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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:How New Are You?
Text:BC 24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


(Reading: Hebrews 11:1-16; Lord’s Day 24)


How New Are You?



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...


     One of the well-known evangelists of the Great Awakening was the Calvinist, George Whitefield.

          Though he was an Englishman, he was powerfully used by the Lord in the American colonies also.


     It was during the time he spent there that he formed an acquaintance with Dr Benjamin Franklin, the American philosopher and inventor.

          He is the one credited with discovering electricity in lightning and this inventing the lightning rod.


     Franklin frequently heard Whitefield preach, though not, it seems, with the same benefit which so many others had gained from it.

          As it says in 1st Corinthians 1 verse 26, of those called by the Lord, not many are wise by human standards.


     In a letter dated August 17, 1752, Whitefield exhorts his philosophical correspondent to still higher learning.

          He wrote to Franklin, “I find you grow more and more famous in the learned world.

              “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent, unprejudiced pursuit and study, the mystery of the new birth.

     “It is a most important, interesting study, and, when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains.

          “One, at whose bar we are shortly to appear, has solemnly declared that without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


     Well, what a thing to write to a famous person like Benjamin Franklin!

          And yet it had to be said.

              That man had to be left in no doubt as to his position before God.

                   As we learn in the first part to our sermon this afternoon on Article XXIV of the Belgic Confession of Faith, YOU MUST BE TRULY NEW.


     This is how the Article begins.

          It says, “We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin.”


     You see, great man as Franklin may have seemed to have been to his fellow countrymen – and certainly to Americans today! – as a sinner he was the most miserable and insignificant man!

          He was utterly lost – doomed to hell itself!


     Now, that was quite a different message than the one the Church of Rome was proclaiming at the time of the Reformation.

          “Good works” were said to contribute to your salvation.

              Faith wasn’t the only thing.

                   Twisting scriptures such as the letter of James, Rome declares the necessity of faith and works as the ground for salvation.


     No wonder you had Tetzel selling his indulgences around the countryside.

          You could cash in on other’s goodness.

              And if you were “saintly” enough others could get to share in a bit of your credit as well!


     But when the Reformers went back to faith alone, Rome wasn’t finished so quick.

          She who had had hundreds of years of this error was so led by the devil that she soon had an answer for that.

              This is just “easy-believism” they said.

                   This means you can do what ever you like and still be saved!   


     That’s how Rome spoke towards the Protestants.

          They charged that this teaching would make people apathetic and irresponsible.


     But here we have the Scriptural reply.

          For, as Article XXIV goes on, “Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.”


     You see, if you are born again, you are not the same.

          That’s something the unbelieving cannot grasp.

              Like Nicodemus in John 3, they’re still looking at it with the old man.

     But once you’re a new man, nothing is the same to you.

          Because you know it’s not about you.


     This is the clear scriptural answer of Answer 64 in the Heidelberg.

          For if you’ve been grafted into Christ by true faith you’ll be thankful.


     I mean, He did it!

          On your own, you’d still be lost and all alone.

              He found you, though.

     That’s what this ‘true faith’ is in Article XXIV.

          For it is what is planted in you by God when His Word and His Spirit come together in you.

              This is the only way you can be truly new.


     Now, that was certainly a different teaching than what Rome had taught.

          And it was also a different teaching than those called the ‘Spiritualists’ at the time of the Reformation.


     They were those with an Arminian theology who separated the Word and the Spirit.

          They said that the Word was just a dead letter and it’s the Spirit who makes alive.

              So, naturally, they despised the preaching and use of the sacraments.

                   In fact, they despised the whole official service of the Church.


     Aren’t they still very much with us today?

          One of their proponents said that soon would come the day when he’d merely wink at people and they’d be saved!

              Preaching is all old hat!


     Mind you, preaching is also a lot of hard work.

          And why be bothered with all that when you can just have a fantastic experience?


     The criticism of Rome certainly applies to them.

          But then hasn’t Rome been saying much the same?

              Romans 10 verse 17 doesn’t have much prominence amongst them either!

                   For there the apostle says, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”


     Because it’s God’s doing, the Confession declares that it’s “impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man.”

          As it goes on, “we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”


     The faith that justifies produces good works.

          As Luther put it so well in the preface to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us which transforms us and begets us anew.

              “It makes us in heart, temper, disposition and all our powers, entirely different men that we were before and brings with it the Holy Spirit.

     “It is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.

          “It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing that which is good.

              “As it is impossible to separate burning and glow from the flame, so it’s impossible to separate good works from faith.”


     In this way we come to a second aspect in Article XXIV.

          For now we see IT MUST BE WHAT HE DOES IN YOU.


