Tuesday, 23 August 2016 10:52

True And Vital Christianity

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Last week we spoke about what is the true Christian’s only comfort in life and death. The opening question and answer of the 16th century Bible-based Heidelberg Catechism states so faithfully that the only comfort for body and soul, in life and death, for time and eternity, is belonging to Christ Jesus in true faith and having Him as your only Saviour from sin and Lord of your life. That brings comfort infinitely wonderful, comfort so absolutely true, so absolutely complete, so absolutely sure, and so absolutely free, being a comfort all of God and through God and unto God our Saviour. 

Today we want to consider the second question and answer of the Catechism dealing with actually having this Christian comfort, knowing it in spirit and truth and living and dying therein happily. The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism wisely and lovingly throughout the whole Catechism in its 129 questions and answers aimed for not only objective awareness of the Christian gospel and comfort it brings, but of the subjective experience of it as well.  It is not enough for anyone of us to know something about the gospel message but we need to receive it in our minds and hearts and live out of it from day to day. For true and vital Christianity you and I need not only external knowledge of the gospel message, but internal embracing of it in our minds and hearts.

How special that the Christian gospel teaching doesn’t only inform us of most wonderful good news, but it also wants us personally to know and enjoy those truths for ourselves, indeed, to be beneficiaries of it and also reflectors of it to others as well.  Shouldn’t this remind us again of what Paul says so jubilantly in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 when he writes in doxological praise there, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 

By the way, just saying this all, namely owning the Christian comfort for ourselves personally, how that should make us aware right away that being a true Christian is not simply a matter of external and outward things like having been raised in a Christian family or attending a Christian church. We are not Christians just because we go to church and are not attending a Muslim mosque or Sikh temple, or Roman Catholic mass, or a Mormon sect. Neither can we be labelled Christians truly just because we may have been baptized either as an infant or an adult, and our name is registered as members and attenders of this and that church.  Nor are we Christians necessarily just because we try to live a decent and moral life and vote for a conservative government, and still want the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer in our public schools, and we never get in trouble with the police. 

No, what makes for true Christians is belonging to Christ in spirit and truth and living in faith and repentance before Him and in steadfast devotion to Him, Jesus Christ, as only Saviour and Lord.  And what that more particularly means, the Catechism aims to make clear in the second question and answer. So after telling of the Christian’s glorious comfort belonging to Christ, it goes on teaching in Question & Answer 2: How many things are necessary for [you] to know, that [you], enjoying this comfort, may live and die happily? Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Now it may be you never heard about this so-called triple knowledge that is personally known and experienced by every true Christian.  It is sometimes referred to as mind and heart knowledge of sin, deliverance, and gratitude. True Christians are people genuinely gripped deep in their lives in various degrees about their guilt in sin by nature and the grace of God through Christ, and the calling to live in gratitude to God in praise to Him. This threefold awareness is what describes the believer in the beginning stage of being a Christian and all throughout the life of being a Christian. As one put it: All three realities accompany us every step along the way when it is well with us, when truly belonging to Christ by God’s grace and Spirit.  A rocket may release certain sections as it moves up and up, but the three things belonging to the Christian’s comfort, sense of ruin, rescue, and reform, are intricately attached together always.

The truth is you and I never can be nor grow nor advance in the Christian faith without these three characteristics of belonging to Christ always being there. When first saved, there is conviction of sin, turning to Jesus, and wanting to live for Him. Likewise, with Christian maturity comes increasing personal knowledge and heart acquaintance of all three factors which are: What a sinner I am in myself, what a Saviour I have in Jesus Christ, what a life of gratitude I want to live to the praise of my Redeemer God. Again, as one put it, The greater our consciousness of sin, the greater our realization of salvation, and the greater our obligation to service.  

