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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:But God
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Justification
 
Added:2023-04-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

Lesson: Lord’s Day 23

 

BUT GOD

  1. Despite My Sin

  2. By His Grace

  3. Through My Faith

 

  1. Psalm 25: 1, 2

  2. Psalm 130: 1, 2

  3. Hymn 28: 1, 2, 4, 5

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 130: 3, 4

  6. Psalm 25: 5, 10

 

Words to Listen For: puzzle, blunt, pumping, geographical, wish

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What’s needed for the good news to be good?  Why?

  2. What are the three parts of the bad news?  The three true accusations against us?

  3. What’s the gospel in two words?  The gospel in one word?

  4. What’s the wedding garment?

  5. Explain the grammar of how “by” is used here.

* 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 Jesus Christ our Lord,

Do you need to believe that Jesus is divine in order to call yourself a Christian?

It’s a question that you probably haven’t heard before, so let me repeat it for you: Do you need to believe that Jesus is divine in order to call yourself a Christian?

 

This is a question that a friend asked online, not too long ago.  I went to Bible college with this friend.  I have cried and laughed with this friend.  I have opened the Scriptures with this friend, and prayed together with him.

And he would ask this question.

Now…was he doing it…just to be provocative?  There are those who make statements, who ask questions…JUST TO SEE HOW PEOPLE WILL REACT.  And…knowing him as I do, I’m sure this was one of the reasons behind what he was doing…but I think, at a deeper level, he wanted to be affirmed in his unbelief.  He wanted to be AFFIRMED in his UNBELIEF.

And it was very sad.

The question was sad, and the answers were equally sad.

 

One responded: No, you just need to follow the teachings of Jesus in my opinion.

Another said: If you identify yourself as a Christian, then you probably are.

 

What these answers did, is that they essentially treated the symptoms of unbelief without curing the disease.  And, ask any medical practitioner…treating the symptoms instead of the disease is a sure-fire way to have a very sick patient, or, even a dead patient.

THE DISEASE RAGES ON, and the patient is unaware.  That’s frightening.  In a medical context.  But in a spiritual context…it’s not merely frightening, it’s terrifying.

Christianity…the gospel…what OUR GOD DOES is not to minimize the bad news.  The bad news is a very necessary part of the good news.

The gospel is not a “don’t say sin” bill.

The loving thing…the faithful thing…is to do as our catechism does, mirroring and summarizing Scripture and say the bad news outright.  Bluntly even.

I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,

have never kept any of them,

and I am still inclined to all evil

 

That’s the bad news, and we NEED to recognize it about ourselves.

It is the loving thing to do to tell the bad news.

1 John has some pretty strong words for my friend - Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father.

And again, Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

The clear conclusion is that the opposite is also true: whoever DENIES that Jesus is the Son of God, God does not abide in him, and he does not abide in God.

The good news STARTS with bad news.

 

Ephesians says: You were DEAD in your sins.

The catechism says: I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil

 

It STARTS with bad news, but it doesn’t stay there.

 

Still inclined to all evil…YET GOD

Dead in your sins…

 

BUT GOD.  The gospel in two words.  The words upon which history turns.  The words upon which our hope is built.  We see that this good news is possible

  1. Despite My Sin,

  2. By His Grace, and 

  3. Through My Faith

 

BUT GOD.  GOOD NEWS DESPITE MY SIN

I’ll let you in on a little secret this afternoon…we're probably not supposed to have favorite Lord's Days, as each one tells us something wonderful about the doctrine of our salvation, each one presents a very important piece of the glorious puzzle of salvation...but...Lord's Day 23 is my favorite.  It is my favorite because it has my favorite two words in it: BUT GOD.  Technically a “yet God” but still.

And this was my favorite Lord’s Day right from the start of my time in the Canadian Reformed Church.  As I was introduced to the Heidelberg Catechism, I devoured it, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.

