Subjected, Cursed, and Enslaved
Belgic Confession • Sermon • Submitted
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For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Belgic Confession Article 14
Sermon: Subjected, Cursed, Enslaved
The topic before us as we continue through the Belgic Confession is the condition and implication of our sinfulness, particularly in light of the fall. A simpler way of saying that is we are sinners, and this is what it means. If you turn to page 75 in the back of your Psalter Hymnals, you will find Article 14. It is a lengthy confession; it goes on to the next page. If you flip to page 76 for a moment, you will notice that Article 15 is on original sin. Guido de Bres saw it as necessary to have separate articles on where sin puts us and how we receive that sin.
We are going to begin tonight by reading from 1 Corinthians 10, then we will pick up the Confession, and read from the beginning to almost the end of the first column where it says, “St. John calls men darkness.” I’ll teach for a little while, and then we will pick up Article 14 at the new paragraph, starting with “Therefore.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, “subjected, cursed, enslaved.” When you hear those words that are the title of my message, they aren’t words that put smiles on our faces or bring joy in our life. After spending the last couple of articles, looking at God’s work in creation and his continued providence, those are certainly occasions for us to find joy. But the Belgic Confession has taken a sharp turn. Even in this article, it starts off quite pleasant—God created us, made and formed human beings in his image and likeness—good, just, and holy; able by their will to conform in all things to the will of God. Then suddenly, we hit a downward spiral of sin and sin’s consequences.
In the first half of our message tonight, we want to unpack this statement: “He willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse.” The confession is beckoning back to Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, created by God without sin. God himself had given them clear commands, with which they had the free will to decide what they would do. They had the conscious ability to hear God but also what was not of God, and they could choose to accept that which agreed or disagreed with his will for them.
We all know the story, they chose the latter. They plunged themselves and the whole human race into this mess of sin. No longer would they or their descendants know what life without sin is like. As we think about the unfolding of events in Genesis 3, I want to hit pause here. Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit. God has not yet come to them. And yet, verse 7 says, “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.” Then and there they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 2:25 says that when God had created “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” But now after eating the fruit, they desired to cover their nakedness. God had not found them out yet, but we assume that already at that point, they encountered shame.
We are starting with the first term tonight—subjected. To be subject to sin entails that we are not only involved in actions of sin or even thoughts of committing sins—but sinfulness is also an experience or a reality. The Bible uses this word shame, a concept that goes along with a sense of being exposed. Sometimes we hear this phrase of someone being caught with their pants around their ankles. A person might not actually have had their pants fall down, but they are in a situation of being exposed—for a lie or corruption or for not upholding a promise. In our cultural understanding, to be caught, to be seen with our pants down is not only a situation in which many would feel vulnerable but we would be humiliated.
In a holy mindset, sin does just that—it exposes us, it humiliates us. If we understand something as sin, then we know we have done wrong. We experience those feelings that we have broken away from how things are supposed to be. It’s in a similar vein that the Heidelberg Catechism uses the word “misery.” Part of experiencing the comfort of belonging to Christ is that we must know how great our sin and misery are. Maybe I have shared it before, but it’s worth hearing again. Dr. Neal Plantinga, former president of Calvin Seminary, shared his perspective in one of our classes that sin leads to misery, and yet when we are miserable we can often be prone to continue to sin. There’s this cycle that continues to cut us down, causing us to feel worse and worse. If you have ever experienced an addiction—you might have an insight into that. Yes, something is hurting you, and yet what feels easiest is to keep on hurting. We are subjected to sin.
Not only are we subject but we are also cursed. Going back to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve assumedly felt shame—their recognition of their nakedness changed things. But that’s not it. We press play again, and God comes through the Garden and with justice gave a punishment. They were cursed with toil and pain and death—no longer would the bliss of existence without sin be their enjoyment. We become aware, as God had promised in chapter 2 verse 17, that there are consequences for wrongdoing. The consequences of sin are not only that we feel bad and know we have sinned—there are some people who teach that; that guilt is punishment enough—but no, the punishment is further, we are cursed.
When we hear about death, hell, when we hear about damnation and condemnation—this is what we are talking about. We believe God has put a curse on unforgiven sin. Catechism Question and Answer 10 get at this—sin is the world—disobedience and rebellion—does it go unpunished? “Certainly not. [God] is terribly angry about the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit. As a just judge he punishes them now and in eternity. He has declared: ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them.’”
So, we look at the Israelites through Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 10. “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” There was literal death. Some came about naturally, other times at the hand of the sword, others supernaturally. Sin, displeasure to and with God, brings mortal death. Paul continues on, why he is telling the Corinthian church these things, “These…are examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters…We should not commit sexual immorality…twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord…some were killed by snakes. And do not grumble…some were killed by the destroying angel.”
