************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 32 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 15, 2018
Lord's Day 32
Some churches want to hear about nothing except good works. The only thing they want to hear about is the "social gospel." They only want to hear about things like food pantries, community service, read for life, health clinics, earth day, helping the hungry and homeless, and so on. They forget that the life of service makes no sense unless we first know our sin and our salvation. If all you can say about your faith is a life of service, you are an unbeliever.
At the opposite end are churches that want to hear only about sin and depravity. If all you can say about your Christian life is total depravity you are an unbeliever.
And, there is still another brand of Reformed churches that wants to hear only about salvation and Christ and deliverance. Though this kind of church is better than the other two kinds, it forgets the genius of what the Catechism copies from Romans: to live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus we must know our sin, our Savior, and our service.
Sound doctrine tells us it is wrong to focus only on sin or only on salvation or only on service. Remember, sound doctrine is our theme as we look at the Catechism this time. Sound doctrine is reliable doctrine, trustworthy doctrine, believable doctrine. Sound doctrine is doctrine that is based upon the Bible and not upon what man's itching ears wants to hear.
The sound doctrine of the Catechism begins a new section today. We have already looked at our sin and misery. We have also looked at deliverance. Today we begin to look at the life of gratitude, the life of service, the life of good works. As we work our way through the Questions and Answers of this section, we will see the Catechism divides good works into three categories: the daily turning from sin to God; the daily obedience to the commandments; and, the daily offering of prayer.
As we begin our study of gratitude, we look at the MUST of good works, the source of good works, the purpose of good works, and the fruit of good works.
I The MUST of Good Works
A We begin with the MUST of good works.
You all know we are born with original sin -- that is, we are born with sin, guilt, and corruption. We are spiritually dead, separated from God, self-centered, rebellious, condemned, and destined for hell. Meaning it is totally impossible for us to do any good. Meaning we are inclined toward all evil.
However, those who are saved by the blood of Christ are born-again by the Spirit of Christ. As a result, it is possible for us to make a small beginning in living a life of service and good works. But, as you know, the good we do is never good enough to make us right with God or at least help make us right with God. Our righteousness does not save us. Only the righteousness of Jesus saves us.
B In Q & A 86 the Catechism dares to use the word "MUST." Good works MUST be done. We must do good. We must do good, not to be saved, not to be justified. We must do good works. This reminds me of what was said back in Q & A 64: "It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude."
How many different kinds of people are there in the world? We can answer this in terms of race: Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Chinese, Japanese. We can answer this in terms of nationality: American, Canadian, German, Russian, Dutch, Mexican. We can answer this in terms of economic class: the rich, the middle class, the poor. We can answer this in terms of religion: Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Confucian. We can answer this in terms of sex, age, occupation, education. Sound doctrine, however, tells us there are only two kinds that ultimately count: believer or unbeliever.
What is the difference between believer and unbeliever? One difference, of course, is faith in Christ. But there is also another difference. Believers are fruitful in good works whereas unbelievers perform only sin and no good works. Listen to how the sound doctrine of Q & A 87 describes unbelievers:
Scripture tells us that
no unchaste person,
no idolater, adulterer, thief,
no covetous person,
no drunkard, slanderer, robber,
or the like
is going to inherit the kingdom of God.
II The Source of Good Works
A Sound doctrine not only tells us that believers are fruitful in good works, it also tells us the source of good works.
The source of good works is Christ. "Christ," says the Catechism, "has redeemed us by his blood" and "by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself."
Most people have an inadequate view of salvation. They think of salvation as merely an escape from condemnation and hell. If that is all salvation is, then good works are unnecessary. But God has more in mind for us than simply saving us from the eternal fires of hell. What the Catechism is telling us is that God is not finished with us when He forgives us our sins.
So what else is included in salvation? What else is God doing with us? God is delivering us from the pollution and power and presence of sin. We know this as sanctification. This part of salvation takes a lifetime to complete. There is not a single sinner whom Christ has forgiven whom He has not also begun to make holy. Or, to put it in terms of theology, those whom God justifies He also sanctifies. This process of sanctification begins with regeneration, with the planting of new life by the Spirit of Christ.
"Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself." Genesis tells us that man was made in the image of God. That image became smeared and distorted when man fell into sin. In Christ, that image is in the process of being renewed.
B Our Bible reading speaks about this work of Christ when it says, "be transformed" (Rom 12:2). Transformed. Think of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. Think of a tadpole changing into a frog. Our grandkids were fascinated last Summer as they watched a caterpillar on our patio spin its cocoon. They got quite excited when 5-6 days later a butterfly emerged; at first, the butterfly just hung there; slowly its wings unfurled; eventually it began to move its wings and finally it flew away. Similarly, it takes time for us to change from totally depraved sinners to regenerated, sanctified, and glorified believers who produce good works.