And though Lord’s Day 1 pulls at the heartstrings - our ONLY COMFORT in LIFE AND DEATH, and though Lord’s Day 16 gives us comfort like nothing else, that my Lord Jesus Christ by His unspeakable anguish, pain, territory, and agony, which He endured all throughout His sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered my from the anguish and torment of hell - NOT A DROP OF WRATH LEFT FOR US, NOT A SECOND OF HELL FOR BELIEVERS…despite the brilliant argument that I had never heard before in Lord’s Day 29 that the water of baptism does not become the blood of Christ, so too the cup at the Lord’s Supper…despite a catechism filled with treasures from beginning to end…Lord’s Day 23 has always held a special place in my heart ever since I first read it 11 years ago.

Lord’s Day 23 is the gospel.

The PROMISE is there in Answer 59.

The GOOD NEWS and the BAD NEWS is there in answer 60.

The HOW is there in answer 61.

 

As one minister said, “this is the HEART of the catechism.  Everything has been leading up to this amazing and loving truth of how we are righteous before God.”

And you see…THIS is the real question.  THIS is the most important question.

How are you righteous before God?

The most important question is not Can I call myself a Christian if…A, B, C.

Don’t worry if YOU can call yourself…anything.  Go right ahead.  Call yourself whatever you want.

But…what about this question instead: Can GOD call you a Christian?  Are you a Christian IN HIS EYES?

 

In Christ I am righteous before God, and heir to life everlasting.

The promise.

What a wonderful promise this is.

 

Righteous before God

Not just INNOCENT before God…but RIGHTEOUS.

 

Not only does our God TAKE AWAY our weakness and our evil, not only are we forgiven, but we also RECEIVE the righteousness of Christ.

  • Every perfect prayer that our Saviour prayed - as if we were the ones on our knees.

  • Every kind word, every loving gesture - as if we ourselves were speaking and working and acting.

We aren’t just given a clean slate, not just a fresh start…not just a second chance for us to do it right.  We aren’t given an clean but empty box to display OUR treasures, OUR good works…but rather we are given a treasure chest, overflowing with the riches of our Saviour.

 

Righteous before God

And heir to life everlasting

Lord's Day 22 speaks quite a bit about our eternal life, so we won't get into too much detail this afternoon.  How we will one day be raised with Christ and receive a glorified heavenly body.  How already our soul is immortal.  How already our eternal life has begun.  How it was necessary for Christ to die so that we could experience life.

We have SUCH a bright future.

And what is more, we receive this promise, this promise that rests, not on our ability to perfectly understand all that it entails, it rests, not on our ability to fully and perfectly believe every moment of every day…but rather, this promise rests on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ…

We receive this promise even though we deserve the exact opposite.

The bad news of the gospel.

 

How are you righteous before God?

Essentially asking, “Who did the work?  You weren’t righteous, and now you are…did YOU come to GOD, or did GOD come to YOU?”

 

How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

More on that later.

 

Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them and am still inclined to all evil

Essentially answering: “How COULD it be me?  How COULD I have been the one who approached God?”

If we understand our sin, beloved, if we understand just how desperate our situation is, we will realize that, as difficult as it might be to ACCEPT that God has done all the work, we won’t have a hard time UNDERSTANDING why this was necessary.

Because look at Lord’s Day 23.  Even though we might find certain lines to be a little offensive…maybe the catechism is a little more blunt than we would like it to be…can we make any argument against it?  Show me where it’s wrong.  Show me the lie.

My conscience accuses me - and this is the conscience that is instructed by God’s law, a sanctified conscience

My conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments

When we hear the 10 commandments read every Sunday…can we find a single one that we haven’t sinned against, at least once?  If you can, let’s talk, I need to learn from you.

 

I have never kept any of them

Even our good days are not so good that we are beyond the need of God’s grace.  When I tell the truth…do I tell the whole truth?  Nothing but the truth?  And why am I telling this particular truth?  Are my motives pure?  Is it pure truth that I am telling?  Or, when I obey God’s law, is my obedience still tainted with sin?

 

And I am still inclined to all evil

Every morning I wake up, and I know that I am going to encounter temptations throughout the day.  Temptations to break God’s law.  Some temptations that will be resisted - and thanks be to God for that strength! - and other temptations that will turn into sins.

 

This is who I am, beloved.

This is who you are.

