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Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.

Introduction

    1. In LD1 the Catechism had us confess that the first thing we must know for our comfort is how great our sins and miseries are.

      1. Accordingly, LD2 starts by exploring more in detail in what our misery consists.

        1. The world is in terrible disorder and despite men’s efforts to create paradise on earth the world is still full of misery: wars, diseases, death and crime are evident as often as we open the newspaper.

        2. But that is not our misery. Those things are only symptoms of the real misery.

      2. The cause of all misery in this world is sin, and our misery too is our sin.

        1. Notice, first of all the tense here (LD1). The Catechism does not have us confess how great our sins and miseries were, but how great they are.

        2. The child of God, yes, even the believer who enjoys the comfort of LD1, still has a serious struggle with sin and misery.

        3. This is also the confession of the Apostle. Notice how often he uses the present tense throughout Romans 7. “O wretched man that I am” (not “that I was!”).

    2. But, at this point the Catechism asks an important question. You confess that you are miserable but how do you know this? “Whence knowest thou thy misery?” And the answer comes back immediately, “Out of the Law of God.”

      1. Notice that the Catechism does not here introduce the Law as the Ten Commandments and then list the commandments individually, as it does in LD 34 when it expounds the third section of thankfulness.

        1. Instead, the Catechism sets forth the summary of the Law as Christ taught it.

        2. Christ’s summary makes very clear that the Law of God is not a mere outward moral code but is spiritual (Rom. 7:14), something which we must obey out of heartfelt love for the Lawgiver Himself.

      2. The Law like a bright searchlight examines our hearts, probing deep into us and reveals to us how rotten we are to the core of our being.

        1. Only the Law reveals to us what God’s standard is and shows us that we do not in any way measure up to that standard.

        2. It is only in this way that we know that we are sinners in our very nature, and that knowledge of our misery drives us to Christ, the only one able to deliver us.

 

THE LAW: THE REVEALER OF OUR SIN AND MISERY” 

I. The Law As The Only Norm

II. The Law’s Perfect Demand

III. The Law’s Judgment of Us

 

  1. The Law As The Only Norm

    1. A “norm” is a standard against which something is measured to determine whether it conforms to that which is normal or acceptable.

      1. God Himself is the standard of all perfection and only those things which conform to His standard are pleasing to Him.

        1. God reveals this norm or standard to His creatures in His Law.

          1. The Law is not an arbitrary list of rules but the revelation of the perfect character of God Himself.

          2. Just as you can determine something about the character of a government, a king, a president or a prime minister by the laws which they pass, so you can understand a great deal about God by His Law.

          3. While men make wicked laws God commands only what is good and forbids evil; and God alone determines for Himself what is good and what is evil.

        2. This Law of God is the only standard for all human behavior.

          1. It does not matter how sincere a person is, or how nice he may be. If he does not measure up to this standard he is condemned.

          2. The standard is not what the majority of people in a society deem to be appropriate or acceptable or what gives the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of people.

          3. Nor are there different standards for different people at different times. God never changes His perfect Law but makes the same demands of all people at all times.

      2. In the passage from Romans which we read together the Apostle exalts the Law of God as the standard for all human behavior.

        1. First, Paul insists that the Law is holy, just and good (7:12).

          1. The Law and each individual commandment is holy, that is, it is an expression of devotion to God as the absolute and only good, and anything which deviates from the Law in the slightest degree is impure, filthy and vile.

          2. The Law and each individual commandment is just, that is, it is straight, upright, level or even, and anything which deviates from the Law in the slightest degree is crooked, bent, twisted and perverse.

          3. The Law and each individual commandment is good, that is, it is excellent, honorable and admirable, and anything which deviates from the Law in the slightest degree is wicked, evil and depraved.

        2. Second, Paul insists that the Law is spiritual (7:14).

          1. This means that the Law does not simply rule over outward behavior so that as long as I do not bow down to idols I have avoided idolatry and as long as I do not shoot my neighbor dead I have kept the Sixth Commandment.

          2. As a Pharisee Paul mistakenly believed that outward formal obedience to the Commandments was enough and until he understood the spiritual nature of the Law as demanding obedience from the heart he did not know his sin.

          3. It is striking that it was particularly the Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet”) that revealed this to Paul the Pharisee because that commandment more than any other obviously searches the motives of the heart (7:7).

    2. The Catechism would have us stand before this standard and in light of that Law examine and measure ourselves but how reluctant we are to do that!

