in God’s good image. Because of this goodness, creation was very good, where before it was only good.

There’s a teaching - a Taoist teaching - that man was created like a block of wood - neutral. Neither good nor bad, smart nor dumb. And the Taoist goal is to return back to that neutral block of wood. The Christian teaching, on the other hand, states that man was not a block of wood. He was created inclined to do good, able and wanting to do good. It was natural of him to love; to live unselfishly. Children! Adam didn’t need a parent to tell him to give the larger slice of cake to Eve. It was natural for him to speak the truth. Young people! He didn’t need a vow to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It was natural for him to think only pure thoughts. Teens! His parents didn’t need to install an internet filter! It was natural to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; to labor for 6 and rest for 1. Dearly beloved! He didn’t need elders to remind him. Things we all struggle with were no struggle for him. That’s why he had God’s blessings of truly knowing him, wholeheartedly loving him, and living in eternal happiness.

But he lost all of this. And it wasn’t God’s fault. People always want to blame the manufacturer but here, it was the user’s fault. The warranty was voided through user’s carelessness. Man lost God’s blessings because of his gullibility. God gave man all he needed and more. He was in a garden, work was sweet, he had all the food he needed, he had a helper, he never fell sick; he knew God and would live forever. 

But at the instigation of the devil, he robbed himself of all these gifts. While God gave these benefits, Satan convinced Adam that he didn’t have enough. It was the sin of discontentment - of covetousness. And if you remember, this was also Satan’s sin. He wanted to ascend into heaven, to exalt his throne above the stars of God - he wanted to be like the most High. These were his words in Isaiah 14. He was not content to be one of the highest angels - he wanted to be God. And he tricked Adam into thinking the same. “God didn’t actually give you all things. There is something you lack. The tree that he denied you, that’s the tree you need. The tree that he gave you, it’s not good enough! Life’s not good enough. You’ve been cheated! You need the other tree. You need to be God.” As Satan said, “for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” So gullible was Adam that he believed Satan and became dissatisfied. 

Therefore, in so doing, according to our catechism - he deliberately disobeyed God. He apostatized. He left his original blessing by disobeying it away. His sin was not merely the sin of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit. And he was not merely dissatisfied with God. It was an assertion of his independence from God. Because God was not good enough, he wanted to be God - knowing good from evil. Adam believed he lacked this.

Remember, Adam was only inclined to good. But he wanted to know evil like God. It is certainly true that God knows the difference between good and evil. But the way God knows good is because he is good. And the way God knows evil is not because he is evil or participates in evil - but because he separates from evil. By his separation from evil, he knows what evil is. And if Adam had continued in obedience, he would’ve known what evil was the way God knew it. But man, on the other hand, chose to disobey God and when he disobeyed God deliberately, he experienced evil first hand, thereby knowing it.

This is why, after man sinned, God said this in Genesis 3:22 - “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Man was now like God, where he knew evil. But he was also unlike God. While God knows evil by his distance from it, man knows evil by his proximity to it, where once he knew nothing of it. This is not what he was created for.

He had apostatized - he left his original manufactured purity and became corrupted by being gullible and deliberately disobeying God. Now, to those who speak about fairness. How fair was that to God? God made man perfect in a perfect world to experience perfect blessings. But man showed ungratefulness. Even after being warned. Therefore, as Romans 2:1 says - he was inexcusable. He was culpable. It’s one thing to run the red light accidentally - it’s another to run the red light deliberately.

And in so doing, it affected all his descendants. This was Adam’s legacy. By no fault of God, Adam robbed himself and his descendants of the blessings of knowing God, loving God, and living happily ever after. In other words, he gained for mankind misery by losing these blessings. But he increased that misery. Far more than just losing blessings, he gained for mankind the anger of God. Question 10 asks if God would allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished? And the answer is certainly not. He is terribly displeased. He is severely angry.

This then is the second point. We see this angry God’s severity against a culpable and sinful man. Losing blessings was bad - but not as bad as gaining God’s anger. And why would he not be angry? Even we respond in anger when we hear of loss. 

In 2008, Bernie Madoff lost other people’s money - $150 billion. He was a multi-millionaire - he owned mansions and yachts. But he swindled people in an elaborate scheme. People trusted him, believing they would get returns. But he had no reason to cheat people - he was already obscenely wealthy. And when the judge sentenced him to 150 years in prison, there was a great outcry. He was in his 70s when he was sentenced - meaning, he would serve only a fraction before he died. The money he stole could not be returned. It was unfair. How could the people not be compensated? How could his sentence not be completed? How could he escape? By dying, he cheats justice. 

