Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
27 August 2017
Romans 3:10-20, 23 / Membership Vow 1
Ordinary Time

Listen Here

Two years ago — after several congregational meetings — we held an election and you voted to join the PCA and the vote was unanimous. Six months later we were received into the North Texas Presbytery. For the last 18 months we have reaped some of the spiritual, relational, and material benefits of this connection.

One of the many things we appreciate about the PCA is her high view of Christ and the church. One way this comes out is in the membership vows every new member is required to take.

They are printed on the back of your worship order for your convenience.

In his book, The Creed of Presbyterianism, Dr. Egbert W. Smith writes of the Presbyterian church: “Her door of entrance is as wide as the gates of heaven.” In a large sense, this statement is very true. That is why the vows for membership in the church are basic and biblical. The questions do not constitute an examination of anyone’s intelligence or learning; they are simply aids to help people describe their Christian experience.

Now, in a presbyterian church, it is the responsibility of the Session (a group of elders) to examine and receive all new members, and it is their responsibility to watch over the souls of all the members under the care.

This provides helps new prospective members to learn about who we are, what we believe, and what we do as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it helps us get to know them better and discern ways they might best participate in the life of this congregation.

When we came into the PCA most of you were already members of this congregation. Since then, all new members have gone through a new members orientation; and (as you have witnessed) new members have stood before you and taken the five membership vows from our Book of Church Order.

Since most of you have not had the benefit of going through our new members orientation, we feel that it might good for us to take a few weeks to consider and remember what it means to be a member of Christ and his Church.

It is not uncommon for people to ask, “Why do you emphasize membership? Where is that in the Bible?” The answer is simple: while the phrase “church membership” is not used explicitly in the Bible, the scriptures make it clear that we are members of Christ and members of the Church.

Just this week I shared an article with you on facebook that talks about these things. It says:

“When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community…Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership. These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community.”

The bottom line is that we believe that church membership is a biblical concept and an essential part of demonstrating our commitment to one another. Real community takes real commitment. To be a member of any congregation is to make some sort of public promise to support the mission and ministry of that local church and to live according to biblical teachings.

Just to be clear: no one has to be full-throttle Reformed, high-octane Presbyterian to be a member of this congregation. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to welcome into our fellowship any and all sinners who profess faith in Jesus Christ, who are willing to be or have already been baptized with water in the Name of the triune God, and, who promise to enter into a solemn covenant union with Christ and His Church.

So, starting today and for the next five weeks we will go over the five membership vows from the Book of Church Order that all new members must take. To be clear: everyone who was already a member when we came into the PCA is still a member. We are not asking you to stand up and take these vows. But we are asking you to take these vows seriously.

Much of what you will hear for the next five weeks is basic meat and potato stuff taken from our new members orientation guide (which we cobbled together from our own study and various sources). If anyone would like a copy of it, let us know and we’ll make sure you get one.

We will cover one vow a week for five weeks. The first three vows deal with our commitment to Jesus Christ. The last two vows deal with our commitment to his Church.

The first vow we will cover is this:

Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

With that vow in mind, our sermon text is Romans 3:10-20, 23. If you are able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s holy word. It is written:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. . .for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And all the church says, Amen!

In most churches I was a part of in the past, placing membership was as easy as showing up to church a few times, going forward at the invitation song after the sermon, handing someone a card that indicated your desire to place membership. The card was read to the congregation and just like that you were a member.

There is more to it than that in other churches. Some of you had to be voted in by the congregation. But the point I am making is that most churches practice some form of membership commitment.

One thing that sets our membership standards apart from others is that we start by asking if you know your deepest problem.

“Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, and without hope save in his sovereign mercy?”

This question points to the fact of sin and what sin does in the lives of people.

For any person to become a member of this church, he should know what sin is, that he himself is a sinner, and that sin leads to spiritual death.

We want to make it clear to everyone at the outset that sinners are the only people who can be members of this congregation – especially sinners who fear the wrath of God and feel the need for the grace of God.

No one who thinks himself “good” is approaching religious experience prepared to understand or accept Jesus Christ as Savior in full, Christian sense.

What is sin?

It is “self” going against the will and the way of God. God made known His will and His way in His Commandments. When we violate the laws of God we are guilty of sin. As the scripture says, “Whosoever committed sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).

As the Shorter Catechism puts it: Q. 14. What is sin? A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

There are two ways of breaking the law: (1) ommission — by failing to do what the law requires, and (2) by doing what the law forbids.

Who sins or has sinned?

Everyone. You sin, your spouse sin, your children sin, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your enemies sin, your deacons and your pastors sin. No one is not a sinner.

