Tuesday, 30 August 2016 11:18

The Precise Instrument Required

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THE PRECISE INSTRUMENT REQUIRED

Dear friends, a key part of knowing and enjoying truly the one and only comfort in life and death of belonging to Christ and being one of His children is realizing and confessing how great our sins and miseries are.  It is only one of the key parts, admittedly. The other two key parts being, knowing how you may be delivered from your sins and miseries in and through Christ, and then also knowing and growing in and showing the life of genuine gratitude to God for all His mercies and salvation freely granted us with Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.  Those other two parts often receive the main focus of attention and properly so for the Christian gospel message is not by and large something negative, but a matter most positive and encouraging to be sure, looking unto Jesus.  

Having said that, however, the misery section of the Heidelberg Catechism on the basis of Scripture is rightly very penetrating and searching in its brief teaching there of how great our sins and miseries are, left to ourselves.  For sure too, if any one of us won’t take to heart this fact of our misery by nature initially and continually, then we won’t know the other two key parts either really, and you and I miss out then in truly participating in knowing and enjoying the only comfort of belonging to Christ. In other words, you and I need to get this, and keep on getting this: What is the Christian teaching about how great our sins and miseries are on our own?  Will you listen carefully now as we focus on the discovery of our misery?  Our theme is “The Precious Discovery of your and my misery?” Yes, considering the following four points:

1. The Precise Instrument for this discovery

2. The Perfect Investigation with this discovery

3. The Piercing Indictment from this discovery

4. The Positive Intention with this discovery.

In connection with the first point, the Precise Instrument for the discovery of our misery, I think you will agree that what tool one uses for something is very important. For instance, if I would come to your place to trim the bushes and all I had with me was my lawnmower, you would not be impressed. Or if you went to the dentist, and all the dentist had for his instruments for the necessary dental work you required was a chisel and a hammer with a pair of pliers and maybe a jig-saw and drill-gun, no doubt you would run out of there as fast as possible!

Well, what is the precise instrument required to discover to you and me our sins and miseries by nature? The answer is, as given in the Catechism Q&A 3, “the law of God.”  Isn’t this exactly what Paul says both in Romans 3 and 7? In Romans 7:7 we hear him say, “I had not known lust [wrong desires], except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” The apostle brings out how sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful to him.  You see, before his conversion Paul thought that as a Pharisee he was a righteous person, alive and well, so to speak. Without the law by the Spirit convicting him, he thought quite highly of himself. But he says now as a Christian in vs.9, when the commandment came [meaning also with Spirit-directed impact, “sin revived and I died”, saying then he saw what a sinner he was, and deserving only of just judgment, and even death, eternal condemnation under God’s just wrath. Probably the way Paul states it in Romans 3:19-20 says it most clearly, how the law is the precise instrument discovering to us our sins and sinfulness, indeed, our misery of ourselves.  Listen to what Paul says there. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Here let us try to come to grips with what Paul exactly means and what the Catechism wants us to understand too. We need to understand that when Paul speaks of “by the law” he is referring in particular to the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament civil laws, referring to the laws for Israel as an Old Testament covenant nation directly ruled by God, and the ceremonial laws giving so many rules and regulations with the Old Testament animal sacrifices and the temple worship don’t function anymore in this New Testament full gospel age.  They were all preliminary laws from which much can be learned yet, but it is clearly the moral code of God as given in the Ten Commandments that continue having so much authority and relevance in all ages.  We are told in Deuteronomy 31:18 and 32:16 those Ten Commandments, God’s moral law, was written by God Himself, with His own fingers in tablets of stone, reflecting by itself how these laws ever remain in place. The Ten Commandments serve as the one and only and forever unchanging divine standard of holiness and righteousness, and the rule for our lives before God and our neighbor.  So also in Matthew 5:17-18 we read Jesus saying there, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Therefore we can be sure, dear friends, when Paul says he came to knowledge of sin by the law, and the Catechism asks how can we know our misery, with the answer given, “out of the law of God”, then without question, what is meant by that is the Law as given in the Ten Commandments. We find the Ten Commandments in the Bible both in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The precise instrument for the discovery of your and my misery is the Law of God, the Ten Commandments brought home to our hearts by the Holy Spirit instructing us what God all forbids and requires therein. 

