Leviticus 20:22-26; 1 Peter 2:9-12 (text); Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32
|July 15, 2012 (at Trinity Covenant Reformed Church in Imus, Cavite)||Download this sermon (PDF)|
|For liturgy, click here|
Heaven became a happier place today. The angels will be laughing together with our one and only King of Comedy. Rest in peace, friend.” This eulogy was one of the countless words of praises showered on Dolphy after his death last week. In the eyes of millions of Filipinos, there is no doubt that he was a good man.
Was he really a “good” man? To be sure, he made millions of Filipinos laugh for over 50 years of movies and TV programs. He shared his wealth with many needy families who sought his help.
But the Bible has a very different definition of who is good and what good works is. The Holy Scripture says that all human beings are dead in sin, without hope and without God in this world. Moreover, “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10, 12). This is why Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
What about Dolphy’s “good works”? The Bible again tells us that a person’s good works are as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa 64:6), and that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb 11:6). Only good works done by those who have faith in Christ will please God, because they are done for the only motivation that matters: glorifying God.
Paul says that a person is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, not by good works: “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16; see Rom 3:28). However, the saying is true, “We are saved by faith alone, but faith that is not alone.” All those who profess faith in Christ are to evidence good works because they were “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10). In fact, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). This is why James also affirms the impossibility of having justifying faith without the consequential good works, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).
Did Dolphy evidence in his life this justifying faith? Did he have true faith in Christ alone even when he was a sexually immoral person all his life? When he glorified gays in his movies and comedies? When his good works were for man alone, and not for God’s glory?
In our Heidelberg Catechism reading, Lord’s Day 32 Question 87 asks if a person who does not repent from an “unthankful, impenitent life” is saved. And the answer is negative: “no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the kingdom of God.” This answer comes from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. 1
Lord’s Day 32 begins the third and last part of the Heidelberg Catechism, written by two university professors, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus in 1563. It consists of three main parts, commonly known as Sin, Salvation and Service. Later, it was divided into 52 Lord’s Day for the purpose of preaching and studying the whole catechism over 52 Sundays in a year. Lord’s Day 1 is the introduction. The first part, Sin, consists of Lord’s Days 2-4.; the second part, Salvation, is in Lord’s Days 5-31; and the third part, Service, is in Lord’s Days 32-52. Together with the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism is still one of the greatest teaching tools written since the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
Question 86 begins the Service part of the catechism. It affirms the Bible’s teaching that a person who is redeemed from sin and misery by grace through Christ does good works before God. A true Christian must evidence his faith and repentance because the Holy Spirit indwells him, and thereby renews him after Christ’s image. It gives us three reasons why good works after salvation are necessary:
First, “that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing. Second, ”that we ourselves may be assured by our faith by the fruits thereof. And third, “by our godly walk win also others to Christ.”
These three evidences are grounded in various places in the Scriptures, and our text is one of them. Peter, a Jew, calls all true Christians—Jews or Gentiles— as God’s new Israel. In his opening words, he calls Christians by a name exclusively used for Jews, “The Dispersion.” And in verse 9, he calls us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” a direct quotation from Exodus 19:6 when God separated his people out of Egypt and gathered them at Mount Sinai.
Because God separates his people from the world in order that they may worship and serve him alone as God, his people are called “a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” His people are holy not only because of their godliness and righteousness, but also because they are separated and distinguished from unbelievers in their doctrine, worship and life. As redeemed people, Christians evidence their faith and new life in three ways as listed in the catechism.
First, the Apostle Peter says that since we are a people who previously “had not received mercy, but now have received mercy” (verse 10), we are to be eternally thankful for God’s mercy by pleasing him with our good works. Second, when we “abstain from sins which wage war against [our] soul” (verse 11), we are able to have assurance of our redemption from sin. And third, when we “keep our conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that… they may see [our] good deeds” (verse 12), our good works are also our witness to unbelievers of Christ’s work in us.
All three reasons for our good works must be motivated by a desire to glorify God alone.