      1. Our natural inclination is to look for another test, one which will cause us to look good so that we can congratulate ourselves and flatter ourselves.

        1. The most common test which we like to apply as we flee from the searching light of God’s Law is to compare ourselves with others.

          1. It is very easy for us to look at the world and reason thus: “Well, I am not perfect but I am a whole lot better than the murderers of this world, or even than my neighbor who mows his lawn on Sundays.”

          2. It is also easy to look around at the members of the church and say to ourselves, “You know, I really am not that bad. It could be worse. My marriage is better than hers, my children are better behaved than his, or I participate in more church activities than he does.”

          3. But God does not grade on a curve. If we have not measured up to the Law of God we are condemned as sinners before Him.

        2. Another subterfuge of our sinful hearts is to imagine that God is pleased with partial obedience or with our best efforts.

          1. In our sinful hearts we imagine that it would be unreasonable for God to demand more than we are able to do and that God should lower His standards to accommodate our weakness.

          2. But God does not look on sinners who transgress His commandments as an indulgent uncle and say, “O, poor sinner! You cannot keep my Law perfectly? That’s fine. Just do your best and I’ll accept whatever you can do.”

          3. Rather, God thunders from heaven, “My law stands. I will not accept any excuses. Keep my Law! Love me! Love your neighbor! Do it or you die!”

      2. But this test from which we naturally flee is for our good.

        1. Only by submitting to this test will the true nature of our misery be exposed.

          1. Imagine a man who feels ill, tired, lethargic and has pain all over his body, but no doctor can explain to him why he feels that way.

          2. But then the man hears of a test, a diagnostic procedure guaranteed to discover the root of his problem. As painful as that procedure is, it is better for him to submit to it than die without the correct diagnosis.

          3. The Law of God reveals to us the nature of our miserable condition. Only when we understand that can we appreciate the deliverance and show appropriate gratitude for the salvation which God has wrought for us.

        2. He who will not take this test seriously is a fool living in denial, rebelling against God’s righteous standard and deceiving himself.

          1. One who does not take the Law seriously will deceive himself concerning his true condition before God, the Holy One of Heaven.

          2. Such a person is as foolish as the man who would say to his doctor who has just diagnosed gangrene of the foot and urged immediate amputation of the infected foot, “I prefer the diagnosis of Athlete’s Foot, so treat me with antifungal cream and let’s have no more talk of amputation.” Such a man will die notwithstanding his preferred diagnosis.

          3. But one who knows, understands and believes the diagnosis of God’s Law will confess that he is a sinner, a lawbreaker, a criminal in the sight of God.

  2. The Law’s Perfect Demand

    1. The Catechism summarizes the demand of the Law in one word, “LOVE.”

      1. This goes much further than outward conformity to the rules and regulations of a moral code but is a demand for devotion to the Lawgiver Himself.

        1. No human lawgiver demands such perfection from his subjects.

          1. A man might stop at stop signs, obey speed limits and avoid driving while intoxicated but hate the police who enforce such laws.

          2. A man might never be in trouble with the federal authorities and faithfully pay his taxes and yet despise the government, and all the politicians.

          3. None of that matters to an earthly government: they do not care whether you love them from the heart. Just pay your taxes and obey the rules!

        2. But God is the only Lawgiver who may and does demand that we love Him.

          1. If an earthly leader demanded of his subjects that they love him and obey him out of heartfelt love we would call that the height of egomania; we would say that such a man is delirious with the delusions of grandeur.

          2. But God is the one, only, true, eternally blessed God and therefore it is fitting, indeed the only appropriate response to Him, that we have ardent affection for Him, that we delight in Him as the only and highest Good and that we seek after Him to please Him in all things.

          3. For God to demand anything less of any of His creatures would be unbecoming of God and a denial of who God is.

        3. In addition the Law demands that we love our neighbor out of heartfelt love for God Himself.

          1. Our neighbor is our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings, our fellow church member and anyone who crosses our pathway in life: God calls us to love them with a self-sacrificial love which puts their welfare before our own.

          2. Husbands and wives, parents and children, members of the church: do you love your neighbors in this way or do you trample over the needs of your neighbors so that you can fulfill your own desires?

          3. And remember that this love for the neighbor must be for God’s sake: our love for him must be strictly subservient to our love for God. Indeed, one who does not love God cannot love his neighbor in any sense.

