************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 59-61 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 27, 2011
Q & A 59-61
"Right With God"
I I Am Right With God
A We are finished now with our study of the Apostles' Creed. With the church of all times and all places we have confessed our faith in God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Spirit and our sanctification.
Have you noticed what the Catechism does throughout the Creed? It keeps asking us, over and over again, what's the use, what's the profit, what good does it do, where is the comfort? For instance, "How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?" (Q 28). "How do the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?" (Q 36). "What further advantage do we receive from Christ's sacrifice and death on the cross?" (Q 43). "How does Christ's resurrection benefit us?" (Q 45). "How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?" (Q 49). "How does this glory of Christ our Head benefit us?" (Q 51). "How does Christ's return 'to judge the living and the dead' comfort you?" (Q 52). "How does 'the resurrection of the body' comfort you?" (Q 57). "How does the article concerning 'life everlasting' comfort you?" (Q 58).
Today, we conclude our study of the Apostles' Creed by looking at a similar question: "What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?" (Q 59). What good? What comfort? What's in it for you?
B The Catechism gives us a beautiful little answer. "In Christ I am right with God and heir to life everlasting." What is the good of believing the Apostles' Creed? I am right with God and heir to life everlasting.
People today don't worry too much about being right or wrong. Why else would eighty percent of all Frenchmen and Italians cheat on their income tax? Why are fifty percent of all births in Tulare County to single moms? Why are so many people my age on their second or third marriage? Why do most businesses engage in some unethical practices? Why is there a push to redefine marriage? Why are the elderly preyed upon by so many scam artists? Why are prisons filled to overflowing? Why do gangs never seem to lack members? All this shows us that people don't worry too much about being right or wrong.
However, people are concerned about being "right with" or "wrong with." Many teens worry about being in with the right crowd. So they dress a certain way. Talk a certain way. Try to hang out with the right kind of people even if the group doesn't want them. Adults worry about being on good terms with the boss, the neighbors, the in-laws. Why are gangs such a problem? Because people have a need, a desperate need, to belong to something and someone. Same with churches. Now, church membership is a most serious thing and ought to arise out of one's relationship with the Lord. Yet, studies have shown that few people join a church unless they feel at home. And, often those who leave a church do so because they do not feel at home.
The Catechism takes our natural concern of being "right with" or "wrong with" our neighbors, friends, family, and church and deepens it and expands it. When we believe the Gospel, as found in the Apostles' Creed, we are right with God.
C Did you note the qualifier, the condition. "In Christ." "In Christ, I am right with God." In Christ. In union with Christ on the cross and in the grave. By being joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection. In Christ, I am right with God. And, only in Christ. If my faith does not join me to Christ, or graft me into Christ, then it does me no good at all.
II I Am Right With God by Grace
A Do you know the two most important questions that can be asked of any person? The first question: "Are you saved?" This is an intensely personal question. It is a question that every person can answer only for themselves. No other person can look into your heart and mind and answer this question for you. "Are you saved?"
The second question, a question just as important as the first one: "How are you saved?" The Catechism asks this question and gives what I consider to be one of the most beautiful answers in the entire Catechism – an answer that ranks right up there with our only comfort of Q & A 1.
B "How are you saved?" "How are you right with God?" This question is not asked lightly. It is a question asked out of desperation, frustration, and helplessness. It is the question of every man, woman, and child who knows things are not right with them and their Creator.
To ask how one is right with God means and implies that things are not right. So, what is wrong with our relationship with God? Notice how answer 60 puts it: "my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments and of never having kept any of them, and ... I am still inclined toward all evil." There you have it. There is the source of the problem of why we are not right with God.
My conscience accuses me. You know the little cartoon character that sits on a man's shoulder and whispers in his ear? That's what the conscience is like. It constantly whispers in my ears that I am not right with God and that I don't deserve to be right with God. It convinces me that I am evil and full of sin. Like Adam and Eve, I want to hide the shame of my sin and flee from God.
I am sure that every person here has heard the voice of her or his conscience at one time or another. Still, though, it is hard to pin down exactly what the conscience is. Many unbiblical things have been said about it. Some people have even gone so far as to say that their conscience is their guide. They forget that sin-darkened people have sin-darkened consciences. So, there is nothing infallible about the conscience. And, if it is your only or primary guide, you are headed down the wrong path. In a sin-darkened world only the Word of God can be our trustworthy and infallible guide.
God has given every person a conscience so no person can hide behind the cloak or cover or excuse of ignorance. Each person instinctively has a sense of right and wrong. Each person has a sense of justice. Each person knows there is a moral order to our universe and that man has been created for a purpose. Some men can and do keep their conscience quiet and buried. Others have an elastic conscience that has been stretched to the point of breaking. But the voice of the conscience cannot be muzzled for ever.
Have you heard the voice of your conscience? Has it ever condemned you for the wrong you have done? Don't ignore it. Listen to what it tells you. It has been placed there by God. It tells you that things are not right with you and your Creator.
C Of course, our conscience is not our only accuser. There are other accusers as well – accusers that let us know things are not right with us and God.
