************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 19, 2017
Lord's Day 4
"Our Unchanging God"
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is correct doctrine, true doctrine, biblical doctrine. It is the opposite of the doctrine man's itching ears want to hear (cf 2 Tim 4:1-5).
The sound doctrine we have covered so far in the Catechism give us a good introduction to what the Bible says about man. On the one hand, we learned we were made good and in the image of God; and, if we are born again by the Spirit of God we learned we are being renewed in the image of our Creator. On the other hand, we learned that the fall has so poisoned our nature that we are born sinners -- corrupt from conception on.
I just finished reading Bill O'Reilly's book "Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan." This book shows us, as I said last time, that we are deeply divided creatures. On the one hand, we see human creatures who are capable of excellence and possess great dignity. We build monuments, fly the skies, create beautiful art and music, and sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of others. On the other hand, we see human creatures who are capable of the most horrible acts. We start wars, build weapons of mass destruction, abuse and manipulate one another, and wreak destruction on the beauty of creation. Even the best among us is capable of the most repugnant sins, while the worst among us are still capable of showing praiseworthy qualities such as love and loyalty.
In Lord's Day 4 the Catechism asks about God's attitude towards our sin and corruption. Does God accommodate Himself to it? Will He let our sin go unpunished? Does His mercy triumph over His justice? The general answer which the Catechism gives is that the Lord is unchangeable. God is unchangeable in His demands. God is unchangeable in His punishment. God is unchangeable in His justice. God cannot and will not change. God is immutable.
Let me warn you, for a moment, about a fairly new theology. It is called Open Theism. Open Theism declares that God does not know what we will freely do in the future. Therefore, God takes risks, God learns, God is reactive, God makes mistakes, and God changes His mind. This is NOT the God of the Bible.
(Mal 3:6) "I the LORD do not change.In Open Theism, God no longer is God. He certainly is not omniscient, knowing all things. He is not almighty; instead He is at the mercy of us, His creatures. He is not immutable because He is subject to change.
(Heb 13:8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Heb 1:12) But you remain the same, and your years will never end."
I An Unchangeable Demand
A As we look at Lord's Day 4 we first see an unchangeable demand. Remember what this demand is? It is the demand of the Law. It is the demand summarized by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40.
(Mt 22:37-40) "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (40) All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."It is this demand that lets us know our misery. Because what is man's response to God's law of love? Sinful man's natural tendency is to say "I can't and I won't." Sinful man's natural tendency, don't forget, is to hate God and neighbor. God says "Love." Man says "Hate."
What does sinful man want? I can tell you what he doesn't want. He doesn't want to be saved. He doesn't want to be saved by grace. He hates God so he doesn't want to be reconciled to God. He doesn't want to humble himself in true repentance and sorrow for sin. He wants to stay in his trespasses and his sins like a pig wanting to stay in a mud puddle. So he doesn't want to hear about God and God's requirements.
B What does sinful man want? As sinners we are unable to keep God's law of love. So, in Q & A 9 sinful man dares to suggest that maybe God should change His requirements.
Q 9 But doesn't God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?"God, you are unjust in Your demands!" That's what sinful man cries. "You aren't fair. You are asking for too much. You are asking for what we are unable to do."
What does sinful man want? He wants God to change His requirements. Maybe God should settle for 50% -- we keep just half of the commandments. Maybe God should scrap the law and ask us instead to do one nice thing for someone every week. Maybe God should grade us on a bell curve. Do you know what happens when a teacher grades on a bell curve? A few students flunk, a few students get an A, and the vast majority are between B- and C+. Or, maybe God should settle for our best.
We meet people who think this way all the time. We meet people who think God should be satisfied with our bell curve efforts. I meet people like this in Rotary and in the cycling club. I even meet people like this in the church. People who are lovable, charitable, kind, pleasant. People who do good in the community and in the world. People who make good husbands and good wives and good parents. People that you cannot help but like. But this is the way sinful man argues; and he defies the living God to show he is as corrupt as the Bible says he is.
These people are so blind. They are blind to their disobedience and rebellion. Obviously, they don't think what they do is all that bad. Obviously, they think they are good or pretty good. Obviously, they don't think they need to repent. May God deliver us from such blindness.
C What do we say to such people? I tell them God is God. That means He is immutable. He is unchangeable. So He does not change His law's demands. He does not settle for our bell curve efforts. He does not settle for anything less than perfection. He demands our total and complete love.
I prick their self-righteousness like I prick a balloon. I ask them if they love God above all and their neighbor as themself. I tell them the truth that even our best works are polluted with sin. I tell them there is nothing we do that has God's approval. I tell them there is nothing we can give to God because it all belongs to Him. I tell them we merit nothing and deserve nothing. And to think or say otherwise is ungodly and wicked and impious.
I tell them the sound doctrine of the Bible as we find it in the Catechism: that we were created good and in God's image. I tell them that we were created with the ability to keep the law. I tell them that we sinned in Adam and are guilty in Adam. I tell them it is our choice to hate God. I tell them God holds us responsible.
