A sermon about Lord’s Day 32, in English about our gratitude and obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. About a new life through the Holy Spirit.
Sermon Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32
by Rev. C. Koster
Psalm 63:2,3 (after Scripture reading)
Psalm 56:4 (after sermon)
Psalm 149:2 (after confession of faith)
Scripture reading: Eph. 2:1-10, Belgic Confession art. 24A
Text Lord’s Day 32
Sermon HC Lord’s Day 32
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
With Lord’s Day 32 we arrive at a new part of the Heidelberg Catechism: our gratitude and obedience – a new life through the Holy Spirit. When we pay attention to question 86, we’ll see that it refers back to other parts of the Catechism.
It is clear from the question: we are redeemed from our sin and miseries without any merit of our own. That refers back to the confession of our miseries and the punishment for our sins. It also points back to the only way of our salvation: forgiveness from sins, only by grace, for Jesus’ sake.
You’ll deduct from the question that it’s a believer who is speaking here. We are redeemed from our miseries. And in the answer we read: Jesus Christ has bought and freed us. That may be a reality for the believer. I’m redeemed. I know my Redeemer, Jesus Christ. I’m His possession, in life and death.
And now the HC continues with the third and last part of our thankfulness. Why must we still do good works?, so it asks. Why are we obliged to do that? The Catechism frankly uses the word ‘must’, it’s an obligation. Yet it’s this ‘must’, this ‘obligation’ that has met with a lot of resistance.
There is resistance on one hand, for some people say “we Christians are not obliged to do anything”, we have been freed from the commandments, we live in Christ, we live by grace. That’s a life in which we are allowed to do things and no longer ‘must’ do them. When you talk about ‘must’, you are a Pharisee, a hypocrite, is what they say. Then you want to earn your own salvation. And you give too little attention to grace. Gods obliging and humiliating demands have come to an end. That is what gives us real freedom. These people don’t want to have anything to do with Gods law, nor with the law of thankfulness, nor with the Ten Commandments, which are dealt with from Lords Day 34 on and comes within the framework of gratitude to God.
But on the other hand this ‘must’ of the HC has been the cause of misunderstanding. Some people say: yes, we must obey the law. But they mean that ‘being redeemed’ is only a start, a phase. And after we have been redeemed, we have to continue our way on our own account. God gives us righteousness, but we have to do the sanctification. And in the sanctification a more and more growing line should be visible.
Two pitfalls in which a reformed Christian can be trapped. This afternoon we’d like to consider our gratitude with the 32nd Lord’s Day of the Catechism. The theme of the sermon is:
Theme: The calling of God’s children to glorify God in all their lives.
Obedience to this call is
The HC asks the question why we still have to do good works. If we live by grace, why do we still have to do anything? Why are good works still expected from us?
Paul’s letter to the congregation of Ephese shows us beautifully why this is still needed. In chapter 2, verse 10 , Paul concludes with the good works we must do. That’s the splendid and delightful purpose with which Paul concludes these first ten verses.
But the special thing is that in those ten verses he stresses that we only live by grace. Everything is grace. Forgiveness from sins is grace. And doing good works is grace too. Look at what Paul says in the part we have just been reading.
Who are we from ourselves?, Paul asks. We are by nature children of wrath, verse 3. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Spiritually dead, Paul means. There is nothing in ourselves with which we would or could react to Gods calling. If God would call us: “man, where are you?”, we would be deaf, for we shouldn’t want to or even couldn’t hear God’s calling. We can’t stand up by ourselves and go to our Father. We are spiritually dead. And so we deserve God’s eternal judgment. We are people who are lying under God’s wrath. Children of wrath, Paul says.
And in verse 2 Paul states that not only are we children of wrath, but we are children of disobedience as well. If the Holy Spirit wouldn’t do His work in us, we all would be children of disobedience. That means that being disobedient is characteristic for us. We would do what our sinful hearts suggest us. No obedience to our Father or His commandments. But then we would only be enemies of God. Like Paul says somewhere: (Rom.8:7) the carnal mind is enmity against God. We wouldn’t have any love for God or His law.
But God didn’t leave us in that deadly and guilty position. He didn’t leave us helpless and past redemption. God is rich in mercy, Paul says in verse 4. That is the big turning point in these ten verses. We were lost, beyond hope. But it didn’t remain that way. Why not? Because God is rich in grace! There is no end to His love. While we ourselves are dead by our trespasses, God has made us alive together with Christ, Paul says in verse 5.
That means that God has bound His children to Christ as closely as possible. Through faith people belong to Christ. And Jesus Christ belongs to all who believe.
And in this way Jesus Christ and God’s children are given to each other, Jesus Christ as the Head, the church as His body. Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer and Lord. God’s children as possession, as disciples, bought by Jesus Christ.
And that’s how Paul summerizes the heart of the matter in verse 8. For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And further: we even are incapable of believing. Faith itself is also a gift of God.