These are not pleasant times to think back on in the history of Israel. They had witnessed the 10 plagues, they had experienced God’s enabling them to walk out of Egypt, God had given them spiritual food and drink—bread from heaven, water from a rock. They had seen his ability in opening the Red Sea, closing it on those chasing them. They had experienced the power in the presence of God at Mt. Sinai, and received his word through his servant Moses. Those are the times we like to hear about. Yet during those times and in the years to come, over and over again—just like us, they fell into sin, and some of them fell quickly for their sin.
There has been a curse on humankind. When God created Adam and Eve, there is a relationship in place. When they sinned, the relationship was not thrown in the trash, but it continued. While it continued, the blessings of faithfulness were exchanged in part for curses, for punishment. That we find death as a punishment that is suitable from God in the pages of Scripture, we are seeing the consequences of the Fall. It is most certainly not that God has given up caring about people, but this is the curse of sin. A curse is a form of discipline—and in the framework of a righteous and holy creation, sin cannot have a sovereign and free authority. It must be handled.
This is how serious sin is, and even more so in the eyes of our God. Let’s return to Article 14 now, picking it up at “Therefore…”
Why does the Belgic Confession speak so strongly and at length about sin? Why do the apostle Paul and others address it again and again—even these cruel realities of sins that got some of the Israelites killed? It is because we must understand that by nature we are slaves to sin. Our natural selves are readily go against God’s will. We are not born innocent without inclination to sin, and God waits to see if we will falter. No, we are born into this world as slaves to sin.
If we think about what a slave is—it is someone who is committed to another person to listen and obey them. A slave does not function on his or her own desires or inclinations. They are told what they will do, and can be told how they will do it. A slave lives as long as they are a slave in submission to someone else. When we hear people say that anyone can do good, or that we do have free will, or that we can do enough good works to get ourselves or others to be saved—the answer is no to all of that. We reject it, because we believe our sinful condition tells us what we will do.
Yet sin and the devil do not hold the final authority. Listening to the story of Israel, God gave them freedom. They were no longer enslaved by Egypt, that was to have a massive change on their identity—they were his now, even though many did not understand this freedom. Now we have freedom in Christ, freedom which with the Holy Spirit should instill in believers an even greater sense of being free. That’s why Paul asks, should we keep on sinning? No! We are no longer slaves to sin, we have been adopted as children and heirs of God.
This is the hope that we profess, that our churches hopefully focus our ministry around—that yes, by nature, we are subject to sin, we are cursed because of sin, we have been enslaved by the devil. BUT Jesus Christ offers freedom. We no longer must think of ourselves bound by the chains, the restraints, the orders of our sinful master—but Christ compels us to live in forgiveness and redemption. The message of Good Friday and Easter as we get closer and closer to those holidays is not only that Christ paid our punishment—that is true, but he sets you and me and all who believe free from sin and death and the grave—he frees us from the curse because he has fulfilled the obedience requirements.
In thinking about the harshness and the far-reaching consequences of sin as Scripture does and the confessions do, we are allowed to see the miraculous work of Jesus in all of his glory. That is worth smiling about! Yet Paul is still cautious—we are not perfect until Christ comes and gives us our resurrection bodies. If you think you are standing firm, we get this sense of, if you think you’re untouchable, be careful that you don’t fall.
Brothers and sisters, hear this perfectly clear, you are no longer subject or cursed or enslaved, but take care that you don’t think too highly of yourself. Take care to not think you will never need to be forgiven for anything ever again. The devil is crafty; he’s waiting to trip us up, and cause us to fall, even worse to make us think that we are still slaves. Know that you are redeemed in Christ Jesus!
With that understanding what follows in our passage is an encouragement for the redeemed. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” God knows that as long as we live on this earth, we will face temptation to sin—our past will seek to pull us back in, at times viciously. But God keeps the devil in check in such a way that we will not be overly tempted. We can trust in him, we can rely on him to help us experience true freedom. We are not to fall into the old traps of Israel—because God is so much better. He truly satisfies, he gives life abundantly. There is no fruit, no idol, no immorality of any kind which can claim that—though the devil tries to deceive us so.
Brothers and sisters, know your past. Know the captivity that so many people continue to experience because they have not come to know the Lord. Teach them, show them, invite them to participate in the freedom we have because of Jesus Christ. May God continue to shower each of us with the guarantee of his redemption and adoption of all who turn to him. Amen.