Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Scripture readings: Ephesians 1:1-14, Ephesians 2:1-10
Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 32
Beloved congregation of Christ,
When it comes to good works, you can sometimes encounter two extremes. Imagine two people who call themselves Christians. We’ll call them Al and Lucy.
Al is a man who really treasures what the Bible says about us being saved by grace. He says that since we’re saved by grace, we should never talk about good works. Since we’re in God’s family through God’s mercy in Christ alone, we should never even think about good works, let alone pursue them. And you don’t have to. So, Al just lives his life and he doesn’t even think about obeying God. He knows he’s been saved by grace and that’s all that matters. He can live however he wants.
Then there’s that other Christian, Lucy. She gets so frustrated when she sees people who call themselves Christians but live careless and unholy lives. Lucy says that good works are at the heart of the Christian faith. In addition to faith, you need good works to be saved. Lucy believes that our good works are part of the basis for our salvation. Therefore, she lives her life with a checklist in mind, making sure that every day she is following all of God’s commandments. After all, her salvation depends on her obedience.
Lucy’s extreme is known as legalism. You could call her Legalist Lucy. The other extreme where we put good works out of the Christian picture altogether, that extreme is known as antinomianism. That’s Al’s position. You could call him Antinomian Al. Legalist Lucy and Antinomian Al – these are the two extremes.
These extremes have plagued the Christian faith for centuries. The early church father Tertullian encountered them in his day – we’re talking about the early 200s after Christ. Tertullian once wrote about these extremes of legalism and antinomianism, “Just as Jesus was crucified between two thieves, so the gospel is ever crucified between these two errors.” What both Antinomian Al and Legalist Lucy are doing is crucifying the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. One is denying the gospel’s power to transform lives, the other is denying the gospel message that salvation is by grace alone.
Obviously we don’t want to go to these extremes. Instead, we want to follow what the Bible says and hold everything together in the right perspective. To do that, we could ask the Bible a simple question: why do good works?
When we ask Scripture that question, we actually get a variety of answers. We often think that the Heidelberg Catechism focusses on one of those answers. After all, look at the heading over this Lord’s Day. We’re accustomed to focusing on that one answer too. Why do good works? Out of thankfulness to God for the salvation we have in Christ. That’s a good answer – it’s a biblical answer. But as we’re going to learn this afternoon, it’s not the only answer. It’s not the only answer in the Catechism, but also not the only answer in the Scriptures. The Bible gives all kinds of reasons to motivate us to good works. This afternoon, we’re going to specifically look at some of the reasons connected to each of the persons of the Trinity. So, our question is: Why do good works? It’s because:
- The Father chose us for this
- The Son redeemed us for this
- The Spirit renews us for this
We begin with the Father, the first person of the Trinity. Specifically, we want to focus on what he does in choosing us to salvation. In other words, we’re talking about the doctrine of election. This is a precious gospel teaching which gives believers heaps of comfort. Election isn’t some abstract theological idea merely meant to inform your mind, but a gospel teaching meant to touch your heart and change your life.
Let me sketch it out for you. One of the key Bible passages on election is what we read from Ephesians 1. There the Holy Spirit tells us that God chose Christians “before the foundation of the world.” Look, before Genesis 1:1, God knew your name. Before there was ever a star in the sky, before there was ever a sky, God knew you, and he chose you to be his. He didn’t do it because of anything in you or anything you would do, but just because it pleased him to do it. The doctrine of election reminds us that God is sovereign in our salvation. He’s behind it from the beginning and therefore he gets all the glory. We don’t praise ourselves for belonging to him. Instead, because he chose us, we lift him up and we exalt his Name.
Now when it comes to election, Scripture teaches us that this is primarily the work of God the Father. It was the first person of the Trinity who chose us before creation. You can see that in Ephesians 1:3-4 when it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…even as he chose us in him…” God the Father was the specific person of the Trinity responsible for our election. The same thing is taught in 1 Peter 1:2. Believers are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” And Romans 8:29 ties that foreknowledge of God to election. It’s God the Father who has chosen us.