Shortly summarized it is grace that we receive faith, so that our sins are forgiven by Jesus Christ.
And then we arrive at verse 10. That verse about good works. In verse 10 Paul adds to these two gifts of God’s grace, forgiveness and faith, yet another one
This third gift is that we are God’s work, God’s creation in Christ Jesus, to do good works. Here Paul arrives at the goal of our redemption, namely to do good works. And those good works, Paul says, have been prepared beforehand by God, so that we should walk in them.
God has already prepared those good works for His children. So they’ll be able to do them. God reigns and governs everything in such a way that those good works would indeed be done.
God exerts Himself to let us do good works. Everything in our lives is under His direction and reign: the rearing of children, education, gifts of grace, character, circumstances and so on. Nothing less than God’s almighty government is involved, when our good works are at stake. Surely it’s not a logical thing for us to do good works.
God has prepared those good works. They are there, waiting for us to be picked up. God prepared everything, so we could do them. God had to do this, because otherwise it would have been impossible for us to bear fruit and do good works. God has prepared it all, for us to walk in good works, says Paul.
That’s why Paul also says: we are God’s workmanship, His creation. Literally that God has made us, woven in the womb. But also in a spiritual way: that God has recreated, renewed us with His great power, so that we are God’s children. who bear the image of God.
Thus we get a very sharp image: it is grace, that we may and can do good works. Paul doesn’t give room for any misunderstanding about that.
At the same time we can still say more about the call for obeisance. Not only is it grace to glorify God, but it is also necessary that we honour God. We must obey the calling that God gives us. So we come to the second part of the sermon, the necessity of our call to obey.
The grace of Christ and His Spirit has put us under debt. God works in everything and such is His work that His children indeed are able and want to serve their heavenly Father and praise Him. So that’s what we are obliged to do.
If Christ promises us through His Spirit and wants us to be grateful to God in all we do and don’t do, then He’ll work that too. Without any doubt. But at the same time this implies that we should be grateful in all we do. That is a living faith, isn’t it, which reveals and manifests itself in acts of obedience.
To love and serve God is the great end for which God created everything at the beginning of this world. And to love and serve God is still the big purpose which God is driving at. Also after the fall. Also today. That is what God wants when He is redeeming His children, that they will glorify His name.
Because of that God redeems His children not only from their sins. No, He wants to get His honour. He wants to be served, praised, glorified. So God renews His children as well, through His Holy Spirit.
If we don’t obey and aren’t thankful, if we oppose the obedience to God by living sloppily or by disobeying, then we obstruct Jesus Christ and the Spirit themselves. Paul’s warning for that is very clear.
Look at what is said in question and answer 87. You can’t inherit the Kingdom of God, if you are a fornicator, an.idolater, an adulterer, a thief, a miser, a drunk, a slanderer, a swindler or any sinner like that.
Paul doesn’t beat about the bush. Everyone knows what the results for him or her will be. If you permit such sins in your life, without regretting them, if you commit such sins and keep doing them and at the same time don’t fight them and ask for forgiveness, then you can’t inherit the Kingdom. Then you won’t enter God’s heaven and the doors will remain closed for you. Then you won’t be saved.
That’s a serious call from Paul. And it’s good to realize this isn’t only a loose remark by Paul. You can’t count on your fingers how often the Bible warns us seriously against a life in sin. So often God tells us to break with our sins, to hate and flee them and to escape injustice.
Ephese 5:3-4 “fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as it is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting.” And don’t be drunk, he continues some verses further on. That means, to be clear, that you are not allowed to get drunk. So concrete this is. So concrete are God’s injunctions. Everybody knows exactly what is expected of him or her. You may not get drunk, that’s it.
Galatians 5, in the verses 19 and 20, the works of the flesh are mentioned: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like.
And John shows what it means when you sin, while you don’t fight it, while you don’t regret it and feel sad because of it. In 1 John 3 he says: Whoever has been born of God and stays in Christ does not sin; Whoever sins hasn’t seen and known Him. John means that whoever doesn’t hate sin and doesn’t fight it, but accepts sin in his life and finds peace with it, hasn’t seen and known Him.
You can easily add more texts to these three texts. And all those texts show us clearly what it is that God asks from us. Gods law for our lives, what we should do and what we shouldn’t do.
Whoever is God’s child, will also have to live according to it. He’ll have to obey these commandments and prescriptions of God. As God’s child you’d like to act according to your Father’s will, wouldn’t you? You want to listen to the loving and wise voice of your Father in heaven, don’t you?
Well, someone may think: yes, but is it thus my behaviour that counts and which is decisive? If it seems all right for the outside world, will it be okay then? If I keep the prescriptions, am I going to be a good Christian then?
No, it’s not a matter of our conduct only. It’s more a matter of showing with our behaviour what really lives in our hearts.