Recall the ten lepers who came to Jesus and begged him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” So Jesus told them to show themselves to the priest, but on their way to the temple, they saw that they were already healed! How many among the ten lepers came back to Jesus? Only one: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:13-16).
For all of them, their faith in Jesus’ power healed them, but only one was thankful for the mercy he received from him. The Apostle Peter says that Christians have received the same mercy from God in their redemption, “Once you had not received mercy, but now have received mercy” (verse 10). He quotes the prophet Hosea who referred to God’s people Israel as those whom God judged, but then had mercy on them, “I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all… And I will have mercy on No Mercy” (Hos 1:6; 2:23).
And what was the response of God’s people for his salvation? Thankfulness, just as Israel sang their praises to God for saving them: “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise” (Psa 106:47).
God fulfills this prophecy also in the forgiveness of the sins of his people, those who are in Christ. And our response? Thankfulness shown by our good works. Paul tells us that we Gentiles are to “glorify God for his mercy” in sending Christ to become a servant to be cut off for our sins (Rom 15:8-9). Paul appeals to us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Our holy lives are our sacrifices to God and spiritual worship of God.
A Christian’s thankfulness and good works always go hand-in-hand. He cannot be thankful to his Creator and Redeemer without doing good works for God’s glory. Paul makes this connection between good works and gratitude, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). How else can we express our thanksgiving to God for redeeming us from slavery to sin than by obedience? “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom 6:17).
And the reverse is true. Those who do not live by faith alone in Christ alone do not have a desire to thank and honor God, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21). The result is all kinds of ungodliness and unrighteousness in word, deed and thought—sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, idolatry, filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Paul exhorts us to avoid these things, “but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph 5:1-5).
Thankfulness for God’s mercy in saving us is the first reason for good works. And “as grace extends to more and more people it [will] increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15).
The second reason for doing good works is that they confirm to us and assure us of the reality of our salvation. Peter urges us “as sojourners and exiles to abstain from sins which wage war against your soul” (verse 11). This is because when we are able to avoid sin, we are assured that the Spirit indwelling us is also empowering us to live holy lives. As pilgrims in this sin-cursed world, we are surrounded by the temptations of “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). We continually wage war against these temptations daily, and when we avoid them by living holy lives, it is the Holy Spirit that is working in us.
Jesus uses a tree as an example of this assurance: “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit “ (Matt 7:17). As a healthy tree bears good fruit, so we believers can be assured that we are redeemed people because of the good fruits of the Spirit: “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When we have these fruits of the Spirit, we know that we who belong to Christ “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:22-23).
Peter further exhorts us to diligently evidence our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He says, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” These qualities are for us “to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet 1:5-7, 10). Paul further exhorts us to good works, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Not that we work for our own salvation, but that good works confirm our calling and election by God.
But we sometimes lose our war against sin and temptation. When we do, we have an advocate, Christ, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sin and gives us the victory over sin (1 John 2:1, 2). We also have the Holy Spirit who is our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter who teaches us and gives us peace (John 14:26-27). Paul emphasizes that God is the only source of our good works, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
Moreover, falling into sin and temptation at times must not cause you to doubt your salvation. If your new spirit daily struggles against sin, making every effort to live a godly and righteous life, confessing and repenting of your sins, and praying for the Spirit’s help and protection, you may be sure of your calling and election. Ask yourself, “Do unbelievers have this same struggle, conviction, and desire for godliness?” You may be far from your godly standard, but striving to attain this standard is itself a sign of real saving faith that unbelievers do not possess.
And Jesus assures you that God is glorified in your good fruits, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
We are to show thankfulness to God by our good works, and these good works also assure us of the certainty of our salvation.
Finally, our good works are also our witness to the unbelieving world. Peter says that you have been chosen as God’s people in order that you “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (verse 9). The word “proclaim” is translated from the Greek word exangello, which is related to the word “evangelism.” As Christians, you are to “evangelize” not only with word, but also with good works.
