SERMON TITLE: Our Ultimate Purpose (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 1)
TEXT: Psalm 37 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
Watch the sermon hereTake notes here
Good morning, Gateway Church! I am Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you both here at County Road 9 Campus and with those joining us at our North Main Campus. This morning, we are beginning a series that we will do periodically throughout the year on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In this series, we will be looking at questions and answers from the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Shorter Catechism that help us understand better the Christian faith as a whole in small, bite-sized chunks that are easy to remember. However, many of us might be unfamiliar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism or its history, let alone its benefit in helping you understand the Christian faith. So, let me try to encapsulate all of that in one paragraph.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism originated in a meeting of the Westminster Assembly, a gathering of theologians and clergy convened by the English Parliament in the 17th century. Meeting between 1643 and 1649, the assembly aimed to reform the Church of England by creating a unified doctrine of belief. As part of this effort, the Shorter Catechism was created to serve as a concise yet comprehensive guide. Its question-and-answer format was designed to make memorization easy, enabling it to be a practical tool for instructing individuals in the fundamental principles of the Christian faith. It covers topics such as the nature of God, the purpose of human existence, and the means of salvation. The catechism and the larger Westminster Confession of Faith continue to remain influential in various Protestant denominations, reflecting its enduring significance in the history of Christian theology. (Chad Van Dixhoorn. "Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith." The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014.)
With that in mind, this morning, I want to look at the first question-and-answer to the Shorter Catechism and spend the rest of our time using Scripture to explain it. So, what is the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Here it is, “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” What does that mean? Let me rephrase it for you, “What is humanity’s ultimate purpose for being created? Humanity’s ultimate purpose for being created is to bring God glory in all we do and to enjoy being in his presence both now and for eternity.” That’s easy enough! But here is the big question. How do we do that?
To answer this question, I want us to look at Psalm 37, which was just read and shows us three ways to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Written by David, a King of Israel in the Old Testament, this Psalm reflects how to live for God’s glory in a fallen world. And the first thing we need to remember as we seek to do that is that…
Point 1: We glorify God and enjoy him forever… by trusting him with our lives (vv. 1-9).
Look at how David begins our passage, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” What does he mean by the word “fret?” Typically, when we think about “fretting,” worry or anxiety comes to mind. However, the Hebrew word the ESV translates as " fret,” means “to burn with anger.” It is an anger that is outwardly expressed. What does it look like? Imagine a guy sitting at home who gets so upset while watching his favorite football team lose that he punches his flatscreen TV, and you’ll have an idea of what David means. It's a person looking at what is happening around him and becoming so angry at the injustice and evil he sees that he can’t contain himself anymore. He wants to lash out at something.
As we look at our world and the direction it seems to be going, it's enough to make you want to scream at times because those whom our passage calls “evildoers” seem to be the ones in control and who are calling the shots. Not only that, but to make matters worse, they also seem to be benefitting from what they are doing, which, for some, also creates a sense of envy.
But why does David say not to fret or be envious even though evil seems to be winning? Because it will only last for a season. Look at what he says in verse 2, “For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” (ESV) Listen to how the translation called the Message puts it, “In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun.” (Message) Why is this so hard to remember at times? Because, if truth be told, we either don’t believe that God is in control, or we have lost hope that things will change for the better. But David shows us the first thing we need to do if we are going to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Look at verse 3, where David says, “Trust in the LORD.” (ESV) What does it mean to “trust?” The basic idea of trust has to do with that which is firm or solid. It expresses a sense of well-being and security that results from placing confidence in something or someone other than ourselves. (John N. Oswalt, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) Folks, this is the linchpin for not only how we glorify God and enjoy him forever but also how we can respond to life despite what is happening around us.
In fact, after being told in verses 1-2 not to fret or be envious, in verses 4-8, we see how trusting God allows us to respond to our circumstances. Look at what David says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” As difficult as all these things may be to do at times, this is what trusting God looks like. Christian author Jerry Bridges is correct when he says, “Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will.” (Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, p.52, NavPress, 2016) If we are going to trust God, we must choose to do so. And as we do, these are the responses that we will have even as we look at all that is happening around us and the evil that seems to be gaining ground daily. When we choose to trust God in the midst of our circumstances, we are choosing to glorify God and enjoy him as the sovereign and loving Father that he is.
But we have to ask an important question that David raises in these verses. Why are we able to respond this way? We find our answer in verses 10-24, which we can sum up this way…
Point 2: We glorify God and enjoy him forever… by keeping the big picture in mind (vv. 10-24).
