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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Counting the Cost
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 118:1,4
Hymn 2
Reading - Psalm 49; Ephesians 2:1-18
Ps 49:2,4
Sermon - Lord's Day 5
Ps 6:1,2
Hy 25:1,3,7

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour, we value those things the greatest for which a dear price has been paid. Yes, we all love a bargain – but often our attachment to something is the strongest when we’ve really felt its cost, whether in the pocketbook or in the body or mind. For that nice $7 jacket or for that high mark on a easy pop quiz, our excitement fades as quickly as it flared up: Easy come, easy go. But for that expensive ring or that hard-fought accomplishment, our excitement and thanksgiving remain firm, even increases over time.

When it comes to God’s grace, it seems this same simple truth can apply: We value those things the greatest for which a dear price has been paid. Now grace is by definition free. God’s forgiving love is given without consideration of persons, but is bestowed as a free gift on the undeserving sinner, and God asks no price in return. Grace is free, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap.

Of course, no one would ever say God’s grace is "cheap." To many ears, that word suggests low price coupled with low quality; if something comes cheap, it probably won’t last. You’d never see a sign in front of a church advertising: "Come Here for a Message of Cheap Grace." But through the way many Christians think of it, God’s grace is tossed right into the bargain bin of your local Dollar Store.

For God’s grace is often pictured as God’s desperate longing for aloof mankind. Like a love-struck teenager, God wants to have a relationship with us, the desire of his heart. So, it is thought, God reaches out to us with his grace, like a teenage boy might reach out with flowers or chocolates to the pretty but distant girl in his class, really hoping she’ll respond.

God’s grace is thus made purely emotional. It is made resistible. It is made dependent on the so-called attractiveness of mankind. It is made into something that God just does: He has to show grace. As a sinner once shrugged, "God is a good God. It’s his job to forgive." But this is cheap grace. This view makes God’s grace one-dimensional, like the Hollywood façade of a frontier-town building that is supposedly a bank, while in reality it is without depth or riches or security or foundation.

With some things we may be able to get away with low price and low quality, but not with salvation. The idea of cheap grace breeds malnourished Christians, but more seriously, the idea of cheap grace "shows contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience" (Rom 2:4).

Instead, in our knowledge of doctrine, may we always strive for the tried and tested quality of the Scriptures and the church’s confessions! The teaching of the Bible on the cost of sinful mankind’s gracious deliverance is summarized in Lord’s Day 5 of the Catechism; here we will see that, indeed, God’s grace is free, but its cost is so high it’s un-countable, while its quality is guaranteed for life and for eternity.

                       Counting the high cost of deliverance:

    1. full payment is needed
    2. many payers are excluded
    3. only one payer is accepted

1. full payment is needed: With Lord’s Day 5 we arrive at the next section of the Catechism, concerning "Our Deliverance." The Catechism deals with "Our Sin and Misery" for only three Lord’s Days, yet perhaps by the end you think: "Enough of the doom and gloom!" Indeed, it is disturbing to be confronted with those contrasts so painfully and plainly: God’s high demand and our miserably low performance; God’s unfailing goodness and our constant failure; God’s perfect justice and our deserved penalty.

But today we move on, "turning the page" on our sin: Yes, on to deliverance! Yet notice how the Catechism begins to describe this light at the end of our gloomy tunnel: "Since, according to God’s righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment…" Right back into the misery! Yet this is not a basking in the darkness, it is proper humility before the throne of God. Beloved, let us begin our search for grace, even every day, with a full confession of guilt: "In your sight, O God, we are sinners, and we justly face our sentence of eternal death."

Paul too, was eager to get on with preaching the message of deliverance to the Ephesian church. For this was a congregation of former pagans who had been lost in sin – even as Paul and every other Jew and human had been lost. Paul earnestly desires to the proclaim the good news of free grace, yet where does he begin? "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…" (Eph 2:1). And Paul confesses of himself and everyone, "Like the rest, we [also] were by nature objects of wrath" (v 3).

We know from Ps 7 that God is a God of wrath: "God is a righteous Judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day" (v 11). He is justly angry with sin, He is righteously furious with lawbreakers, He is terribly displeased with those He made in his image. Indeed, it is only fitting we all bow trembling before the greatness of our God – trembling, because God holds our eternities in the palm of his hand: Can we escape our punishment? Can we be again received into favour?

We can! But not before "the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" is taken away (Eph 2:14). What separates us from the love of God? Our stubborn rebellion. God cannot overlook the offense of our transgression, and God cannot demand less than our perfection.

So there are these two things we owe to God. For past sins, we owe him the total penalty. And for the present, continuing uninterrupted into the future, we owe him unblemished obedience. That’s why the Catechism asks the question as it does: "How can we escape this punishment?" and, "[How can we] be again received into favour?" For the two not the same.