      2. Not only does the Law of God demand heartfelt obedience motivated by the love of God, but it demands perfect love of God: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all …” (Q&A 4).

        1. We must love God with all our heart and soul so that all our affections are directed toward God alone and we find all our delight and pleasure in Him alone.

        2. We must love God with all our mind and strength so that all our thoughts about Him are only good, all our words concerning Him are worthy of Him and all our energy is spent joyfully in His service.

        3. And we must do this every moment of every day, so that our only desire is to please Him and our greatest dread is to displease Him in the slightest degree.

    2. It should be obvious that not one of us is able to satisfy the inflexible, spiritual demands of such a perfect Law.

      1. And yet, the churches of our day are filled with people who vainly hope that God will accept them based on good works which they think they have performed.

        1. Such is the basic error of Roman Catholicism, all teaching concerning human merit and all systems of religion which make salvation depend on the sinner.

        2. Multitudes believe that they are basically good people and that their good deeds will more than make up for any bad deeds they might have committed.

        3. God forbid that there should be anyone here this morning who believes that!

      2. But the Law teaches us that salvation is out of our reach and must drive us to despair at finding in ourselves any hope of salvation.

        1. If the Law simply demanded outward obedience we might dare to sit before the 10 Commandments and respond as the Rich Young Ruler of old, “All these have I observed from my youth.”

        2. If the Law simply demanded our best efforts, our sincere attempts to be as obedient as possible and God promised to overlook our faults, we could still cling to the hope that somehow our obedience might make the grade.

        3. But a Law which demands perfect, lifelong love for God, the Lawgiver, and perfect, selfless love for the neighbor? Who can fulfill that? And then to hear the awful curse of the Law, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10)! Who can stand it?

  3. The Law’s Judgment of Us

    1. But the Law has not finished with us. Its judgment is that we do not and we cannot love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, because we are natural God haters: “I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor” (Q&A 5).

      1. Our natural disposition and propensity as sinners, indeed our default setting as sinners is to hate, that is, to despise, detest, abhor, loathe, be hostile towards, stand in opposition to, and to be the enemy of God and our neighbor (repeat! )

        1. By nature as sinners we are ruled by hatred as a principle working in us.

          1. This means that, as sinners, we are not ruled by the principle of love.

          2. This means that, as sinners, we are not even ruled by indifference or some kind of neutrality towards God and our neighbor.

          3. We are ruled by, governed by, motivated by and actuated by hatred; this is the disposition of our sinful heart which underlies all our activity of thinking, willing, speaking and doing: HATRED!

        2. The Catechism speaks of proneness here, “I am prone by nature to hate …” but this is not a concession to the goodness of man’s nature which somehow weakens what has just been said.

          1. Some would like to explain that word “prone” this way: “I have a tendency to hate, but actually I do not hate.”

          2. But that is not what “prone” means: it describes the attitude and disposition of our sinful heart and that proneness actually produces in us hateful thoughts, words and deeds against God and our neighbor.

          3. And all of this hatred is stirred up when we come under the Law of God: The more the law forbids something the more we want to do it, and the more the law commands something the less we want to obey (Romans 7:8).

      2. The proof of this shocking diagnosis of our misery is Romans 8:7-8 where the Holy Spirit describes the sinner thus: “The carnal mind is enmity against God.”

        1. Enmity is an active hostility against God which manifests itself in a refusal to keep the commandments of God. Verse 7 declares, “For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

          1. Man’s carnal mind (the mind of our flesh) is in opposition to God and will not submit to God’s Law, not even for a moment.

          2. Instead the delight of the carnal mind (our carnal mind) is deliberate, willful disobedience to God’s Law out of an inveterate hatred for the Lawgiver.

        2. In addition, Scripture and the Catechism teach that we are by nature haters of our neighbor, a hatred which naturally flows out of our hatred of God.

          1. Titus 3:3 is very eloquent: “… hateful (or detestable) and hating one another.”

          2. There is in our nature not one drop of love for God and not one drop of the so-called “milk of human kindness.” We are by nature hateful, filled with hatred, malicious and spiteful. What an indictment!

    2. But how can the Catechism say of Christians, those who believe in and love Jesus Christ, that they are God-haters? The key to understanding this is that very important phrase in Q&A 5, “by nature.” “I am prone by nature to hate God …”

      1. Our nature is that which makes us what we are, that which is natural to us from the very beginning of our existence as fallen human beings.

