************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 33 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 22, 2018
Lord's Day 33
This morning I want to hold before you something uncommon, scarce, occasional, infrequent. I use all these words so you realize what I am talking about is extremely rare and therefore extremely precious. What am I talking about? I am talking about good works.
Sound doctrine -- which is our theme as we look at the Catechism this time -- says it is impossible for unbelievers to do good. It is impossible because for something to be good it needs to arise out of true faith, conform to God's law, and be done for His glory. And, it is a struggle for even Christians to do good. Because of the old man of sin, how much of what we as believers do arises out of true faith, conforms to God's law, and is done for His glory? Let's be honest and admit too often good works are rare among believers too.
You might protest and say there is so much good being done around the world: vaccine is being distributed so kids don't get polio, wells are being dug so remote villages get fresh water, food is being delivered to feed the hungry, teeth are being fixed, eyes are fitted with glasses. All of this can be done by believers and unbelievers alike so that doesn't mean any of this is necessarily good. What sound doctrine is interested in is spiritual fruit: daily repentance from sin, daily obedience to the law, and daily prayer to God. This kind of good work is rare, so rare. Because most people in the world are NOT believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, we look at the good work known as repentance or conversion. This good work involves two things: the dying-away of the old self and the coming-to-life of the new self.
I The Dying-Away of the Old Self
A First of all, sound doctrine tells us about the old self. The New Testament and different translations use different names for the old self. It is called the old man, the flesh, the body of sin, the earthly nature, the old self, the body of death. Regardless of what it is called, it refers to the sinful, fallen nature of man.
The old man did not exist at the beginning of time when God created Adam and Eve. As created by God, Adam did not have an old man. Adam did not have an old man because he was furnished in his mind with a true knowledge of the Creator and the things of God, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy.
When Adam fell into sin, his old man came into existence. Just like that, Adam was filled with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies (cf Col 3:5-9). He didn't have to learn any of this. Someone didn't have to teach him how to do any of this. It was all part of his old man of sin.
Every person who ever lived -- except for the Lord Jesus Christ -- has this old man of sin. Every sinner has all of these sins lurking inside of them. This is simply the Biblical doctrine of original sin. God sums it up with these words:
(Gen 6:5) The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.Furthermore, man is so lost and so fallen that he is okay with this and doesn't fight this and actually embraces his fallen nature.
B Sound doctrine tells us there is also a new man. The Bible calls it the new self. The new man is formed by the act of the Spirit known as regeneration. When a person is born-again by the Spirit he or she has a new man. The Bible tells us the acts of the new self are love, joy, peace, worship, thankfulness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, forgiving one another.
Unbelievers have only the old man, the body of death and sin and corruption. Believers, on the other hand, have both the old man and the new man. This creates a problem. This creates a problem for Christian believers because the acts of the old man are the exact opposite of the acts of the new man. What I am saying is there is within every Christian a struggle: the old man is at war with the new man. What I am also saying is that those with the new man are still sinners.
Romans 7 is the passage that bests describes the struggle within every single Christian between the old man and the new man:
(Rom 7:15,18-19,21-24) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... (18) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing ... (24) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (22) For in my inner being I delight in God's law; (23) but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
This struggle with the old man explains so many things. It explains why King David -- a godly man, a man after God's own heart -- can commit adultery and murder. It explains why Abraham -- a friend of God -- can lie about his wife. It explains why Peter -- the rock -- can deny Jesus three times. It explains why Christians struggle to attend worship, read the Bible, participate in a Bible Study, and pray yet can sit in front of the computer or watch TV for hours on end. It explains why those who love God can have hateful thoughts. It explains why we lust after evil things and feel cold towards good things. It explains why we spread lies and attack each other.
Now, we can't pretend we are not responsible for our actions. We can't say, for instance, "My old man made me do it." God says to us what the prophet Nathan said to David: "You are the man!" (2 Sam 12:7). That is, David is the man who sinned against God when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed Uriah. "You are the man!" The Bible teaches us we are responsible for the sin in our life.
All of us, congregation, all of us have to come to the point where we realize we have an old man of sin within us. All of us, congregation, all of us have to realize we are deeply divided people with righteousness and wickedness within us at the same time, and purity and impurity, and light and darkness, and good and evil. You need to know that about yourself and admit that about yourself and confess that about yourself.
Sound doctrine says we can't think for even a moment that we stop sinning or stop wanting to sin when we become a Christian. There are churches that believe this. I am talking about the Holiness Movement. The Holiness Movement believes in a "second work of grace" in which the believer is cleansed of the tendency to commit sin. This experience of "entire sanctification" enables the believer to live a holy life, and ideally, to live entirely without willful sin. This heresy of perfectionism promises immediate victory over sin but the Lord does not make that promise in the Bible.