It is important to realize this basic Christian doctrine about the experience of conversion and salvation, also in helping see through wrong views and doctrinal error and false Christian testimonies.  Here then let me point out to you that when a person says he or she is a Christian because they know they are not perfect and still sin sometimes, if that is all they say, that doesn’t mean truly being a Christian. In the same way, if a person shows they want to live in line with the Ten Commandments, and be religious and thankful to God and others, that by itself doesn’t prove true Christianity. Indeed, even if a person confesses to know about Christ and look to Him to be his or her Helper and Example in life, that doesn’t necessarily mean the person is a Christian belonging to Christ. No, when belonging to Christ and knowing and enjoying the only comfort of the gospel, living in union and communion with Him as Saviour and Lord, then the ABC points of awareness of misery, deliverance, and gratitude are matters realized initially and increasingly and inseparably and steadfastly so.  It’s either all three realities realized in various degrees as a Christian, or not being a Christian in any degree. We can say it as strongly as that even.

Would you say by God’s grace you also know this triple knowledge in your heart and life? Is it reflected in your testimony in all you think, say, and do, a conviction and confession of sense of sin, salvation, and service? No one should conclude he or she is born again by God’s Spirit and a true Christian by grace belonging to Christ and having blessed Christian comfort for body and soul and life and death if these three realities altogether are not present and alive in your heart and life.  Yes, at different times in your life, certainly every Christian will agree, you may be convicted and convinced more of the matter of sin, and another time more of the wonder of salvation, and another time more of the desire and blessing of showing thankfulness, depending on the Scriptures you are reading or the stage and circumstance of life you may be in. Nevertheless, when any one of these three matters are truly known and shown in our lives, the other two will also be present realities in some degree. 

Believe it or not, this second question and answer in the Catechism is actually so incredibly important for us to learn and understand and realize for ourselves personally. It is such a help too in discerning true Christianity as opposed to false Christianity.  It can be of such help for you and me too, when true Christians, in learning to grow in enjoyment of the Christian’s comfort and living and dying therein happily.  We can use even this to gauge faithful balanced preaching of God’s word. While the Scripture text will and should impact the emphasis in a sermon in relation to misery, deliverance, and gratitude, yet true Christian preaching will bring out these three critical realities of the Christian life and testimony repeatedly and searchingly and encouragingly. 

To underline all this I will give five reasons showing the truthfulness and importance of what it teaches us. In conclusion I will speak practically of how to grow in this vital triple knowledge of being a true Christian and knowing and enjoying the comforts therein and thereof.

For one, notice with me how Scripture-based the gospel teaching of this question and answer is. You find it in the whole Bible over and over again. In support of this, let me mention some texts from Scripture. In Psalm 50:15 we read the Lord saying, “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”  You see in that verse misery, deliverance, and gratitude. In Psalm 18 the psalmist tells of being in great distress and crying to the LORD, and God hearing him, and he begins the psalm in praising and magnifying God. Again we learn of trouble on his own, triumph through God, and thanksgiving to the LORD are each and all reflected. Likewise in Psalm 130. The confession is, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared”, that is, adored and exalted in humble praises and devotion as the psalmist goes on to do in the rest of the psalm. It all reflects knowledge of sin, salvation, and service.  When we go to the New Testament we find the same. God’s people are sinners saved by grace unto good works. This Paul teaches in Ephesians 2. In Romans 7:24-25 Paul exclaims in the life of true faith, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  He reflects there knowledge of our guilt on our own, and awareness of God’s grace in and through Christ, and gratitude to God his Saviour. Think here of the repentant thief on the cross. He confessed his sins, cried out to Christ for salvation trusting Him as his only hope, and he testified of Christ in honor to the Lord before others, including to that other unbelieving criminal crucified with him.   

Countless more Scripture texts could be given here of when someone is a true Christian and rejoicing in the comfort therein and thereof, this triple knowledge is realized in spirit and truth.  In further support of the three parts of true Christian comfort when belonging to Christ, we can think of Scripture examples of false and hypocritical Christian profession or religious devotion where one or more of these three things are missing. Think of the ten lepers who were healed and only one returning in thanksgiving, and Jesus highlighting that man as truly saved and the others not.  Think of the Pharisee and publican in the temple where the Pharisee was only full of thanksgiving in himself for this and that in his life before God, but he knew not how great his sins and miseries were nor about deliverance from such through Christ alone.  The publican, on the other hand, confessed his sin and looked to the Saviour and went to his home justified and we may presume ever so thankful. Then there are those who supposedly confess sin only, but clearly do not look to Christ and don’t live in grateful obedience before God. Think of Ahab and Judas, confessing sin but not calling on Christ to save, and left perishing in their sins.  David on the other hand, and Peter too, confessed their sin, trusted in Christ as only Deliverer and Saviour, and they each sought to live, by God’s grace, in honor and praise to the Lord before God and their neighbor. 

