Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog


You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.


And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 27 2020 04:36PM

If there’s something strange in the neighbourhood, who’re you going to call? I’d be hugely disappointed if you didn’t instantly respond with ‘Ghostbusters’! There was an absolute certainty in the film, that if there were paranormal goings on – spooks and spectres causing mayhem – then the ghostbusters wouldn’t be far behind to put things right again, to rescue the citizens of New York city from their distress. Advertisers too, would have us believe that we need saving. We have a couple of cute meerkats with suspicious Russian accents offering to save us from the tedium and toil of searching for insurance and we have the heroic Juan Sheet, with his kitchen roll – ‘wettable, wringable, strong-as-bull’ – rescuing our kitchen surfaces from spills and smudges. It’s true, we do need saving, but not from ghosts, insurance companies or kitchen mess; we need saving from something a lot more serious, indeed life threatening. We need saving from ourselves, our predisposition to go our own way, to disobey God, to be caught up in sin.

The articles of religion that we’ve explored together in previous weeks have dealt with our sinful state and God’s plan to rescue us through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. The article we’re considering today continues on that theme – and asserts that we can only be saved by the name of Jesus. Article 18 sets out Anglican belief of eternal salvation only by the name of Christ and states: ‘They also are to be held accursed that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out to us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.’ We’re going to begin by looking at what Scripture tells us about our salvation – for the foundation of our faith must be in what scripture tells us, not in the words of a 16th century bishop, however wise he may have been. We’re then going to explore the dilemma this article leaves us in, in light of our pluralist society, and how we might overcome that dilemma.

Our primary passage of scripture that helps us understand the method of our salvation is our reading from John’s gospel, in particular v6 of ch14, in which Jesus reveals the way to God and to heaven: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ This is a direct echo of God’s words to Isaiah in our Old Testament reading this morning – ch45: 5, when God says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.’ The Lord – the God of the Bible – is the one true God; all other Gods (called idols in the Bible) are not the true God. Jesus is God come to earth, so he can absolutely tell us the way to heaven. Take notice of the definite and singular nature of Jesus’ words: he is the way to God, not a way; he is the truth about God and from God, not a truth about God; and he is the life – the life of God and the giver of eternal life, not a nice way to live. But Jesus doesn’t stop with a positive affirmation of who he is, he goes on to qualify it: ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’. The only way for us to know God as our Father in heavenly life is through faith and knowledge of Jesus as God and Saviour, which John articulates towards the end of his gospel in ch20: 30-31 as he concludes his account of the signs of Jesus: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ Salvation only in the name of Jesus is one of the earliest teachings of the Christian church, as we can see if we turn to the book of Acts. As Article 18 tells us that ‘Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ whereby men must be saved’, so we see in Acts 4:12, as Peter preaches to Jewish leaders: ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ Here, Peter affirms that there is no other saviour except Jesus. Only Jesus saves because only Jesus died for our sins. When Peter says ‘no other name under heaven’, he means that it is God who appointed and named Jesus as the only one with the authority and power to save and rescue humanity. Lastly, note Peter’s words ‘by which we must be saved’. There is no human option here; we cannot choose to be saved in our own way, by our own version of religion or god. No, we must be saved through faith in Jesus.

Here lies our dilemma. We live in a pluralist society, where many religions exist alongside each other, where belief in no supreme being is as common as belief in one (or many). Many of us probably count people of other faiths or no faith among our friends, maybe as part of our families. Are these different beliefs different paths up the same mountain? Are they all different ways to God? Is spiritual truth plural and is it sincerity that matters? Is it not just offensive to say that there is only one way to God? For the sake of harmonious living in society, we focus on the things that faiths have in common, but when it comes to the saving truth, we must see the contradictions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam all believe that God is one but only Christians believe that God is one in Trinity. Other religions have other ideas about God – that God is many, that God is not a personal being, that God is merely a divine force. Article 18 states that it is not our professed belief, or our sect or religion that will save us. In fact, it goes further, stating that we are accursed if we believe such things. Religion can’t save us, nor can finding God in nature or the conscience of our hearts. Yes, God revealed himself to us in creation but people rejected this knowledge of him. Christians are in a position of privilege: we believe and trust in the saving power of Jesus. With that privilege, comes great responsibility. We cannot stand idly by while there are others who do not share our faith – we are called to share the good news of Jesus, as it was once shared with us.

