************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 86-87 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 19, 2011
Q & A 86-87
"Christians Do Good Works"
I Real Versus Counterfeit Faith
A Shortly after building their new home, Jake & Susan Koetsier invited a group of people over. We were sitting on the patio. Jake demonstrated the lights and the water fountains. He made sure we also noticed the beautiful flowers in the flower beds. Ruth got up to take a closer look. She came back shaking her head. Turns out the biggest, most colorful flowers were fakes. And, Jake had no idea.
There is a big difference between real and artificial flowers. Real flowers have life and fragrance and attract flies and bees. Artificial flowers have no life and no fragrance and attract no flies and no bees. At a distance it may be difficult to tell the difference; up close, however, the difference is apparent.
Likewise, there is a difference between money that is genuine and money that is counterfeit. But here it is far more difficult to tell the real from the counterfeit. A trained and discerning eye is required. Real currency is printed on a special kind of paper, has an image embedded, and has raised ink.
B In the Christian life it is sometimes easy to discern the difference between real and counterfeit. Other times, it is not so easy.
One example is false prophets. Sometimes it is so easy to discern the false prophet. Think of Harold Camping. He predicted the rapture was going to happen on May 21 of this year. When it did not happen he showed himself by the testimony of Scripture to be a false prophet (cf Deut 18:22). Some false prophets, however, are cleverly disguised. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Mt 7:15). Even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Think of some Christian college professors who lead covenant youth astray with teaching that is contrary to the Bible. We warn our youth before they attend a secular college and they know what to expect; defenses are down, however, when we send them to a Christian college.
It is the same way with the Christian faith. Sometimes it is so apparent that a person's faith is not real. Other times, it is not immediately obvious.
Once a week I need to test the water in my pool. I fill my test tube with water from the pool. I add five drops of a testing solution. If the water turns yellow I know I have enough chlorine in my pool.
Like the water in my pool, Jesus gives us a test to tell the difference between a real and an artificial faith. What is the test? What is the test for a real versus a counterfeit faith? Jesus says, "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:16, 20). He explains what He means by adding,
(Mt 7:16-20) Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17) Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Genesis 1 tells us that God has built a law into His creation order that all things produce "according to their kinds" (Gen 1). We observe this law all around us. Sheep produce sheep and not giraffes. Apple trees produce apples and not oranges. Cows produce baby cows (as my daughter-in-law in South Dakota calls them) and not pigs. This law of nature is true for everything that is alive: plants, trees, wild animals, livestock, insects, fish, birds, humans.
To a certain extent, this law of nature is also true in the spiritual realm. By God's grace, following the principle of election and faith, godly parents generally produce godly children. In other words, in the spiritual realm too all things produce "according to their kinds." So, a genuine Christian will bear fruit according to his or her Christian nature. Those with true Christian faith produce fruit or works of gratitude (cf James 2:26). And, like dead trees, those without true Christian faith cannot produce any of the fruit of the Spirit. Instead, they can only produce the fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Eph 5:3-6; Gal 5:19-21).
C This does not mean there is no variety in what is produced. A fruit or nut grower, by doing a better job with pruning, fertilizing, irrigation, and thinning will have a better-quality crop than one who does not pay careful attention to what he does. In the same way, some Christians build poorly on the foundation of Jesus Christ with inferior building materials: like wood, hay, straw. Other Christians build well using better materials: gold, silver, costly stones (cf 1 Cor 3). Yet, poor quality fruit is better than no fruit at all.
D Let me use two theological terms here. We are being told that justification and sanctification go together. It is not just a matter of right standing with God – as if that is the only thing we need to be concerned about. It is also a matter of right living in the presence of God. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. We preach and teach a distorted Gospel if we don't call upon God's people to live a certain way.
II Christians Must Do Good Works
A Question 86 of the Catechism asks why Christians saved by grace and not by works must still do good.
Grace is a privilege. And the high privilege of grace carries with it the high responsibility of living out that grace. That is the message of the Bible from beginning to end. Remember how the Ten Commandments begin:
(Ex 20:2) "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."God reminds us that He save us. Then, in the very next sentence, He tells us what He expects from us as saved people: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3). Peter does something similar. He writes, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ..." (1 Pet 2:9). Then, in the very next breath, Peter states the responsibility that comes from this: "that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Pet 2:9).
B We must not forget that the Catechism – based upon the Bible in general and upon Romans in particular – has three parts. There is the first section on sin, the second section on salvation, and this evening we start the third section on service. There are pastors and churches that emphasize only sin. There are others that emphasize only salvation. And, there are still others whose emphasis is only on service. All are unbalanced in their presentation of the Gospel. A balanced presentation of the Gospel requires all three parts. And, a balanced Christian life also requires all three parts: repentance of sin, assurance of salvation, and a life of service.
Think of it this way. From the valley of misery we have been taken up the cliff of deliverance. By His grace Christ has hauled us to safety while we, by faith, have clung to Him helpless and terrified. Now, at the top of the cliff, Christ – by His Spirit – would lead us up the gradual climb of the new life. We cannot stop at the top of the cliff of deliverance. We must move on. To sit, perched on the cliff's edge, looking back down, shuddering at what we have escaped, is fruitless. We were delivered that we might do good.