This is how it is played out: In the courtroom of God, the charge is brought in against the defendant (namely, you and me). After all the evidence is considered and the arguments are heard, the Judge makes his decision – guilty as charged – and renders the sentence: Eternal death. And this punishment must be carried to its fullest extent. No early release for good behaviour, no parole, no day-pass, nothing.

Imagine though, that somehow, this eternal punishment could be fully paid by the punishment laid upon our backs. But once released, could we go back to God to be received into his favour and fellowship as if all was well again with the world? No! For the very moment we are discharged from prison, we would sin against our Creator again – starting the whole process again. God’s justice is not only negative (He will punish us for doing wrong), but it is also positive (He insists that we also do right!). And who can meet these two high demands?

This full-orbed justice of God must be "satisfied." This satisfaction of God is not like our vague contentment after a good Sunday dinner, when we lean back in our chair and announce, "I’ve had enough. I’m satisfied." Rather, God’s justice is satisfied when his expectations and demands are met to the fullest degree. There is nothing vague about his justice, but it is unavoidably exact: "Here are my standards for doing good; here are my standards for punishing wrong. And both must be filled up, right to the brim."

As the Catechism says, "Full payment must be made." Payment is always giving something for something; payment fulfills an obligation of something owed. It’s like when you get a new couch, you must pay for that couch. But the payment we owe to God is also unlike paying for that new couch, for money – or anything else we bring to the table! – is simply unable to satisfy his justice fully.

In Psalm 49, the sons of Korah instruct us about rich fools, fools who did think money could buy their lives from God, and save their souls from the grave. Indeed, there are those who put their trust in their wealth and possessions. Yet even if we aren’t among the so-called "wealthy," this danger threatens. Would we think our car can save us? Never. Would we pray to our RSP at night? Definitely not. Yet, just like those rich fools, could the attractiveness of all the stuff of this life hinder us in really understanding how great a payment we owe to God? It certainly could.

But hear Ps 49:7-9, "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay." Never put this truth from your mind: The ransom to God for my life is costly – everlasting death for a lifetime of sins, and perfect obedience forevermore. The full price is needed, yet the full price remains outstanding.

2. many payers are excluded: To make a point, we imagined earlier that, somehow, the heavy penalty for sin was able to be carried by mankind. Yet that’s all it was: Imagination. For what sinner is able to bear being cursed and cut off from the face of God, the source of life itself and all our protection and blessing?

Ps 130:3 asks the same question: "If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" When a king in ancient times sat on his throne, people of all sorts would be ushered into his presence to stand and present their case. And, though the king was always higher, perched on his throne, it was an old friend or loyal supporter who could stand before the king. Those persons who had done the king a favour or who had paid him a gift at one time, could stand and reasonably expect a listening ear and a gracious response.

But the poor, the outcasts and the unconnected, would not dare stand in the king’s presence. Who were they, and what had they ever done for the powerful lord? So they’d be on the floor before him, bowed down – even with their face to the floor. And when a convict or prisoner of war was called before the throne for judgment, his self-humiliation would be even deeper. He would throw his entire body down, flat on the cold tile, that the king might, if only, have mercy and spare the life of this pathetic creature . Maybe the king’s heart would be softened by this sorry sight… or maybe it wouldn’t.

"If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" We cannot, and we dare not stand in God’s presence, for our misdeeds follow us. We can claim to be no loyal supporter nor generous giver to our King. Rather, He knows all about our sinful past – and the Lord has no patience for repeat offenders.

We are excluded from deliverance by our past, and we are excluded by our present. We’d never have enough time to pay! Remember the unmerciful servant in that parable in Mt 18, he who was graciously forgiven a debt of millions of dollars yet couldn’t forgive his brother’s debt of a couple bucks? In the end he thrown into in prison until he could pay back all he owed. The parable doesn’t tell us whatever happened to that ungrateful servant in debtor’s prison, but be sure of this: He never got out.

Indeed, maybe he was put to work in jail, like Samson was in Gaza. The eyeless Samson was set to grinding wheat, turning a heavy millstone (Jdg 16:21). Around and around he trudged, sweating and groaning with every circuit on the well-worn path. Four times around in a minute, 240 times around in an hour, 1500 times around in a morning… Yet could he ever repay his debt to the Philistines? Never; Samson had simply taken too many lives. Or could the unmerciful servant ever repay his debt to his master? Never; he owed simply too much money. "The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough" (Ps 49:7).

Still, there are those who attempt to save their own souls, or at least pay a little of the cost. "I’ll cover this part of the tab, God. Thanks for all your help, but I’ve got the rest." We’ll pay God for his grace – or we think we’ll pay God for his grace – with our pious prayers, or extensive knowledge, or our big contributions to the church, or even our physical and mental suffering. Try to avoid it, but you cannot: Whenever we make a hearty effort at any task or calling (on the job-site, for the spouse or kids, at school – and also in faith), our first human thought is: "Surely this counts for something!"

