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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:God's Word portrays a true picture of ourselves
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4
Hymn 1A
Psalm 51:3,4
Hymn 55
Psalm 112 (after offertory)
Augment Hymn 28 or Hymn 6

Readings:  Genesis 2:4-25, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, Belgic Confession Article 14
Text: Lord's Day 3
* 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 our Lord,


Mixed messages and outright lies – our world is filled with both.  Perhaps this becomes most clear when we start speaking about who we really are.  Where can we go to get a true picture of ourselves?  To whom shall we listen?  Should we listen to Eckhart Tolle, a Vancouver New Age guru recently being promoted by Oprah?  Tolle says things like “At the deepest level of being, you are one with all that is.”  Or, “You find God the moment you realize you don’t need to seek God.”  Tolle’s message is that everything is God and that includes you.  The way to happiness is through enlightenment, you have to recognize the divine within you and everything else.  This is just one of the many messages that we hear from the world around us about who we really are.


Then there are the messages that come from within.  Some of us suffer with depression and other problems of that nature.  Depression will sometimes lie to us.  Those lies include lies about who we really are.  “No one values me or appreciates me.  God is distant.  Jesus Christ is not a Saviour for me.”  And so on.  Even if we’re not depressed, sometimes our feelings or emotions can send us mixed messages or outright lies about the true picture of who we really are.  With our culture cheering us on, we may become narcissistic, obsessed with ourselves, and we turn in on ourselves.  I’m looking out for number one.  The world and other people exist for me and my pleasure.  We find it increasingly difficult to get outside ourselves and fix our eyes on Christ, looking to him in faith.


All of this is why it’s so important that we keep going back to the Word of God.  Martin Luther once wrote, 


Feelings come and feelings go

And feelings are deceiving

My warrant is the Word of God

Nothing else is worth believing


Feelings can and do lie to us, they are not worth believing and neither are the mixed messages and outright lies that the world directs at us.  No, loved ones, we have to keep going back to the public objective truth of God’s Word, also when it comes to getting a true picture of ourselves.  That’s what we want to do this afternoon as we consider the truth of God’s Word as it’s been summarized in Lord’s Day 3.  We’ll see that God’s Word gives us a true picture of who we were, who we became, and how we can become something different.


To see who we were, we have to start at the beginning.  We read a few moments ago from Genesis 2 and we’ll get to that in a moment.  But before Genesis 2 is of course Genesis 1.  There we find that God created man in his own image.  It’s repeated three times in the first chapter of the Bible.  But exactly what does that mean that man was created in God’s image? 


Certainly it means what Paul says in Ephesians 4:24, namely that we were created in true righteousness and holiness.  Adam and Eve desired to do, think, and say as God does, thinks and says.  We could call this the ethical or narrow aspect of the image of God.  But there is also another aspect.


We see this aspect in the second chapter of Genesis.  God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  In this respect, Adam was also reflecting the image of his Creator.  Like God, he was capable of work and guardianship.  Further in that chapter, Adam gives names to all the creatures.  The act of naming also reflects the image of God.  God used his Word to created the heavens and the earth and everything in them.  Now Adam uses language to be creative, to determine what he regards as appropriate names for each of the creatures.  Adam possesses thought and speech, and this reflects the thought and speech of the Creator. 


So there is the ethical, narrower aspect of the image of God, but there is also what we could call the broader aspect.  Here we’re saying that mankind reflects God in his being.  Humanity is capable of expressing itself with comprehensible thoughts and language – this reflects God in whom all things live and move and have their being.  Humanity is capable of being creative – that reflects God the Creator.  And we could go on.  Mankind was created in the image of God and that is a rich and deep thought! 


Genesis also teaches us that man was created good.  Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  That includes man.  Man was created perfectly, exactly the way God wanted him.  He was very good, in other words, he pleased God in every way.  From his perfect proportions and appearance, to his perfect thoughts, words and behaviour, man was created very good.


The result of man’s creation in this fashion was to be that he would first of all rightly know his Creator.  At the beginning, Adam and Eve did this.  They had the right knowledge of God, which is not just to say that they knew the right facts about God (which they did!), but that they had a close relationship with God.  They understood that he was the Creator, and they were the creatures.  They understood both his and their place in that relationship.  There was no confusion, no mixed messages, and certainly no outright lies. 