This further means we are not to think there is a quick solution to sin in the life of the Christian. We are forgiven and cleansed from sin but the sinful nature we have clings to us and never stops attacking us until we die (or, Jesus comes again).
Sound doctrine says that to become a Christian doesn't mean the end of sinning. Rather, it means the fight has just begun.
C So, what are we to do? The sound doctrine of the Catechism says we are to have the dying-away of the old self.
The New Testament uses several figurative expressions to describe this.
We are told to "put to death" whatever belongs to our earthly nature (Rom 8:13; Col 3:5). We are to kill off the old man.
Another expression: we are to "take off" or "put off" the old self with its practices (Col 3:9; Eph 4:22).
And, we are to "throw off" or "rid" ourselves of the old man (Heb 12:1; James 1:21; 1 Pet 2:1).
D The Catechism identifies three things that need to happen to have the dying away of the old self: sorrow, hatred, and flight.
First, there needs to be sorrow for sin. To experience sorrow we need to know and understand that God is holy, that He hates sin, that He punishes sin. Furthermore, to experience sorrow we need to know and understand that we have sinned against God by breaking His Law. That is, we need to recognize and acknowledge the sin in our life as we examine ourselves in the light of God's Word.
Second, we must hate our sin. If we love and cherish our sins we are not putting our old man to death. We must loathe and abhor sin. Starting with our own sins. And then the sins of others.
Third, we must flee from sin. Instead of embracing sin and indulging sin, we must flee from sin. The best Biblical example is Joseph who fled from the temptation put before him by Potiphar's wife.
E We can do none of this on our own. We need might from above. Help from above. Strength from above. We need the power of the cross. And we have that power. Because, says Paul in our Scripture reading, "our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body of sin may be done away with" (Rom 6:6). So our Bible reading tells us believers "died with Christ" (Rom 6:8). This dying is confirmed in the sacrament of baptism (Rom 6:3). And, now we are called to live this out by crucifying "the sinful nature with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24).
All of this, then, is the first part of the good work known as conversion: the dying-away of the old self.
II The Coming-to-Life of the New Self
A Sound doctrine also tells us about the new self. Or the new man.
The new man is the life of Jesus Christ planted within the hearts of depraved sinners by the Holy Spirit. The old man is still there. The old man is not eradicated or even improved. He is dethroned and dispossessed but remains in the Christian's heart as a stubborn squatter refusing to leave. As mentioned earlier, the old man and the new man struggle against each other in the life of the Christian believer.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is this: do we encourage the old man of sin or the new man of righteousness? And how do we know the difference? When we encourage the old man of sin the result is sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies (cf Col 3:5-9). However, when we encourage the new man of righteousness the result is godly desires like prayer, faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
B Our Bible reading tells us to count ourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus.
How are we to do this? We are to have the "coming-to-life" of the new self. The Catechism identities one surprising thing that needs to happen: joy. Joy. If the old man is put to death by sorrow over sin then it only makes sense for the new man to come to life by joy in God through Christ.
Again, we see the Christian is a deeply divided person. On the one hand, he is miserable and ashamed and in sorrow over sin. He says with Paul, "What a wretched man I am!" (Rom 7:24). On the other hand, he has the joyful hope of everlasting life with God. These two conflicting emotions -- sorrow and joy -- occur at the same time in the same person.
Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is associated with circumstances: food, clothing, shelter, family, work, weather, health. Joy is deep within the heart. A Christian can and must be joyful in all circumstances.
The joyful life has one practical benefit: a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to. The new man within us cries to God: Father, I want to show you how much I love You and how much I delight in doing your will.
C As with the dying-away of the old self, we can not do this on our own. We need might from above. Help from above. Strength from above. We need the power of the grave. And we have that power. Because, says Paul in our Scripture reading, we are "united with [Christ] in his resurrection" (Rom 6:5).
Paul tells us we have been "raised with Christ" (Col 3:1). This rising is confirmed in the sacrament of baptism (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12). And, now we are called to live this out by clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Most people have only the old man of sin. Because most people are unbelievers. Nothing is being done to the old man in the life of these people.
Far fewer are the number of people with both the old man of sin and the new man of righteousness. Their number is far smaller because only believers can have both. Within these people, however, two things are happening because of the cross and grave of Christ: the old man is dying-away and the new man is coming-to-life.
We say with the Apostle Paul: "Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:25).
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