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Summary: Just as entering the life of redemption requires the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, so continuing in the life of redemption requires his activity within us.

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First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

February 22, 2012

LAW OR GOSPEL?

Isaac Butterworth

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (NIV)

1 ‘Be careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you….

16 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I’m all thumbs when it comes to band-aids. I know you’re not supposed to touch the pad, the part that compresses the wound. If you do, then you contaminate it, and you run the risk of infection. And, of course, you don’t want to do that. So, every time I use a band-aid, it’s something of a challenge – a little one, I’ll admit, but a challenge all the same.

Actually, I’m able to get the bandage out of the package okay, but then, when I am pulling away the little strips over the sticky part, I get it stuck on the wrong place. My fingers are so clumsy that I wind up having to grasp the only part that’s not sticky – the gauze patch – in order to regain control of the process. And, of course, then I’ve done it. I’ve soiled the part that supposed to be sterile!

The Bible says that you and I are spiritually contaminated. To use the apostle Paul’s words, I am ‘sold as a slave to sin’ (Rom. 7:14). I am ‘a prisoner…of sin at work within my members’ (Rom. 7:23). Psalm 5:9 says that my ‘heart is filled with destruction,’ and even Jesus tells us that ‘out of the heart come evil thoughts’ and that ‘these are what make a man “unclean”’ (Matt. 15:19, 20). Our Reformed forebears called this condition ‘total depravity.’ John Calvin wrote in his Institutes, ‘Our nature is not only destitute of all good, but it is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive’ (Vol. I, Bk. II, 1, 8). In our natural state, we are non posse non peccare, not able not to sin. In other words, we are contaminated.

The gospel message, of course, is that God moved toward us in mercy. Otherwise, we would have remained in this terrible state of corruption. So, what God did was: he chose us for redemption and sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to secure it for us. He accepted Jesus’ death as full payment for our sins and, by his Holy Spirit, joined us to Christ so that Christ’s righteousness, which is perfect and in no way defiled, covers our unrighteousness. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ That is the gospel. That is God’s grand rescue project, set in motion from before the creation of the world for our benefit and his glory. By this means, we are saved from sin’s penalty, and we are grateful, aren’t we? But sin still seems to have some degree of power over us.

Take this portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we have read tonight. Jesus is making the assumption that we are people who do a number of very good things, but, to use his words, we have to ‘be careful’ how we do them – or their goodness will be compromised, just like the gauze patch of a band-aid is contaminated when it comes in contact with an object that is not sterile.

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