Now, if we get angry - is not God’s fury wholly reasonable? Isn’t his terrible displeasure justified? The degree in which sin is committed, is the degree of the anger in God. And when it comes down to it, since God is absolutely holy, even the smallest sin demands the full fury of God. Psalm 5:4 says, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.” Not only does God not delight in wickedness, but God does not tolerate evil. The word “dwell” means to dwell temporarily - so God doesn’t even tolerate wickedness in his presence for a split second. And this is the extent of his hatred towards sin and those who sin. Psalm 5:5 - “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” If we can understand justice, God can understand it even more. He hates all workers of iniquity. He hates sinners.

But lest we think that God is illogically prejudiced, and simply throwing a fit, let us know that his objectivity is precise. He is terribly displeased with not only our original sin but our actual sins, Question 10. In other words, God sees sin as it is. Remember, God knows evil because he separates from it. And because he knows exactly what evil is, he cannot allow it to go unpunished. If he does, then by that very act, he goes against who he is. He has a very objective and precise view of sin and sinners. As God he must punish sin. As God he knows sin. When we hear of miscarriages of justice - where criminals get away with less than they deserve, we become angry. When appeals are made, and the sentence is upheld, we get upset. But not God. He has a precise objectivity when it comes to sin. He hates it and will punish it. Romans 2:6,8-9 says that God “will render to every man according to his deeds…unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil…”

You who complain that God is not fair - you really want God to be fair? Have you ever lied? Well, what does God say about your lying tongue? Psalm 5:9 - “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.” What is God’s precise objective conclusion to the sin of lying? Psalm 5:6 - “Thou shalt destroy them that speak lies: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” If fury is a wholly reasonable reaction to sin, objectively determined, what is the wholly reasonable outcome of that fury? What is a fair sentence for sin and sinners who rebel against a majestic, righteous and holy God?

Question 10 says, “Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” If we want God to be fair, then his fairness demands that sin committed against the most high majesty of God should be punished with everlasting punishment of body and soul, Question 11. Psalm 5:10 - “Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.” 

Already people were crying a miscarriage of justice in the case of Bernie Madoff - imagine if the judge were to let him free. A fair sentence by an infinitely holy God against an infinitely rebellious people is everlasting punishment. As a sinner, I am miserable when God is fair. It was not God’s fault that I’m a sinner. I am responsible and culpable to keep God’s laws, which I have no desire or ability to keep, and God, being fair, should judge me eternally for them. 

But it’s a wonder therefore, to know that God is unfair. Question 11 asks - but is God not also merciful? God is indeed merciful. Mercy means God withhold what we deserve. If God were fair, we would not be here arguing if he was fair or not. For if God cannot tolerate any sin for a split second, if he were fair, we would be destroyed. But God shows mercy. He withholds fair justice from us, so that we may experience his tender mercy. That the sun rises on us for another day, the rain falls upon us shows that he is merciful. 

And for us as believers, we know just how much that unfairness of God extended. While he showed mercy on us, he poured out his severe anger upon Jesus - who came to take upon himself our sin. He who knew no sin, was made sin for us. How fair was that? That he would call us to salvation - rightfully objects of wrath who sin willfully against God - isn’t that merciful?

Dearly beloved, do you want God to be fair? You do not. And what you have today, is far better than what you deserve. Your intelligence, your opportunities, your wealth, etc - these are the things that God has given us along with Christ - why are we still dissatisfied? We say - why do we not have riches, God is unfair! Let none of us covet, or be dissatisfied. Let us not assert ourselves as God. But let us remember, that what we will have in heaven, not only is it completely undeserved, it is unthinkable. King Saul was famous for wanting to kill David. He hated David with a passion. He died, and left behind a grandson - Mephibosheth - who was a cripple. What should David do to the descendent of his mortal enemy? He brought him to his house. He gave him whatever he needed and more. He even invited Mephibosheth to his dinner table to eat as family, as one of his sons. What was Mephibosheth’s response to such mercy and grace? To this unfairness? “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?”

Dearly beloved, we are thankful that God was unfair, not to give us what we rightly deserved. And while we may suffer for a while now, it is far better than what we deserve; and we will one day sit at Jesus’ banqueting table. What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?

Friends, those of you who are not believers - God shows patience even now to you - withholding his wrath. It is that goodness that should lead you to repent. But if you don’t, you will receive God’s fairness. As Romans 2:5 says, according to your hardness and impenitent heart, you will store up for yourself wrath against the day of wrath and judgment. As a sinner, you are miserable when God is fair. But receive his mercy instead and believe the gospel.

Sermon Outline:

1. The Sinful Man’s Culpability 

    A. His original purity

    B. His gullibility

    C. His apostasy

    D. His legacy

2. The Angry God’s Severity

    A. His wholly reasonable fury

    B. His precise objectivity

    C. The sentence befitting his majesty

    D. The tenderness of his sure mercy

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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