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Delivered to do good works

A sermon on Lord's Day 32 / Galatians 5.13-26


by Tim Gallant

Q. 86. We have been delivered from our misery by God's grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?

A. 86. To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by His blood. But we do good because Christ by His Spirit is also renewing us to be like Himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all He has done for us, and so that He may be praised through us. And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.

Q. 87. Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways?

A. 87. By no means. Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God. (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 32)

Galatians 5:13-26 13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (NKJV)

Congregation of Jesus Christ,

Jesus Christ has borne the penalty, paid the price for our sins. That is the message of the gospel which we have heard again and again and looked at from a number of different angles, all through Lord's Days 5-31, the second major part of the Catechism. Salvation is free, there is nothing we did, or could do, or yet can do, to earn it. Where our debt was great and our sins abounded, precisely there, grace was much greater and abounded much more. Where slavery was great, we became free.

So this raises the question: what do we do with that freedom? If forgiveness of sins is freely given, if all has been paid for by Another, does this not mean that I therefore can live any way I please - for, after all, Christ's payment is worth more than all the sins in the whole world?

In Lord's Day 32, we confess otherwise. Free grace is not a license to sin; rather free grace delivers us unto good works. This evening, in connection with our consideration of Galatians 5.13-26, we will explore these good works a little bit. Let us notice the powerful basis for these good works; the compelling reasons for these good works; and the utter necessity of these good works.

1. One of the objections against any requirement for good works is that, after all, we were too weak to save ourselves by good works before, so how can they be required now? We put in our petition out of weakness: "I just can't do it." "I'm only human." "I'm not perfect - just forgiven." "I'm just a sinner, saved by grace."

To this the biblical reply is that free grace delivers us unto good works, and there is indeed in our lives a powerful basis for these good works. As we confess here, "we do good because Christ by His Spirit is also renewing us to be like Himself." While we are not perfect, and while our works certainly are not able to earn us eternal life, the fact remains that something has indeed happened to us, something powerful, something that moves us from the sphere of sin and death into the sphere of life and righteousness.

We have seen this in our reading this evening. Notice again verses 22-25:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This discussion is framed by the Holy Spirit, and it centers upon the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is more than the place where Jesus paid for your sins. It is that, indeed. But it is more than that. The cross is the place where the old world, and your old life with it, was put to death. The evil things that characterized you outside of Christ have been nailed to the cross with Jesus. You are baptized into Christ, united to Him in His death, as Paul says in Romans 6.

And that means that just as the Father vindicated Him by raising Him up from death through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too it is with you. You too have been raised up to new life in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit. His very name tells you that good works are part of the picture when He is in your life. The Holy Spirit. In Scripture, Spirit is a term of power. When we say "Holy Spirit," we are to think of a Person who is the power of holiness.

And that is why Paul says what he does here. In verse 25, he writes, "If we live in the Spirit - if this powerful Holy Spirit is the new realm in which we live in Christ - if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." If our lives are lives of power, then, let's live that way. Let's quit making excuses about our weaknesses.

You say, "But pastor, I don't feel very powerful. I do feel weak."

But who said this had anything to do with how you feel? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13, "when I am weak, then am I strong." Why? Because the surpassing power does not come from himself. The surpassing power is not generated by your feelings. The surpassing power is appropriated by faith.

That's why the passage that sounds very much like Galatians 5.25 - "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" - goes like this: "for we walk by faith, not by sight." Not by feeling either. By faith. Feelings are nice, feelings are wonderful, and it is a blessing to have the sensation of God's power in your life. But if you depend on that, you are going to be in big trouble. Walking in the Spirit means walking by faith.

And that is what Paul is talking about in verses 22-23 here, when he describes the fruit of the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of power, the power of holiness, that is bound to have an effect. The Spirit bears fruit. If you are walking in the Spirit, if you are walking by faith, you cannot help but bear fruit, because that's just what faith does, that's just what the Spirit does.

"We do good because Christ by His Spirit is renewing us to be like Himself." Deliverance from our misery doesn't just mean we are forgiven! The misery of sin isn't just about the misery of guilt. Sin itself is a misery. God doesn't deliver us from guilt, only in order to leave us in the misery of the sin itself. He delivers us from the domain, the dominion, the lordship of that sin which held us in chains.

No, we will not be perfect in this life. On our deathbeds, we will know that our lives fell far short. But we are not the people we once were either. We are not in Adam anymore. We are not in the realm of the old age of flesh anymore. We have been brought into the life of the Spirit. We have been made into good trees, and good trees bear good fruit - the fruit of the Spirit.

2. Free grace delivers us unto good works. Let's consider the compelling reasons for these good works. The Catechism lists three here:

First: "So that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all He has done for us, and so that He may be praised through us." Thanks and praise. I will group that together as one reason. I will call it the Godward reason. It is glorifying to God that we live lives of good works.

Peter says, "you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2.9). This is why you have been chosen, this is why you have been made priests, this is why you have been made a people to God: so that you will proclaim His praises. You are redeemed to worship. In your whole life.

And how can you worship in your whole life? Paul tells us in Romans 12.1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship." Free grace delivers us for worship. Free grace delivers us unto good works.

