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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:How Then Shall We Obey?
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Added:2022-05-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

Lesson: Lord’s Day 44 (Q/A114-115)

 

HOW THEN SHALL WE OBEY?

  1. Not Perfectly

  2. But Fully

 

  1. Psalm 19: 1, 3

  2. Psalm 27: 1, 2, 4

  3. Hymn 64:1-2

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 130: 2-4

  6. Psalm 19: 5, 6

 

Words to Listen For: highway, punchline, worry, spaghetti, perspiration

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is legalism?  Antinomianism?

  2. What are the two sources of perfectionism?

  3. How does God see you? (Hint: Hebrews 10:14)

  4. Marthas (plural) or Martha (singular)?

  5. How does sitting at the feet of Christ fulfill the Law?

* 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,

What comes to mind when I say the word “perfectionist” ?

Maybe a picture of Mom obsessively dusting the house before company arrives...maybe Dad taking a level to the pictures on the wall, making sure that they are completely and perfectly straight…

Perfectionism can be annoying to others, and exhausting to yourself.

Clearly perfectionism is a bad thing, right?  Taking the approach of Martha -  busying herself with many things, making sure that the house was perfectly clean, making sure everyone had food and drink...Martha was rebuked for this behaviour in our reading, was she not?

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

  • And yet...what then of our God’s holiness?  That sin, any sin, puts us out of fellowship with God?

  • What then of our catechism’s teaching that we must never stop striving until we reach the goal of perfection?

  • What then of Matthew 5:48?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect ?

How can we understand these two teachings that seem to compete, if not completely contradict each other?

Essentially, in this, we are asking the question:

HOW THEN SHALL WE OBEY?  And this is what we will focus our attention on this afternoon under these two points:

  1. Not Perfectly

  2. But Fully

We are not called to obey Perfectly

As with everything worth doing, and everything worth understanding, it’s not simple.  And that is why I am so glad that we can take this time, twice every week, to examine together the depths and the riches of God’s Word.  So that we can understand the complexities of the rich Christian living to which we are called.

And this afternoon is no exception.  We are not dealing with a particular commandment, but with all of them.  We are not focussing in on murder or lust or theft, but on the larger concept of obedience in general.

How then shall we obey?

Now, there are two extremes of thought when it comes to the law: there is LEGALISM on the one side, and there is LAWLESSNESS on the other -  what theologians call Antinomianism.  Anti-Law-ness.  Or, lawlessness.

The Legalist says: I must obey all the laws of God, and if I don’t obey them ALL, and if I don’t obey them PERFECTLY, then I will find myself in Hell.  God demands perfection, and I must fulfill that demand.  That’s the legalist.

And the Antinomian says: Christ has abolished the law, all my sins are paid for on the cross, so I can live my life however I want to live it.

And, while there may be some who are exceptions to this, I would say, that as a whole, as a Reformed Church, we are closer to the legalistic side of the spectrum than to the antinomian side.

After all, the Law is important to us as Reformed Christians - we read it every week, the catechism has 11 Lord’s Days on it, compared to 3 on our sins and misery, 2 on God the Father, 9 on God the Son, 1 on God the Holy Spirit, and 8 on prayer.  THE LAW is central.  THE LAW is lifted up.

And this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand the purpose of the Law.  As long as the Law is valued for what it really is.  For what it really does.

If we depend on the Law for our salvation, we should not be surprised when we end up with no comfort, no assurance, and no joy in the Christian life.  But this doesn’t mean that the Law itself is to blame...it’s not meant for that!  The law does not save us.  You would be just as well to get an oil change when your car is low on gas, and be confused when you get stranded on the highway.  Oil is not gasoline, the Law is not Christ, and perfectionism is not obedience.

Despite what many of us think, perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence.

The pursuit of excellence is a recognition that we are called to do the best that we can, given the restraints of our time, our abilities, and our resources.  The pursuit of excellence is an excellent thing

Perfectionism on the other hand, arises out one of two sources: either PRIDE, or FEAR.

Prideful perfectionists essentially say: I AM PERFECT, therefore I must show it to the whole watching world so that they can praise me for my skills.  That’s pride.

Fearful perfectionists, on the other hand, essentially say: I AM NOT PERFECT, therefore I must hide it from the whole watching world so that they will not see, and reject me.

And Christian perfectionists, those who have read their Bible and sit under the preaching, week after week, are far more likely to be fearful perfectionists.

  • Don’t show any hint of weakness, or someone might sense it - like blood in the water.

  • I can’t show my struggle, or else the acceptance that I desperately need will just float away.

And for those of us who have this struggle with perfectionism...we can feel trapped in it.  For we can think that this is what God demands of us when He says: Be holy as I am holy.

But I’m not!  So I have to try harder, and not accept anything less than perfection.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I’m not there yet...but if I pull myself up by my bootstraps, if I try harder today...THEN maybe I’ll reach perfection.

And we are so overcome with guilt, and we spend all day everyday thinking about how we failed...that we forget Christ.  We forget the gospel.  Our guilt looms larger than our God, and we are left helpless and hopeless.

