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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:Right with God
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Text: Lord's Day 23

Singing: Psalm 84:1,3,5; Psalm 14; Hymn 24:5,6,7; Hymn 1A; Psalm 150
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

To be right with God and an heir to life everlasting, could you think of anything better? Better to be a poor man living in a shack and yet right with God than to be a wealthy man who does not know God. Better to be poor Lazarus with the dogs licking your wounds than the rich man dressed in purple and linen and who lived in luxury ever day. For Lazarus was right with God while the rich man ended up in hell. Lazarus was righteous by faith and inherited life everlasting.

I proclaim to you:


1. Given by grace only; 2. Received by faith only.

1. "But what does it help you now that you believe all this?" "All this" = the contents of the AC.

Answer: that in Christ I am righteous before God and heir to life everlasting. There you have the gospel in a nutshell. It speaks of being right with God and of everlasting life.

That is the gospel - the gospel of free grace. For it is the opposite of what we deserve. It is the opposite of what we are by nature before the gospel has arrested us and turned us around. By nature, we are wrong with God and heirs of death everlasting. By nature, we are under the righteous condemnation of God for our sins and our depravity, and on the road to everlasting destruction.

That's what Jn 3:18 says - He who does not believe (in Christ) is condemned already. All are condemned, unless they believe in Jesus Christ. Rom. 3 spoke in the same way - All men are under the power of sin. None is righteous. No one seeks for God. No one does good, not even one.

By nature, all are under the wrath of God and bound for destruction. But then along comes the gospel and changes all of that. As Jn. 3:18 also says, "He who believes in Christ is not condemned."

Faith in the gospel - faith in the Christ who is presented in the gospel, the glad tidings of God - makes all the difference. Through faith, those who were under God's sentence of condemnation God now declares righteous. Those who were headed down the road to everlasting destruction are turned around and directed towards life everlasting.

So, very briefly, those are the benefits of believing the gospel - You are right with God and heir to life everlasting.

You know that our culture is thoroughly materialistic. Our culture cannot think of goodness and happiness without thinking of things. Enjoying the good life is a nice home, a nice car, a nice RV, a nice vacation.

And that type of thinking affects many Christians as well. Many Christians lose sight of the gospel truth that the benefit of believing the gospel is being right with God. And so many TV evangelists will promise that if you accept Christ as your Saviour, then you will be delivered from all manner of nasty habits and bad situations. You will always be happy. All of your relationships will be wholesome and healthy. You will enjoy prosperity and wealth beyond your wildest expectations.

We even hear that born-again Christians (have you ever heard of a non-born again Christian) win golf tournaments and gold medals at the Olympics by the power of prayer. Wow. That's a faith that is starting to pay for itself.

But that's not what the gospel says about itself. The gospel does not say that if you believe in Christ, you will become rich, famous, or be immediately delivered from all the difficult aspects of this earthly life.

It says something much more wonderful. You see, the gospel is not that superficial. It says that when you embrace Jesus Christ by faith, then you are righteous before God and you are an heir to life everlasting. Righteousness and life are the basic blessings of believing. The gospel says that God gives you these freely out of his grace.

This is the great Scriptural truth the HC is repeating here. It says (half-way through A. 60) that God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes (grants or credits) to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.

That's the main point of QA 60. It says that if we believe "all this" (the promises of the gospel as summarized in the AC) then God freely grants to us the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We don't earn it. We don't merit or deserve it. It is a free gift of the grace of God.

God grants to us the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ so completely that it becomes as if we had never had nor committed any sin and as if we ourselves had accomplished all the obedience which Christ brought about for us.

To impress upon our minds very deeply how bountiful the grace of God is, the catechism contrasts these wonderful promises of the gospel with what our consciences accuse us of.

My conscience and God's gospel. The accusation of my conscience and the proclamation of the glorious gospel of free grace - what a contrast.

