************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 24 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 4, 2018
Lord's Day 24
Philippians 2:1-13; 3:1-6
"The Good We Do"
Last week, after hearing my sermon on Lord's Day 23, someone came up to me and said, "You taught me something new. I never realized I was one of the wicked."
Perhaps some here still think this way. Perhaps some here don't think of themselves as wicked. Do you know why? Because of the lies of the devil -- by the way, we are looking at the devil and his attacks this evening and all are invited and encouraged to attend.
Because of the devil's lies, Reformed preachers must always fight an uphill battle. We fight against the lie that everyone is basically good. We fight against the lie that what man does is good enough to pass God's scrutiny. We fight against the lie that man can contribute to his own salvation.
As we fight off these lies I have three points this morning: one, good works are rejected; two, good works are required; three, good works are rewarded.
We continue our study of what Paul calls "sound doctrine." Remember what sound doctrine is? It is sound because it is based upon the Bible. And because it is based upon the Bible it is true, it is reliable, it is trustworthy.
Most men do not like sound doctrine. Most men gather around them preachers who say what their itching ears want to hear. That is certainly true for what we are looking at this morning.
I Good Works Rejected
A Our first point: good works are rejected. They are rejected as a means of salvation. The message of the Bible is that God justifies the wicked out of sheer grace. He applies to His elect the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. And, He punished Christ in the place of His elect. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:
(Phil 2:8) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
Sound doctrine says this means salvation is totally a work of God. God, and only God, saves me. As the song puts it:
Your voice alone, O Lord,
can speak to me of grace;
your power alone, O Son of God,
can all my sin erase.
No other work but yours,
no other blood will do;
no strength but that which is divine
can bear me safely through.
According to sound doctrine, this further means there is nothing I can do. There is nothing I can contribute. As the song puts it:
Now what my hands have doneThe good we do cannot make us right with God or at least help to make us right with God. Sound doctrine rejects good works as a means of salvation.
can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne
can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears
can bear my awful load.
Man does not like to hear any of this. Man does not like to hear he is incapable of saving himself. Man does not like to hear he contributes nothing towards his salvation. But salvation is a work of God and only of God. And, God alone receives the glory for this work.
B Do you know what the doctrine of grace makes us? Do you know what sound doctrine make us? It makes us humble. Listen to what Paul writes to the church at Philippi:
(Phil 2:3) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.What is Paul talking about? He is talking about a work's righteousness. He is talking about those who put confidence in the works of the flesh. Don't think overmuch about the good you do. Paul was talking about himself as a Jew. Paul was talking about himself as someone who kept the Law and was circumcised according to the Law.
(Phil 3:3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh--Paul, the Jew, no longer puts confidence in the flesh and in the works of flesh.
Now, Paul reminds us that he had all sorts of reasons to put confidence in the flesh and in the works of the flesh:
(Phil 3:5-7) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (7) But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul thinks about all this, he thinks about the works of the flesh, and do remember what he says about them all?
(Phil 3:8-9) ... I consider them rubbish ... not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ ...No wonder Paul is humble about himself. No wonder Paul glories in Christ.
Let's put all this into contemporary English. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you attend worship -- even twice on Sunday. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you read the Bible and pray. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you put money in the offering plate or donate to Word & Deed. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you attend youth group and Catechism and receive a Christian education. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you are involved in the life of the church. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you don't drink or gamble or do drugs. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you give your children a Christ-centered education. Don't think overmuch of yourself because you are one of the founding families of this church. Do you get the point?
(Phil 2:3) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.Sound doctrine says if you are going to glory in anything, glory in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work.
In line with Scripture, the sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us the good we do is not good enough.
Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.Nothing that we do passes God's scrutiny. Nothing we do measures up to the divine law. Nothing we do is entirely perfect. So there is no reason to consider ourselves better than others. So there is no reason to be proud about ourselves and our works. Instead, "glory in Christ Jesus, and ... put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil 3:3).
II Good Works Required
A Our second point: good works are required. If you are a Christian, if you have true faith, if you have been saved by the grace of God in Christ, then sound doctrine declares there must be good works in your life. They aren't there to save you but because you are saved. They aren't there as the cause of salvation but as the fruit of salvation.
Question 64 of the Catechism brings up the classic Roman Catholic argument against the teaching of salvation by grace through faith: "But doesn't this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?"
The argument goes like this: if I am saved by grace through faith and not by works, then it makes no difference how I live. I can live as I please, I can never produce any good works, I can live an ungodly life, and yet I can still end up in heaven. According to this objection, the teaching of salvation by grace is a license to sin.
B Sound doctrine declares that "it is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude." Too many Christians think that conversion is the only important experience, and that nothing follows. But this is wrong.