Now right away here we need to pause and think this through more, both on how humbling this is and how amazing.  Notice, we, you and I and all mankind, can never learn about our misery here in this fallen world except by God’s revealed will brought home to mind and heart.  How different this Christian teaching is compared to so much the world wants to tell us. Have you not heard those who say what explains human misery can be things like a poor education, or bad parenting, or negative examples and role models?  It can be lack of riches perhaps or not taking care of the environment, not following socialist programs and governments or not following a proper diet. Don’t some say too that human misery in this world is because of ignorant religious upbringing that denies we are basically good and that discounts we can evolve to so much better if we only think positively and work together more? But notice, in the face of all such erroneous thinking and false teaching, the Bible-based Christian doctrine asserts that we know our misery from out of the law of God.  Our misery is that all of us fall far short of the glory of God for we are all guilty sinful transgressors of God’s perfect and pure law in countless ways, in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  The Moral Law of God exposes us as disobedient transgressors of God’s divine rules and holy standards, indeed, as people without exception, sinful through and through, from head to toe, in mind and heart, and in word and deed. Therefore we stand condemned then before God Almighty in the face of His perfect standard for Himself and all of us. Without exception, the Law, compared to us, shows us up as law breakers, and every mouth is stopped, and all the world becomes guilty before the one only true God.

Have you had this precise instrument in the hands of God the Holy Spirit measure you and bring you to conviction of your sins and sinfulness before the infinitely just and holy God? Don’t you find it most humbling too, if you think about it, that nothing in all the whole wide world would or could ever have us recognize and confess our misery in this fallen world except God’s divine revelation to us as found in His word?  No instrument or tool of our making could ever show us our sins and sinfulness, not even the strongest microscope nor the most advanced MRI machine.  Oh, the solemn fact is, so deeply are we fallen in sin as children of Adam and Eve who rebelled against God, and so corrupted and blinded in sin are you and I, from our conception, that apart from God’s special revelation to us as given in the Law and gospel, we would never see our true misery and guilt and depravity in sin.

In fact, it is so bad with us that except the Holy Spirit Himself, the third Person of the Godhead as sent forth by God the Father and God the Son, accompany that divine revelation to us, we still would never see it nor get it. Namely, how great and grievous our sins and miseries are, left to ourselves. But isn’t it then also amazing that God has stooped down to this fallen world to reveal this standard of righteousness as given in His unchanging moral laws, and that He even today still will work by His Holy Spirit “to reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” as Jesus tells us in John 16:8?  And won’t the Spirit so work even now with this Christian doctrine sermon about the precious discovery of your and my sin and misery on our own?

Here let us move on also to our second main point and consider next the Perfect Investigation with this discovery.  Under this point consider with me, how does the Law of God actually expose our sin and misery of ourselves when driven home to you and me by the Holy Spirit? Here again the Heidelberg Catechism gives insight and Scripture-based guidance on this question. For notice with me how in the next question and answer, as it then focuses on what God all requires from us in His holy moral law, that it quotes Jesus in the New Testament giving us the summary of God’s Ten Commandments. Jesus gives us that in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.  God requires of you and me nothing less than that you and I love God, the one true God, with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it too. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang [depend] all the law and what the prophets have taught since the beginning.  Later in the gratitude section of the Catechism there is careful detailed exposition on each of the Ten Commandments themselves. But why now in this misery section did the Reformation fathers decide in the Catechism just to give the summary of God’s Law here?

