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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:God Points us from Death to Life
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 93:1,2,4
Hymn 1
Reading - Romans 7:7-25
Psalm 51:1,2,6
Text - Lord's Day 2
Hymn 28:2,4,5,6
Psalm 56:4,5

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Lord's Day 1 how good it was to see the fullness of our comfort in the Triune God! The words of that Lord’s Day are so direct, so simple, and so real – beautiful truths that we may all carry in our hearts from day to day. We face challenges, we face worries, we face even death, yet we may always confess that, "I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ." This gospel comforts us, this knowledge undergirds us, this confidence directs us to the throne of God in Jesus’ name to receive help in time of need (Heb 4:16).

And how good it is to sing with all our hearts the beautiful words of Q&A 1 in Hymn 49, "What is in life and death my only aid, My comfort when I am by troubles swayed? I am not mine but Christ’s, who fully paid." Wouldn’t it be great to sing this hymn every Sunday again?

But we do have to move on in the Catechism, on to matters that seem less encouraging, and even rather disheartening. We read in Lord’s Day 1 that we can only have a true sense of the wonderful comfort in Jesus Christ when we have first understood some of our terrible misery. Indeed, the good news of grace shines with even greater brightness when we first consider the dark depths from which we were rescued. The question to be answered is: We have been saved – yes, but from what?

And so Lord’s Day 2 begins to outline our natural condition, under the sombre heading, "Our Sin and Misery." From pondering the shining heights of Lord’s Day 1 and our full comfort, we turn and gaze into the mire of our own sinful and twisted state! In Lord’s Day 2 we take a moment to hold up the mirror of God’s law to our lives (cf. Jas 1:23-25) – and our natural condition of ugly sin and misery becomes abundantly clear. When we judge our thoughts, words, and actions by the standard of God’s holy law, it is perfectly evident that we are in need of serious help. We simply cannot be obedient, but we are wretched, even dead sinners.

But this hard declaration about our misery that the law makes is not meant to be the final word. The Catechism, even in this section on our sin and misery always remains the Book of Comfort! Burdened with the hard knowledge that we gain from the law, we are pointed to one place, and one place alone – to our gracious Saviour! Lord’s Day 2 leads us right back to Lord’s Day 1!

In fact, in his grace God has given us his law, for the very purpose of pointing us to the place of redemption and life. With one and the same glance at God’s law we see where we have utterly failed, but also where our Saviour has perfectly succeeded in our place, that He might save us from our sins. He gave perfect obedience for us, for us who know only total disobedience. I preach to you God’s Word as it is summarized in Lord’s Day 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

 By God’s law we are pointed from death to life.

                 1) the law’s demand

                 2) the law’s verdict

                 3) the law’s fulfillment

1) the law’s demand: The law of God is at the heart of this Lord’s Day. But what is the demand of this vital law? If we say it points out our sin and misery in such clear terms, we must see exactly what God does require of us in his law.

Actually, there are some Christians who do not want to talk about the law anymore. They say, "The law belongs to the Old Testament, to that complex system of outward rules, to that old way of living by do’s and don’ts. Law? Forget it! Give us the gospel!

But it’s wrong to say that the people of Israel served God only through outward obedience to the law, simply following long lists of do’s and don’ts. Their heart had to be involved in their service of God! A refrain from the Old Testament is that sacrifice and outward ritual had no meaning with God if these things were not done in a spirit of faith and repentance. It meant nothing if an Israelite brought his offering to the tabernacle or temple, while in his heart he considered it only a cultural custom, or while he still harboured hatred for his neighbor. Think of David in Psalm 51, where he confesses his sin with Bathsheba to the LORD. "You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (vv 16-17).

Yes, we do know that the Old Testament laws of sacrifice and ritual were fulfilled with Christ’s death on the cross. It is not necessary for New Testament Christians to observe the sacrificial laws any longer. And yet, the basic demand of God’s law forever remains the same – even today – for the demand of God’s law is always spiritual!

In the Old Testament, when He gave both the ceremonial law and the Ten Commandments, God was not pleased with unthinking and insincere obedience to a long list of commands. So also today, when we still rule our lives according to God’s unchanging law in the Ten Commandments and according to the words of the New Testament, God is not pleased with just outward obedience to his will.

For the demand of God’s law always extends beyond the things we can do with our hands or say with our mouths. It extends to the core of our being – what is in our heart? That the law is spiritual, that it is a matter of the heart, jumps out in Q&A 4: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart [and soul and mind]…[and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus laid out this spiritual law of love in Matthew 22. This was not a strange teaching that our Lord Jesus introduced, but as the Catechism notes below answer 4, the command to love God and neighbor was taken straight from the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

And we should notice that Jesus gave this reply in Matthew 22 to the Pharisees, who did think God was pleased with outward shows of piety. Yet this was misguided, for they forgot the crucial centre, the vital summary, of the law. The entire Old Testament – all the Scriptures – are built upon the command to love. From his people God has always demanded acts of love that spring from hearts of love!