D God does not change His law's demands. We see this literally in our Bible reading. The heading to our Bible reading says "The New Stone Tablets." We are talking about the stone tablets on which God engraved the words of His law. Do you remember what happened to the first stone tablets? Moses broke them. Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the people worshiping and dancing before the golden calf. Moses saw the people worshiping an idol. Moses heard the people profaning the name of God. Moses saw the people having another god. Moses was so mad about this sin -- a few short days after getting the Ten Commandments -- that he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.
What does sinful Israel want in this situation? "God, you need to change Your law. We couldn't keep it the first time around. So why don't You lighten up on Your requirements." But what does God make Moses do? At the command of God Moses "chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones ..." (Ex 34:4). LIKE THE FIRST ONES. Exactly like the first ones. The same law. The same requirements. Why? Because God is immutable. Because God does not change. Because His demands do not change.
II An Unchangeable Punishment
A Second, as we look at Lord's Day 4 we see an unchangeable punishment.
Sinful man hears that our immutable God cannot change His demands. Is it possible, instead, that God changes His punishment? "Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?"
The argument here is that it is not necessary for God to punish sin. Just like it is not necessary for a parent to punish every wrong done by a child, so it is not necessary for God to punish sin. Just like human parents sometimes have to choose their battles and simply overlook some of the things done by their children, so God can choose His battles and simply overlook some of the things done by His children.
Those who think this way are blind. They are blind to their disobedience and rebellion. They don't think it is that bad; certainly, they don't think it is bad enough to deserve God's wrath and judgment.
B There is much in modern theology that rebels against the idea of eternal punishment for sin. People's itching ears don't want to hear about hell. People's itching ears want to hear about love and heaven and universal salvation. Open Theism is this way. Open Theism says God's greatest attribute is love. God’s love, it says, so overshadows His other characteristics that He could never allow or condone something like hell.
Going all the way back to Marcion in the second century, people try to make a division between what they say is the judgmental God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament.
But sound doctrine says an immutable God does not change His punishment. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. The God we see in the writings of Moses is the same God we see in the four gospels and in the letters of Paul. This God, according to Moses in our Bible reading, "does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Ex 34:7). God's wrath is an unchangeable wrath. His wrath is constant. It burns continually. God is in wrath because of sin. The message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that the sinner lies under the wrath of God.. The wrath of God burns over the sinner; and it will burn him into hell if he by the grace of God does not repent and believe. The Bible never tells us that God simply looks over sin and lets it go.
C At stake here is the character of God. God is terribly angry with the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit. He is a holy God. Sin is an attack upon His holiness. So He hates sin. And, being holy and just, He must punish sin. This includes your sin and my sin too. Sin must be punished. Either we bear that punishment or Christ has borne it for us. But sin must be punished because God does not change and His punishment does not change.
Also at stake here is the Gospel. If sin is not punished then sin cannot be forgiven. If sin is not punished then there is no need for Christ and the cross. If sin is not punished then a pardon means nothing.
This is the wrath of God. Do not change it, my brothers and sisters. Do not make God into a being Who overlooks sin and its punishment. God is a consuming fire Who must punish sin.
III An Unchangeable Justice
A Third, as we look at Lord's Day 4 we see an unchangeable justice.
Sinful man hears that our immutable God cannot change His demands. Sinful man hears that God does not change His punishment. So he asks, "But isn't God also merciful?" Or, to use a more contemporary word, "Isn't God also loving?" Is Open Theism right when it says God’s love overshadows all His other characteristics? Doesn't God's mercy mean that He loves me, and will pity me, and have compassion on me a sinner?
B Sinful man tries to divide and separate God's justice from God's mercy. But look at our Bible reading. How does God reveal Himself to Moses?
(Ex 34:6-7) "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, (7) maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. AND God does not leave the guilty unpunished. We can't pick and choose when it comes to the attributes of God. We can't say, for instance, "I want God's love and mercy for myself but my neighbor who has hurt me can have God's justice and wrath." We don't get to pick and choose that way.
When God describes Himself, He doesn't emphasize one attribute to the exclusion of all others. He isn't only supreme power and justice or only love and grace or only good and holy. He is all of these fully because God is one. His attributes are one. God's attributes are not separate. God is merciful in His justice and God is just in His mercy. So God's justice does not change and His mercy does not change.
Many want to embrace the biblical statement "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8), yet few want to accept the biblical content that comes with the statement. What most people mean by "God is love" is that God is a kindly old gentleman, a grandpa type figure. Most of the time He overlooks the bad things we do and wants only to bless us. God might disapprove of certain behaviors, but He is not personally offended by it. He certainly does not hold sins against people as long as they try.
If we confess "God is love" we must affirm the content the Bible puts into that statement. If God's love is to mean anything, it must include a love of righteousness and purity. If God's love is to mean anything, it must also include a hatred of sin and those who refuse to repent of their sin.
Sound doctrine says God is unchanging. God is unchanging in His demands, His punishment, His justice.
Knowing this, we need to do something. We need to humble ourselves -- realizing and admitting we have nothing to offer. We need to realize we are no better than all others and fully deserve God's punishment. We need to turn to God in repentance and faith and cast ourselves on God's loving justice. We need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered God's punishment and showed God's love. We need to do this because the way of the cross is the only way of salvation.
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