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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Sinner, you have a problem
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 78

Psalm 25:1-3

Hymn 28:4,7

Hymn 1

Psalm 148

Scripture reading: Galatians 3:1-14

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 2

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In April of 1970, three men were on their way to the moon.  Apollo 13 was just two days into the journey to the moon when disaster struck.  There was an explosion and a significant quantity of oxygen was lost into space.  When the crew realized what had happened and the trouble they were in, they said those famous words, “Houston, we have a problem.”  Actually, they said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” but when this event was turned into a movie, it got turned into the more dramatic and more famous “Houston, we have a problem.”

It was a life-threatening problem.  The astronauts on Apollo 13 felt the explosion and could see all the warning lights going off.  They would’ve been fools to ignore everything telling them they had a problem.

They would also have been fools to ignore everything telling them the magnitude of their problem.  It took them a little while, but they soon understood that the mission had to be aborted and they had to return to earth as soon as possible.  It wasn’t a sure thing that they would make it back to earth either. 

The astronauts on Apollo 13 and the men at mission control took this problem very seriously.  Because they did, the lives of the three Apollo 13 astronauts were saved.  They landed safely back on earth on April 17, 1970. 

Similarly, all sinners here on this earth have a serious problem.  We’d be fools to ignore all the indicators of the problem.  We’d be fools to ignore the magnitude of our problem.  This is what the biblical teachings in Lord’s Day 2 are all about.  We’re going to learn how God tells us “Sinner, you have a problem.” 

We’ll look at two questions:

  1. How do I know it?
  2. How great is it? 

Our Catechism reminds us that in order to live and die in the joy of gospel comfort, we need to know how great our sins and misery are.  One thing you should notice right away is that we’re using biblical language.  We’re talking about sin.  When worldly people do evil things, they won’t usually use the word ‘sin’ to describe what they’ve done.  ‘Sin’ isn’t a word you’re going to find in the news to describe some crime that’s been committed.  The world is allergic to the word ‘sin.’  That’s because sin is personal.  Sin is committed against someone.  Sin is committed against God.  It’s rebellion against him.  Think of Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” 

That gets us to the heart of the problem we’re looking at here.  When we sin, we sin against God -- God, who is infinitely majestic.  When we sin against him, we insult his infinite majesty, slap him in the face.  God is infinitely holy – separate from sin.  When we sin against him, we ensure he won’t be near us to bless us.  God is infinitely just.  When we sin against him, we earn his wrath and judgment.  The heart of our problem is that we are sinners and God hates sin.  He hates all rebellion against him.  If that’s what we’re doing, we’re in a miserable place.  The sinful and broken mass of humanity is full of misery.  This is your problem and my problem, according to the Bible.  Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death…”  Wages are what we’ve earned.  We’ve earned death with our sin.  Eternal death.  Hell.

But how does someone come to recognize this serious problem?  “From where do you know your sin and misery?  From the law of God.”  Simple question.  Simple answer.  But hold on, because we can actually dig into this a little deeper. 

What does our Catechism mean by “the law of God”?  Broadly speaking, the law of God is where God commands people to do certain things and forbids them to do other things.  The law of God is a matter of do/don’t.  The law of God is a matter of orders and prohibitions.  That contrasts here with the gospel or the good news of the Bible.  The law says, “Do.” The gospel says, “Done.”  The law imposes strict demands on us; the gospel offers us a free gift of God’s love in Christ.  We’ll get more into that gospel once we get to Lord’s Day 5. 

Now when it comes to the law of God, we can narrow this down even more.  In theology we distinguish between three categories of biblical law.  There are the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, laws covering sacrifices, dietary laws, laws involving the priesthood and so on.  Those ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ.  Then there were the judicial or civil laws.  These were laws that were given by God for Israel as a theocratic nation state.  Those laws were made obsolete with the disappearance of that state and the coming of Christ.  There are still things for Christians to learn from both the civil laws and ceremonial laws.  But they don’t have the same meaning for us that they did for the people of Israel in the Old Testament. 