A further result was that they would heartily love God.  In other words, God was their all in all.  Adam and Eve could say with David in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you … God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 16:5 could also have been their song, “O LORD, you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup.”  They loved God, they desired God perfectly and found their satisfaction entirely in him.


They were also designed to live with him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify him forever.  It was God’s will that Adam and Eve would continue to live with him in a state of bliss, going from glory to glory.  Working the Garden and taking care of it, they were to cultivate a place where God’s glory would dwell, where he would be made much of and where his creation would be impressed with him, obsessed with him. 


This was the way it was.  This is the true picture of who we, as the human race, were.  This is the paradise lost.  God did not create man wicked and perverse, rather he established a perfect order, a perfect design, a wonderful humanity.  In God’s Word we see a perfect and good God, a very good creation, and an excellent design.


That same Word reveals a terrible act of vandalism.  In Genesis 3, the serpent comes into the picture and introduces doubt and uncertainty about what God has said and about God’s motivations.  You know the story.  Adam and Eve believed the serpent rather than believing God.  They took from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the world has never been the same since.  As we confess in the Belgic Confession (Article 14), man “gave ear to the words of the devil and willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse.”  Adam and Eve vandalized the perfect order, the perfect design, the wonderful humanity that God had created.  The image of God in its narrow sense of righteousness and holiness was completely lost and the image of God in its broader sense was seriously compromised, so that there are only traces left.  Moreover, the will of man entered into bondage to sin.  After the fall into sin, one can no longer speak about free will.  Adam and Eve introduced the human race to mixed messages and outright lies about who we are and who God is.  They introduced corruption.  They, and we with them, are responsible. 


Since then mankind lives in a world where “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Since then humanity is entirely under sin, where “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11, quoting Psalm 14).  Since then, we all say with “the man after God’s own heart” in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Yes, we are all conceived and born in sin, yes, though we often have a hard time admitting it, we have a love affair with sin. 


Back a number of years ago, there was a copper mine about half way down the length of Babine Lake.   Babine Lake is in the middle of B.C. and it’s about 177 Km long, the longest natural lake in BC.  This copper mine had a number of ponds for the tailings, the toxic leftovers from the process by which they extracted the copper from the ore.  The ponds had dikes around them to keep the tailings in the ponds and out of the lake.  In December of 1989, over 4 million litres of tailings leaked into the lake when a ditch leading to the ponds overflowed during a two-day period.  Not learning the lesson, another major spill occurred in September of 1990.  As you might guess, the lake has had problems with heavy metal contamination ever since. 


That illustrates what happened with Adam and Eve and the human race.  Their fall and their sin didn’t just affect them.  It was a toxic poison that poured out into the whole of humanity.  And unlike the heavy metals in Babine Lake, there’s no possibility that this poison will eventually be diluted and virtually disappear.  It keeps on going strong from generation to generation.  If we just look at the big picture, without even considering the sinfulness of individuals, after World War I, people said, “Never again.”  It was the war to end all wars.  World War II came along and people said that they would never allow a genocide to take place on the scale of what happened with the Jews.  Along came Stalin, Pol Pot and Rwanda.  And that’s just what we do to our fellow man, to say nothing of how we interact with God.  We just never learn – our nature is so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.  Totally depraved, inclined to all evil. 


If you want a true picture of who we became, there’s hardly a more accurate portrayal than that found in Ezekiel 37.  The prophet Ezekiel was led out by God’s Spirit to a dark valley.  This was not just a valley of the shadow of death – this was a valley of death period.  As he surveyed the landscape, Ezekiel saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley.  This was and is a picture of mankind in sin, after the fall.  Not sick, but dead.  Bones.  Dry, dusty bones.  Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  From God’s perspective, fallen humanity is a zombie race, the walking dead.


It’s a true, but very sobering portrayal of who we became.  But thanks be to God that the Word does not stop there.  Even in Ezekiel 37, hope is held out that we can become something different.  Through God’s Word and Spirit, new life came to the bones in the valley.  At Ezekiel’s preaching bodies were miraculously reconstituted:  there was a sound of rattling and the bones all flew into their proper places.  The tendons miraculously reappeared and flesh too, the flesh was molded onto the skeletons and they came to life again – they were regenerated by the Spirit of God.  Amazing! 


The same miracle appears in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”  Wonder of wonders, those who are spiritually dead can be brought back to life!  God inserts that glorious unless in Answer 8 of the Catechism, “unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”  Apart from that, there is hopelessness, apart from that, as far as God is concerned we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil. 


