************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 91-93 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 10, 2011
Q & A 91-93
"The Good We Do"
I Called to Do Good
Way back in Q & A 8 the Catechism asked, "But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil? Yes ..." Based upon the Bible, the Catechism states that our natural condition as sinners means we are unable to do good. Especially, we are unable to do saving good.
Then, in Q & A 86, the Catechism asks why sinners saved by grace must still do good. It is impossible for sinners to do good. Yet, those saved by grace must still do good. Those who have taken the Lord's Supper – as we did this morning – must respond with good.
Does this mean the Catechism contradicts itself? Does this mean Q & A 86 calls us to do what we are unable to do? Isn't this the same as asking a blind man to see, a deaf man to hear, and a lame man to jump?
In the Gospels, more than once Jesus commanded a lame man to walk. Obviously, for this to happen a change needs to take place. The lame man needs to be healed. Likewise, for a sinner to do good a change needs to take place. Going back again to Q & A 8 we see the change that needs to take place: namely, we need to be born-again by the Spirit of God. As we learned last time, people who are born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ have an old self that is dying-away and a new self that is coming-to-life (Q & A 88). Furthermore, people who are born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ are filled with joy and delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to (Q & A 90).
Born-again people are able to do good. Based upon the Bible, that is what the Catechism teaches.
II What Is Good
A This leads us to the opening question of today: "What do we do that is good?" (Q 91).
"What do we do that is good?" The unconverted, unsaved, unregenerate sinner of Q & A 8 has one definition of good whereas the converted, saved, born-again Christian of Q & A 86 has a totally different definition of good.
"What do we do that is good?" For the unconverted, "good" is a vain or useless attempt to earn one's way into heaven. Or, it is what you do to keep up relations with the neighbors. For the unconverted, "good" is done out of selfish motives and for selfish reasons. For the unconverted, "good" is based upon established human tradition; for instance, in our culture you are expected to help out the Salvation Army at Christmas time; and, those in small towns know they should contribute time or money when a neighbor's house or barn burns down.
"What do we do that is good?" For the converted, "good" is Spirit-born and God-breathed. As Jesus puts it in our Scripture reading, "There is only One who is good" (Mt 19:17). So, anything good comes from Him and is done because of Him.
Consider these good deeds: I lend my lawn-mower to a neighbor; I give food to someone who shows up at the office after Love INC is shut for the day; I help change a woman's flat tire; I go cycling with someone lonely. Do I need to be a believer to do any of these things? No. In fact, these acts will look identical whether I am a believer or an unbeliever. So, are any of these deeds good?
"What do we do that is good?" According to the Catechism the answer depends on the why, the how, and the what. According to the Catechism, the answer depends on a motive, a guideline, and a purpose.
Think of what this means. Two people can both do the exact same thing. But for the one person it is a good deed and for the other person it is not.
B First, we are told the why, the motive, of works that are truly good. The question here is why did I lend my lawn-mower to a neighbor? Why did I give food to the person who showed up at my office? Why did I change the flat tire? Why did I go cycling with the lonely person? What is the motive? What impulse moved me to do this good thing?
The Catechism says "only that which arises out of true faith" is truly good. A true faith, of course, is a faith that looks to God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. A true faith looks to the cross and the grave. A true faith recognizes there is power in the blood of Christ. A true faith responds to God's grace, as shown in the Lord's Supper this morning, by doing good.
Keep in mind the words of Romans 14:23: "everything that does not come from faith is sin." Even if you do the right thing, it is not good if it is done for the wrong reason.
A couple of weeks ago I cycled back from Three Rivers with three people I did not know. One of the guys stayed with me all the way to Akers Avenue so we had a chance to talk. I was impressed with his gentleness, his kindness, his involvement in the community. When I said something about this, he told me he tried to live his life according to the golden rule: that is, he treated others the way he would like others to treat him. I suspect you already know what I asked him next: I asked him if he attended a church. It quickly became clear that he was not a Christian. In fact, he did not see any real need for either Christ or the church in his life.
This man did all the right things – but for the wrong reasons. They did not arise out of true faith. Perhaps he is the way he is because of humanitarian reasons. Perhaps he is a people person. Perhaps he was taught and trained to be this way. But his character is not the way it is because of true faith. So, he is not doing good.
C Second, we are told the how, the guideline, the norm of works that are truly good. The question here is how do I shape my deeds? By what norm or guideline do I form my deed?
The Catechism says that which is good conforms to God's Law. Isn't that what we see in our Bible reading? A rich young ruler asked Jesus, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus' reply: "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" (Mt 19:16,17). Then Jesus mentions: "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 19:18-19). According to Jesus, the good we do must be shaped by the Law. Which means the good we do must show love for God and love for neighbor.