C The Catechism informs us that doing good is normal and natural for the Redeemed. Doing good is not something strange for Christians. It is as natural as breathing, sleeping, or eating. In fact, doing good is inevitable for the Christian. It is something he or she cannot help but do. Just like we cannot stop our heart from beating or our brain cells from sending impulses, so we cannot stop ourselves from doing good works. As a good tree must inevitably bear good fruit, so we who are saved by Christ must inevitably do good.
D The opposite is also true. If we do no good works, if we do not lead the thankful life, then we must not be saved and we must have no part in the Kingdom of God. If we do no good, there is no renewing by Christ's Spirit; if no renewing, there is no deliverance; if no deliverance, we are still in our sins. Isn't this the teaching of Q & A 87? "Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways? "By no means ..." It is absolutely impossible that you are saved if you do no good works. As James puts it, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17). Or, as Martin Luther put it: "We are saved by faith alone; but the faith which saves us is never alone."
III Why We Do Good Works
A Why, then, do we do good works? Why must we do good works? First, says the Catechism, "we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself."
What is the likeness of Jesus? The words that come to mind are what we know as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Jesus never failed to do good to and for those in need: the blind, the lame, the deaf, the speechless, the leper. He took the time to talk with the woman who touched the edge of His cloak (Lk 8:44). Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick (Mt 14:14). This compassion extended to the very end of His life. For instance, in the agony and suffering of the cross He could ask the Father to forgive those who crucified Him (Lk 23:34). He assured a thief of salvation (Lk 23:43). And, He looked after the welfare of His mother (Jn 19:26).
The Spirit's goal is to make us like Christ. Which means that, like Christ, we should want to do good. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we should do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:10).
For this to happen, however, we must not resist the work of Christ's Spirit in our lives to make us like Jesus. We resist the Spirit when we cling to the sin in our lives. We resist the Spirit when we resist the Word. We resist the Spirit when we neglect worship and devotions.
B Second, we do good "so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us." Good works, we are told here, are an expression of thanksgiving. If we are thankful to God we will respond with good works.
The number one thing for which we want to give thanks is God's "indescribable gift" (2 Cor 9:15). I am talking, of course, about salvation. Salvation by grace and through faith. Salvation that is free, unearned, unmerited, undeserved. But we also want to give thanks for the many other spiritual and physical blessings we receive every single day.
I want you to pay particular notice to how we are to give thanks for all that God has done for us. How are we to give thanks? We are to give thanks "in all our living." Every moment of every day is to be an expression of thanks to God. So, are you giving thanks if you drink too much alcohol? Are you giving thanks to God if you abuse drugs? Are you giving thanks to God if there is an unconfessed sin in your life? Are you giving thanks to God if you are an abusive parent or spouse? Are you giving thanks to God if you are doing shameful things in secret? You know the answer, don't you?! Or, to put it positively, are you living for Jesus?
C The third reason we are to do good is so that God "may be praised through us." Last week, for Pentecost, we compared Barnabas to Ananias and Sapphira. Barnabas sold a piece of property and gave the proceeds to the apostles. He did this not to get praise from men but to bring praise to God. Ananias and Sapphira also sold a piece of property and gave some of the proceeds to the apostles. They did this to get praise from men instead of to bring praise to God. Let me say this loud and clear: we do not praise God if we do something to get praise from men. The praise of men and the praise of God are exclusive of each other.
D The fourth reason we do good works is "so that we may be assured of our faith by its works." We don't do good works to get into the Kingdom of heaven. Rather, our good works show that we are part of the Kingdom. Good works, true good works, are proof positive that our faith is real and genuine and true.
Remember what Jesus said? I already quoted this, but let me quote it again: "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:16, 20). Jesus was talking about false prophets and teachers. But what He said also applies to pastors, elders, deacons, and church members: "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:16, 20). By their fruit you will know whether their faith is real, whether they truly are a child of God, whether theirs is life everlasting with God. And, by their lack of fruit you will recognize that their faith is not real, that they are not a child of God, and that theirs is not life everlasting with God.
Is your life filled with good works, my brothers and sisters? Is your life a life of praise to God? Or, are you selfish, self-centered, tight-fisted, greedy, and stingy? Do you begrudge every dollar given to the church and to the poor and needy and to the work of the Lord? What does you life show about you? "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:16, 20).
E The fifth reason for doing good works is "so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ."
Ruth and I dropped in on VBS Wednesday morning. Along the way, I saw a billboard advertisement for Subway's turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich. Guess what we had for lunch? In the same way, our lives are to be a billboard, an advertisement, for God and Jesus and the church and the Kingdom. Our good works are to be a flashing neon sign – pointing not to us but to God.
A couple of weeks ago we had an infestation of tiny, little, green frogs in the church office. They kind of blend in with the carpet. As I was working I kept seeing the carpet move. It took me a while to realize we had a frog problem. I think the total count reached 17 of the little critters. Now, there are two ways to deal with frogs and bugs: you can repel them with stuff like bug spray or you can attract them with something like poisoned bait. Unfortunately, Christians tend to use both methods when it comes to unbelievers. Sometimes, we attract unbelievers to Christ by how we live. Other times, we repel them and drive them away from the Lord. Does your life attract people to the Lord or does it drive people away?
Godly living is a form of evangelism. Good works are an effective testimony to others of the redeeming work of Jesus.
Listen again to the words of Jesus: "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:16, 20). Listen again to the words of James: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).
So let me ask: Do you do good?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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