And here we can also to take note of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.  He first admonishes the Corinthians because they’re taking each other to court, they’re suing each other and doing all this in front of unbelievers.  This is wicked behaviour.  And then he reminds them that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Who are the wicked?  They are those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers and the swindlers.  They are those who live in those sins and whose life is characterized by those things.  You may hear that list and think:  I have been sexually immoral.  I have had my idols.  I have lusted after other women in my heart – Jesus says that’s the same as adultery.  And we could go through the list and each and every one of us falls down with a guilty face or at least a guilty conscience.  But notice what Paul says, “And that is what some of you were.”  In other words, that was your old life, that was the way your life was characterized.  You lived in those sins and those sins characterized you.  When is a thief not a thief?  When he’s not stealing, when he’s not thinking about stealing, living a life of stealing.  When is a drunkard not a drunkard?  When he’s not drunk, when he’s not thinking about getting drunk, living a life of drunkenness.


There’s good news in that the Corinthians were no longer those things.  That’s why Paul adds, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”  For us, that means that there is hope for change with the Spirit of God!  The gospel of Jesus Christ means that we’re not left to go from worse to worse, but to grow, to begin doing good, to make a good start of putting away that inclination to all evil.  The good news leads us to see that through the grace of regeneration, the will of those who believe in Christ is more and more being set free again from its bondage to sin, until it will finally be entirely free in the age to come. 


Unlike the outright lies and mixed messages, we hear from within and without, here we have truth that truly transforms.  The Holy Spirit brings us new life, he regenerates us, he restores and repristinates the image of God in us, both in its narrower and broader senses.  The Holy Spirit begins removing the traces of vandalism, till finally, when we are glorified at the resurrection every single trace is removed and we are perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, the second Adam. 


Regeneration by the Spirit of God is absolutely necessary for each and every one of us if we are to become something different.  Another way of saying that is that we must be born again, born from above.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean having a remarkable experience in your life, a Damascus road-type event.  It could be and likely is the case with many of us that we, like Timothy, have been raised in the covenant to believe in the Lord Jesus from earliest childhood.  The important point is that we must be regenerated. 


You need to realize that this is not something that you do, but something that you have done to you.  Many years ago, there was a popular Christian book entitled, “How to Be Born Again.”  But brothers and sisters, this is not something where you can tell somebody how to do it.  In John 3, being born again or born from above is compared with your first birth from your mother.  Can you imagine seeing a book entitled, “How to Be Born from Your Mother”?   No, regeneration is something that is mysteriously and wondrously done to us by God, apart from us.       


And how can you know if you’ve been regenerated or born again, how can you know if God has regenerated you with his Spirit?   The Canons of Dort summarize the Scriptural teaching on that in 5.10:  assurance comes by “faith in the promises of God”  -- loved ones, do you trust the covenant promises He made to you, believing with all your heart in the Lord Jesus?  Assurance also comes by “the serious and holy pursuit of a good conscience and good works” – brother and sisters, is godliness a priority in your life and are you conscientious in your pursuit of it?  We must examine ourselves whether we can indeed answer with a hearty affirmative to both of those questions.  The Word of God calls you again to be sure that you are trusting entirely in Jesus Christ.   


 The true portrayal of our past, present, and future is found in the Word of God.  This is true for us as a human race as well as for us as individuals.  There is and has been a fallen humanity.  But there is also a redeemed humanity, made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have received and rest entirely on God’s grace and mercy.  Some day there will be a glorified humanity, made up of those whose name is written in the book of life.  Loved ones, don’t listen to the lies and mixed messages, whether they come from within you or from our culture.  Listen to the Word of God, the place where we find a firm foundation and a glorious hope for sinners.


Let us pray:


Lord God, heavenly Father,


Thank you for the truth of your Word, a stable place on which to stand in the midst of an unstable world.  We thank you that your Word is there to guide us about who we were, who we’ve become, and who we can be.  Please give each one of us more and richer insights into your Word, so that we may understand and believe.  We pray for your regenerating work in our midst.  With your Word and Spirit, make us and keep us alive.  We confess that apart from the work of your Spirit, we are corrupt and totally unable to do any good in your sight.  Apart from you, we are inclined to all evil.  Thank you for washing us, sanctifying us, and justifying us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by your Spirit.  We will ever be grateful for your wonderful grace and your gift of regeneration.  We pray in Christ’s name, AMEN.                     

* 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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