     So far we have seen that faith is a truly divine work.

          In the same way, when scripture speaks of doing good works it is what arises out of what God has put in us to do.

              As Ephesians 2 verses 8 till 10 declare, “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.

                   “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”


     This is what Answer 63 means in the Heidelberg Catechism.

          It’s as we’re instruments to bring God out in our lives that we are blessed and become a blessing.

              That’s grace.


     The Lord illustrates what this means in John 15.

          There, in the image of the vine and the branches, He says, “If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”


     This also explains the parable of the Lord in Luke 6.

          For in verses 43 till 45 there He speaks of a good tree and a bad tree.

              Each produces fruit according to what it is.

     So we bringing out good things out of the good stored in our hearts is because it’s what the Lord has put there.

          As those who have been recreated in true righteousness and holiness we may produce such a crop.

              That’s why Article XXIV goes on to say that, apart from faith and reconciliation, our works could not be good works “any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good.”


     There are some who say that if we are truly born again, the law doesn’t apply anymore.

          They are called ‘antinomian’.

              This is a Latin word meaning “without the law.”

                   For they believe that Christ has redeemed us from the law.


     You get this belief in the triumphalism of modern Christianity.

          They will say that there’s nothing wrong with playing sport on Sunday because now it’s just another day in the week.

              It was only something there to guide the Israelites until Jesus came.

     Now we have the Spirit.

          Now we instinctively know what to do.


     But just like their ancestors at the time of the Reformation, these people then go and live lives completely opposite to what Jesus lived and taught!

          They divorce and remarry at leisure.

              They take on the world’s entertainment and its lifestyles.


     They show they’re not truly free at all.

          In fact they’re slaves all over again, though this time it’s to the world and not to the law!


     Congregation, IT MUST BE WHAT HE DOES IN YOU.

          That’s why we must be humble under His Word.

              They are the instructions of the Master no less!

     And while we may now be heirs of the covenant, sons instead of slaves as Galatians 4 verse 7 says, doesn’t that mean God is our Heavenly Father?

          You wouldn’t want to be a bad son or daughter, would you?


     And the picture of a father and his children draws us into the third aspect of Article XXIV.

          For since it is what we inherit through God’s grace in Jesus Christ we realise IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO.


     The last paragraph of Article XXIV is very definite.

          It’s not about us at all.

              In fact, it were in even the smallest way up to us, we’d be totally lost!


     Answer 62 of the Heidelberg told us the same scriptural truth.

          What we do – even the very best – is imperfect and stained with sin.

              Romans 3 verse 20 declares, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”


     And whenever the Church wandered off this doctrine it laid the most terrible insecurity upon her members!

          Then they could never know if they were right with God.

              Because if it was up to them how could you ever be sure you’ve done enough?


     How many of us haven’t met this same thinking in a fellow believer?

          In conversation he is asked about whether he’s going to heaven.

              And he replies, “I hope so.”

     Then you press him further.

          And he comes out with exactly this insecurity Article XXIV points to.

              It seems he hasn’t lived the right life or had that particular experience.

                   So where’s the cross?


     This is what Don Carson pointed out is the heart of true evangelicalism.

          The suffering and death of our Saviour has to always be in the centre of things.

              And it’s when the Church gets involved in all the side issues that the great gospel truth gets lost.

     Then all that Article XXIV ends with becomes seen in the Church.

          As it says, “then, we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed.”


     Congregation, IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO.

          It’s about what God has done once and for all time in His Son!


     That why Hebrews 11 verse 4 says that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain.

          Because he believed in God.

              He looked towards the coming of the Messiah, however basic his knowledge was then.

     And it’s by what God did in him that his faith still speaks to us today.

          Just like it those with all those other saints of Hebrews 11.

              Because they were all looking to what pleased God.


     This is the truth that liberated Horatius Bonar.

          In his well-known hymn, “Not What My Hands Have Done,” he sang of this.

              And the last stanza ends with the clearest of all confidence: Tis He that saveth me  And freely pardon gives; I love because He loveth me;  I live because He lives.


     Dear friend, is this what has freed you?

          Have you come to see it’s not about you but about Him and what He’s doing in you?

              How new are you?





Let’s pray…

     O Lord God, we pray that this teaching will greatly encourage us.

          Because we are born again.

              We are those who love You because it’s You who’s in us by faith.

     But perhaps there’s someone here who hasn’t believed.

          Maybe right now he is wondering where they stand before You.

              Strike him Lord so he’ll fall before You!

     So move in his heart that he sees how blind he really is.

          Then his eyes will be truly opened through believing in the Only Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ.

              In His saving Name, we pray, Amen.





* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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