When we say "love," we should not think of a vague, romantic, fuzzy-feeling, Valentine’s Day kind of love, but of a love that is committed and devoted, a love that acts and demonstrates itself. Our God requires that we love him, and express this to him in faith, in whatever we do, not just when we feel like it, but always. Our God also requires that we love our neighbor, those with whom we come into daily contact – and this is a love that truly and consistently seeks the good of the other person in word and deed.

Though we have a basic demand to love "in two directions" if you will, vertically to God and horizontally to neighbor, these two cannot be separated. They are closely related, and the one is empty without the other.

For some might profess a great love for God, and even show it in their lives. We might avidly study God’s Word and the confessions, attend the services twice, and give generously to the ministry of the church. We might love to speak about the doctrines of Scripture, even pray long prayers to our Father in heaven. We might sing beautifully to his Name, and even have only Christian radio stations for the "pre-sets" in our cars. Yes, of a person like this it would be said, "He really loves the Lord!" And it is true, these things can indicate that a person loves God. But on its own this love for God is not enough.

By the same token, others might claim that they have a real love for our neighbor, and even show it in their lives. We might give generously to every charity that comes to the door – the Heart and Stroke Foundation, World Vision, the Cancer Society – and we might volunteer at a retirement lodge, and be block parents. We might send money overseas to relieve victims of great disasters, or even give blood regularly at the donor clinic. Yes, of a person like this it would be said, "He really loves his neighbor!" And it is true, these things can demonstrate that a person loves his neighbor. But on its own this love for your neighbor is not enough.

Because a love for your neighbor without any love for God is simply humanism. Such a love for your neighbor means nothing, for it is either self-serving, or it is idolatrous, worshipping some so-called Human Ideal.

And a love for God without being joined to love for your neighbor is worthless religion, according to James in 1:26-27. As the apostle John writes, "If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20).

In short, the law demands from us a two-directional love, a spiritual attitude to both God and neighbor. And this love must be expressed in concrete and dedicated action. It’s a very simple summary of the law that we find in Scripture and in Q&A 4: LOVE. And I think that each one of us, young or old, could easily recite "the greatest commandment and second one like it." But, as often happens: It’s easier said than done!

2) the law’s verdict: It might be a matter-of-fact thing to say, that we ought to love God and neighbor, but we must face the fact that we cannot do it! The apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:14, "We know that the law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." The law sets a high demand, so it is this very law that reveals our low position, for we live not in love but in hatred. Again, it is an easy answer for the Catechism students in Q&A 3, for it is the shortest Q&A in the Catechism: We know our sins and misery "from the law of God." An easy answer for them, but another hard truth for all of us: We cannot keep the demands of God’s law of love!

Notice that the Catechism does not set out to prove that mankind is sinful and miserable in this section by bringing forth scientific evidence from history or psychology. The Catechism assumes that we are sinful. Already Q&A 2 spoke of the knowing of our "sin and misery," but now we must see what it means to be sinful.

"Sin" is not a popular idea in today’s world, for no one likes to talk about mankind’s failure before God. Though advertisements for chocolates or nightclubs might speak invitingly about "sinful pleasures," sin in its real, Biblical, meaning is an unknown word for many. It is unknown, even though sin characterizes the life of each and every person, and even though sin explains what is really behind so much of what we see in world events. Sin is everywhere, but sin is not seen.

And the other side of the phrase, "misery," is also often understood wrongly by this world as a social condition. They say that misery can be blamed on oppression or cultural factors or even your upbringing. But our misery must be seen as the direct result of our separation from God; true misery is the expectation of the deserved penalty from God for all our sins and lawlessness.

Think of how little Johnny scratched the hardwood floor in the kitchen when he was skateboarding indoors. Now he waits in dread for his father to come home – in a similar manner, the misery of guilt and expected punishment hangs over the head of sinful, unredeemed man. Without a Saviour, any person who is even half-aware of the extent of his sin and his inability will sink into the misery of guilt and fear.

As we examine our lives with the mirror of God’s law, we are also shown what has dethroned and taken the place of love in our lives and hearts. Though the law demands love, it is hatred that rules the day.

We saw earlier that we might have a nice picture of "love" in our minds; we might consider it as a fuzzy and warm feeling, something hard to describe or even see. We saw however, that real love will be expressed in actions. But what about "hatred?" Is our sinful hatred really always evident in ugly and despicable actions too, or can it just be hidden in a dark corner in our mind?

We can certainly try to keep our hatred for God or our neighbor safely tucked away inside, so that no one might know. But we cannot hide the contents of our hearts from God, for He searches us and knows us (cf. Ps 139:1).

Furthermore, it is a Scriptural fact that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Matt 7) – the hatred dwelling in us for God or for our neighbor will one day find expression. The hatred in us is like the rot in the centre of a tree that will eventually surface, even after a long time, making the leaves shrivel, and the bark peel away, and making its ruin plain for all to see.

As we hold up the mirror before us, as we read the high spiritual demand of Matthew 22, none of us would dare to answer Question 5 in the affirmative, "Can you keep all this perfectly?" It would be both arrogance and blindness to say yes!