We can and have to obey God’s law, in everything. But that’s not an outside matter. Not a thing that has nothing to do with our faith. For only through true faith you are incorporated with Jesus Christ. If that faith, if that love for Jesus Christ is not present, you’ll not be able to show real thankfulness to God in your behaviour. No matter how hard you try.
In order to be able to do good works, to show fruits of gratefulness, we have to live very closely to Jesus Christ. We have to live within that close relationship with Him. Its just what Jesus Christ said: you can’t do anything without Me. That’s not only true for all our activities, but it’s certainly the case for our good works. We can only do them in faith.
And when we stay close to Jesus Christ in our lives, we’ll also be protected from showing off, from just following and obeying rules, instead of really serving Jesus Christ. To live with Christ each and every day of your life is the only medicin against a faith that’s rigid and unyielding, a belief that’s fake. A fake faith, which seems christian, but contains no life. A fake faith, which keeps the rules, but doesn’t encompass love for Jesus Christ.
Do understand me well, brothers and sisters, none of you heard me say: if you just believe, then your outside behaviour and conduct is of no importance anymore. No, on the contrary. When you believe, it’s of the utmost importance what you actually do. Whether you indeed and with great care do what you believe. That you really show your thankfulness to God, in your works, very tangible. But the point is that only deeds are not enough. God seeks our hearts, our faith, our love for the Lord. And from that faith those good works appear, that careful obeisance proceeds.
That’s a question each of us can start working with. Do I love the Lord with all my heart, so that my sincere intention is to serve the Lord according to His laws? To glorify Him in everything I do or don’t do? And do I keep praying and saying thanks to Him for everything God gives me and does for me?
God’s grace, the gospel of mercy, is so rich and redeeming. But it’s not a free ride.
No, God does demand our faithful and loving obeisance. And that this clear call to obey Him is revealed in the Bible and heard by us in this service, means grace. Because the Lord wants to stimulate and incite us to love and to do good works.
Grace doesn’t exclude our duty and responsibility. Grace indeed makes a strong appeal on our behaviour.
And the Lord doesn’t make that strong appeal without a purpose, but the Lord has His own great and rich intention with it. Thus we have arrived at the third part of this sermon.
The call to live an obedient life is a delightful calling. It’s so good to praise God in this life, here and now. God’s lovingkindness is better than life, isn’t it? His goodness is sky-high. When we see God’s greatness and love and mercy, which He has shown in Jesus Christ, then it’s just delightful that we may show our love for Him. And isn’t it delightful that He endows us with love in our hearts. So we can serve Him?
And when the Lord plants and cultivates this love and these good works in our lives, then subsequently He’ll also bless those good works. When we love to do good works and to serve God according to His commandments, then He’ll bless us with joy. With a joyful faith and happiness in our hearts. In that way He’ll bless us with certainty of faith and strengthen our lives. That gift of God, certainty of faith as a result of our thankfulness to God, isn’t always visible in our lives. Sometimes we can experience a period of doubt and fear, in spite of the fact that we live obediently and faithfully. But the Lord wants to give us His blessing, if we live grateful and obedient. That’s for sure. But in contrast with this the Lord warns us that a sloppy life often causes a loss of happiness. A sloppy life, in which we care little about God’s commandments, might lead to much uncertainty of faith. Then doubts can just pop up and weariness in the way we live with the Lord. But the Lord wants to bless us, when we show Him our thankfulness and love.
The Lord will also bless a life of obeisance for other people. An obedient, christian life is most powerful for the propagation of the gospel. Our deeds speak for themselves in such a life, so people can see who we are: children of the living God.
But if we don’t obey, if we are called christians, but nevertheless gossip, are jealous or drunk, if God’s name is on our foreheads, but you can’t see anything of it in our lives, then the first mocking remarks will soon be made. And God’s name and the name of His church are thrown to the winds.
So let’s look forward to obeying God’s law. And let’s pray the Lord with a grateful and dependent heart and ask for His power and renewal.
For sin is such a burden. Our sin and brokenness are such burdens in our lives. They hamper us in so many ways. They are a hindrance for our activities, our speaking and our being silent, our singing and praying. Again and again we appear to be so little grateful. Again and again we must conclude that the flowers of thankfulness are not blossoming well with us. That this flower is slow in growing in our lives. We are often silent, when we should have offered thanks for God’s merciful gifts.
How wonderful it will be, brothers and sisters, when we may indeed enter the Lord’s feast. Then our lives will be perfect to God’s honour. Before long only flowers of thankfulness will flourish in God’s Paradise and there’ll be only real and eternal joy with and for and in God.
God already wants to give us part of this eternal joy in our hearts. God continues His great work of salvation. Sometimes thanks to us, but more often in spite of us But He’ll continue His salvationwork. He’ll complete His work. That’s why we may again and again expect everything from Him in forgiveness and renewal.
We are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works. Please Lord, do continue Your work and complete it for the glory of Your great name. Amen.
Translation by R. Sollie-Sleijster