But how do we reconcile our responsibility to share our faith with the pluralist nature of our society? Do we risk causing offence by telling people that they’re wrong and we’re right? Some Christians do, but I wonder how effective that message is. The Reverend Doctor Rohintan Mody was a Zoroastrian who converted to Christianity. He was told by some Christian friends that he was going to hell unless he had faith in Jesus. He recalls that he was very offended by their message. And for many people, that may be the end of the story. But, he goes on to say that he read this passage from John’s gospel and says, ‘I knew I had to accept this Jesus or reject him. But I knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and so I said, like Thomas, to this risen Lord Jesus ‘My Lord and my God.’’ Yes, we must speak the truth about Jesus’ power to save but surely we can do so with love and kindness. After all, we’re offering people the chance to accept the best gift they will ever receive – the gift of eternal life in the presence of God as one of his precious children. As with the question of predestination and election, surely the gift of salvation through Jesus alone should be a comfort and a reassurance, not a stick with which to beat those who don’t share that belief. As John 3: 17 tells us: ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ Yes, Jesus spoke of the consequences of not believing in him and following him, but he did not accusingly condemn non-believers to hell for their unbelief. Instead, he showed them the way to God through himself – in his words (as we’ve heard today) but also through his actions (or signs as John called them) and ultimately through his death and resurrection. If we speak as Jesus did and do the things he did, showing his love for others then we can point the way to him effectively.

So, a counter-cultural truth in Article 18 today. There is only one way to salvation and that relationship with God as our heavenly Father and that is through faith in Christ alone. As Christians we can have the assurance that we are saved and we can proclaim with confidence – and love – to others that they too can follow the way to salvation; that they too can accept Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God’. It’s wonderful news – too good not to share. Who are you going to tell?

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 22 2020 02:46PM

I used to have a favourite wooden spoon. It was the one I always went to whether I was baking a cake or making a sauce or sauteeing vegetables. It did everything you would want a wooden spoon to do. But just before Christmas, I wanted to put up some outside lights, so I tried the exterior plug sockets. The covers were on so tightly that I couldn't get them off. So I asked Darren to help. He decided, in his wisdom, to get my favourite wooden spoon to try and lever the covers off. You can guess what happened next: my beautiful wooden spoon snapped right in half! (Don't worry - he bought me a posh new one from John Lewis!). The problem was, the spoon wasn't made to lever off tight plastic covers. You have to use the right tool for the right purpose.

It's the same with today's Article on Predestination and Election. It is a doctrinal tool with a particular purpose. Its purpose is to encourage the Christian believer. The article describes it as "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons". It's not a system to be applied, nor is it a weapon to beat the faithless over the head with, nor is it an excuse to opt out of the things God wants us to do. It is there to encourage the believer. If you're a believer here today, this article and this Bible passage is written for you. If you're not yet, then listen in. You're not here by accident. God is calling to you too.

Now, there are references to God's plans for his people all through the scriptures. But the one we're going to focus on today is Romans 8:28-34. You might like to turn it up in your Bibles as it's quite detailed: p1135. We're going to look at it in 2 sections. v28-30 tell us what God has done and v 31-34 tell us about the joyful consequences.

v28-30 What God has done. I hope you're awake this morning as this is a whistlestop tour! We start with a very famous verse, v28 "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." God is working for our good. He's working for your good. He's working for your good right now. How does that change the way you see things? Even if your life is pretty tough at the moment? Even in that thing, God is working for your good. You might not be able to see it. You might not be able to understand yet. But he is working for your good. And don't try to say "Ah yes, he's at work in those bits of my life, but he can't be at work in these." Paul says "We know that in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love him." There are no exceptions.

