************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 44b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 23, 2018
Lord's Day 44(b)
Romans 3:23; 7:24-25; 12:1
"Good News for Law-Breakers"
One of the things that newcomers to the Reformed faith have to get used to is that we read some version of the Ten Commandments almost every Sunday. In Pastor's Class I am asked why we do this. I can't give a better answer than what we find in Q & A 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Let me remind you that what we have in the Catechism is sound doctrine. Sound doctrine, if you remember, is a phrase borrowed from Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. Sound doctrine is doctrine based upon the inspired and infallible Word of God. Sound doctrine is the opposite of what most men want to hear; rather, they want what tickles their ear and suits their own desires. But the Catechism does not cater to myths and itching ears.
We have three points as we answer the question of why the Law is read and preached so diligently in this church of believers. First, so that we know our sin. Second, so that we may run to Christ for forgiveness and righteousness. Third, so that we may strive to be like Christ.
I All Have Sinned
A Remember the survey results I have mentioned the last number of Sundays? The survey reveals 67% of evangelical Christians believe that everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good. And, 37% of evangelical Christians believe God loves them because of the good they do or have done. Those who know sound doctrine shake their heads about such survey results.
Do you know what these deluded evangelicals need to hear? They need to hear the Law. They need to sit in a church where the Law is preached pointedly. As Paul writes to the Romans, "through the law we become conscious of sin" (Rom 3:20). I guess we should not be surprised that most evangelical Christians have problems naming more than five of the Law's commandments.
Paul tells us in Romans that the Jews are condemned by the Law written on tablets of stone. And, the Gentiles are condemned by the Law written on the conscience. Meaning what? Meaning, as stated by Paul in Romans, is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Meaning they are all under the curse of God. As Moses says to Israel in Deuteronomy:
(Deut 27:26) "Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out."Moses even states how the people are to react to this statement: Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deut 27:26).
The conclusion? Everyone knows they are guilty. Everyone know there is a Supreme Judge before Whom they will give an account for their sins.
B What happens to this truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God? Paul, in Romans 1, tells us Gentiles suppress the truth about themselves and God's curse and wrath by their wickedness. They worship the creature rather than the Creator, exchange the truth for a lie, attempt to remake the world after their own shameful lusts, and approve what they know to be wrong. In this way, they can convince themselves they are basically good and there is nothing to worry about. In this way, they can convince themselves that whatever god might exist approves of them and does not hold them guilty.
The Jews of Paul's day were no better. They passed judgment on the Gentiles for their violations of God's Law and claimed to be holy. In doing this, they admitted they knew the Law and its demands. They might have kept the letter of the Law yet, in their hearts, they committed the same sins as the Gentiles. Therefore, the Law made them all the more accountable.
So all the world stands condemned. Jew and Gentile alike are all under sin (Rom 3:9). Consequently,
(Rom 3:10-12) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
C How about you? Do you think -- like the majority of evangelical Christians -- that you are basically good? I'm afraid it is far too easy for us to be like the Jews of old. It is too easy to assume that because we have the Bible, the church, worship, Christian education, Bible studies, youth programs, and so on, that we are righteous, holy, and good. The wicked, we say, are those in Sacramento and Washington D.C. who promote secular and heathen values. The wicked are homosexuals, feminists, pornographers, secular humanists, abortionists, and so on. Yet -- while we claim to know better and pretend to do better -- we engage in the same sins as our unbelieving neighbor. The Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, makes clear that we all are guilty of adultery, murder, false witness, theft, coveting, false worship, and blasphemy.
The Law comes to us and every Sunday to tell us that before the pure eyes of God, "there is no one who does good, not even one." The Law locks us all in the same jail cell as common criminals, no matter how much we may protest and claim to be holy.
Furthermore, when we hear the Law we know we are helpless to save ourselves from God's curse and God's wrath. We know our very best is as dirty rags. We know our very best is not good enough. We know even the best among us makes only a small beginning in the holiness God requires in His Law.
Why do we need the Law? So we know we are sinners. So we know we have fallen short of the glory of God. So we know we are under the curse of God. So we know we need a Savior. Or, as the sound doctrine of the Catechism puts it,
... so that the longer we liveThat's why we need to hear the Law.
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
II Run to Christ
A There is a second reason we need to hear the Law. The sound doctrine of the Catechism puts it this way:
[so that we] eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.
Let's go back to the survey results that I have mentioned the last couple of weeks. According to the survey, 71% of evangelical Christians believe that an individual must contribute to his/her own salvation. And, 44% agree there are many ways to get to heaven. Again, those who know sound doctrine can only shake their heads.
Do you know what these deluded evangelicals need to hear? They need to hear the Law. They need to sit in a church where the Law is preached pointedly. They need to sit in a church where they hear "that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Rom 3:28).
B Pretend for a moment that the setting of Romans is a courtroom. Paul calls Abraham to the witness stand to testify that justification is by grace alone through faith alone. We receive the gift of righteousness not as a reward -- as if we could do anything that deserves a reward -- but only by giving up on our own performance and our own righteousness.
If God were to take our works into account, that means He is willing to settle. He is willing to settle for what is imperfect and stained with sin. He is willing to settle for what doesn't measure up to the Law's demands. He is willing to settle for what is wicked and unrighteous. Can you imagine the righteous Judge of heaven and earth doing that?