Those who belong to Christ are witnesses to the gospel by their honorable conduct and good deeds. By observing these witnesses, many unbelievers will also be saved and glorify God. Jesus says that just as he is the Light of the world, we too are a light to the world by our good works: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:14, 16).
In 1630, Puritan John Winthrop used these familiar words preached by our Lord when he exhorted a group of Puritans while they sailed onboard the Arbella to settle in America. These Puritans were fleeing from religious persecution in England. In this sermon, Winthrop spoke about a New England as “a city upon a hill” that would serve as a model of Christian holiness and godliness to his English countrymen and to the world.
The God of Israel is among us… when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us…
And just as those Puritans set out to be a witness to the world, by your good deeds, you are also witnesses to God’s goodness. Peter exhorts all believers in verse 12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 2 Our “conduct,” behavior, and way of life as seen by unbelievers must be “honorable.” Our lives must not only be honorable, good and right, but also beautiful before God and man! When unbelievers see the effects of our salvation on our worship and life, they too will repent of their sin and believe, so in the end God will be glorified.
As the body of Christ, what are some ways in which our good works are a testimony to Christ? Peter says that in husband-and-wife relationships, the Christian spouse will win the unbelieving spouse by their conduct, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Pet 3:1-2).
When unbelievers visit our worship services, what do they see? Do they see clamor, disorder, worldly entertainment, and nothing more than moralistic and therapeutic preaching? Then they will say, “You are out of your minds!” No, Paul tells us that a worship service conducted with decency and order, and where Christ crucified is preached, would turn unbelievers to God, “But if all prophesy [declare God's word], and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:23-25).
Peter also says that false prophets also give evil testimony against God. They are out for shameful gain and for sensual pleasures. “Because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet 2:1-3). Unbelievers ridicule the Christian faith whenever they hear about church scandals, such as megachurch pastors involved in embezzling millions in church funds and in adulterous relationships and multiple divorce.
Paul also exhorts older women to teach the younger women “to love their husbands and children, women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands,” because in so doing, “the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit 2:4-5). Ungodly Christian women, whose families are also ungodly, are a dishonor to God’s word.
John Winthrop warned the people of the “city upon a hill”
that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants…
If they turned away from God, he would remove his blessing, their enterprise would fail, and they would be shamed before the watching world. Not only they would be a by-word. God and his worthy servants would also be dishonored by naysayers who are always on the lookout for Christians who fail miserably in doing good works.
Winthrop’s warning became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Puritans’ original mission ended in failure. Over time, they lost much of their Christian devotion and doctrine, until the Puritan movement disappeared and went into disrepute.
Thus, Paul condemns all those who call themselves Christians, but break God’s law, because they dishonor God’s name before the unbelieving world, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:24).
Beloved friends, your redemption is outside of yourselves. God redeemed you from sin only because of his grace and for his glory alone, “according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:5-6).
In the same way that your salvation was founded only on God’s glorious grace, your life must also be grounded only on a desire to give glory to God alone. By believing, you already glorify God. But more so, by your good works, you glorify God. Your good works show your thankfulness to God, you are assured that you are truly justified before God, and others will also glorify God.
In our worship every Lord’s Day, we give thanksgiving, praise and glory to God in every element of our worship, beginning from the call to worship to the closing doxology. And if the Lord wills, this God-centered, Christ-centered worship will bring unbelieving visitors to salvation.
May your whole life, not only on the Lord’s Days, give thanksgiving, praise and glory to God before the people of God and before the watching world.
Because as redeemed people, your doctrine, worship and life are holy—separate and distinct—from the unbelieving world.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” ⇧
- The word “visitation” is also derived from the word episkopos, which means “overseer” and sometimes translated as “bishop.” The office of overseer is identical with the office of elder, who is responsible for shepherding God’s flock. So the “day of visitation” might refer to the time that unbelievers are saved—they are “visited” by God.
Or it may refer to judgment day when believers who formerly were unbelievers will glorify God for their salvation. Luke uses the same word “visitation” to refer to the judgment of God against Israel in A.D. 70 when the Roman armies sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and killed tens of thousands of Jews: “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will… not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44). ⇧