  • We long for acceptance, and can’t imagine a world where that can happen without perfection.

  • We dread rejection, and can’t imagine a world where, if someone knew my struggles, that they wouldn’t reject me.

So what do we do?  How can we fight our deceptive and sinful heart?  How can we have any comfort?

Well, let me remind you of our catechism, which we are studying right now.  How does the catechism start?

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

And does the answer say ANYTHING about our obedience?

Does the answer say ANYTHING about our perfection?

Does the answer say ANYTHING...about us?  About anything that we do?

 

No!

 

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am NOT my own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

Do not rely on yourselves and your own abilities…but instead, turn your eyes upon Jesus.

I know that this answer, these words, coming from this wonderful song of the same title...I know that these words have been said a lot off of this pulpit recently.  Maybe you might think it’s the easy way out with sermon-writing...reusing the punchline from previous sermons, reusing the answers...but this is THE ANSWER of Christianity, and I will unapologetically use it time after time after time, as God does in His Holy Word.

The answer is Jesus!

Let me explain a little more fully.

Jesus Christ, you see, has fulfilled the law.  Matthew 5:17 - Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

He did not come to abolish the law (more on that in our second point), but rather, it is fulfilled in Him and His perfect obedience.

The Law is fulfilled in Him perfectly, so that we can fulfill it imperfectly.

Our imperfection points to His perfection

His perfection covers over our imperfection.

Let me simplify it to one question: How does God see you?  How does God see you?  Right now, as someone who struggles with sin, as someone for whom, some days there is far more sin than struggle.

How does God see you?

 

He sees you THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

He sees you through the lens of CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS.

This is how He sees you, and He loves you as His beloved child.

Now, one of my absolute favorite verses in the entire Bible speaks of this so plainly, so strongly.

Hebrews 10:14.  Please turn there with me.  Hebrews 10:14.  Please mark this verse, write it down on your whiteboard at home and never forget.  Hebrews 10:14

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

For by a single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Do you see what this means?

BECAUSE OF THE CROSS...we are already perfect!

BECAUSE OF THE CROSS...we are already perfect!

I KNOW that you sin.  I KNOW that I sin.  I KNOW that we are totally depraved and we are dead in our sins.  I know all of that, I don’t deny any of that.  But look what it says!

BY A SINGLE OFFERING, HE HAS PERFECTED FOR ALL TIME

WE.  ARE.  PERFECT.  IN.  GOD’S.  EYES.

I’m trying so hard to be perfect...stop!  Stop, look at the cross, and realize that you already are.

And now, before there is too much worry or concern about the faithfulness of this sermon...let me explain the other half of the verse.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

We are holy.  We are perfect.  But we are also not yet holy.  We are also not yet perfect.

We have been given Christ’s righteousness to wear like a cloak.

Isaiah speaks to this in Isaiah 61 - I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my  God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness

Christ’s righteousness OUTSIDE of us, covering our imperfection and sins with His perfection and atonement.  This is the realm of the cross, and justification.

But then, the second part of the verse, inside, in our heart, this is the realm of the Holy Spirit and sanctification.  He is still sanctifying us.  He is still perfecting us, because the fact is, we DO STILL SIN.

Even the holiest among us have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.

We are already, but not yet holy.  This is the work of God.  He sees our sin, and He also acts, making us ALREADY BUT NOT YET holy.

And as for our fears?  Our desire for acceptance and our fear of rejection?

Hear the words of your God

You don’t need to DESIRE acceptance anymore...you ARE accepted...by God in Christ - Ephesians 1 - He made us accepted in the Beloved.

You don’t need to fear rejection...for perfect love casts out fear, 1 John 4.  And: Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out - John 6:37.

You ARE accepted.

You WILL NEVER be rejected.

You ARE perfect, and are BEING MADE perfect.

This is what our God does.  He deals with sin and insecurity better than anyone else.  It’s what He does and He’s very good at it.

Think once again of our reading.  The story of Mary and Martha.

Picture the scene: Jesus and a group of disciples - likely not the full 72 referenced earlier in the chapter - arrive at Martha’s home.  There were no cellphones in those days to call ahead, but Jesus enters a village, and Martha invites Him and all those with Him into her home.

Anywhere between 2 and 73 men, come en masse into her home, wanting refreshment, nourishment, comfort, after their journey.

Depending on the time of day, this could have been an afternoon snack - coffee and some cake - or it could have been a full meal.  We don’t know.

But what we do know is that there was more than enough work for Martha.  You can picture her - face red, with sweat dripping off it from the exertion, feet tired from standing in the kitchen, legs tired from refilling coffee cups and replenishing plates.  And in the middle of all this, she stops and thinks: Why am I doing this all by myself?  Where did Mary go?

And so she comes in the room, hands on hips and motions to Mary, quietly, not wanting to interrupt Jesus’ teaching.  But Mary waves her away, clearly investing in the words Jesus was saying.

Martha begins to hiss: Mary! Over here!

