Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
This word of God speaks of being zealous of good works.
Are you zealous of good works?
Everyone has zeal for something. Not all, however, have a zeal for good works.
There is a people that Jesus Christ has redeemed from iniquity that are zealous of good works. Are you one of these people?
This people is found in the church. This is because the church is the people whom Jesus has redeemed. Sadly, not all in the church are zealous of good works. Are you zealous of good works?
In the preceding verses we are taught that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. This saving grace of God teaches us that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we are told how the grace of God teaches these things.
By His grace God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ from all iniquity. In this work of redemption Christ purifies us as a peculiar people to Himself, zealous of good works. The point is very obvious. By producing a people zealous of good works, the grace of God teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in these good works.
The grace of God also teaches us to be zealous of good works in the new year that is upon us.
A contrast is made in the text between good works and iniquity. “Iniquity” is really the word “lawlessness.” There are two ideas expressed in this term.
This lawlessness is, first, contempt for the law of God. God has given us His law to govern our lives. It governs our marriages, our family life, our work, our recreation, and all the various relationships of life. There is no part of life that God’s law does not govern. And God’s law is good. There is blessing for those who keep it. Lawlessness is a contempt or hatred for this law.
This lawlessness is, second, an open violation of God’s law. It is a refusal to live according to God’s law, so that one tramples it underfoot in order to have one’s own way. This is nothing but the outward manifestation of an inner contempt for God’s law.
This lawlessness characterizes mankind, especially today. Society in general holds the law of God in open contempt. The standards that God has set for marriage, the family, authority, sex, life of the unborn, and the like are not only ignored but openly ridiculed. In this contempt society tramples God’s law underfoot, even going out of its way to transgress it. This began at the fall and has steadily developed throughout history, so that we live in a lawless society. The result of this lawlessness is misery, fear, and pain.
This lawlessness is contrasted with good works.
If lawlessness is behavior that is contrary to God’s law, then good works are works that are in harmony with that law. The standard of all good is not man’s reason, feelings, or opinions, but God’s law. Good works are those works that are in harmony with the law of God.
The word “good” here emphasizes that the behavior that conforms to God’s law is beneficial and useful. When we speak of a good tool, we mean a tool that is useful. In like manner, good works are works that are useful and beneficial to others. They are useful to the Lord as He works to gather His church, to build her up, and to preserve her. They are also beneficial to our neighbor. In contrast, lawless behavior is always destructive. It is a hindrance to the work of God to save His people. It also is hurtful to the neighbor. But behavior that conforms to the law of God is always beneficial to the neighbor and useful to the Lord.
The word of God speaks of being zealous of these good works.
We read literally of a zealot of good works. A zealot is one who is filled with zeal for something. The word is often used in a negative sense, describing one who goes to extremes and becomes a radical. The history of the church is filled with examples of radicalism. Radicalism of any stripe is to be avoided.
To be a zealot of good works, however, is not radicalism. A true zealot of good works is not the 200 percenter, who goes beyond the requirements of God’s law to impose upon others that which God does not require or to forbid that which God does not forbid.
A true zealot of good works is rather one who has a zeal to serve God and his neighbor by devoting himself to a life of good works. The zeal he has is a zeal to keep the law in its true essence by serving God in love and showing mercy, kindness, and justice to his neighbor.
Are you a zealot of good works?
We have many zealots in our society, but not of good works. Many are zealous to attain wealth, leisure, pleasure, recreation, position, and power. This kind of zeal leads them invariably into lawlessness.
There are many zealots in the church, who have the same zeal as the world—a zeal that also leads to lawlessness.
We must be zealots of good works.
We must be zealots of good works in the year of our Lord 2010.
That we might be zealous of good works, Jesus has redeemed us from all iniquity.
Redemption is deliverance from the power and control of someone or something through the payment of a price, which is called a ransom price. It was a term used to describe the freeing of a slave from his master through the payment of a price.
Iniquity, or lawlessness, is to be viewed as a power that has taken hold of mankind, so that it completely controls and dominates his life. It has become his master, enslaving him in a most horrible bondage.
This is to be explained by the fall. At the fall, mankind rebelled against God in lawlessness. As a punishment God gave mankind over to lawlessness with all its misery. This power of lawlessness so controls and dominates mankind that man is not able to do any good, much less be zealous of good works.
If we will do good works we must be redeemed from this lawlessness.
Christ has provided this redemption.
Notice that Jesus redeems us from all iniquity. By nature, the power of iniquity controls every part of our life—marriage, home, work, recreation, and every relationship. Jesus has redeemed and delivered us from all iniquity.
One important element of this work of redemption is that Jesus purifies us.
This purifying is a spiritual purification or cleansing from sin. According to our Heidelberg Catechism it consists of two elements (cf. Q&A 70). First, there is the forgiveness of sins through the removal of guilt. Second, and on the basis of this forgiveness, there is a spiritual renewal, which transforms our lives from lawlessness to good works.
This spiritual cleansing is mentioned here as a further explanation of redemption. When Christ redeems us, He frees us from the bondage of lawlessness by cleansing us.
This redemption came at a high price. To redeem us from all iniquity, Jesus gave Himself for us. This means that He gave Himself to the death of the cross. God had appointed Jesus to die on the cross, which was the accursed death. To that death He gave Himself. Willingly He submitted to the cross, to endure the curse of God as the punishment for sin.
And notice that Jesus gave Himself to the horrors of the cross for us.
This “us” included Paul and Titus. It included the saints of God on the island of Crete among whom Titus was laboring. It includes the sum total of God’s elect that are found in all history and in these latter days among all mankind.
For them Jesus gave Himself. This means, first, that He gave Himself to the accursed death of the cross for their benefit. But it also means that He gave Himself to the accursed death of the cross in their place. For His death to be of benefit for God’s elect, Christ must take their place before God to bear away the penalty of their sin. This is what He did by His death on the cross.
By giving Himself for us, Christ has redeemed us from all iniquity. Redemption requires a ransom price. In the case of our redemption from iniquity, the ransom price was the horrible death of the cross, whereby Christ suffered the punishment due to us for our sin.
Being redeemed and purified by Christ, we become a peculiar people unto Christ.
By the term “people” is meant a people of common stock and origin. We become a people through the work of Christ to redeem and purify us. In the process of redemption and purification, we are born again in Jesus Christ. By this common birth we become a people with one language and custom. Through our redemption, we become a peculiar people. “Peculiar” means that which is one’s own, belonging to one as a possession. Being redeemed by Christ, we become a peculiar people unto Him. When one redeemed a slave with a price, the slave was set free from his slavery. But when Christ redeems us from the slavery of sin, we become His property and possession. In fact, we become His slave, whose calling is to serve Him. Strange as it may sound, this new slavery is our freedom. Those that are redeemed by Christ find it a delight to serve Him. And in that service they find the joy of eternal life with God. This is true freedom!
In keeping with this, the chief characteristic of this redeemed people is that they are zealous of good works.
Every people of a common birth have some things that especially characterize them and set them apart from all other peoples. What sets apart the people whom Christ has redeemed and purified is that they are zealous of good works. This holy zeal arises out of their very redemption and cleansing.
Do you claim to belong to the people that are redeemed by Jesus Christ?
Don’t forget what characterizes them. They are a people zealous of good works!
In the power of the cross, let us show ourselves to be those that belong to this redeemed people.
Let us show that also in this new year!