 

Do you really think that you could save yourself?

Our sin is powerful.  One of the most powerful things in the world.

BUT.

YET.

YET GOD, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace…our second point.

 

YET GOD - two words that are more than just words.  Two words from a book that is more than just true, it is the foundation of truth itself.  So many times these words, all throughout Scripture - YET GOD.  Or BUT GOD.

We are foolish - but God.

We are rebels - but God.

We are dead in our sins - but God.

BUT GOD.

It’s not BUT US!  Couldn’t be!

But then who?

GOD.  It is now that GOD enters the scene.

 

Yet God, without any merit of my own - for what merit can a corpse languishing in a dungeon of sin offer?

Yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace

And we must pause.  Because there’s that word.  GRACE.

 

The gospel in two words - BUT GOD

The gospel in one word - GRACE

Because it’s all grace.

 

That unmerited favor, that undeserved kindness.

God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

Grace is the lifeblood of the Christian.

Christian…grace should be what is pumping through your veins.  Physically it’s blood of course, but spiritually it should be grace.

_____________

It’s ALL GRACE.  All that you see.  From the air that we breathe to the sun on our face, to the rain that falls.  We breathe grace.  We see by grace.  Grace is in the rain, in the changing of seasons, the wind, the sea, the trees, the mountains.

IT’S ALL GRACE.  And why?

It’s grace because we don’t deserve it.  Not any of this.

Because of who we are.

Remember?  Remember how insultingly and yet accurately the catechism described us?

Three blows to our pride

  1. I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments

  2. I have never kept any of them

  3. I am still inclined to all evil

Three blows, each one a knockout.

And all of them still describe us, don’t they?

I would love to tell you that the first two have been taken care of, and we only now struggle with the third, but that’s not true.  That’s why we still need grace.

Even after the entrance of God.  Even after God has entered the scene.  Even after Christ has lived and died and rose again from the dead…all three accusations remain.

As a Christian, I still grievously sin against all God’s commandments.

As a Christian, I still have never perfectly kept any of them

As a Christian, I still am inclined to all evil.

I’m getting BETTER…as each of you are…the Holy Spirit is sanctifying me, day by day empowering me to kill my sin…but I’m not there yet.

And that’s why we still need grace.

_______________

But imagine.  Just imagine for a moment that there was a flaw in the system.  That there was an unguarded backdoor into heaven.  And that you and I snuck into heaven.  How would that go for us do you think?  Not going the normal way of grace and faith, but just by our own human ingenuity.  How would that go?

Well, we don’t have to speculate wildly and irrationally, pulling facts and factors out of thin air, because this is what we heard in our reading, didn’t we?  The parable of the wedding banquet.

Though there is so much that we could say about this text, I want to draw your attention to the end of it.

Starting at verse 11 - But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

No wedding garment.  You see…the gospel is a call to all.  A call to all kinds of people - one old translation renders verse 9 as - Go into the highways and byways and invite everyone you meet to the feast.

The man who has no wedding garment wasn’t rejected because he wasn’t wealthy.  He wasn’t rejected because he was the wrong kind of person…no, not at all!  The highways and the byways…EVERY KIND OF PERSON.

But, to use the illustration of the parable…the invitation comes with a set of wedding clothes.

The gospel has come to you.  “Congratulations, you are being rescued!”  God has entered the scene.

But, you see…you NEED to PUT ON CHRIST!  You need to be washed clean in the blood of Christ.

You are welcome to come as you are…but you cannot REMAIN THE WAY YOU ARE.

That’s true for all of us.  If we are the same kind of believer at 50 years old as we were at 15…then something has gone horribly horribly wrong.

Put on Christ.  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, and humility.  Rely on HIM, rely on HIS GRACE.

Because you cannot sneak into heaven.  Though heaven is a real place and we should never doubt it, I hesitate to say that it is a physical place.  Some of you have asked me this before.  “Pastor, is heaven a PHYSICAL PLACE?”  And I hesitate.

Because though it is REAL, it is not GEOGRAPHICAL.  Let me explain.