The same can’t be said for the third category, what we call the moral law.  The moral law speaks of God’s permanent will for all human beings.  It was already in place at creation.  It was given to Adam and Eve.  We don’t know how, but somehow God revealed it to them.  And Romans 2 tells us that it has been written on everyone’s hearts.  But when we think of the moral law, we usually think of its written summary in the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments are God’s abiding moral law. 

Now when our Catechism asks, “What does God’s law require of us?” it could have quoted the Ten Commandments at this point.  However, it doesn’t.  Our Heidelberg Catechism gets to the Ten Commandments later on.  But here in Lord’s Day 2 we get the teaching of Christ from Matthew 22, the commandment to love God and to love our neighbour.  With these words drawn from the Old Testament, our Lord Jesus summarized the whole of the Ten Commandments. 

When he did that, did he make the moral law less strict?  Or is our Catechism trying to soft pedal our problem by quoting Jesus instead of the Ten Commandments?  Not at all.  In fact, if you spend some time thinking about what Christ says in Matthew 22, you’ll realize that he’s drawn out exactly how serious our problem is.  Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind?  Is that easy?  Or loving your neighbour as yourself?  By the way, that’s not a command to love yourself.  It’s just taking for granted the idea that people normally take care of themselves.  They take care to avoid pain and discomfort.  The same way we instinctively take care of ourselves, we ought to take care of those around us.  Is that easy?  Is that something that comes naturally to you or me?  You know the answer.

We’ve been talking about a particular use of the law of God.  We often think about the moral law as a guide for our thankfulness.  That’s how our Catechism deals with the Ten Commandments later on.  But here, the moral law of God is used to expose our sin and misery and our need for the gospel.  It’s a convicting use.  It’s the same way we use the Ten Commandments in our morning worship service.  The Ten Commandments show us how much we need Christ, how much we need what’s he done for us in his life and on the cross. 

There are different ways we can picture this convicting use of the law of God.  It’s been described as a mirror.  We look into the mirror and see the true picture of ourselves and realize we need cleansing from our sins.  The moral law has been described as a doctor diagnosing the illness.  As Martin Luther said, “The law discovers the disease, the gospel prescribes the remedy.”  The moral law has been compared to a friend.  Scripture says in Proverbs that the wounds of a friend are faithful.  The moral law wounds us for our good – speaks truth that hurts, but truth we need to hear.

So we get to know our problem from the moral law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, and further summarized by Christ in Matthew 22.  We get to know that our problem is our sin against God, our rebellion against him.  And now we also want to learn about the magnitude of our problem.  How great is it? 

There’s the demand of God’s law.  That demand is found in what we read from Galatians 3.  Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.”  What does God’s law demand?  It requires you to obey everything.  If you don’t, you’re under God’s curse, under his condemnation.  So, the law requires comprehensive obedience, obedience that covers everything God commands. 

God’s Law also requires exact perfection in our obedience to each of God’s Commandments.  Our Lord Jesus drove home that point in the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:48, he said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Perfection is the demand of God’s law.  Human beings are commanded to be holy, just as God is holy.  That means perfection.    

So there’s the demand of God’s law for comprehensive and perfect obedience.  But then there’s human nature.  There’s me.  There’s the way I am apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in me.  As our Catechism puts it, by nature I’m inclined to hate God and my neighbour.  If God’s command is for me to love him comprehensively and perfectly, I can’t do it.  If God’s command is for me to love the people around me comprehensively and perfectly, I can’t do it.  By nature, I have this hostility in my heart towards God and those who bear his image.

The novelist George Orwell wrote some memoirs about his childhood.  He said that when he was a schoolboy he hated Jesus.  When he’d hear the stories of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion, he thought that Judas and Pontius Pilate deserved sympathy. But Jesus?  As a boy, George Orwell loathed him.  That’s the way people can be apart from the Holy Spirit.

But there are other ways we can hate God that aren’t quite so obvious.  Let me mention three common ways that people hate God, which we don’t normally think of as hatred.  I’ve adapted these from a blog post by Dr. David Murray on this topic. 

One way that you can hate God is by belittling him or minimizing him in your life.  You can do that by ignoring him, not talking to him, or not listening to him.  By not praying, not reading your Bible, not attending church (when you can) to listen to his Word.  Indifference to God is a form of hatred towards him.