My conscience, that voice which whispers in my heart and tells me what is right and wrong, condemns me. It convicts me when I don't live and behave as I should. My conscience, that inner witness shaped by the Word of God and by the weekly proclamation of the Word of God as well as by the discipline of the church and the communion of saints, tells me: "Friend, you are a sinner. You don't do what you are supposed to do; you do what you are not supposed to do."

As I said, the accusation of my conscience and the proclamation of the gospel of free grace are set over against each other. My conscience acts as if it were the crown counsel in God's courtroom. It accuses me of wrongdoing. It brings three deadly, but true charges against me.

i) My conscience says: This person sitting here has grievously sinned against all God's commandments. Not lightly, but grievously. He has done what you in your Word, have expressly forbidden.

I have to admit that that's true. Scripture says in James 2:10, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."

We all know we fail. God's law is clear. We know what God forbids, and yet we go against His law. We transgress His law. We trespass into the no trespassing zone. Our conscience accuses us. We acknowledge our guilt.

But then along comes the gospel. Over against the voice of my conscience, there is another voice. And that is the voice of the good news of forgiveness - the glad tidings of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. The gospel says, "God grants you the satisfaction of Christ." You broke his commandments, but Christ has made up for you. He satisfied the anger of God against your sin. He paid for your transgression.

As John wrote in his first letter (2:1,2), "... if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We heard the same gospel proclaimed by Paul in Rom. 3:23ff: We have all sinned and we have all fallen short of the glory of God; however, we are justified by God's grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood.

My guilt is covered by the perfect satisfaction of Christ.

ii) But then my conscience speaks up again. He comes with a second charge against me. He says, "Yes, but this person has never kept any of your commandments. Not only has he broken your commandments. Not only has he done things which you have forbidden. He hasn't even begun to do any of your commandments. If we look at his life negatively, it's hopeless. If we look at his life positively, it's beyond hope.

Our conscience speaks holding the Word of God in his hand. He's been trained by the Word of God, and so he speaks the truth. In Rom. 3 Paul said: None is righteous. No one seeks for God. No one does good. My conscience quotes these passages and then points at me and says, "It is true. This person is not righteous. He does not do what is right."

But then that comforting gospel speaks up again. The wonderful voice of the gospel says, "Haven't you heard that God covers the unrighteousness of the unfaithful with the righteousness of Christ?" That is the wonderful gospel. God imputes to you, he credits you with the righteousness of Christ. You are unfaithful; Christ was faithful. You are not obedient; Christ was obedient. You do not do what God commands you to do; Christ was always obedient to the will of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ said once, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." That was his righteousness. He was always righteous. He was always obedient. Never once did he fail to do the will of God. Never once was he unfaithful.

The gospel of free grace is that God now takes the righteousness, the obedience of Christ and says, "Here, it is yours too. I give it to you. I look at you as if you had done all the obedience done by Christ. Through Christ, you are right with me. Everything is all right between us. Because of what my Son Jesus Christ did, there is no problem between me and you anymore."

That's the free gospel. You have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The doors to eternal life and to the heavenly kingdom have swung wide open. You may enter them clothed in the pure white robes of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

iii) But then my conscience stands up a third time. He says, "Yes, that may all be true, but there is still this matter of total depravity." As my conscience says in A. 60, "This person is still inclined to all evil." Not only does he do what is forbidden. Not only does he not do what is commanded. On top of all that, he's a hopeless wreck. He is still inclined to all evil. There is no holiness in him whatsoever.

"His throat is an open grave. The poison of vipers is under his lips. His paths are ruin and misery. He doesn't know the way of peace."

Oh, how well my conscience knows Scripture. He's been trained and sharpened by the Word of God. How well he can quote the Bible to convict me, to accuse me.

But don't be discouraged. For just as the crown counsel, our conscience, seems to have his case against us nailed down - just as we begin to hang our heads expecting the Judge to shout, "Guilty as charged. Sentence to eternal death!" - at that moment, the gospel speaks up again.

The gospel says, "Stop, hold everything. God will cover his unholiness with the holiness of Christ. God covers his total depravity, his remaining inclination to all evil with the perfect holiness of Christ. He might be unholy, but Christ is holy. And God, in his grace, looks upon him as if he were as holy as Christ."