You can’t find heaven on a map, because there’s no physical way to get there.  We say that heaven is up because Jesus ascended…but if we tried to follow Him via rocketship, we wouldn’t get there.

THE ONLY WAY to Heaven, the ONLY WAY to eternal life is by clinging to the cross of Christ.  The only way to righteousness and glory, to everlasting life…is by being washed in the blood of Christ.  It’s all BY GRACE and it’s all THROUGH FAITH.  Our final point this afternoon.

How are you righteous before God?

Only by faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

This is a good question.  A question that I myself ask.

Not in the same way that the catechism asks it, but my question isn’t really a theological question, but rather a linguistic question: Why is the preposition “by” used here, rather than the preposition “through”?

 

After all, Ephesians 2, our wonderful “BUT GOD” passage…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,

made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.

This is something that I drill into my catechism students…

BY Grace

THROUGH Faith

 

BY Grace

THROUGH Faith

 

And then here comes the catechism undoing all my hard work.

But that’s not really fair.  It is clear with the answer to this question that the catechism is in full agreement with Scripture.  We need not panic.

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith,

for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ

is my righteousness before God - that wedding garment, remember?  Clothed with Christ.

I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

For the tiny segment of you here who really appreciate grammar as much as I do, what is happening here is that “by” is being used as an instrumental rather than a causal preposition.

 

For the others of you who don’t care as much about grammar, let me put it another way:

We are not saved BECAUSE OF OUR FAITH, as “by” sometimes means, but we are saved THROUGH our faith.  BY USE OF OUR FAITH.

And so, even though the question might not be worded exactly how I’d personally like it to be worded, the answer makes the truth of all of this very clear.

We are saved BECAUSE OF GRACE and we are saved BY USE OF, or THROUGH our faith.

And this is so beautiful.  So wonderful.

Faith is just a set of empty hands reaching out, waiting for the riches to be dropped into them from above.

Faith is a set of hands that cling to the cross, and when our hands start to fail, we find that there is another set of hands holding us.  And those hands will never let go.

Because it’s all BY GRACE.

It’s not about the strength or maturity or worthiness of our faith - for even our faith is tainted with sin and self-interest…we have to be forgiven…even for the sinful elements of our faith…

But this grace is our BY FAITH ONLY.

Faith as one minister said, means getting out of your own house and walking in God’s rain.  Faith is letting yourself be loved.

I’ll repeat that for those who want to write it down, because it’s rather good.  I wish I had come up with it myself.

“Faith means getting out of your own house and walking in God’s rain.  Faith is letting yourself be loved.”

And even this…even this faith is the gift of God.

Let's jump back to Lord’s Day 7 - the Lord's Day specifically about faith...and see how our faith is a gift also of grace.

What is true faith?

True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true

all that God has revealed to us in His Word.

At the same time, it is a firm confidence

that, not only to others, but also to me

God has granted forgiveness of sins,

everlasting righteousness and salvation

OUT OF MERE GRACE,

only for the sake of Christ’s merits - again, clothed with the wedding clothes of Christ

This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.

Our faith does not come from us, but rather, it is a gift of grace.  It’s ALL GRACE, and it is available for you.

 

Many THINK that they are righteous before God - I’m not like those other sinners, my sins are minor and they’re understandable.

Many want to be Christians on their own terms.  Do you need to believe that Jesus is divine in order to call yourself a Christian?

“No!  Don’t worry about it!  Wanting to be called a Christian is all that it takes.  Just self-identify as a Christian, and you’re good to go!”

But that’s not true.

“Don’t worry about real faith.  Don’t worry about the identity of Jesus Christ.  No big deal.”

This is a lie, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a DEMONIC lie.  A lie straight from the pit of hell, that will lead those who believe it, away from the God of life.

But let us not make TOO MUCH out of faith either.  Of getting all our theological ducks in a row.  Because…we will get it wrong, beloved.  We have, and we will.

You see - “what do we need to do in order to be saved?” is the wrong question.

Rather…we should ask “what has HE DONE.”

 

He is the way, the truth, and the life.

He is the resurrection and the life.

Do you believe this?

 

Then welcome home.

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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