Next words of encouragement: "For those God foreknew". They tell us that God has always known us. That's what's expressed so beautifully in Psalm 139. [We didn't read as far as this, but] v15 & 16 "My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book." He knows us inside and out. We can't go anywhere where he isn't. We can't run and hide. He's there, loving us wherever we go. And it's more than that. He's always known us. He knew us when we were nothing but a ball of cells and he'll know us for eternity. You are not an accident. You are not just one tiny person among billions. God knows you. God has always known you. And he loves you.

He loves you so much that he has a plan for you. It's not a programme of personal fulfilment. It's not a career path or guide to the perfect partner. This is his plan: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters." His plan is to shape us to be like Jesus. That is our destiny and our future with God. And in one sense the focus isn't even on us, but on Jesus. He's the firstborn over all creation. But to be firstborn means there needs to be others. God's future for all his people is to make us like Jesus. He does it by calling us "And those he predestined, he also called." He has called us by name, and like sheep who know their shepherd's voice, we have responded by grace. "Those he called he also justified". Our sins are forgiven. We have been declared not guilty. God in his holiness will hold our guilt against us no longer, because Jesus has dealt with it. Then "Those he justified, he also glorified". Made like Jesus, we are fit for heaven, fit to be in the place of glory with God. Not because we are good, but because he is. Not because of our effort, but because of his. Friends, this is our future.

And of course, it has an impact now. v31-34 tell us of the joyful consequences. As you look down at the text, you will see a string of questions. They are ones we might ask ourselves, and come up with depressing answers for. "Who can be against us?" Lots of people, we might say. People who don't like us, people who oppose Christianity, people who try and make our life difficult. You'll have your own list. But God is for us. He is for us! He gave his Son for us. Is there any greater love? Is there anyone more on our side? No. v33 "Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen?" We might say 'my conscience is accusing me', or we might feel the weight of the devil himself accusing us, pointing out the many ways we've failed God. The good things we haven't done, the persistent sin we find ourselves in, the weak sort of love we can offer him. But God says 'no. you are justified'. All of those sins, past, present and future have been thrown out of court, as far as the east is from the west. They are gone. They can't be used against us any more. v34 "Who is the one who condemns?" Our hearts might try and condemn us, but Jesus has taken all our condemnation on himself at the cross and continues to pray for us day and night. "Christ Jesus who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Isn't this wonderful news? Doesn't it fill your heart with joy and wonder to know that God has done all this for you? That is why predestination is " full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons". And we mustn't go further than the text does. We are not meant to turn it round onto the unbeliever or to expand it. That brings harm. The Article says:

" for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfal, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation."

Its purpose is to bring comfort to the believer, and if we've truly understood it we will be left with a sense of awe and humility "Why would God choose me? Who am I?" This is exactly the way the great King David responded to God's promises to him back in 2 Samuel 7 which we were looking at in homegroup on Thursday " ‘Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" Who am i? That's the response to this doctrine. Who am I? I am foreknown, I am predestined, I am called, I am justified, I will be glorified. I am definitely loved.

So, a very long article and a complex piece of doctrine this morning. But remember to use it for the right purpose - to bring encouragement. Don't expand it where it's not meant to go, don't apply it in a way it's not meant to be applied. Rest in the glorious truth that you are loved because God loves you, and he will hold you fast.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2020 05:54PM

I was on the train this week and I overheard 2 women talking to one another. I didn't catch all their conversation, but I did hear the reply from one "And she calls herself a Christian!" You may well have heard people saying the same thing, either when someone's behaviour doesn't match up to society's morals or when a Christian has actually done or said something they shouldn't. The assumption is there in everyone's minds "A Christian is someone who is good, who does the right thing." I've even heard people say that they don't feel they can come to church because they are not good enough. Even as Christians, we can be confused about sin and how it affects us as we go on with Jesus, and we can be dismayed about its ongoing presence in our own lives. Once again, our Anglican Articles of Religion really help us to sort out what the Bible says about these things, so that we can understand ourselves from God's perspective. Today we're going to be looking at 2 of the Articles as they are effectively two sides of the same coin, tackling 2 different assumptions about sin. The first assumption is the one the two ladies on the train held "Christians should be good people who don't sin." and the second is "I'm a Christian but I keep sinning. Can God really forgive me?" Let's look at them in turn:

Christians should be good people who don't sin. Now, as with most false teachings, this assumption can be argued from a partial understanding of Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect." and he was picking up the words of God in Leviticus 11:44 "I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy". Taken on their own, without the rest of Scripture, you could come to the conclusion that a Christian can get to a point of sinlessness. But that is the danger of reading parts of scripture in isolation from one another. If you've been studying the previous Articles of Religion with us, your alarm bells should already have been ringing. Haven't we seen that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"? Don't we know that original sin impacts all of us? We do. And even if you could argue that receiving Jesus' new life did away with these issues, you couldn't get around what Paul says in Romans 7:15-20

" I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

Though we are forgiven, and God's Holy Spirit is at work in us, shaping us to be more like Jesus, sin is still there and there is a battle going on within every Christian. It's vital that we remember this, because believing that a Christian can be without sin leads to lots of unwanted consequences. To begin with, it causes judgemental attitudes towards Christians who mess up. Someone loses their temper or gets drunk and does something stupid, or gets mixed up in an unhelpful relationship and the finger pointing can begin, both from outside the church and from within. A fellow Christian hurts us in some way and we become shocked and bitter. We don't forgive them because 'as a Christian they shouldn't have done or said those things'. We get disillusioned with church when we realise that it isn't perfect, and we either shop around to find one that is, or we give it up altogether. And even worse, but much harder to spot, it downgrades Jesus, because it assumes we can be as good as he was.

Article 15 sums up what the Bible teaches in its proper context (it's printed in the Bulletin):

" CHRIST in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

Jesus is the only human being ever to be without sin, and if we think that we, or the Christians around us, can ever achieve that in this life, then we are like the Pharisees, raising a far higher bar than God himself ever did. In the words of John, from our reading today " If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us." We are and continue to be sinners, but Jesus died so we can be forgiven. So we can keep on being forgiven. This isn't just a truth about ourselves. It's a truth about each other. We will each keep on sinning. Yes, it should gradually become less as God is at work in us, but it will keep happening. What would our churches be like, what would our relationships be like if we loved each other like Jesus loves us, and forgave each other? So don't be shocked next time one of us messes up. Rally round, forgive and help to restore.

The second assumption we are tackling this morning is: "I'm a Christian but I keep sinning. Can God really forgive me?" If we have subconsciously assumed that we can reach a point in our Christian lives where we don't sin, then knowing that we do can really impact our assurance. The words in our gospel reading this morning can seem to imply that we can lose our salvation. Matthew 12:31 "Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." I have had tender hearted Christians over the years really worried that they have done something which can't be forgiven. Article 16 speaks into this dilemma:

NOT every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

It makes clear for us what the Bible teaches: that even baptised Christians sin, but God's grace covers us. As we repent, God restores us and helps us to change our ways. This isn't time limited. Remember this conversation between Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’

22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

We are to forgive like this because this is how God forgives us. Even after baptism. Notice Peter was talking about a 'brother or sister'. There is an unforgiveable sin, a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and that's the sin of rejecting his prompting to turn to Jesus as Lord and receive the forgiveness offered. God doesn't force his presence on us, so the only way to be unforgiven is to reject him and his gift of grace. So friends, if you're struggling with sin, or if you've done something you think is really bad and you wonder if God can ever forgive you, the answer is he can and he will. Come to Jesus. Return to him and he will wash you clean and stand you on your feet again, ready to serve him.