        1. At this point the Catechism makes a very careful distinction between what we are by nature and what we are by grace.

          1. According to our fallen human nature we are totally depraved, delight in all wickedness and hate God and our neighbor.

          2. According to the new man, the new life of regeneration, the life of Christ and of the Spirit within us, we love God and we delight in His commandments.

          3. But that second aspect of the existence of the child of God is not on the foreground in LD2. It will be explained more fully later in LD 33.

        2. This is exactly the teaching of the Scriptures in Romans 7.

          1. Within every child of God, who genuinely loves God from the heart (7:22), works an active principle of hatred which Paul calls “evil” in 7:21, “sin” in 7:20 and “another law” in 7:23.

          2. This active principle dwells, works and wars within the child of God and causes him such misery that he cries out daily as Paul did in 7:24 (“O wretched man that I am …”).

          3. This principle, which Paul calls elsewhere “the old man” never mellows with age and never improves, but remains as depraved, as deceitful, as wicked and as hateful as he ever was, until finally we have freedom from him at death when we are glorified.

      2. But the Catechism here is not blame-shifting as if we can say, “We cannot be blamed for our sin, that’s just the old man in us.”

        1. The old man of sin is part of me. It is my old man of sin, my sinful nature, for which I am responsible before God.

        2. This is why the Catechism does not say, “my old nature is prone to hate,” but I am by nature prone to hate …”

        3. All the lusts of the flesh, all the God-hating thoughts, words and deeds which spew forth from my flesh are mine, and I am guilty before God for them!

      3. The implications of this truth are enormous for our day-to-day life.

        1. This truth explains our daily struggle with sin which leaves us well-nigh exhausted and thoroughly miserable.

          1. Why is it that we have to struggle to concentrate on God’s Word, to keep our mind from wandering in prayer and to pay attention in church or in catechism, yet we can sit transfixed before the TV or computer for hours?

          2. Why is it that we feel an almost irresistible attraction towards what we know is evil; and why is it so painful for us to deny ourselves sinful pleasures?

          3. We have within us a God-hating principle whose lusts demand satisfaction.

        2. Parents, this sinful nature is as strong in your children as it is in you. To know this about your children will give you a sober realism in rearing them.

          1. At baptism we confess that our children are conceived and born in sin and that they have inherited that sinful nature from us.

          2. We do not allow our children to run around unsupervised because we know that given the opportunity their sinful nature will come to the surface, so we curb their behavior by loving discipline.

        3. This sinful nature is strong in teenagers and young people as well, and it takes very little for them to be enticed to do evil.

          1. Young people! Inside you is a sinful principle which will draw you into sin if you do not fight against it. Therefore do not be foolish in the places you go, the people with whom you socialize, the sites you visit on-line and the programs you watch! Do not underestimate the power of your sinful nature.

          2. Our children may resent us for it but we need to check where they are, who their friends are, whom they are dating, what they are watching, what they are reading, whom they are calling and what they are doing on-line.

          3. Parents! Do not allow the love which you have for your children and teenagers to blind you to the fact that they have this sinful nature.

    3. We have heard the judgment of the Law. We are natural God-haters who do not and cannot keep God’s Law, but should that not lead us to despair?

      1. But, beloved, that is exactly the point. The Law was never meant to save us.

        1. The Law is like the Egyptian taskmaster of old who makes demands but gives no strength: Make bricks without straw, said the Egyptians! Do righteousness without strength, says the Law! (Rom. 8:3).

        2. God intended the Law to thunder from Mt. Sinai so that the people fled in terror to Moses, the Mediator; so the Law thunders against us, and we flee to Jesus Christ, the Mediator of whom Moses was a type.

        3. If that is your response to the Law of God, it has acted as a Schoolmaster to bring you to Christ.

      2. Remember, beloved, that the inflexible demands of the Law still stand, and they must be met, but only one man, Jesus Christ, the Righteous has been able to meet them.

        1. Jesus Christ came into the world to keep the Law of God; it was His delight, His meat and drink, to keep the Law out of perfect love for the Father in Heaven.

        2. That perfect obedience which Jesus accomplished was not for His own sake but for ours: He met the demand of perfect obedience, and that obedience is the righteousness which God imputes or reckons to us by faith in Him.

        3. In addition, Jesus met the demands of the Law for us by taking upon Himself the punishment which we as law-breakers deserve. Our sins are blotted out.

        4. Thus the knowledge of our misery drives us to the cross and there we are comforted. Amen!