Be transformed. Paul puts this in the passive voice. What we call the divine passive. Meaning it is God Who is at work in us and with us. As the Catechism puts it, "Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself." But Paul also uses the imperative here. In other words, it is not only something God does but also something we are command-ed to do. When the Spirit works in us, He does so in such a way that we work with the Spirit in bearing the fruit of good works.
C The transformation that happens to believers isn't physical as it is with a butterfly or a frog. Rather, it is a spiritual transformation.
The transformation Paul talks of is a complete renovation. Think of a house on what I call the "flip N flop" shows. The crew moves in and takes out walls, doors, windows, bathrooms, kitchen. Sometimes the whole house is stripped down to its outside walls. And then the rebuilding takes place: new kitchen, new bathrooms, new lighting, new yard. What was old and dilapidated becomes redecorated and restored. This is what Christ does in us with His Holy Spirit: we become a new home, a beautiful home, a renovated home for the Holy Spirit.
Transformed from what? From "the pattern of this world" (Rom 12:2). The pattern of the world is especially seen in today's media: TV, movies, music, video games, FaceBook, Twitter. Minds that focus on this are warped and end up conforming to the world.
"Be transformed." The world fights us here. The world wants us to conform to its pattern. The world wants us to be like our unbelieving neighbors and co-workers. The world wants us to be worldly. The world does not want us to ask: will this glorify God; is this obedience; is this a good work? Instead, the world wants us to ask: will this make me popular; will this make me feel good; will this make me look tolerant?
Transformed to what? To mind renewal. To the "renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Minds that focus on Bible reading, prayer, worship, Bible Study, Christian fellowship. Notice that sound doctrine keeps coming back to the same ideas.
Transformed from. Transformed to. Which means it is possible, it is possible, for all Christians to do good works. This is NOT near strong enough: all Christians MUST do good works; all Christians must daily turn from sin to God; all Christians must daily obey the commandments; and, all Christians must daily offer prayer.
III The Purpose of Good Works
A This brings us to the purpose of good works. The purpose is NOT salvation. We all know we do not do good works to be saved. What, then, is the purpose of good works? "So that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God."
Gratitude is something we must do and something we must learn to do. It is not natural for sinful, selfish hearts. Think of a child. Parents need to coax and train their children to say thank-you. When they are small parents tell them, "Say thank you to grandma and grandpa." When they are older parents say, "Make sure you say thanks."
Sound doctrine says in good works we show gratitude. We show gratitude to God. We show gratitude for His salvation. We show gratitude for all the blessings of His salvation. Out of thankfulness to God for His mercies we want to turn from sin to God, we want to obey the commandments, we want to offer prayers.
Notice the first word of verse 1 of our Bible reading: "Therefore ..." "Therefore ... in view of God's mercy ..." "Therefore" in view of everything Paul says earlier in Romans about sin and salvation. Therefore, live the life of gratitude. That's what Paul is saying.
B There is a second reason closely related to the first: "so that he may be praised through us." Sometimes we grow weary in doing good works because nobody praises us. This can be a great temptation for men who work hard but are taken for granted by their wife and children. But they must not seek the praise of men. This can also be a temptation for women who work hard both inside and outside of the home but are not appreciated by their husband and children. There are thousands of tasks we perform in the church and Kingdom which are never acknowledged.
This kind of thinking can be a temptation for a pastor too. Do I make sermons to feed the people or do I make them to be praised? Praise and thanks for a pastor is dangerous.
Within the church and kingdom sound doctrine declares all praise is to be directed towards God. Which is why Paul writes, "whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31).
IV The Fruit of Good Works
A Our last point is the fruit of good works. Sound doctrine identifies two fruits.
First, the Catechism says we are "assured of our faith by its fruits." Now, we need to understand this correctly. If your focus is your good works -- their number, their quality -- you will not get much assurance. You will not get much assurance because even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
Rather, our focus needs to be away from ourselves and on Christ. Our focus needs to be on what Christ is doing in us and with us. Our focus needs to be on spiritual fruit. If you help a neighbor by buying groceries or mowing a lawn, these are not necessarily the fruits of faith because even unbelievers can do them. But turning from sin, keeping the commandments, offering prayer -- this is the kind of fruit Christ alone works in the lives of His children.
B Second, the Catechism says "by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ." Others will see us and recognize there is something different in us and about us. Something that they want in their own life. Something they want in the life of their family or marriage. But, but, we need to make clear the focus is not to be me and my good works. Rather, the focus is to be on what Christ has done in me. We don't say to our neighbors, "Look at me and my good works." Rather, we say, "Come to Christ and you can be like me!"
I said a couple of months ago that all Christians live in glass houses. By that I mean that we are always being watched. We are being watched by our children and grand-children and family members. We are being watched by our neighbors. They see how we live. They see our joy. They see our faithfulness in worship and marriage. They see our love for God. They see our love for neighbor.
Your life and my life is meant to be a testimony to God. Your life and my life is meant to be a witness to God.
Sound doctrine says there are only two kinds of people in the world: believers who are fruitful in good works; and unbelievers who perform only sin and no good works. Which kind are you?
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