But do we say that we absolutely cannot keep God’s law? Would we rather not answer, "Maybe," for is it really with us so bad as the Catechism asserts, "I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor?" Do you sometimes think that you go through a day without doing too badly? At the end of a day, how many of you sometimes really have to think about what sins you need to ask forgiveness for?

But consider the apostle Paul’s awareness of sin. In Romans 7 we read what Paul writes about his ongoing spiritual struggle. He says that he is a slave to sin – a strong word, but he sees that, even as a redeemed Christian, he is shackled and bound to the powerful and persistent desires of the sinful nature.

We get a glimpse into his spiritual pain in Romans 7, and indeed, into the struggle of every true Christian. In torment he cries, "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (v 15). Though he knows, and though we know, the requirements of God’s law, we do not (and cannot) keep them at all. On our own we are doomed to fail when we even try. As Paul says, "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (v 18). There is something deep within us preventing us from truly obeying God’s law. We are slaves who cannot escape this sin, even for a day. Indeed, we are blind if we ever dare say that we did "pretty good."

Are we all absolute failures, then? The Catechism asks point-blank if we can keep God’s law perfectly: We cannot, for if we stumble on even one point, that is enough to convict us. As we saw earlier, we might like to love God, but we don’t really care for our neighbor – our excuse is: "To be honest, she’s pretty hard to get along with." Or, we might want good relations with those around us, but could not be bothered with rendering true thanks and praise to the Lord – our excuse is: "Is it really so important to pray every day? God is just happy with the heart, right?" But God’s law is a unity, and we cannot just keep the parts we like. As James says, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10)

Brothers and sisters, such is the law’s verdict concerning our case. Measured against the yardstick of God’s law, we come up sadly short. And it is not as if we were pulled over for a speeding ticket, given the charge and the $110 fine, and then we paid the punishment by simply mailing a check. We have gravely sinned against God, we are totally guilty, and we cannot pay the eternal penalty!

Paul too, knew his own failure to keep God’s law. He says he had the intention of loving God and his neighbor, but intentions are worthless if not followed with action. So he cries out, "What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" As humans, we all have "bodies of death"; we are the walking dead, stumbling about in our sin, and expecting every pain of grave punishment. Yet what does Paul, and what can we, shout in joy? Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (vv 24-25).

3) the law’s fulfillment: We saw earlier that God’s spiritual law of love does not change over time, even though it might be impossible for us to keep in obedience. Contrary to the human tendency to follow the path of least resistance, God does not lower his standards when faced with our inability. In his unchanging holiness, God still demands perfect love.

But our God of unblemished and unceasing mercy does not leave us suffocating under the burden of our guilt. Rather, He directs us from our self-manufactured problem to his divinely-crafted Solution. The law reveals our own sinful failures, and even heightens our awareness of our own misery, but the law also points to the One who did keep God’s law perfectly, and who did so in our place.

Out of the world of mankind, billions strong, there was only One man who was able to keep the law of God perfectly. Only One man had in his heart a perfect love for both God and for his neighbor, had that two-directional love, a love that found true expression in words and deeds. Only One man, Jesus Christ! He alone fulfilled – kept, obeyed, perfectly demonstrated – God’s law, in his life, and with his sacrifice to death on the cross.

Love is the fulfilling of the law, and Christ embodied love with his entire life. The summary of the law that Christ gave in Matthew 22 was not an ideal beyond anyone’s ability to keep. He who said, "You shall love the LORD your God and your neighbor as yourself," did what no one could ever do: He practiced what he preached!

His was a life of two-directional love. Indeed, Jesus’ love for God his Father was evident in his whole life, as he carried out his earthly doing God’s will. Especially in the last hours of his life, his great obedience to God was demonstrated. He said in obedience, "Not my will but your will be done," even as he went to his death! Jesus came to earth to obey the Father’s every command, and so showed love for his ‘neighbor’ – even for the world! – at the same time. He obeyed each commandment, and though perfectly innocent, carried God’s heavy penalty for disobedience against his commandments, all for the sake of a people who could not be obedient, and who could not pay the price for their rebellion. Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord, for our Saviour has fulfilled the law!

Notice that the law (the Ten Commandments) is not explained in the Catechism in this section on our sins and misery – why increase our guilt-feelings even more? And the law is also not explained in the section on our deliverance – who dares to claim that he can deliver himself by his good works? But the Ten Commandments are explained in the section on our thankfulness. Having been pointed by the law from death and condemnation to life and deliverance, in thankfulness let us strive to keep God’s law, with the strength that our Saviour gives every day.

From beginning to end, the Catechism is a Book of Comfort. It teaches what we need to know to live and die in the joy of the comfort given by our Triune God. To be sure, the Catechism is not all stirring words that we love to recite in our hearts or sing in worship, but it is all for our instruction, and so for our certain comfort.

So go from death to life, from sinful misery to your faithful Saviour Jesus Christ! And let us go forth with this joyful confession from Lord’s Day 1 on our lips: "He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood…[He] has set me free from all the power of the devil…and by his Holy Spirit [He] makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him." Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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