 Clearly we see then it is Scriptural to realize that being a true Christian and knowing and enjoying the comfort of belonging to Christ involves the personal conviction and confession of these three realities. “The first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; [and] the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.”

Notice secondly, this is not just Scripture-based teaching but surely also sensible teaching. Unless one realizes their sickness, a person will not likely go to a doctor.  “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick”, says Jesus in Matthew 9:12 and in Mark and Luke as well.  When Jesus ministered, He led people to see their need and then how He could and would graciously and fully meet their needs as only Saviour of sinners.  Then too, isn’t it sensible to conclude when experiencing wonderful amazing free and full salvation from sin, all for Jesus’ sake alone, because of His atoning work even to the death of the cross on sinner’s behalf, that the believer, by God’s grace, exclaims in humble gratitude, as the hymn-writer put it, Love so amazing, so divine—Demands my soul, my life, my all, in thanksgiving to the LORD God Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is common sense, logically speaking at least, that these three elements belong together and always coexist together when the Spirit works true and living faith in His people. True Christianity is never illogical or unreasonable even though it be infinitely beyond our comprehension and far beyond reason itself. To know something of your sins and sinfulness and something of your Saviour and His salvation and then not be thankful to Him doesn’t make sense. Neither does knowing Jesus and living thankfully before God make sense without realizing anything of your misery by nature as a fallen, guilty, totally depraved sinner. Nor does it make any sense to know about your misery and to live thankfully without relying on and rejoicing in your deliverance through Christ, the crucified Redeemer.   Do you see with me the sensibleness of these three parts being present as felt reality by God’s grace when a true Christian?

The triple knowledge of guilt-grace-and-gratitude, or sin-salvation-and-service, or misery-deliverance-and-thankfulness, is essential also because thirdly, it is obviously so Saviour-focused.  All of Scripture testifies of Christ the Savior, and the Heidelberg Catechism, in submission to Scripture and giving the summary gospel message of Scripture, is focused on Christ Jesus and His glorious Person and gracious work as the one and only Saviour of sinners. Christ and Him crucified and risen again, come to seek and to save sinners, was the heart of the apostle’s preaching and teaching, and so it is with the Catechism’s instruction as well. The Catechism is patterned, in fact, after the book of Romans which is Paul’s great defense and explanation of the whole of the Christian gospel message.  In the first three chapters of that book, Paul penetratingly exposes the sinfulness of man, and in chapters 4-11 he wonderfully proclaims the almighty, gracious, superabundant Saviour of sinners in all His riches and glory, and he ends in chapters 12-16 in the calling and life of Christian thanksgiving when reconciled to God and led by His Spirit and word. 

The point now is, unless the three matters spoken of here are known and experienced in mind and heart, you and I don’t and won’t really trust and obey the LORD JESUS CHRIST as is His due, especially as Saviour of sinners.  Beware of allegiance to Jesus and mention of Jesus only as example or one Who just loves us so and brings in a health and wealth gospel.  No, Jesus came primarily to save His people from their sins and unless we know Him in particular and especially for this blessing, we don’t truly know Him at all.  Christ crucified and glorified drives home how Jesus is Saviour of sinners, the one and only Saviour indeed. Belonging to Him in true faith, what a true and complete and sure and gracious and everlasting all-sufficient Saviour we have in and with Him.  And that gives infinite comfort for soul and body, in life and death, for now and forever, as expressed also in Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Thanks be to God Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all manner of consolations found for us in and with Christ and His wounds, Christ and Him crucified.

This all, of course, is not something any of us can grasp and understand on our own. But that brings me to a fourth reason to affirm the three matters known and realized when belonging to Christ. How this is the Spirit’s work in drawing sinners to Christ for a first time and for all time. The Holy Spirit, Scripture teaches sinners like us by means of the Word especially as sword of the Spirit, works to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Not only does Jesus tell us this in John 16:8-12, but He adds that the Spirit as Comforter sent from the Father and the Son takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us and works them in the heart of those ordained to eternal life.  And the Holy Spirit is linked with not only leading spiritually dead and blind sinners like us to Christ, the only Saviour for salvation, but the Holy Spirit is also linked with leading and guiding us in the way of humble thanksgiving and holiness in praise to God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:12 we read sanctification, referring to the whole of life redeemed from sin and dedicated to God, is “though the Spirit and belief of the truth.”     