Good works do factor into this doctrine. However, they don’t factor into the basis of our election. God the Father did not choose us because he saw how many good works we would do. Instead, good works are meant to be the outcome of this teaching. Our good works are to be the fruit of this doctrine of God’s sovereign grace in election. That’s clear in Ephesians 1 as well. Look at verse 4. It speaks of God choosing us before the foundation of the world, not because we were holy and blameless before him. Rather it says that it was “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Notice how one little one word there makes all the difference. It’s not “because,” but “that.” That tells us that this is the purpose for which God the Father chose us. He chose us so that we would be born in time, in time hear the gospel and through the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus Christ. He chose us so that the Holy Spirit would live in us and unite us to Christ. He chose us so that we would go and do good works which reflect our Saviour Jesus. You see, good works are the outcome or result of election by God the Father.
So let’s go back to Antinomian Al for a moment. He thinks that he’s a Christian saved by grace and therefore he can live however he wants. If I could, I would sit down with Al and say this: “Al, you say you believe in Jesus Christ. You say that you trust this Saviour as your own. If you really do that, that’s because the Holy Spirit has regenerated you and worked faith in your heart. But God has been busy with you long before that. If you’re really a Christian, God the Father chose you before the world began. He knew you, Al, and said that you were his. You didn’t deserve it. God the Father has lavished his grace on you, brother. Look at Ephesians 1:4. Why did he do it? He did it so that you would walk in holiness. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? Al, how can you say that you can just live life your own way? If you’re really a Christian, you look at what the Father has done, and you’re like a child who’s received the most amazing gift. Your heart is touched. You want to say, ‘Thank you. Thank you, Father.’ You say that not only with your words, but with your life. You want to obey your Father, not to earn your place with him – that’s already a gift to you. But you want to thank him. Al, if thanking him with a holy and blameless life doesn’t matter to you, I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think you’re a Christian.” That’s what I would say to someone like Al.
Listen brothers and sisters, God the Father chose us not because of our holiness (we have none in ourselves), but for holiness. When you deny that, you deny his purposes, you rebel against him, you slap him in the face. Slapping God the Father in the face is never a good idea. It’s far better to gladly and joyfully, thankfully, embrace his purpose for our lives. His purpose for chosen Christians is good works.
Next we want to focus on the work of God the Son. What has Jesus Christ done? QA 86 of the Catechism tells us what the Bible teaches. Christ has redeemed believers by his blood. He went to the cross in our place. On the cross, he suffered the hell that we deserve. He took the infinite wrath and we received the mind-blowing mercy. We have been purchased by Jesus Christ, bought to be his. That’s what it means to be redeemed by his blood.
Being redeemed by his blood has several outcomes. The one we most often think about is the fact that we’re destined for eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. Because we’re redeemed by Christ’s blood, when we die we immediately go to be with the Lord. Because we’re redeemed by Christ’s blood, some day our bodies will be raised and our souls and bodies will be reunited and we’ll live forever in the new creation. But Christ’s redemption has an impact on our lives here and now too. His purpose in redeeming us is not only for the future, but for right now. In the new creation, we will be perfect, sinless, entirely holy. But he’s also redeemed us so that we would start living like that right now already.
You could think of what we read from Ephesians 2. I’m thinking especially of verse 10. There we read that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Through Christ’s redemption, we are a new creation. The purpose of that new creation in Christ is good works. Again, it’s not the foundation, but the direction in which we’re pointed. When we’re saved by Christ, it’s not so that we’re free to live for ourselves. According to earlier in Ephesians 2, that’s what you do before regeneration and salvation. Before becoming a Christian, you live for yourself and your selfish desires. But after becoming a Christian, you realize that you have been saved to live for someone else. By grace, you’ve been saved to live for Christ, to reflect him, to walk in his ways.
Redemption is therefore meant to change our lives. When a person truly believes in Jesus Christ this is what happens. John Newton was the author of the hymn Amazing Grace. Newton wasn’t a life-long Christian. In fact, for the first part of his adult life he had been a slave trader. God started to work in his life at about the age of 23 and eventually he became a Christian. Later in his life, John Newton put it well when he wrote, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” Christ’s redemption is meant to make us different to what we used to be. The Son has redeemed us for good works.
