************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 88-90 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 3, 2011
Q & A 88-90
The Apostle Paul wants each of us to say two things. First, he wants each of us to say, "My old man is dying." Second, he wants each of us to say, "My new man is living."
"My old man is dying. My new man is living." The two parts together make up what we know as conversion.
I The Basis for Conversion: Regeneration
A Before we look at conversion and its two parts we should look at its basis. The basis of conversion is the new spiritual life that Jesus has planted within us. This life is the result of His saving work on Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. Or, to put it another way, the basis of conversion is regeneration – which is more popularly known as "born-again."
In one of the churches I served I preached on John 3 and what it says about being born-again. Afterwards, a member came up to me and said, "We don't believe in being born again, do we?" My experience was no different in a Catechism class; all of the students were hesitant to say we must be born-again. But what does Jesus say?
(Jn 3:3) "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."To be converted we need to be born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ.
Regeneration or born-again is not the same as conversion. Regeneration or born-again refers to the implanting of new life. Conversion refers to the first display of this new life. Let me put it this way. How are we saved? By being born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ. What is the sign that we are saved? By living the converted life.
I repeat, regeneration is not the same as conversion. Regeneration is totally a work of God. A baby doesn't pick the date of its conception and birth; in the same way, we don't wake up some day and decide to be born-again. We are entirely passive in regeneration. It is something that happens to us by the blood and Spirit of Christ. However, we are not passive when it comes to conversion. Here our heart, soul, mind, and strength work with God and cooperate with God to live the converted life.
I repeat, regeneration is not the same as conversion. Yet, regeneration and conversion always go hand-in-hand. They are like two sides of the same coin – if you have one, you also have the other. Have you, for instance, ever seen a coin with one side blank? Of course not. Likewise, conversion does not occur without the regenerating work of Christ's blood and Spirit.
We can take from farming or gardening an illustration of what regeneration and conversion are like. Regeneration is like a seed planted in the ground. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit of Christ implants the seed of new life into our hearts. As any farmer or gardener knows, however, this seed needs to be cultivated and watered and cared for in order for it to grow into a tall and healthy plant. And, that is what conversion is. In conversion, you take the seed that Christ has planted in your heart with His Spirit and, with His help, you cultivate and water it so you can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
B Our Scripture reading from Colossians takes the same approach. Paul tells us in Colossians 2 that we have been buried with Christ and raised with Christ (Col 2:11-12). We were with Christ at the cross and the grave. What is the result? That we have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self (Col 3:9-10). Notice, conversion follows regeneration.
We see the same approach in the Catechism. For 85 questions and answers the Catechism deals with sin and salvation. Finally, in Q & A 86, the Catechism deals with our response. In the Catechism, too, conversion follows regeneration.
II We Must Be Converted
A What exactly is conversion?
According to the Catechism, conversion has two parts: a negative part, the dying-away of the old self; and a positive part, the coming-to-life of the new.
Colossians uses slightly different language. It says, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature ..." (Col 3:5). And, it says, "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness ..." (Col 3:12). Paul has in mind an image that comes from the practice of baptism in the early church. In baptism, a convert took off an old dirty cloak symbolic of the filth and pollution of sin and put on a new clean cloak symbolic of righteousness and holiness in Christ. To be converted means we put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self renewed in the image of its Creator (Col 3:9-10).
In conversion, then, something negative must be followed by something positive. We must put off the old self before we can put on the new. We cannot put on new, clean clothing until we take off the old dirty clothing. Or, to put it another way, to come to the light we must leave the darkness and to journey to a new and better country we must leave the old homeland.
B Let me remind you of what we learned from Q & A 87. "Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways? By no means" (Q & A 87). We are being told there is no salvation for those who do not take off the old self with its practices. In other words, there is no salvation for the unconverted. Therefore, it is not only important but it is vitally necessary that we be converted.
C Throughout the centuries different things have been attached to regeneration and conversion. In our Roman Catholic past we believed salvation was by faith and works. But works don't save us; rather, they are part of the converted life.
There was a time in our Reformed past when all the emphasis was put on knowledge. If someone could answer all the right questions with all the right answers, then they were saved. But knowledge doesn't save us; only Jesus saves us.
Most recently, good works and knowledge have given way to feelings as the most popular note in conversion. The question asked today is not "What good did you do?" or "What do you know?" Instead, the question asked today is, "What do you feel?" The master of our age is feelings. People are slaves to their feelings and this determines right and wrong, good and evil. It you feel good about something then that is the approach to take. I remember a time at Synod when many delegates started their remarks on a controversial subject with the phrase, "I feel ..." "I feel"!? At Synod? What place does feelings have in one of the assemblies of the church? Instead, what does God say in His Word?
D There are churches, pastors, and Christians who tell us that we must be able to pinpoint the day and hour of our conversion or it is not real. But when we look at the Bible we see there are different types of conversion. There are sudden or crisis-type conversions. The outstanding Biblical example of such a conversion is, of course, the Apostle Paul. Many of the Gentiles who were brought to Christ by Paul and the apostles also experienced crisis-type conversions, since conversion for them meant a radical break with a former sinful life (cf Eph 2:11-13; 1 Cor 6:11). I think of the Philippian jailer as such a crisis-type conversion (Acts 16:30-34). On the other hand, the Bible also describes conversions like that of Timothy, who was brought up in a godly home, and who knew the holy Scriptures and the way of salvation from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). This is the type of conversion most of us have been blessed to experience.