When we hear the Law, we know we are sinners, we know we are imperfect, we know we constantly fall short of the glory of God, and we know -- we absolutely know -- there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We know -- we absolutely know -- there is nothing we can do to contribute to our salvation. And, we can only say what the Apostle Paul says,
(Rom 7:24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?The answer? The only answer? "Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:25).
This is where the Pharisees of Jesus' day failed to grasp the Gospel (Lk 18:9-14). And, a generation later, this is where the Judaizers in Galatia failed to grasp the Gospel (Gal 3:10-14). The medieval church was no better. And, the evangelicals listed in the survey are equally wrong here.
C You aren't righteous. You have no righteousness of your own. You cannot save yourself or help to save yourself from God's curse and wrath. Salvation does NOT depend on your performance. Sound doctrine declares, and true Christians believe, that we are righteous because of Christ's obedience to the Law. Sound doctrine declares, and true Christians believe, that Christ has suffered your punishment for God's curse and wrath. Sound doctrine declares, and true Christians believe, that because of Christ it is as if you have never sinned nor been a sinner. Sound doctrine declares, and true Christians believe, that it is as if you have been as perfectly obedient as Christ Himself.
I can preach this until I am blue in the face. I can teach this in Catechism and Pastor's class. And, yet, someone here will let slip that they expect to be saved because they have tried to lead a good life. No. NO. NO. A thousand times NO NO NO. You can't save yourself. You can't contribute to your salvation. As the song we sing puts it:
Not what my hands have done
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.
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.
This is foolishness in the eyes of many. We answer this is the foolishness of the Gospel -- that sinners are declared righteous, that those who are unrighteous and undeserving and wicked are declared righteous in Christ.
Why do we need the Law? Why do we need pointed preaching of the Law? So we who are imperfect run to Christ for our salvation. So we who are imperfect eagerly look to Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. That's why we need to hear the Law.
III Strive to be Like Christ
A There is a third reason we need to hear the Law. The sound doctrine of the Catechism puts it this way:
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God's image,
until after this life we reach our goal:
One of Luther's students had a question about the teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, about the teaching that salvation is not by works. He said, "If what you're saying is true, then we may live as we want!" To which Luther replied, "Yes. Now what do you want?"
You know, this was the charge of the Roman Catholics against the Reformers: if we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then it makes no difference how you live. Or, as one of my commentaries puts it: "I have my fire insurance, and now I'll live any kind of life I wish."
Back to Luther's question: What do you want? What do you want if you are saved by Christ? Do you want to keep on sinning (cf Rom 6:1)? Do you want to live a life of immorality? Do you want to be an unfruitful vine?
I think Luther should have asked another question. Instead of asking, "What do you want?" the question should be "What does God want?" What does God want? God wants His people to be renewed after His image. God wants His people to be like Christ. Here is a most impressive survey result: so far every person who has ever been justified has also been sanctified. As the choir sang, people who have the light of the Gospel want to live by that light and give that light to others.
We can never forget and never overlook the first word of Romans 12:1; it starts with "Therefore." I have said more than once that this is probably the most important word in the entire book of Romans. That word "Therefore" comes after the teaching of the first 11 chapters: that we are sinners, that the elect are saved in Christ. "Therefore" is a constant reminder of the connection between grace and works or faith and works. Those who have been given God's grace in Christ, those who have true faith, offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God. The word "Therefore" is a reminder we don't do good works to be saved but because we are saved.
B Why does God want His Law preached so pointedly? Why do we need to hear the Law? So we are constantly reminded of the good we are called to do.
Let me remind you that the good life, the life of gratitude, the life of those becoming more and more like Christ, the life of those who are baptized, is marked by three things: a daily sorrow or repentance for sin, a daily striving of obedience to God's commands, and a daily conversation with God in prayer.
C Why does God want His Law preached so pointedly? Why do we need to hear the Law?
God's overall goal is a word everyone seems to use but no one seems to understand what it really means. I am talking, again, about the word "perfect."
We put Aunt Ella into Artesia Christian Home this past week. I answered a bunch of questions, signed so many papers I thought I was buying a house or a car, and the response of the woman helping me was "Perfect ... Perfect ... Perfect."I trust you realize none of this is "PERFECT."
Then Ruth answered a bunch of health-care questions. Ruth explained Aunt Ella fell and fractured her pelvis. "Perfect." "Ella has terrible pain." "Perfect." "Ella can't sign anything because of arthritis in her hands." "Perfect."
But what God has in mind for us is perfect. God wants us to be like His perfect Son. That is, God is working in us with His Spirit so that ours is true righteousness and holiness; so that we know God, love God, and live with God in eternal happiness for His praise and glory. Now, that is perfection. About this we can say "PERFECT ... PERFECT ... PERFECT!"
Why does God want His Law preached so pointedly? Why do we need to hear the Law? Why do Reformed Churches read the Law in worship? Maybe you caught it, maybe you didn't, but the sound doctrine of the Catechism has just laid out for us its three major parts again. We need to hear the Law so we know Sin, Salvation, Service; or, Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.
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