Too many times today people judge the goodness of something by the feeling it gives them. If an act gives a good feeling or feels loving, it must be good. Unfortunately, feelings can also be used to justify euthanasia, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, abortion, and so on. As I say over and over again in pre-marital and marital counseling, love is not dependent upon feelings. God is not really interested in how we feel. Rather, He wants to know if our love and our works conforms to His Law.
D Third, we are told the what, the goal, the purpose, of that which is good. What was my goal in lending my lawn-mower to a neighbor? What was my goal in giving food to the needy person? What was my goal in changing the flat tire? What was my goal in cycling with someone lonely?
The Catechism says good acts must be done for God's glory.
You may know that Bill Gates has donated nearly twenty eight billion dollars to charity and has announced that after his death the rest of his wealth will also be given to charity. You may also know that Warren Buffett has pledged to give the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ten million shares of his company worth approximately thirty billion US dollars. I want you to notice that neither man kept quiet about this. Rich people and large corporations only make donations like this if lots of favorable publicity can be generated. In fact, large corporations have discovered that it pays to be generous. It looks good to the public and builds good will. Based upon the Bible, the Catechism says good is done for God's glory and not for public relations.
Go back to the lawnmower, the food for the hungry man, the flat tire, and the lonely cyclist. Maybe I simply want to keep good relations with my neighbor. Maybe I give food to the hungry man so I look good. Maybe the woman with the flat tire is someone important. Maybe the lonely cyclist has something I want. Quite often, individuals are like corporations – we do good out of selfish and self-serving reasons.
E There are many so-called "good" things being done by the Trinity congregation. The elderly, the sick, the widows, and the shut-ins are visited very faithfully by many in our church family. Words of comfort and encouragement are said to the mourning and the distressed. The needy are assisted. Whenever a need arises, all sorts of people are willing to help in any way they can. Members are involved in all sorts of church and kingdom activities. We rejoice in our participation in the Gospel.
Now, I ask you to take a close look at the "good" we do. Let me ask, what do we really do that is good? Is there anything we do that arises only out of true faith, totally conforms to God's Law, and is done exclusively for God's glory? You know the answer: NO.
Why? Because as the Catechism says, "I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor" (Q & A 5). And, "Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin" (Q & A 62). And, "In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of ... obedience" (Q & A 114).
The good we do isn't so good after all, is it?
III The Law as a Guide for Doing Good
After telling us that "good" conforms to God's Law, the Catechism turns its attention to that Law.
Historically, Reformed Christians have recognized three uses of the Law in the life of God's people. First, the Law is a restrainer of sin. People come across a tempting situation but because of the Law written on their hearts and minds and conscience they know it is wrong so they do not fall for the temptation. Maybe they can take money without anyone knowing, or look at pornography, or commit adultery, or cheat on their income tax, or spread vicious gossip about someone – but they don't because the Law restrains them.
Second, the Law is a teacher of sin. When we do wrong, the Law convicts us. It convicts us of our guilt and our shame and our fallenness. It convicts us of our helplessness. It convicts us of our need for the Savior. It drives us to Christ and His blood. Historically, this is the use of the Law emphasized in most Reformed churches – which is strange when you consider that the Catechism deals with the Law under the section called Gratitude (though, says the Catechism, it is the Law of God which tells me my misery); and, as we will find out in a moment, when God first gave the Law He did not give it as a Teacher of sin.
The third and distinctly Reformed use of the Law is as a guide for Christian living, as a model for doing good, as a way to show gratitude to God for all that He has done – especially salvation. This is how the Catechism uses the Law – which is why the Law is discussed in the section of the Catechism known as Gratitude. This is also the usage of the Law emphasized by God in the preface to the Ten Commandments. Remember how God starts off the Law? He says, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex 20:2). In other words, "I am the Lord your God Who saved you. Now this is how I want you to live ..." Telling us what? Telling us we are doing the Law a disservice if we use it exclusively as a teacher of sin.
I have a GPS Navigation system in my car. I simply punch in the address of my destination. As I travel, it warns me as I come to a turn and tells me to move into the right lane or the left lane; in other words, it keeps me from going the wrong way. If I somehow miss my turn, it gives me instructions on how to get back on the right track. But, most importantly, it helps me reach my destination. In the same way, the Law stops you from taking the wrong way. It shows you where you went wrong. And, it shows you the right way.
The Catechism has taken us from our sin and misery to our forgiveness and salvation. And now it takes us through the converted life of gratitude. For the Catechism, the life of gratitude first of all is a life of good works – good works that arise out of true faith, conform to God's Law, and are done for God's glory.
"What do we do that is good?"
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