One of these accusers is Satan. That may seem highly unlikely to you, but in reality it isn't. In the Hebrew language the name "Satan" means adversary or accuser. Thus, in Revelation 12 Satan is said to be "the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night" (Rev 12:10). I want to tell you that Satan, this very moment, is before heaven's throne accusing God's people. Satan tempts man and leads man into sin and away from God. And then he accuses us before God of the very sin he led us into. We see an example of this in Zechariah 3. In a vision Zechariah sees Joshua, the high priest, standing before God in heaven. But Satan is also there and points at Joshua's filthy clothes as a symbol of the sin of all the people whom Joshua represents. We see Satan doing the same thing with Job. He accuses Job before heaven's throne of having an insincere faith. Satan delights in accusing God's people because he delights in their punishment.
There is one more accuser I need to mention: the holy law of God. The outcome of this accuser's testimony is simply devastating. This accuser makes clear that "I have grievously sinned against all God's commandments and ... never have kept any of them." When we look at the law we realize we cannot keep it – even as saved people. When we measure ourselves against the standard of the law, we realize how terribly sinful we are. Of all the accusers before the heavenly Judge, the law is the most severe. It measures our guilt relentlessly because it measures so deeply. It tells us, again and again, that things are not right with us and God.
D "How are you saved?" Or, as the Catechism asks it, "How are you right with God?"
When you are asked, "How are you saved?" you must not give such unimportant answers as: "Because of my brush with death in the car accident." "Because of cancer or surgery." "Because I heard a sermon ..." "Because I was invited to church." Anyone of these may have been used by God to lead you to Christ, yet none of these are what make you right with God.
"How are you right with God?" There is only one answer: "By grace!" That's the only correct answer to this question. As Paul puts it in our Scripture reading, "It is by grace you have been saved" (Eph 2:5).
Listen to how the Catechism puts this: "without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ."
God "grants and credits." God is like a book-keeper. He credits the work of Jesus to our account. When you get a credit slip from a bank or a store, you have money added to your account. God credits to us the work of Jesus on the cross and in the grave. And this He does out of sheer grace!
"By grace" means we do not save ourselves. "By grace" means it is undeserved, unearned, unmerited. "By grace" means salvation is free – not cheap – but a gift.
E What is the result of God's grace? It is "as if I have never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me." God knows we are sinners. Deep down we know we are sinners. God realizes full well we are not perfectly obedient. Deep down we also realize we not perfectly obedient. Yet God treats us as if we are not sinners and as if we are perfectly obedient. Undeserving, I am declared righteous. I earn and deserve nothing. It remains Christ's righteousness, not mine. God may credit my account, but the earnings are still Christ's. I accept this credit but can never think of it as really mine. It is all "as if." I remain what I am, an undeserving sinner and yet – miracle of miracles – I become as right with God as if I myself am perfectly obedient.
III I Am Right With God by Grace Through Faith
We don't have the complete story if we don't also say something about faith. As Paul tells us in our Scripture reading: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith" (Eph 2:8). Or, as the Catechism puts it, "by faith alone you are right with God."
We need to make a careful distinction here. We are saved by grace. And, we are saved through faith. Let no one ever say that it is faith that saves us. For it doesn't. It is grace and grace alone that saves us. "It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me." Faith is not some kind of good work. God does not look at our faith and say, "How firm! How unquestioning! What a nice faith! It pleases Me!" God looks with pleasure only at the perfect obedience of Jesus. Our own faith is valueless. It is worth nothing in itself. But when it looks outward and upward to Jesus, it becomes the way – the only way – through which we are right with God.
Faith is only an instrument. It is the means whereby we accept God's grace. It is the means whereby we accept "the gift of God with a believing heart."
"By grace through faith." How liberating this teaching is. It frees us from the terrible burden of somehow, someway, trying to please God and get right with Him. I don't have to go on pilgrimage. I don't have to go through prayer beads. I don't have to fast and pray for hours on end. I don' have to try and earn my salvation. Because I can't. And, I won't. All I need do is believe in Jesus and what He has done is applied to me. By grace through faith opens for me the righteousness of Christ.
IV The Purpose of Salvation
A Saving people from death and hell, making people right with God, freeing us from bondage to sin, is not God's ultimate plan. That's too negative. God has a very positive goal in mind when He saves us.
Urban renewal begins with the tearing down of slum dwellings. But the purpose of the job is the erection of new homes and buildings. Likewise, fields are plowed and cultivated not merely to kill the weeds or break up the dirt. The harvest of a new crop is the goal of the farmer.
And so, when we speak of God's saving grace it is not enough to talk of the misery that has been removed. It is not enough to mention the bondage that has been thrown off. It is not enough to point to the debts that have been paid. We must also say something about the newness that has come. God did not do all His saving work merely to snatch us from the fire. He wants to change us and make us new.
B Earlier, I said there are two very important questions. To this we can now add a third question: "For what purpose are you saved?"
Here is the answer from Scriputre: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph 2:10). There you have it: the purpose of salvation is good works done for the glory of God.
Do you see what grace does? Grace saves and transforms selfish, self-centered, sinful people into people who produce good works. God's love removes all the debris of the old and dying city and makes it new.
Three questions. First, are you saved? Only you can answer this question for yourself. Second, how are you saved? Only by grace and through faith. Third, why are you saved? For good works to the honor and glory of God.
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