As it is written in the Book of Romans: For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin. . .for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In Romans 1 Paul says that God gave everyone the light of creation. This was to reveal himself as the Creator. But we suppress the light of creation in our unrighteous. We worship and serve creation rather than the Creator. We misuse the gift of sex; we pervert our relationships; we covet others peoples’ stuff, we lie, cheat, steal, curse; we disobey and dishonor our parents; we hate people; we gossip, slander, boast. Why? Because we are ungrateful ingrates.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
We want to be the master of our fate,
the captain of our soul. (Invictus)

Like our father Adam and mother Eve, we don’t want to be just man made in the image and likeness of God. We want to be gods, even if it means committing deicide and killing God in our hearts.

In Romans 2 Paul says that God gave everyone the light of conscience. This was to reveal God’s moral character. As it is written: the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. But we sear the light of conscience by sinning again and again and again. We screw things up so much that our conscience condones what it should condemns, and even condemns what it should condone. We call light darkness, and darkness light; good, wrong, and evil, right. 

In Romans 3 Paul says that God gave everyone the light of canon, the collection of Holy Scriptures. God gave the world the oracles of God to reveal himself as Lawgiver and Judge, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But we silence the light of the canon by shutting its covers and shoving it aside; and worse, by shutting it out of our hearts and shoving it out of our life. 

The pastoral counsel of Dr Sinclair Ferguson is relevant here: “Sin will keep you from God’s word; but God’s word will keep you from sin.” 

Sadly, like our parents Adam and Eve, we have all exchanged God’s truth for the devil’s lie. First, we doubt God’s word, then we distort God’s word, then we deny God’s word, then we disobey God’s word, and finally we discard God’s word. This is the slow, seductive, spiral into to darkness, despair, and death.

Since God reveals his eternal power and divine nature through the light of creation, the light of conscience, and the light of canon — since God makes visible what is invisible, we are without excuse.

No one can plead ignorance. No one can say they did not know the one true God. No one can argue that they didn’t have the light or enough light. No one can come up with any valid excuse.

God’s light is clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the creation, conscience, and canon. So that we are without excuse.

Who does sin affect?

As you can see, hear, hear, feel, sin touches and damages the life of every person. It totally wrecks us from the inside out, body, soul, mind, and heart. It seperates us from God, from each other, from the world, and even from ourselves.

Where does sin lead? 

Sin always leads to death. In fact, according to God’s righteous decree, all who sin deserve to die. (Rom. 1:32)

Sinners will receive the due penalty for their sins (Rom. 1:27)

Death came to our first parents, because of their sin. All of their descendants have been sinners and have deserved death because of their sins. “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”(Romans 5:12; see also Romans 6:23 and Ezekiel 18:4). Spiritual death means being separated from God forever (Isaiah 59:2). Eternal exile away from the presence of God forever.

When I was preparing for ordination exams, Gary offered a mnemonic that helped me remember “the fall brought mankind into a state of sin and misery” — sin leads us into gloom, despair, and agony.

What is God’s response to our sin?

In Romans 1 Paul says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (Rom. 1:18)

In Romans 2 Paul says “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do sin. God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. (Rom 2:2-12 selected)

God will judge the secrets of men’s hearts.

God will judge the world and sinners will be justly condemned to death. (Rom. 3:6)

So, how shall we then live?

To those who do not acknowledge themselves to be sinners in God’s sight, who imagine that God will not judge them because they are basically good and not as bad as other people, we ask:

Do you suppose that you will escape the judgment of God?

Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repent and turn away from your sins?

Do you not see that you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath because of your hard and impenitent heart?

In our own strength there is nothing we can do to overcome the evil effects of sin in our lives. Even when we know what we ought to do, we find ourselves unable to do it. As Paul said,

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Rom. 7)

This is your fate as a sinner: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 

Can’t you feel the conflict, the tension, the frustration in your own heart? Can’t you see the wreckage and waste of your ruin? Can’t you perceive the wrath of God burning against you?

For Christ’s sake, won’t you confess your sin and cry out to God —

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?!

No human being will be justified in God’s sight by good works, good intentions, or good desires. Not even you!

So, if all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, how can any sinner be made right with God? How can sinners who deserve exile be spared wrath and fury? How can you ever be saved? 

The answer to that question will be given more fully next week.

Suffice it to say for now, that Jesus Christ was delivered up to the cross for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. (Rom. 4)

As by one man’s disobedience all were made sinners, so by another man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5)

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 7-8)

This is the word of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For the Lord bestows his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10)

Cry out to him now, call on him now, confess your need of him now, and he will save you from sin, death, and wrath. He will make you right with God — just as right with God as he is.

Now, in light of all these things, I ask you: “Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, and without hope save in his sovereign mercy?”

If so, welcome home.

Welcome to Christ and his Church.

A community of sinners saved by Christ the savior.