So some really important teaching about the part sin plays in the life of a Christian. We do and will all sin. It is a part of our human condition. But God loves us. He loves us so much that Jesus, the spotless lamb, died in our place so we can be forgiven. And so much more than that: so we can keep on being forgiven until we're perfected in heaven. What a patient and kind saviour we have. Let's be patient and kind with one another too.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2020 05:53PM

I have recently discovered the fun of Snapchat filters. If you are my age or older and don't have teenagers in your family, you probably don't know what I am talking about. It's an app on your phone which changes the way your face looks when you take a photograph. There are some silly ones, like giving you a reindeer head, or making you look like Boris Johnson but there are others which erase all your blemishes and wrinkles, leaving you looking far more beautiful than you do in actual life. Some even change the size of your eyes and the proportions of your face to make you even more endearing. It's flattering to see yourself like that, especially as you grow older. But for some, using these filters has become more than a diverting pastime. It has become a necessity. Last year the newspapers told the story of 19 year old Maisie Hazelwood who couldn't even bear to look at herself without using a filter. When Snapchat stopped working on her phone she was unable even to get out of bed. Thankfully the story has a happy ending, as she realised she was in trouble and got help. She now uses her experience to help others. But the struggle is real. There are any number of Youtube videos where you can learn to do your make up so you look like you do through a filter, and some girls spend hours each day attempting to capture that image. It's all about hiding the real you, and wanting to show a different, better person to the world. People are afraid that if others see them the way they really are, then they won't love them. But it's not true. True love is unconditional.

Over the last few weeks, our Articles of Religion have been giving us a long, hard look at who we really are. It has been difficult because we'd all rather see an airbrushed version of ourself, yet it's when we know the reality of our situation that we can truly receive and know the unconditional love of God. Our Old and New Testament readings this morning both remind us of the dire situation we are all in. Psalm 51:5 "Surely I was sinful from birth", Ephesians 2:1-3 " As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." But that isn't the end of the story. We have also discovered an amazing God who loves us as we are. Ephesians 2 continues:

"4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.

Though our true selves are ugly and sinful God loves us, and we saw last week that his love was so great that Jesus died in our place to save us and to bring us back to God. We don't have to pretend to be lovely for God to love us. He already does, far more than we could ever imagine.

This is great news! But it also raises questions. One of the big ones is 'If God loves us as we are, is there any point in being good?' Where do good works fit in? Our next 3 articles all answer aspects of this question, so we're going to deal with them together. They are printed out for you. We're going to start with the second one there, number 13.

" WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin."

Basically it is answering the ideas that 'doing good things get us ready to receive Jesus' or 'being good makes God more likely to love us', or even 'I do good things and God works with me to save me'. This is the 'grace of congruity' Cranmer mentions in the Article. It is the kind of thinking that we as human beings tend to naturally default to. It says that we do good to earn merit. It's built into how we live our lives from the reward charts we use with children, to target based bonuses at work, to pensions based on how much we have put in, whether money or work years. It is how we tick. And it is also how the majority of people without a thought out faith imagine God works too. We need to be good enough for God, and so long as I can appear OK then I'll be all right. But this isn't how God works. We can't earn God's love and if we don't know him even our best behaviour has the 'nature of sin'. We can't make God more likely to love us. If you want to know more on this topic, then look up Article 10 on the Sermon blog on the website, as it covers it in detail.

So Article 13 covers the common misconception of predominantly non Christians about good works. But article 14 shifts the focus to Christians, and it is a way of thinking I've come across in the church. It says "I know I am saved, but if I want God to keep on loving me, I must ensure I am extra specially good.", or to put it in the language of Article 14:

" VOLUNTARY Works besides, over, and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants."

The language is quite hard, but basically 'works of supererogation' are good deeds which are over and above the things God asks us to do. This way of thinking can lead to a real loss of assurance and hope in the Christian life because you can never know if you've done enough. As with every other assumption which destroys our peace, it is based on a false truth. It says that there is more that we should be doing for God than he asks, and that the more we do , the more we can store up his good favour. It reminds me of a gif you can find on the internet. It is a film clip of a man in a silver suit standing with his arms raised and captioned 'Dave did the hoovering and stood back to receive his applause'. It is a bit sexist but true in lots of households. Of course Dave should do the hoovering, he lives there too. But we take this kind of attitude with God. 'Look God, I went to church!' 'So you should. You should be there every week.'. 'Look God, I gave some money!' 'So you should. Every Christian is called to give." 'Look God, I helped at that church event!' 'So you should. Every Christian is saved to serve.' We can't out good God. That's what our gospel reading was about: Luke 17 "7 ‘Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? 8 Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty."