In Christ, believers receive all the blessings of salvation. Meaning what? Meaning there is no believer who receives Christ's righteousness to cover his sins who does not also receive Christ's sanctifying Spirit to cleanse his soul from sin. Simply put: those God justifies He also sanctifies. Paul speaks of this truth in his letter to the Corinthians:
(1 Cor 1:30) ... you are in Christ Jesus, who has become ... our righteousness, holiness and redemption.Notice: Christ is our righteousness, OUR HOLINESS, and our redemption.
Sanctification, holiness, is a fruit of justification. Those who are joined to Christ, made righteous in Christ, cannot help but produce fruits of gratitude.
What kinds of fruits are we talking about? Let me refer you to the last part of the Catechism. In discussing the life of service, it focuses on the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Those who are justified are people of prayer. Those who are justified begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments.
Of course, there are many who want an easy road to heaven. They want gain without pain. They don't want to deny themselves, take up His cross, and follow Him. They produce no good works. They live immoral lives of disobedience. They are hypocrites. They show by their actions that they are not truly united to Christ by faith.
I love it that the Catechism uses the word "impossible." It is impossible for a believer to remain fruitless. It is impossible for a believer to live a life of wickedness. It is impossible to be justified without also being sanctified.
C Sound doctrine also tells us the motive of this fruit: thankfulness. A thankful believer does not need to be bullied, pushed, or threatened into doing good works. He does them because he is thankful. When we think of the awfulness of our sins and the wonder of God's grace, we cannot help but be thankful.
D Sound doctrine tells us the relationship between justification and sanctification, between righteousness and holiness.
Justification leads to sanctification. Roman Catholics and Jews and Muslims and JWs and Mormons and a host of others wrongly believe the opposite: that sanctification leads to justification, that good works lead to salvation. The relationship between justification and sanctification is like the relationship between a tree and its fruit. A tree produces fruit. Similarly, Christ produces fruit in us.
Justification and sanctification are never to be separated from one another. But also they are never to be confused with each other. And they are always to be distinguished from each other.
Sound doctrine tells us, then, that good works are required of Christians. Not in order to be saved but because they are saved. Sound doctrine tells us "it is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude."
III Good Works Rewarded
A Our third point: good works are rewarded. God promises to reward good works in this life and the next.
Now this creates a problem. Sound doctrine declares that the good we do doesn't earn anything. Sound doctrine declares that we earn nothing and merit nothing.
The idea of reward or merit was developed by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. It lies at the center of their theology and without it their system of salvation does not work. The Roman Catholic theologians of the Middle Ages concocted a whole scheme based on merit.
To merit is to earn or deserve something from God, so that God owes you, so that you put God in your debt. I am sure you realize this is the opposite of grace. Because grace is freely given, unearned, unmerited, undeserved.
Merit is unattainable. Who would ever dare to declare that God owes them something, anything? Who here would ever dare to declare that God is in their debt? Who here would ever dare to declare they are God's debtors.
Merit is impossible. It is simply and absolutely impossible for sinful man to perform some deed which entitles him to receive something from God.
B There is One, however, Who is able to merit with God. I am talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave to God perfect obedience to the Law. He paid for sins He had not committed. He met the requirements of the Law and suffered the punishment of the Law.
Because of Christ, because of His merits, out of grace, God rewards the good we do. The reward must be by grace. The reward has to be by grace. Because the only way in which God deals with His people is by grace.
C Now get this: we are fallen, we are sinners, we are wicked. We merit nothing, remember. So what does God do? Paul tells us in Ephesians that God prepares good works in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). God prepares our hearts, our minds, our wills, our desires. Which means we do not manufacture the good works. They are the result of the work of God in our hearts. As Paul writes to the church at Philippi:
(Phil 2:13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
D Now, God is so gracious. Remember, all His dealings with His people is by grace. So, out of grace He rewards us for the good His grace enables us to do. Grace upon grace upon grace.
For instance, for the good work of patient endurance under persecution God promises a great reward in heaven (Mt 5:12).
There is a reward for the simple act of giving a cup of cold water to a suffering saint (Mt 10:42).
There is a reward for seeking treasure in heaven rather than earth (Mt 6:19f).
In fact, the reward is so great that we will be overwhelmed by the generosity of it all. It is totally out of proportion to what we did. It is totally out of proportion to what we deserve. It is unearned, unmerited, undeserved. It is all of grace. Don't ever forget how generous is our Savior.
Sound doctrine tells us three things this morning: Good works rejected; Good works required; Good works rewarded. All because of grace. So, do not think overmuch of yourself. Rather, direct glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
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