PCA Membership Vows, Part 2
The Church is made up of all kinds of people. There are those who have been Christians their entire lives and those who are brand new to the faith. There are those who feel as if they are barely hanging on and those with vibrant faith, who are in a season of deep growth. In any given congregation, all of these people live together in community. It is God’s design for his Church! He has given us to each other to walk together in this journey of faith. Often in the Church, we feel isolated and wonder, “All those other people have it together. Why don’t I?” We look down our particular row and think, “So-and-so doesn’t seem to have the same struggles or problems I have.” Sometimes we think, “If only I could get myself together, I would be more like…” Well, our first vow addresses this error and leaves no room for this way of thinking. There is something common among us all, and it is our sin. The first membership vow (called declarations and promises) asks, “Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His Sovereign mercy?” This is the beginning of our understanding of the gospel. This vow shows us three things: we are sinners in the sight of God, we deserve God’s just displeasure, and we have no hope without his sovereign mercy.
Every aspect of man’s life is lived before God. Hebrews 4:13 says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” There is simply no concealing who we are before the eyes of our sovereign God. “Naked and exposed” is poignant language. God’s eyes penetrate the depths of our thoughts, desires, and inner beings. And we are expected to stand before a group of people and acknowledge outright that we believe this to be true. It is helpful to remember that a right assessment of our condition brings us to the right and proper remedy. We don’t conceal how we feel when we go to the doctor, nor should we conceal our sin before the God who sees and knows us just us as we are. No one is distinguished before God as more deserving of his grace or more righteous than the next person. Romans 3 says, “…for there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As a body of believers, we enjoy the gospel when we are reminded that we are all sinners, desperate for the good news of the gospel. But to love the gospel is to understand our need for his mercy. We don’t come with excuses or pretense but with a humble grasp of the reality of our condition before God.
As we acknowledge our sin, we do so keenly aware of how God views sin. He has just displeasure. If we consider the narratives of God’s Word in which he deals with sin, we are left with an understanding of the seriousness of our sin. Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise because of sin. The earth was destroyed by the flood because of sin. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in a moment because of their unrighteousness. Even at the cross, Christ was in agony, and we see the magnitude of the cost of our sin. God deals with sin in judgment and will do so with justice. We like justice when a murderer faces his rightful verdict. We like justice when the criminal is no longer on the streets. But do we like justice when we are held accountable for those things that we do naturally? God’s glory is at stake in his just displeasure toward sin. He is perfect in all aspects of his character and holiness, and sin is an affront to his holiness. If he were to simply look away, he would be unjust. So, we say, “I justly deserve his displeasure. After all, I am sinner in his sight.” Proverbs 24:12 says, “Does he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” This declaration leaves us in a precarious position.
It leaves us without hope unless there is sovereign mercy. The vows are building blocks in our understanding of the gospel. Remember the progression we observed last week: sin, Savior, sanctification, support, and submission. We find that there is nothing—and I mean that emphatically—nothing we can do to save ourselves. No church attendance, no amount of money, no goodness, no credits to our account made by walking old ladies across streets, no acts of mercy on our part will draw us one step closer to salvation. There is nothing in us that makes God overlook even one sin, override his perfect justice, and offer salvation without first dealing with the rightful wrath we deserve. And it is in light of this reality that we can taste the beauty of his sovereign mercy. We are hopeless vessels of wrath without his mercy. Are we weird to stand in front of each other and acknowledge this? The Church is the place where we are brutally honest with each other about our sin. Next week, we will consider his beautiful, sovereign mercy, but in the meantime, let me leave you with this: Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But, God being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
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