But consider the cost of our salvation. It is not financial cost (our money), it is not devotional cost (our prayers or Bible knowledge), it is not temporal cost (our time), it is not physical cost (our suffering or sacrifice) – it is a legal cost. We of weak body and mind must perfectly bear the punishment of the law, and we habitual sinners must perfectly keep the demands of the law. Who would dare volunteer himself to pay even a little of this massive price? There are those billboards on the side of our busy roads: "Debt Trouble? We Can Help!" But is there help for what we owe to God? The Catechism did say payment could be made, "either by ourselves or by another" (Q&A 12). If someone or something could legally stand in our place, and fill both measures of God’s justice, we could again be received into his favour.

So can an animal do this for us? An animal can suffer, an animal can be killed, but an animal cannot endure the heat of God’s anger. It is true, God accepted the animal sacrifices from the people of Israel and so forgave their sins, but only because a greater sacrifice was coming (Rom 3:25-26). On their own, these sacrifices were just unthinking goats and bulls who had their necks sliced and their life drained out (cf. Heb 10:4).

Even if animal blood was able to appease God’s wrath for human sin, soul-less animals wouldn’t be killed for the sake of our sin. Not because of what the Humane Society might say, but because of what God’s Word clearly says: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ex 18:4).

Given the bill for what is owed to God, I must confess I cannot do it. Neither can an animal do it, even "man’s best friend." And no other human can do it for me either. For "very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die" (Rom 5:17). I am neither righteous nor good – what person would die for me? Beloved, we are all without a hope or a payer! The full cost of our deliverance remains outstanding.

3. only one payer is accepted: If we could listen to Ursinus and Olevianus themselves read the last question for this Lord’s Day, we might well expect to hear a note of desperation in their voices: "Who then is able to help us sinners appear before the righteous God – and also live?" We expect desperation, yet these brothers are humble in their sin, not anxious in their guilt.

For there is a telling transition. Throughout the Lord’s Days on our sin and misery, and even into this beginning Lord’s Day on our deliverance, we stand very much on our own: Alone we are given the task of keeping God’s high requirements, alone we face the accusation of breaking God’s commandments, alone we are confronted with the evidence that we were once able to obey but did not, alone we receive the verdict of guilty, and alone we are expected to bear the just penalty for our guilt. One is the loneliest number. But now appears (in this last Q&A) a mediator and a deliver! We don’t have to look for our deliverance in anxious desperation, for it’s been provided by God himself.

In his grace, God will accept us if someone pays what we could not. This payer needs to be fully able to stand with us (as man), and stand for us (as God). He is a mediator who brings the hostile sides together, but not through diplomacy and compromise and reassuring words, as we expect of mediators today. For there is no compromise, God would not sit at the bargaining table with mankind if his unchanging requirements had not been met: Full justice through full punishment and full obedience! This is still the high cost of our deliverance.

Our mediator isn’t introduced until Lord’s Day 6, but praise God – his identity is no secret. We read in 1 Tim 2, "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (v 5).

For all men… The ransom to God for even one life comes at a cost we cannot understand! The cost breakdown is as simple and as profound as this: One curse to be borne; One eternity to give; One life of perfect obedience to live. But Christ paid it in full, not just for one sinner, but for all who put their trust in him. This is the uncountable cost of grace – completely paid – so that God on his throne can lift us up from the floor, stand us on our feet, and even welcome us to his banqueting table. In Christ, Ps 49:15 is fulfilled, "But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself."

In a time when God’s grace is often emptied of its meaning, let us strive for a proper and Scriptural understanding of our deliverance. For if God’s grace is cheap, how can we ever be sure of our salvation? If God’s grace is cheap, why should we be thankful with every bone in our bodies? If God’s grace is considered cheap, how can we rightly honour our great God and Saviour?

Instead, know that it wasn’t easy for God to forgive: He had to give his own Son! This free yet costly grace announced in the Scriptures alone gives us confidence standing before God’s throne. If we know how much it took to restore us to fellowship with God, we will have every reason to be bold in prayer and steadfast in faith!

In our sin, even when our guilt sweeps up to our necks and over our heads, we can know that God’s grace is not some passing fancy. It is not easy come, easy go! God’s grace is committed, established and firm – even when we are as unstable as the wind.

This free yet costly deliverance must make humble servants, humble before God, and humble before our brothers and sisters. Humble, because we couldn’t even pay a dime of what we owed. Not a dime, yet it’s paid fully in Jesus Christ. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph 2:8-9).

Brothers and sisters, let us count the cost of our deliverance. For it is true, we value those things the greatest for which a dear price has been paid. May we count the cost, and value above anything else our salvation! 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 2005, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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