Christians are in a relationship with the One who has redeemed us. The Scriptures portray our relationship to Jesus in several ways. Let’s just stay in the book of Ephesians. Later in the book, in chapter 5, Paul says that the relationship between a husband and wife is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. The relationship between Christ and us is like a husband with his beloved wife. Jesus is the husband who loved his wife so much that he sacrificed himself to save her. Christians are that wife. We have been so deeply loved by this Saviour, bought with his own blood. Do you see that? Does that impress you? I know I wish my heart could be more gripped and impressed with that than it is. But even if you just get that a little bit, if you just understand a little of the great love that your Saviour has shown, that’s going to have an effect.
See him with the Jewish religious leaders. They’re slapping and punching your innocent Jesus. See him with the Roman soldiers who are mocking him, spitting on him, pulling out his beard, and then scourging him. Why did he take it? He was the Son of God, he could have put an end to it right then and there. He could have called down fire from heaven to consume them all in an instant. He created that ball of fire in the sky we call the sun, he could have done anything he wanted to them. He could have called a solar flare to instantly fry them all. But instead he took it. He took their abuse. Why? Because he loved you. See your Jesus going to the cross. See him laying naked on the ground being nailed to the wood through his wrists and legs. See that cross being raised up and dropped in the ground. Your Saviour is hanging there in the blazing sun. Why? Because he loved you. And now you can’t see him. Why not? Because it’s dark for three hours. What’s happening to him in the dark is so horrible you can’t even imagine it. He’s going through hell. He’s taking your hell. He is bearing God’s fiery wrath against your sins. He is doing it with your name on his heart. The Father has given the Son all the names of the elect and he bears them on his heart while he’s on the cross. Do you understand that? Jesus loved you on the cross. He suffered not for a nameless mass of people, but for you personally. He could have come down from that cross like the Jews said he should. But he didn’t. He stayed there. Why? Out of love. He loved his bride. He loved you to death. Brother, sister, stand in awe a moment of this love.
What bride would there be who would see her husband do this, go to this length to save her, what bride would just stand back and be indifferent? What wife would say, “Huh. That don’t impress me much.” If he is really your Saviour, how could you say that? Wouldn’t you rather say, “I love my Saviour Jesus. How I love him! A lifetime of living for him will never be enough to show the love that I feel.” The gospel is meant to bring us to this place where we’re so filled with love for Christ that we just want to serve him with our whole life. Loved ones, we have been redeemed for this.
So what would I say to Legalist Lucy who thinks that she’s going to heaven partly because of Jesus and partly because of her good works? I would say this, “Lucy, look at Jesus. Fix your eyes on him. Do you see what he suffered at the cross and before? He suffered hell. He took all the punishment you deserve for your sins. You can’t add to what he’s done with your good works. Either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or we have to find in him everything we need for our salvation. Stop trusting in your good works. The truth is that you don’t have any good works that can contribute to your salvation. Scripture says that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Don’t think less of Jesus, sister. Realize that he did it all for you. He has to be your only trust, and if he isn’t, you’re actually not going to heaven. And once you see the great love that Christ has shown and the great mercy of the cross, then you’ll want to obey him for the right reasons – you’ll want to obey him because you love him, not because you’re thinking that you’re going to earn your way to heaven.” That’s what I’d tell Lucy and anyone thinking along those lines. We’re redeemed only through the Saviour. If you undermine that in the least, you jeopardize your salvation. He is the only way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him.
There’s one more person of the Trinity we need to speak about. He is often forgotten. But that should not be. The Holy Spirit should not be neglected. He also has an essential role in our lives as Christians. If we ever ignore the Holy Spirit, that can’t be blamed on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Catechism mentions the Spirit numerous times, including in Lord’s Day 32. Here we confess from the Scriptures that the Spirit renews us to be Christ’s image. Let me unpack that for you.