Another way people hate God is by distorting him.  People love to talk about God as love.  But they don’t want to hear how the Bible describes him also as holy, and as a consuming fire.  They don’t want to see God revealed as being just and having wrath against sin and sinners.  People make God to be the way they want him to be.  That’s not love for God – it’s the opposite. 

A third way people hate God is by never worshipping him, but then using him.  When times are tough, when people are desperate, they expect him to be their emergency help line.  But otherwise, life goes on without much thought of God at all.  Using God when he’s convenient and useful amounts to hatred for him.  God is there on your terms, as your servant, at your beck and call.  When God isn’t worshipped, but merely used, that’s a form of hatred too.

When you hear these three ways of hating God, what goes through your mind?  Have you ever belittled, distorted, or used God?  I know I have.  We have to see that as sin.  We have to be honest about it and confess it.   Even as Christians, the sad truth is that we’re inclined to hate God.  That’s the truth we each have to face and confess.  When we do that, then we see how there’s no way for us to earn fellowship with God – as Galatians 3 points out, if we’re relying on works of the law, we’re under God’s curse.  That’s because of his great demand for comprehensive and perfect obedience and our utter inability to meet that demand. 

In Acts 13, Paul was preaching to the Jews in Antioch.  He said that through Christ “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”  Then listen to Acts 13:39, “…and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”  You can also translate “freed” in that verse as “justified.”  The law of Moses could never justify from anything, from any transgression.  That’s why Paul says in Galatians 3:11, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…”  Because we’re sinners, we can never be declared righteous by God with our doing, with our activity.  We can never be declared righteous by God through our attempts at law-keeping.  Those attempts to provide our own righteousness will always end in utter failure. 

So, sinner, you have a problem, and not a little one.  You have a life-threatening problem.  The moral law of God stands over you with an accusing finger.  God requires of you comprehensive and perfect obedience, consistent, whole-life and being love for him and for your neighbour.  You can’t do it.  And the consequences for not doing it are enormous too – eternity in hell.  Sinner, you have a problem.

The gospel is God’s answer to your problem.  The good news is that God in his love offers rescue through his Son Jesus Christ.  He calls you to believe or to believe again that Jesus has fulfilled the demand of God’s law for perfect and comprehensive obedience.  He did this in your place, because you couldn’t do it for yourself, but you have to in order be reconciled to God.  He was obedient on your behalf.  When he walked on this earth, Jesus loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind.  During his 33 years, he loved his neighbour as himself, perfectly and consistently.  He showed the greatest love for you, by going to the cross and taking your place there.  On the cross, he took the hell you deserve for failing to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind.  He took the hell you deserve for failing to love your neighbour as yourself.  Through Christ and his love for you, you have righteousness and you have forgiveness.  You have the perfect answer to your serious, life-threatening problem.  Loved ones, look to Christ, look to Christ alone and don’t ever take your eyes off of him as your hope for eternal life.

The moral law of God tells us we have a problem.  The Scriptures go further and tell us the great magnitude of our problem.  Now are you going to be wise and pay attention to the warning lights going off, so to speak?  Are you going to be wise and see the serious danger you’re in apart from faith in Jesus Christ?  The astronauts of Apollo 13 were saved because they gave heed to the warnings and then did the right thing.  If you’re going to be saved from eternal death, pay attention to the warning lights saying “Sinner, you have a problem” and turn to God’s solution in Jesus Christ.  AMEN. 


Holy God, heavenly Father,

We’re grateful for your Law.  As a good friend does, it tells us the truth.  It tells us the truth about who you are, about your character, and what you value.  It also gives us the truth we need to hear about ourselves.  Thank you that you’ve spoken in your Word and shown us our problem and how great it is.  But we’re even more thankful that you’ve also given the good news of Jesus Christ to address our problem.  We thank you that in Christ we have comprehensive and perfect righteousness and forgiveness.  We praise your name that our problem has been taken care of through Christ’s perfect life and his death on the cross.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to always keep our eyes fixed on him.

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

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