To offer God praise. That's the first compelling reason for these good works.

Second: "So that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits." This is a personal reason. It provides benefit to us. When we don't have fruit in our lives, we're not going to have assurance. I'll put it stronger - if we don't have fruit in our lives, we shouldn't have assurance. We'll see why that is in a few minutes.

Jesus said in Matthew 7.16-17, "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit."

Now you must not sit and gaze at your belly button. And you must not self-righteously compare yourself with others. But you ought to be able to look at your life honestly, and recognize that God is doing something there, He is conforming you to the image of His Son. You're not where you want to be, you're imperfect and weak and all that, but you can see the fruit of the Spirit's work in your life. And if you really can't see that, there is only one thing to say.

You are not a good tree, and you need to repent.

So we do good works in order to thank and praise God, and so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits. Those are the first two compelling reasons to do good works.

And third: "So that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ." That is the testimonial reason. It is directed outward to others. Jesus said in Matthew 5.16, "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Not so that they will praise you, for how good you are. But once again, everything comes back around this circle, and settles itself upon the praise of God, the glory of God. You are called upon to be an instrument whereby other human beings praise God.

You know, we all have this tendency to want to say, "No, don't look at me. Look at Jesus." And Jesus is saying, "No, I want them to look at you. That's how I want them to see Me."

You are the personal representative of Jesus Christ. I'd say that's a pretty compelling reason to do good works. That's a pretty compelling reason to walk in the Spirit.

3. Free grace delivers us unto good works. We must speak finally of the utter necessity of these good works. Yes, "free grace" - and "utter necessity of good works." These two are not opposed. They belong together. There is no stronger message in Scripture concerning free grace than this letter of Paul to the Galatians. And what does he say? Look again at verses 19-21 here:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

That's a strong statement. "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Is your life characterized by hatred? uncontrolled anger? lewdness? envy? drunkenness? You will not inherit the kingdom of God.

"Ah," you say, "but I am justified by faith." True indeed that justification is by faith. That is the sure testimony of Scripture. But if you practice these things, the sure testimony of your life is that you are not justified by faith, because by living this way, you show that you are not living out of faith at all. You cannot be justified by a faith that is absent. And a faith that is present, a faith that is real, a faith that justifies, is a faith that works.

That is why Paul says earlier in this chapter, in verse 6, "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love."

Notice what he says. He doesn't say that love justifies. Faith justifies. But faith also works through love. If your faith never does any work, if you just say "I believe, I believe, I believe," well, you can say it until you are blue in the face, but that isn't saving faith. James 2.19-20 says,

You believe there is one God? You do well - the demons also believe, and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that 'faith' without works is dead?

You see, saving faith isn't just some intellectual exercise. "Yes, I believe that proposition." "I agree that statement is a true statement." That's not saving faith.

Saving faith is turning to God. Notice what Paul says is the message that he preached in Ephesus, in Acts 20.21. He says that he testified "to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."

Repentance and faith are not in competition. Rather, they describe the one turning movement, the turning away from the world, the flesh and the devil, and the turning to God in Christ. That is faith. That is repentance.

And that is why Q/A 87 is formulated the way it is:

Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways?

By no means. Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God.

"Can those be saved who do not turn to God?" When we put it that way, it's pretty clear. But you see, that's just the point. Someone who clings to his sins is not turning to God. For God's promise is deliverance from sin, not just deliverance from guilt.

Recall the deliverance from Egypt. God came and delivered His people freely. They didn't earn it. They didn't deserve it. He just delivered them, out of free grace.

Okay, the grace is free, but what if someone had said: "I believe you, God. Thank you, that's great. I believe. Salvation by faith alone" - and then refused to leave his house in Egypt? Would the fact that he got left in Egypt to serve the Egyptians be a denial of free grace? Of course not! But... but he said he believed! Ah, yes, but faith isn't just an operation in the cranium. The ones who truly believed God packed up their families, got out of their houses, and followed Moses.

Faith works. You cannot "believe God" without leaving Egypt; you cannot "believe God" without forsaking your sins. God is not in the same direction your sins are, He's in the other direction. If you turn to Him, you necessarily are turning away from your sins. If you think you are turning to God without turning away from your sins, the 'god' you are adopting is not the true and living God, but an idol you are manufacturing in your head.

Congregation, God has granted us His Word of promise. It is a powerful Word, mighty to save. It is a Word that carries with it the power of the Spirit of holiness. It is a Word that promises us the free forgiveness of our sins. And it is a Word that promises us freedom from the dominion of Sin.

We don't have to earn anything for this promise to take effect. All we have to do is turn to God. That is faith. We turn to Him, and take Him at His Word. We don't focus upon how weak we are. We don't place our faith in our own weakness. We place our faith in His strength. And we discover, to our surprise, that Egypt lies behind us.

Free grace delivers us unto good works. These works are a necessity. We have compelling reasons to perform them. And yes, we have the power to perform them, as well. Not a power native to us, not a power we can see, not a power we can even understand - but we walk by faith, and not by sight; we walk by the Spirit, and we find that we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

Amen.

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