The fact is, the Holy Spirit works in different ways in bringing different people to conversion.
What is important about conversion is not the way in which it occurs, or even the time it occurs, but whether or not it is genuine.
III The Dying-Away of the Old Self
A Conversion, as I already said, includes the dying-away of the old self. "What is the dying-away of the old self? It is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it" (Q & A 89).
We are talking here about the life of Christians. We are talking here about the life of those who have been renewed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. What is their life like? Let me tell you what it is not like. The old self or old man of sin is dying-away; which means it is not yet dead. It is a process; a life-long process; a process that begins the moment we are born-again. So, conversion does not mean I am immune to sin like the angels of heaven. Nor does it mean I am like the pig who, after being washed, raced for the mud to get dirty all over again.
What is the converted life like? It means I am genuinely sorry for sin. It doesn't mean I am sorry about being caught – like Charlie Sheen or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Representative Anthony Weiner or a host of other celebrities. It doesn't mean I am sorry about consequences like an unwanted pregnancy or a broken marriage or the loss of my job or rehab. Rather, those who are Christians are sorry for the sin in their life. They hate the sin. They run away from the sin – not out of weakness or fright but out of love for God. Those who are Christians love what God loves and hate what God hates.
B In talking about this first part of conversion in our Scripture reading, Paul says, "Put to death ..." (Col 3:5), "rid yourselves ..." (Col 3:8), and "take off your old self with its practices ..." (Col 3:9). Which makes me ask, what are we to put to death, of what are we to rid ourselves, and what are the practices of the old self we are to take off? Paul tells us. He leaves no room for doubt or questions. Put to death: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Col 3:5). Rid yourselves of: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8). And, put off: the lies and deceit of the old self (col 3:9).
C I am not going to mislead you, my brothers and sisters, by telling you that any of this is easy. From experience we all know better. The old man of sin is very persistent – it keeps popping up in the most unexpected places and unexpected times. When it comes to sin and the old man and its practices we all are hoarders – we are reluctant to get rid of anything.
A couple of months ago Ruth and I watched a TV show about hoarders. The house was filled to the ceiling. There wasn't even room to sit down anymore. The hoarder they showed could not even get rid of trash and McDonald's wrappings. We are as reluctant to get rid of sin as a hoarder is unwilling to get rid of any of his stuff.
To be truly converted, congregation, we must constantly fight against our old man of sin. Our old man is a friend, an ally, a companion, and a tool of the Devil. With the Devil it tries to prevent our conversion. So, we must keep up the fight. Every day we must continue the fight. As the Catechism says, we must feel sorry for sin, hate it more and more, and run away from it.
IV The Coming-to-Life of the New Self
A Conversion also includes the coming-to-life of the new self. "What is the coming-to-life of the new self? It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to" (Q & A 90).
We are talking here about the life of Christians. We are talking here about the life of those who have been renewed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. What is their life like? Let me tell you what it is not like. The new self or new man of sin is coming-to-life; which means it is not yet fully alive. It is a process; a life-long process; a process that begins the moment we are born again. So conversion does not mean I am perfect in this life, on this earth, and in this body. Conversion does not mean I am sinless and holy.
B Do you hear what the Catechism emphasizes? The converted Christian life includes joy. Joy in God through Christ. Joy in salvation. Joy in what God is doing in us and through us. And, it includes good works.
C Notice how the Apostle Paul describes the new life. Paul compares it to articles of clothing. In the morning you get up and decide what to wear for the day. Each and every day Paul wants us to get up and deliberately put on Christian clothing. Listen to what he says:
(Col 3:12-14) Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (13) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (14) And over all these virtues [as a kind of overcoat] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
D The coming-to-life of the new self, like the dying-away of the old self, does not happen without a fight, a struggle, an effort. The Devil wants nothing more than our new life to fail. So, he works tirelessly with our old self to extinguish the flames of new life within us.
We must work with God's Spirit to encourage and to fan the flames of new life. We do so especially by attending worship. We do so by setting aside time for family and personal devotions. We do so by participating in mid-week activities of the church. We do so by choosing our friends wisely – friends who help and don't hinder our walk with God.
The vigor of our spiritual life is in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts. So, we must spend time with the Word: studying it, reading it, hearing it, memorizing it, and meditating upon it.
"What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion? Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new" (Q & A 88). Don't forget the goal: to be like Christ, to reflect Christ, to show Christ.
Topic: ChristlikenessThink of this as a picture of conversion. The nearer we come to Christ the less others see of us and the more they see of Christ.
Title: Nothing Left
A father and his small son were strolling down the street in Chicago past the place where a skyscraper was going up. Glancing up, they saw men at work on a high story of the building. "Daddy," said the little boy, "What are those little boys doing up there?" "Those are not little boys, son. They're grown men." "But why do they look so small?" "Because they're so high," his father answered. After a pause the boy asked, "Then, daddy, when they get to heaven there won't be anything left of them, will there?"
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