Isn’t the answer obvious if you just think about it?  Who in the whole history of the world since the fall of Adam and Eve, apart from Jesus, doesn’t have reason to be convicted and confess so much sin just from the summary of God’s Law?  In this summary we are given the all-out moral and spiritual demand of God’s law, and that is true love to God and genuine love to our neighbor too.  While Jesus said to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it is probably right to interpret this not in a way of over-analyzing the distinction of each term there, but rather to see Jesus saying here, our calling is to love God, and to love Him with absolutely all the faculties the Lord has given us. That is, we are to love God with the whole of our being, totally and always. Here don’t let us miss the all, all, all, all, in each case too, telling us our calling is to love the one true God with all our being, to the maximum, all the time, above all else. This is what the righteous law of God requires of us. As one commentator said it rightly and searchingly… the very first law requires comprehensive, universal, undiluted love for God with every ounce of one’s being. And, it carries with it a clear implication—we are to love our neighbor as ourselves! In other words, Jesus’s answer [as to ‘which is the most important commandment?’],  emphasize[s] the fact that God is never satisfied with anything less than the devotion of our whole life for the whole duration of our lives.

Must we not say, if you and I are honest, each and every time we sin, it is because of not loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength? And when you and I dishonor and harm our neighbor, or in any way sin against one another, is it not always because of lack of true love for the other person, and idolizing self and care for self above others?  If we would perfectly love God and our neighbor, we wouldn’t need the Ten Commandments at all. For when we love God and our neighbor then we want only to do always what God asks for and requires of us, and then we want also always the best for our neighbor, and not in any way to dishonor or harm them.

But here is the rub, isn’t it? So often we just don’t love God above all, but we love so much else and this world and sinful self more than God, and we arrogantly love ourselves more than our neighbors. The result then is that you and I live, all too often still, disowning and defying God and His will, and despising our neighbor and not caring for others, but each one out is for himself or herself only. All the misery in this world and in each of our lives is exposed and diagnosed with this summary of the Law in that word LOVE, and the call to love God above all and to love our neighbor as our self and our sinful failure to do so time and time again. All too often there is an absence of true love before God and our neighbor, and just never is there that perfect love that God justly requires from us. The Spiritual Physician, Christ, with His Word and Spirit diagnoses the root problem with us fallen guilty sinners as basic heartlessness and lovelessness, lawlessness and godlessness, selfishness and carelessness, and wickedness in the whole of our being by nature. 

Yes, this is our misery, your and my sins and sinfulness of ourselves. We are ‘sin-sick’ to the core as diagnosed, guilty beyond measure as charged before God’s holy law and standard of perfect righteousness and pure love and holy obedience that He rightly requires of us.  Can any one of us come out from under this perfect investigation conclusion seeing ourselves by nature before the summary of God’s holy law, I ask, and truthfully say before God and others, IT IS JUST NOT SO?  “No, not one” says Paul in Romans 3:10-12. “As it is written” Paul says in those verses, “there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all [Jews and Gentiles] gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  Paul is saying it strongly and clearly because this needs to be said and to be seen by us as so true, also for you and me personally shall it be well with us.  

In fact, to be totally honest, the situation is even worse than what has been stated so far.  And the next question of the Catechism on the basis of Scripture brings us there now to our third point. The Piercing Indictment from the discovery of our sin and misery by the Law of God. When the Spirit works with penetrating conviction by the Law and all God requires therein, we need to confess not just that we sometimes sin and transgress God’s law, but that our whole being is naturally inclined now to disobeying God and all His law.

The grim reality is, if your and my life is honestly assessed before God and our neighbors, if all those thoughts and words and deeds in our lives could be put on a film before us and everyone could see it, the only conclusion to be reached is as stated in Q&A 5, we, you and I, left to ourselves, cannot keep God’s law perfectly at all. No, never! Instead, clearly and most sadly, you and I are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor.  If anyone resists this teaching as false, you are not being honest before God and your neighbor. If you say this piercing indictment is too negative and extreme, you are blind to the facts and deceiving yourself in foolish pride, and you are living in ignorance of the history of mankind from ancient times even to the present day. 

 What explains all the false and foolish religions in the world and all the empty idol worship in history and every sinful “ism” from paganism to pluralism and atheism and secularism, and hedonism? Isn’t it simply and always just this, hatred towards the God of the Bible, and stubborn and arrogant resistance to confess the one true God and to submit to Him alone and above all? Why, even today, are other religions tolerated, but true and Biblical Christianity isolated and targeted as that which is intolerable?  It is all proof and undeniable evidence that by nature we are prone to hate God.