Thinking then of these three spiritual realities of God’s true people belonging to Christ, knowledge of sin, and trust in Christ, and grateful devotion to God, how correct the Catechism is in this teaching. Yes, seeing how Scriptural it is, how sensible, how Saviour-focused, how Spirit-related, and one more defense, how splendid this is.  It is splendid gospel teaching, having us be taught the three things needed to know and grow in understanding and rejoicing in the only comfort of belonging to Christ. When these three realities are known in truth in our hearts and lives, even in the simplest measure and smallest degree at first, what gospel comfort and joy is then known and experienced.  And the more you, by God’s grace and Spirit, grow in experiential awareness of sin, deliverance, and gratitude, the more you can and may live and die happily, seeing all the comfort that is yours when belonging to Christ as expressed also in the amazing first Q&A of the Catechism.

Proving how splendid it is, think  of what makes Paul say in great joy as he does in Romans 5:20b, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” And what makes him say in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? And what makes him testify, as he does in 2 Corinthians 6:9&10 saying about himself by God’s grace “As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” What made him “rather glory in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon me” as he testifies in 2 Corinthians 129b? Was all this not because of the splendidness of the only comfort in belonging to Christ and having Him as only Saviour and LORD? 

In conclusion then, let us just say in application of this message, if you and I take it to heart now, won’t we desire and pray for initial and increasing awareness of the threefold items mentioned in Q&A 2?  If you and I are genuine about this, then we don’t ignore or despise being taught from the Word and by the Spirit how great our sins and miseries are.  Nor do you say: I know all about Christ and Him crucified and risen. What more is there for me to learn?  Then too, you are not careless to learn God’s will for you in the life of holiness and thankful sanctification in devotion to Him and love to your neighbor. The most godly and mature Christian still has so much to learn about how great their sins and miseries are, and about the way of deliverance accomplished through Christ the Saviour, and about the way of true thanksgiving and grateful obedience to all God’s commandments.  Are you showing yourself humble enough to admit this reality, and eager truly to learn more and more about the triple knowledge of Q&A 2? Are you someone then who also commits to attend a faithful Bible gospel preaching and teaching church, and do you regularly read from the Bible and ask God’s Spirit to lead you in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What a thought to realize in all eternity the three aspects of knowing and enjoying the only comfort with belonging to Christ will be endlessly and perfectly confessed, and the comfort of the Lord for His people perfectly and endlessly enjoyed. And that before the face of God Triune and in fellowship with all the numberless redeemed from all over the world in all the history of the world.

Think of the single awful alternative to knowing and enjoying the only comfort of belonging to Christ. It is living and dying comfortless and going into the eternal realm, forever comfortless in soul and body, living with Satan and all the damned in hell.  Not knowing or growing in the only comfort of belonging to Christ, we live miserable lives here and now and end up in eternal misery hereafter, and justly so. For Christ came to save sinners from the endless ruin and misery of sin, but despising even Him who died on the cross to save sinners like us, we certainly make ourselves doubly deserving of the forever agonies of hell. God’s people know far better to learn the only comfort of belonging to Christ here and now and to go on in that comfort all our earthly journey only to come into everlasting comfort in glory forevermore in the new heavens and earth. The believing psalmist of Psalm 71:21 testifies in joyful faith belonging to His Saviour God, “Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” And that is the gospel truth, indeed, through Christ Jesus our Saviour Who endured hell on the sinner’s behalf to save sinners now and gain us heaven hereafter. 

Dear friends, the Christian comfort of belonging to Christ is infinitely wonderful and enduring forever. This comfort of belonging to Christ as only Saviour and Lord is a divinely given comfort that is found, as one put it, by admitting our sin, instead of excusing it; by trusting in Another instead of ourselves; and by living to give thanks instead of being thanked.  That is well said, and would you say you get what is being said, by God’s grace and Spirit? May God so bless His Word to each and all of us! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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