According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit is responsible for several things. He is involved with creation and the ongoing maintenance of creation – he is the Lord and Giver of life, as the Nicene Creed puts it. He has inspired the Scriptures. He has also done other things. But some of his most well-known work is what he does in the hearts of human beings. The Holy Spirit is responsible for regeneration. He is the master cardiologist. He takes a cold, dead heart of stone and he miraculously turns it into a living heart of flesh. That’s the miracle of regeneration – it’s described by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3. Regeneration results in true faith in Jesus Christ. But that’s just the beginning. The Spirit doesn’t leave that heart of flesh. He dwells there. He lives in the Christian and he begins renewing and renovating that life. This is his work of sanctification. The Holy Spirit starts this work of renewal, and he does it with the purpose of seeing us do good works. His work of renewal is meant to lead us to godliness and obedience to God’s Word.
There’s sometimes misunderstanding here. This is true: we don’t cooperate with God the Father in our election. We’re to respond to it, but we didn’t work together with him to make it happen. Similarly, we don’t cooperate with God the Son in our redemption. Again, we’re to respond to what he did with faith, but we weren’t there helping him along at the cross. We don't cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our regeneration. But when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing renewal or sanctification, we can and we are expected to cooperate. This is why Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” We live by the Spirit – he’s regenerated us and given us life – that was his sovereign work. But now, we keep in step with the Spirit in the ongoing process of sanctification. The Catechism reflects this cooperation too. It begins with Christ and his Spirit in QA 86. But then we also come into the picture, “so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us.” Notice that we’re doing something here. We do nothing in election, we do nothing in redemption, but we do something in sanctification. We work with the Holy Spirit to do good works.
Loved ones, we should want to do that. He’s renewed and renewing us for that. We should want to please the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Scripture says in Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Paul is saying that if you have the Holy Spirit, if you’re a Christian, then don’t make him sad by living a careless and wicked life. Instead, seek to please the Holy Spirit with good works. Make the Holy Spirit rejoice over you! With him rejoicing in you, you’ll also be rejoicing and walking in peace with God.
The Antinomian doesn’t care whether the Holy Spirit rejoices or not. If the Holy Spirit grieves because there’s walking in unrepentant sin, Antinomian Al says, “Doesn’t bother me.” But a true Christian will say, “I don’t want to grieve the Spirit. He has given me life. I love him and I want him to rejoice as he dwells with me. He rejoices when I follow God’s will, therefore with his help I’m going to make God’s will my aim.”
The Legalist thinks she earns the presence of the Holy Spirit with her law-keeping. If she doesn’t rigorously obey, then Legalist Lucy thinks she could lose the Holy Spirit and her salvation. But a true Christian will say, “The Spirit didn’t come to me because I was holy. He came to me, a sinner, to regenerate me and he gave me faith. Now because of him I look to Jesus Christ alone as my salvation. I am safe and secure in Christ – he never lets go of his own. His Spirit will stay with me. As a result, I want to please the Spirit. I’ll gladly work with him to grow in following God’s will.”
We began with that quote from Tertullian about the gospel being so often crucified between these two errors of legalism and antinomianism. Some centuries later, Martin Luther put it differently. He said it’s like a drunk man trying to ride a horse. He gets up on the horse and then falls off to the one side. He gets back up on the horse and then falls off to the other side. What good Christian teaching does is sober us up so we can stay on the horse. God wants us to do good works. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt that Scripture teaches all sorts of motivations for good works. There’s also no doubt that earning your salvation in any way is left out of what Scripture teaches. So, loved ones, never neglect good works, but also don’t see them as your ticket to heaven. Stay sober. AMEN.
Our Triune God in heaven,
We offer you worship and praise for your work of grace in our lives. Father, we praise you for electing us before creation. You chose us for your own good pleasure and we’re humbled and thankful. Please teach us to be more thankful to you with our lives. You elected us for good works, and we want to do them. Please give help from your hand. O Son, our Lord Jesus, we praise you for redeeming us with your blood. You loved us so deeply at the cross. Saviour, we worship you for your self-sacrificial love. You loved us like no husband has ever loved his wife. Help us to love you back. Please make our love for you stronger. Just like your love was demonstrated in action, we pray that you would help us so that our love for you is also seen in how we live. Holy Spirit, we praise you for your work of renewal. You’ve regenerated our hearts. You’ve given us spiritual life. Please help us to keep in step with you. Please help us to please you and never to grieve you. We love your nearness and presence in our hearts, and we pray that this would always be a treasure to us, a treasure that bears abundant fruit in Christian obedience.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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