And Jesus hears, and stops His teaching.  He looks expectantly up at Martha, and almost apologetically she says “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

Clearly Jesus values hard work!  Surely He will be on my side!  We have that kind of Jewish-Christian work-ethic!

But Martha is rebuked.  Gently rebuked, but rebuked nonetheless

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

And how should we take this?

I’ve heard it said, that for there to be Marys in the church, there have to be Marthas too.  This was said by...a Martha.  There is always work to be done, and for some to sit at Jesus’ feet, others have to miss out.  For there to be Marys in the church, there must also be Marthas.

Fair enough.  I can get behind this statement...with one minor change.  Two letters.  I’ll sign on to the statement with a little edit.

For there to be Marys in the church, there must also be A MARTHA.

A MARTHA.  Not many Marthas.  But a single Martha.

There is work to be done, a law to be followed, and followed PERFECTLY.  But it’s not going to be done by the Ladies Aid, making coffee.  It’s not going to be done by the Sound Committee up in the Booth, or by the Parking Lot patrol.  You and I aren’t called to be Marthas.

But there is one who has done all the work already...this is the one who enables us to all be like Mary.

The food is all prepared.  The coffee cups are all poured.  We’re okay, come sit down.  Come be with us.

Only one Martha.  The Martha I am speaking of is Jesus Himself.  He did all the work already:

  • Perfectly loving His God

    • Worshipping the true God, in the true way, honoring His name, and His day

  • Perfectly loving His neighbour

    • Not hating or lusting or stealing or lying or coveting.

He did all this work already.

We are never the FIRST to love, we are never the FIRST to obey.  We do not build our own foundation of works and obedience, but that obedience has already been laid.

And so, we can rest secure and live as Mary did, at the feet of Jesus Christ, fully listening to Him, fully obeying Him.  Our second point.

Mary, you see, didn’t have a poor work ethic.  She wasn’t being LAZY in leaving the work for Martha.  Jesus had been without food and drink before...the disciples wouldn’t have died without refreshments.  But Martha, you see, was a perfectionist.  If I’m going to have Jesus in my house, it had better be the best it could possibly be.  Not a particle of dust on the floor, the spaghetti has to be cooked exactly right, enough plates and forks and knives…

If I do this...then maybe Jesus will love me more than the rest, and He’ll come back.  I’ll work FOR HIM, separate FROM HIM, and earn His favor.

But Martha...Martha - Jesus is ALREADY IN YOUR HOUSE!  He’s already there.  Just be with Him.

And this is what we are called to as well.

Though our catechism speaks of us NEVER STOPPING TO STRIVE to be renewed more and more after God’s image...notice what it says first...why are we striving?

Because we are aware of our need and Christ’s provision.  Simply put, we obey BECAUSE we sit at His feet.  We obey BY sitting at His feet, and looking fully into His wonderful face.

And when we have this focus, than the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

When we sit at the feet of Jesus Christ, when we spend time every day, being nourished by His Word, when we spend time, each day, speaking to Him as our Heavenly Father...when we do this...what an affect it will have.

When we drink long and drink deeply of Christ…

  • We will have no interest in worshipping any other God.

    • Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love

    • Spend time in Micah 7

  • We will have no interest in worshipping God our way

    • For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    • Spend time in Isaiah 55

  • We will LOVE His holy name and never desire, even for a moment to blaspheme it

    • Instead, we will call out: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ...For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. (Romans 11)

  • We will LOVE His holy day and proclaim with the Psalmist

    • I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122)

  • We will submit to the authorities over us, knowing that God has placed there

    • Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God -  Romans 13

  • We will value human life and not seek to destroy it

    • For God made man in His image - Genesis 9

  • We will love the wife of our youth, the husband of our youth, knowing that it is a picture of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32)

  • We will not steal, but work with our hands, knowing our God is a God of justice.

  • We will not lie, knowing that our God is a God of truth

  • We will not covet, knowing that our God has come to give us life, and life abundantly.

Do you see, beloved?

It is God’s desire that we obey His Law.  But the Law is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, the Law teaches us about God and who He is, and what kind of people we should be…

IN THE INTEREST OF THANKFULNESS.

IN THE INTEREST OF LOVE.

FOR THE GOAL OF GLORIFYING GOD AND SPREADING HIS NAME THROUGHOUT THE EARTH.

  • Beloved, we do not obey in order to gain favor with God.  In His eyes, we are already perfect.

  • We do not obey to earn our salvation, as though the Christian life was 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

  • Beloved, we do not obey to show the world how wonderful we are, or to hide from the world how sinful we are.

But rather, we obey, freely and fully, because of who God is, and what He has done for us.

Jesus Christ has freed us from the crushing weight of perfectionism.  This is a weight that would slow us down in the race of faith.  Our God doesn’t want us to focus on having a wonderful performance for Him and the world.  But rather, He want us to focus on living out a childlike, dependent, authentic faith, in the light of His glorious grace.

For our comfort is not in our obedience.  Our comfort is not in our works, but in our Saviour.

Our comfort is not that we are so wonderful, but that we are NOT our own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

All glory be to Him alone.

AMEN.




* 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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