And that likewise we of ourselves are inclined to hate our neighbor and not to love him or her.  To know that is true, why not just read the daily newspaper? Or just visit the police stations, and lawyers’ offices, and counselling centers, and war camps, and government offices, and prisons, and even the children’s playground area? Think even of the recent Olympics in Brazil where more than 450,000 free condoms were distributed by the government for the Olympic athletes, suggesting so much selfish and insensitive cheating and immorality by all too many sports heroes, and that even in spite of the Zika virus threat too. Coming closer to home, to see the naturally loveless uncaring ways of people, think how even in Christian churches there can be such conflicts and unbrotherly impatient conduct shown between members to our shame, surely.  Think here too of so much family strife and marriage breakdown to prove our point about our natural lovelessness towards others. And, of course, for final authoritative basis on this piercing indictment about us each and all of ourselves, namely, that we do not keep God’s law perfectly and are to the contrary prone to hate God and our neighbor, just hear what the Bible says, and read through that Bible for yourself.  God knows us through and through, and this is His piercing indictment of us, each and all. What guilty, vile, depraved sinners you and I are, and all mankind, left to ourselves. 

Does this Christian teaching convict you so that you say too, How great my sins and miseries are left to myself?  Without such personal conviction of sin by the law, will there be any wholehearted conversion to God in spirit and truth?  No.  So you and I need to listen and even appreciate highly this godly instruction and Christian doctrine. For it comes to us from God Himself Who, as a good doctor giving a faithful and honest diagnosis of our health condition, aims to do so in promotion of real cure and healing.  And so we come to our fourth point yet about the precious discovery of your and my misery.

That is the Positive Intention with this discovery. The positive intention is that you and I might confess our sins and sinfulness before God, and seek for His mercy and salvation as revealed in Christ Jesus, the one and only Saviour of sinners.  The LORD cuts by His Spirit and Word that He might cure us with the balm of Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour, by whose stripes we are healed.  Being convicted by the law of our sin and misery is not miserable when it is the truth and the Divine Convictor in endless love is only out to save us from all our sins and miseries through the precious blood of Christ shed on the cross of Calvary.  The positive intention is that we might truly repent of sin and believe on Christ and belong to Him and so know and enjoy the only comfort in life and death for now and forevermore.  The only alternative is to keep believing the lie and to perish in our sins now and forever, living and dying apart from Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Is that what you want instead, God forbid?

How thankful therefore God’s people may be and always are for this same old gospel teaching again and again.  There is reason to ask the Lord that this fundamental Christian instruction penetratingly come to us in our minds and hearts, with renewing and refreshing power, when Christians already by God’s grace, and for a first time when not yet a Christian today.  Let this message draw and drive us, each and all, to Christ for a first time or for the thousandth time, and how good that will be!  The Law is meant to be as a schoolmaster bringing us to Christ Jesus once, and over and over again, all our life long.  Coming to Jesus and abiding in Him, the perfect Saviour for hopeless and helpless-case sinners like yourself and myself, all will be well!  Let no one not come to Jesus today and turn away from Him. NO! For Jesus is earnestly calling all to Him also through this message about the precious discovery of your and my misery with all our sins and sinfulness, left to ourselves.

This is so important because, what is really the blessed and only gospel message? It is what the Law cannot do for sinners like us in only condemning us and not being able to save us, Christ Jesus came to do! This is what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all about as God-sent Saviour of sinners like us! With Jesus, the crucified and risen Redeemer, is plenteous redemption for this life and through death and into the world to come for all who now, in this season of grace still, repent of sin and trust and follow Him.  And isn’t that precious good news in our present fallen, loveless world of endless misery all around?  Oh, it is the best news ever! Yes, even also this crucial Christian gospel message about our sin and misery on our own, and the only escape from it in and through Christ, the Saviour of sinners. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor 

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