That is the gospel of free grace. That is the wonderful hymn of praise the gospel sings to your Saviour, Jesus Christ - to Jesus who paid for your wrongdoings, who was obedient in order to make up for your omissions, whose holiness covers your unholiness.

You whom God loves in his Son Jesus Christ - do you now see that God declares righteous those who are unrighteous? Do you see that God does so out of his grace? Do you see that this great gift of God is contrary to what you deserve? If God dealt with us according to what we deserve, then he would only punish us for our sins. But in his love and grace, he deals with us in a different way. He deals with us in a loving way, a gracious way. He considers each of us as having done all that his only begotten and beloved Son Jesus Christ did.

And that's a gift. You don't have to buy it. You don't have to come to God and bargain with him to try to get him to show you favour. God says that everything is all right between you and him out of grace. Your righteousness before God is not based upon your piety or your prayers or your obedience.

Your righteousness before God has only one foundation. That foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ. The only basis for the forgiveness of each and every one of your sins is the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ given to you by God himself.

The satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is freely given to all who believe. That is how the Christian faith helps you. That's the benefit of believing "all this". The benefit is that you are right with God and heir to life everlasting. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

2. Whoever believes! The grace of God is free. The benefits of the Christian faith are free of charge. But they can only be received through faith.

LD 23 makes that point several times. Q. 60 asks, "How are you righteous before God?" And the answer is, "Only by true faith in Jesus Christ." And at the end of A. 60 it says that the free gift of God's grace must be accepted with a believing heart.

And QA 61 elaborate:

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

Faith is not the ground; it is the means, the instrument through which we receive the free gift of God. Faith is not a good work we must perform in order to be declared righteous.

Faith is the open hand into which the golden coins of salvation are freely dropped. When a beggar holds open his hand and someone drops some money into his hand, then he doesn't thank his hand. He thanks the giver.

Imagine you were on a ship. You fell overboard. Someone threw you a rope and pulled you out. You wouldn't praise the rope. You would praise whomever pulled you out. You wouldn't go around telling people that a rope saved you from drowning. You would say that this fellow here saved you. The rope was only the instrument, the means that got you out of a terrible predicament.

In the same way, faith is an instrument. It is not our faith that saves us. Faith is only the link between us and Christ. Faith is only helpful because it is faith that anchors us in Jesus Christ and his saving work.

But then at the same time, we also see that faith is necessary. It is those who believe that are saved. As Paul said in Rom. 3:25, God has freely put Christ forward as an sacrifice of atonement by his blood, to be received by faith. V. 28 - We maintain that a man is justified by faith. And in ch. 4, we read that Abraham, the father of all believers, was reckoned to be righteous by faith.

It is said very well by the Confession, art. 22:

We do not mean that faith as such justifies us, for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ our righteousness; He imputes to us all His merits and as many holy works as He has done for us and in our place. Therefore Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and faith is the instrument that keeps us with Him in the communion of all His benefits. When those benefits have become ours, they are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

Faith is the answer to the gospel. Faith is saying, "Yes and Amen" to the gospel. The gospel proclaims the free grace of God, and faith says, "Yes, I believe it. It's for me too. Jesus Christ has also made everything right between God and me."

Don't miss out on the love and generosity of God. There are two ways of missing out on the free grace of God. One is by rejecting it - by saying, "I hate the gospel. It's not for me."

The other way is by neglecting it. Not through outright rejection, but by neglect. By walking past the cross of Jesus Christ and casually looking off into another direction. But what does the Scripture say? In Heb. 2:3, it says, "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"

Don't neglect the free gift of salvation. Accept it in faith. Believe the gospel which has been proclaimed today. Receive it, accept it, embrace it. Receive Christ, accept him, embrace him. Receive the practical benefits of the Christian faith. Say "Amen" to the promises of the gospel.

Go home this afternoon knowing that everything is all right between you and God and knowing that you are an heir to life everlasting.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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