So, if we don't earn God's love by being good, and if we don't keep God's love by being super committed, what place does being good have? Can we just do what we like? Let's look at Article 12.

" ALBEIT that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit."

Doing good is part and parcel of being a person who has been saved by God. He doesn't just love us unconditionally and prevent us from facing the punishment our sins deserve, he takes us and gently shapes us to be more like Jesus. He prepares good works for us to do and he gives us a heart to do them. You can tell someone has a truly changed heart by the way they interact with others, by their priorities and by their desire to serve God. Good works spring from a life lived with God in the same way as apples grow on an apple tree. You might be thinking 'I'm not sure I have any fruit. Am I not a true Christian?' If that's the case, why not do what I suggested to the Wednesday congregation this week as we looked at 1 John 2 together. Think back to when you came to faith (or your earliest memory of being in a relationship with Jesus) and think what you were like then. Now look to see how God has changed you. And if that doesn't work, ask a good Christian friend as they can often see things more clearly. We're never going to be finished works this side of heaven and we'll always mess up, but we won't be in the same place we started, because God is a God who delights in transformation.

So, a look at where good works fit into the Christian life. We don't do good things to win or to keep God's favour. They are not a bargaining tool to be used with God. We do good things because God is at work in our hearts, shaping us to be more like Jesus. Because, though he loves us exactly as we are, warts and blemishes included, he loves us far too much to leave us as we are. He delights to draw us into his work of transforming the world. Praise be to our God whose love reaches to the heavens, his faithfulness to the skies. (Psalm 36:5)

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 25 2020 08:58PM

You might have picked up that this year has been declared the Diocesan Year of Pilgrimage, and each church in the diocese has a special candle to light at every service. Here is ours. Proudly on the front of each candle is the diocesan logo and motto 'Where faith matters'. It was a phrase Bishop June used frequently in her sermon at the special service in the cathedral last week. 'Where faith matters'. But for me that statement raises some big questions. Faith in what? I have faith that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will enable Manchester United to finish in the top 4 this season. Is that what it's on about? And why should faith matter? What difference does it make? These are important questions, and we'll find some answers as we study our Article of Religion for today: number 11 Justification by Faith.

But before we look at the Article itself, I'd like us to study our key Bible passage for today: Romans 3:21-26, p1130. We'll look at it in three sections: Humanity has a problem; God has the solution; and we respond with faith in Jesus.

We begin with a sobering truth: humanity has a problem. v22 "There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." A few verses earlier, Paul quoted the psalms to make the situation abundantly clear v10-13 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." This is what we've been learning as we've studied our last 2 articles: original sin has infected us all, and without God even our finest acts of kindness are like filthy rags. It is seriously bad news. But it's news we need to hear, because if we don't understand the seriousness of our situation, we won't ever seek the solution. I think most of us use a relativist way of assessing how we're doing. "I might not be as good as X, but I'm nowhere near as bad as Y, so I guess I'm OK." But we're not. Handley Moule, Bishop of Durham in the early 20th century, described it like this: "The harlot, the liar and the murderer are all short of God's glory . . . but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine and you on the crest of an alp, but you are as little able to touch the stars as they." We can't reach God ourselves, we can't ever be good enough to get there under our own steam. But don't despair. Humanity has a problem, but God has the solution.

