Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism LD 23
Purpose: to challenge listeners to be in a right relationship with God and to understand that is by God’s grace alone that they can be
Sermon prepared by Rev. Henry Vander Beek, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Order of Worship
Opening Hymn: Ps H #573 O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Call to Worship: Psalm 46:10,11
Opening Prayer concluded with: Ps H #424 Spirit Of The Living God
Pastor: People of God, the Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Pastor: Grace and peace to us from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth.
Hymn: PsH #460 Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Confession of Faith: The Apostles’ Creed in unison
Hymn: PsH #465:1,4 Sing Praise To God Who Reigns Above
Offertory Hymn: Ps H #296:1,2 We Give You But Your Own
Prayer for the Holy Spirit’s Leading
Bible Reading: Romans 3:19-26;
Confessional Reading: Lord’s Day 23
Text: Romans 3:23-25
Sermon: “Right With God”
Hymn: PsH #495 I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace
God’s Parting Blessing
Doxology: PsH #634 Father We Love You
A pastor tells the story from his childhood of a married couple who lived around the corner from his house in the Netherlands. This couple was always fighting. People could hear them yell and scream at each other two blocks away almost every day. The pastor recalls one particular morning when he was walking by the couple’s house. All of a sudden the husband darted out the door, half dressed, his suspenders hanging loosely over his trousers, a look of fear etched on his face. Right behind him, in hot pursuit, was his wife, steaming mad, yelling and cursing as she ran. She had a bucket of water in her hands. She threw the water, bucket and all at her husband, who got the bucket right in the head. The pastor got some of the water. He thought that he had done something wrong to deserve that, and ran home frightened and crying. He had never seen such violence before. His mother calmed him down and assured him that it wasn’t his fault. When the pastor asked why the husband and wife behaved that way, his mother said: "O, things aren't right between that man and his wife."
WHEN WE ARE NOT RIGHT WITH OTHERS
Have you ever had the disturbing experience that things were not right between you and a business partner, or a neighbor, or parent, between you and a relative or member of your church? It's not a good feeling is it? Unless you have no soul or conscience so that it doesn't bother you, most of us feel badly when things aren't right between us and someone we care about. It gnaws at us, eats away inside us. We try to pretend it doesn't bother us but it does. We can't sleep, can't eat, we get irritable. We know it needs to be resolved but we often don't know where to begin, or we don't want to be the one who takes the first step. I've seen it destroy people. The longer they let it simmer, the worse it gets, and the wall between them gets bigger and bigger.
WHEN WE ARE NOT RIGHT WITH GOD
Well sometimes things aren't right between us and God either. Ever had that feeling?People who are confronted with the reality of their own death often wrestle with the feeling that things are not right between them and God, and they are afraid to die. They remember things they've done or said or neglected to do, and they have no peace. "I need to get right with God" they'll say. Or when people are living in sin, they are burdened by the thought that they are not right with God.
David experienced that. He wrote about it in Psalm 32: "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer." We need to be right with God. And when we aren't, it bothers us, it can make us physically unwell, it can cast us into a deep depression. Being right with God is a fundamental human need. We were made to have fellowship with God, and when that relationship is not right, we are not whole as persons.
WHAT MAKES US NOT RIGHT WITH GOD
Many things can damage our relationship with God. If we continue in sin and fail to follow God's will for us, we are not right with God. If we neglect to fellowship with Him in prayer and worship, we are not right with God. If we don't bother to read His word and meditate on it and study it, and allow the Spirit of God to speak to us through it, we are not right with God. If we don't serve Him in ways that He desires, we are not right with God. If we are living in enmity with our neighbor, that too hurts our relationship with God. And it can happen to any of us. I believe that every child of God at one point in his or her life comes to the realization: "I need to get right with God!" Maybe that's where you are today. Maybe you need to get right with God.
Andrew Kuyvenhoven made an important observation in his book Comfort and Joy when he talked about Lord's Day 23. I'd like you to hear it. He said: "Our North American culture is thoroughly materialistic. It cannot think of goodness and happiness without thinking of things. Therefore even today's Bible believing Christians tend to seek the benefits of believing in something other than 'being right with God.' Deeply influenced by contemporary culture, too many evangelists present the gospel in terms of extravagant promises: 'accepting Christ' stands for delivery from all sorts of nasty habits and situations, while positively, it stands for joy, happiness, prosperity, wholeness, good relationships, and so on. By embracing the Christian faith, people will find self worth, we are told. By being active in giving and praying, we will experience many tangible benefits, preachers promise. And, tired of the old testimonies about 'being right with God in Christ,' we hear of people who win a golf tournament by the power of prayer. Now that's where people begin to take note. That's a faith that pays dividends."