Before we look at what God's solution is, we need to understand what it isn't. It isn't God overlooking sin, brushing it away like it doesn't matter. God can't do that because God is just. He acts justly. And it isn't justice to let wrongdoing go unpunished. Just this week the scandal of another paedophile ring was in the news again, this time in south Manchester. But the main source of outrage wasn't so much that this group of men had targeted girls in the care system, injected them with drugs and abused them. It was that the police didn't arrest them. Maggie Oliver, a former detective who resigned over the way cases in Rochdale were handled by the force, said: "These are not mistakes - I want to make it absolutely clear - these were deliberate acts to bury and ignore the abuse of many, many vulnerable children." It is not justice to let wrongdoing go unpunished. God cannot do it. It is against his very nature. But also a part of his nature is love and compassion. God doesn't want to consign us all to hell, because he loves us. So God has provided a solution himself. This solution is described in v24-25. As we look at these verses, we see 3 different images used, and 3 churchy words which we need to understand.

The first image is from a court scene. v24 "and all are justified freely by his grace." Justification here is a legal word. When an act is justified, a person is not criminally liable even though their act would otherwise constitute an offense. It conjures up the image of standing in the dock in a courtroom, knowing that you are guilty and just waiting for the judge to pronounce the sentence, but instead he says "Not guilty". Not because the crimes weren't committed, but because Jesus stepped in. We see how in our next images.

v24 continues "all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Our next word: redemption, takes us to the slave market. In the first century, if you got yourself into debt, you and your family would be sold into slavery. The only way out of it would be to buy your way out or have someone buy your freedom for you. Then you'd be redeemed. Jesus has redeemed us. He's bought us out of slavery to sin and given us freedom. Sin isn't just the few naughty things we do, it's our whole lives if we're living them without God. We're stuck, caught up in it, can't get free. But Jesus has bought us out, at the cost of his own life. Our final scene explains how.

v25 "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood". We've moved to the Temple. The Old Testament makes it clear that sin angers God. It angers him in the way we might be angry about people abusing a child or burning a homeless person's tent down, only it is a perfect anger without sin's embellishment. As we understood earlier, sin needs to be punished. God's holy anger must fall. And so he provided a system in the Old Testament where you could bring an animal to the Temple. You would both stand before the priest and one of you would take God's punishment of death - the animal would die. It would be killed instead of you. It would take your place. This is exactly what Jesus did. He stood in our place and took the punishment we should have had. He died instead of us. Our NIV Bibles translates his act as 'a sacrifice of atonement', but the Greek is more correctly translated 'a propitiation by his blood'. Propitiation is our third important churchy word and it means 'to appease the anger of God'. At the cross, God redirected his righteous anger from us and onto Jesus. Something Jesus was very willing to do. Because of his sacrifice, we are justified, declared not guilty.

This is a lot to take in. God has done so much for us! What is our part to play? This is our third point:

We respond with faith in Jesus and what he has done. v22 "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". This is always how God has dealt with his people. In our Old Testament reading from Genesis 15, we saw how Abraham responded to the promises of God 15:6 "Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness." Reflecting on this, Paul comments in Romans 4:21 "Abraham was strengthened in his faith . . . being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." This is a great definition of what it means to have faith in God: to be fully persuaded that he has to power to do what he has promised. This is the way God works in us to bring his promises to fruition, and it is vital we know it, understand it, believe it. Article 11 says "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification." Friends, this is the absolute heart of what we believe as Christians. This is what Jesus has done. This is how we can be in a relationship with God forever. Cranmer was so clear about it that he wrote in his Homily of Justification that 'this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion' and that 'whosoever denieth is not to be accounted for a Christian man'. It is so foundational that Christianity falls apart without it. And what a wonderful doctrine. No wonder Cranmer said it is 'very full of comfort', for it shows the absolute depth of God's love for us, that he would solve our problem of sin by taking the punishment on himself. If you're trying to get to God by any other means - stop! Come to Jesus in faith and you will find everything for which your heart yearns.

The Diocese of Llandaff 'Where faith matters'. Faith does indeed matter. It matters far more than we realise. But the one in whom we place our faith is vital. If it's in anyone or anything other than Jesus, even in our own expression of Christianity, our church attendance, our Bible reading, our kind acts, our sin remains intact and we face the whole judgement of God. But if our faith is in Jesus and in the justification, redemption and propitiation he provides, then our future is secure. Our sin has been dealt with by Jesus and we are free to enjoy his love for eternity.

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