Kuyvenhoven was right. People in the church are embracing, more and more, the pop feel good gospel of promise and power. People don't want to hear sermons about sin and wrath any more; they want messages that make them feel good and positive about themselves. And nobody wants to ask the question "Am I right with God?" anymore. What they want to ask is "What can God do for me?" or "What gift is the Spirit ready to give me?" But our sinful and hopeless condition is the background against which we must understand the message of the Bible. Delete that teaching, and you'll always get the message wrong. So I want to ask you today "Are you right with God?" even if it isn't a popular question to ask. The Lord requires us to ask it. God wants you and me to examine our hearts and lives and answer it.
WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR US TO BE RIGHT WITH GOD?
Lord's Day 23 of the Catechism asks: "How am I right with God?" The question is also woven between the lines of Romans 3. It says "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The implied question is: "How then can we be right with God? How can any one be right with God?" The answer, of course, is that we need to be righteous. The only way that you and I can be right with God is by being righteous, living in perfect conformity to God's will, doing and thinking and behaving as God does, and imaging the Almighty in everything we say, think and do.
God said "You must be holy for I am holy." And the Psalmist said "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour."
A righteous person according to Psalm 15 is someone "whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent." That is the kind of man or woman, boy or girl I need to be in order to be right with God.
But that's not the kind of person I am, is it? That's not the kind of person you are, are you? Nobody is. That's what Paul says in Romans 3 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
We have a problem! In order for us to be right with God we need to be righteous, but none of us is righteous. In fact we can't be. Our minds, wills, hearts, spirits, emotions, intellect - every part of us - has been so affected by sin that we can not be righteous, no matter how hard we try. The Bible says even our best works are but filthy rags in the sight of God. And see that's important to know. We are not righteous in ourselves.
THE ONE WHO MAKES US RIGHT WITH GOD
So the first step to being right with God is to know and believe that by yourself, you can never be right with God, because you are not righteous. You are a sinner. The second step is to go to Jesus. In Christ, I am right with God and heir to life everlasting. In Christ, I am right with God; not in myself, not on the basis of my own righteousness, but on the basis of His. The good news of the gospel is this: "Without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ who was obedient for me."
Hallelujah! That's what makes us free! Jesus makes us right with God. Jesus and His righteousness alone and nobody and nothing else. That is the liberating truth of the gospel. What God demands, He Himself provides!
God still demands righteousness. He hasn't changed. God does not change. And God will not lower His standards. The righteousness which the law shows us is still the standard which God demands.
The trouble is that nobody can do it. But God sent Jesus, His eternal Son to fulfill all righteousness for us. And Jesus did it. Nothing more needs to done. Nothing less will do. Nothing else is necessary.
See, you need to ask this question: "Am I right with God?" If you don't ask it, you'll never find Jesus. Because the only way that you and I can ever be right with God is through Jesus. Jesus, the one who alone is righteous, has made us right with God. All we need to do is to receive Him with a believing heart. And you know what? The moment that you and I turn to Jesus in faith and receive Him into our hearts as our Lord and Savior, that's the moment God declares us right with Him. That's the moment God declares us justified, just as if I had never sinned.
Are you right with God today? Maybe you haven't felt right with Him for a long time. Maybe there are things in your life and heart that prevent you from experiencing it. Maybe you aren't living the way God wants you to live and you know it. Maybe you haven't reconciled your differences with that one person who hurt you long ago. Maybe there is dishonesty in your heart, maybe you are living a lie, allowing people to see what you want them to see, but being someone else when they aren't looking. Maybe you cheat a little in business, or in school, and it’s eating away at you. Maybe you don't really believe it at all, but you pretend you do because you don't want to hurt your wife or family. Maybe you've convinced yourself into believing that some day you will change - that you will get there eventually on your own.
Think again, my dear friend! With an attitude like that you'll never change and you'll never get there. God has to change you. Jesus has to bring you there.
When things aren't right between people, they need to deal with it right away. If you wait too long it becomes more difficult, almost impossible to fix. When things aren't right between us and God we need to deal with it right away too. Don't put it off. Don't let it fester and grow into hardness of heart. Talk to someone about it - the pastor or an elder or a friend. Confess your weaknesses to the Lord, repent of them and turn to Christ in faith, and let Him make you right with God. There is no other way to be right with God than through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no other Savior. Don't try to do it on your own. It won't work. Give your heart to Christ and let Him change it.
It doesn't matter what you've done. He is able to wash all your sins away. "Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ who was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift of God with a believing heart."
Nevertheless! What a great word! It is the nevertheless of grace, God's great surprise. No matter what terrible sin we may have committed, you and I are declared righteous by the Judge, clean and innocent the moment we place our faith and hope in Jesus. Andrew Kuyvenhoven wrote: "Faith triumphs over our failures as long as we know the nevertheless of justification by faith in Christ. Every one who humbles himself and cries 'God, have mercy on me a sinner' will go home justified.”
“This is the ‘nevertheless’ of the gospel.” Remember it. Repeat it to yourself over and over again. Shout it when Satan attacks you. Nevertheless, I am declared righteous; I am justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ. Because I believe in Him!
As soon as we start believing that, that's when we start to change. God does not love us because we change first. God loves us first and then He changes us. Only then are we right with God. Amen.