One of the biggest mistakes we can make as we think about our lives is forgetting that we are part of a much bigger story. The narrative we are living now didn’t begin when we were born, and it won’t end when we die. Why? Because it's not about us. For us to glorify God and enjoy him forever, we have to remember that all of life, from beginning to end, is about him. This is why, as David surveys the evil in our world, he says in verse 10, “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.” (ESV)
David says this because he is convinced, like we all should be, that even though evil will continue to impact our world and at times seem to be gaining ground, a day is coming when it will be defeated once and for all. Again, I like how the New Living Translation puts this, “Soon the wicked will disappear. Though you look for them, they will be gone.” (Psalm 37:10, NLT)
Until then, what can we expect? A battle where the wicked are constantly trying to cause harm and even destroy the righteous and where evil is continually trying to triumph over good. But to no avail. Listen to how the New Living Translation describes this battle in verses 12-15, “The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. 13 But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming. 14 The wicked draw their swords and string their bows to kill the poor and the oppressed, to slaughter those who do right. 15 But their swords will stab their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.” (Psalm 37:12-15, NLT)
Because we live in a fallen world where sin has impacted every area of our lives, this battle rages daily. We experience it in various ways at work, our schools, our families, and even our churches. This evil is a result of the fall recorded in Genesis 3, as man disobeys God by trying to assert authority over his Creator. And it's not just a battle where the wicked outwardly attack the righteous. It’s also a battle over worldviews, philosophies, ideas, and how rudimentary things like gender, marriage, and life are being redefined. But it won’t continue forever.
As verse 20 says, “But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.” (ESV) Again, the translation called the Message makes it even clearer when it says, “God-despisers have had it; God’s enemies are finished — Stripped bare like vineyards at harvest time, vanished like smoke in thin air.” (Message) And the question on all our minds is, “When? When will the wicked perish and evil be defeated once and for all?” The answer to this question is why we must keep the big picture in mind. Humanity was created to bring glory to God and be in a relationship with him. That was the original intent for our being created. And David knew this! (Psalm 8)
He also knew that because of sin, a day was coming when the wicked will be judged and evil eradicated once and for all. And he has this hope because he knows that God is righteous and just, which David had experienced through God’s faithfulness to him in the past. As David says in Psalm 7:9, “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!”
But this raises a big question for all of us. What does David mean when he uses the words “wicked” and “righteous.” Who are the wicked, and who are the righteous? Used fourteen times in our passage alone, the word “wicked” is defined as “one who is guilty of hostility toward God or his people, or one who is guilty of sin (Psalm 37:10, 12-14, 17, 20-21, 28, 32, 34, 38, 40). (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament) In our passage, “The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance (v. 12), they use violence to kill the poor and the oppressed and to slaughter those who do right (v. 14), they borrow and never repay (v. 21), and they watch for those who do good, wanting to cause them harm (v. 32).”
Now, I know what you probably think: “These are not nice people. I’m glad that I’m not like that, right?” But here’s the truth. From a biblical perspective, there are only two types of people. The wicked and the righteous (cf. “Wheat and Tares” - Matthew 13:24–43, “Sheep and Goats” - Matthew 25:31-46). Those who seek to glorify themselves, are accountable to no one and enjoy all the stuff they have amassed in this life, or those who seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. There is no middle ground, and there is no third option. We are either living for ourselves, or we are living for the Lord. It’s that simple.
If we forget the big picture of the story that God is writing and just focus on our lives, then we will only look out for ourselves and cause harm to others in the process, which is what the wicked do, even though they may call themselves “Christians.” Remember God’s original intent for creating us in the first place. Humanity’s ultimate purpose for being created is to bring God glory in all we do and enjoy being in his presence now and for eternity. As we seek to live out the larger story that God is writing rather than just the chapter of our lives, we must keep two things in mind.
First, we must have perseverance, which is rooted in our trust in God. Throughout our Psalm, including verse 18, David reminds us that even though things may be difficult right now, “Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever (Psalm 37:18, NLT).” Folks, we can bank on that! But to do so, we must keep our ultimate purpose in mind. When we do, we can have hope, which enables us to persevere whether we are battling cancer, divorce, the loss of a loved one, disobedient children, a job loss, or any other trial or tribulation. We persevere because we know how this story will end, despite the wicked and the evil they may try to carry out.
Second, we must remember that one day, we will all give an account of our actions to the Lord. In verses 27 and 28, David says, “Turn from evil and do good, and you will live in the land forever. 28 For the LORD loves justice…” (ESV) For there to be justice, there must be a day of judgment. And though David is focused primarily on the judgment of the wicked in our passage, in the big picture, we will all be judged in the end. This is not just a New Testament idea. In Ecclesiastes 12:14, Solomon says, “God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (NLT) In Proverbs 24:12, he says again, “Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’ For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” (NLT) And in Psalm 62:12, David says to God, “Surely you repay all people according to what they have done.” (NLT) Add to that the Apostle Paul’s simple words in Romans 14:12 when he says, “Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God,” and it is clear that we are all going to be held accountable for our actions. (NLT) Again, Jerry Bridges is really helpful here when he says, “God searches the heart and understands every motive. To be acceptable to Him, our motives must spring from a love for Him and a desire to glorify Him.” (Jerry Bridges, “Transforming Grace, NavPress, October 3, 2017) This is why David can say in verses 23-24 of our Psalm, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. 24 Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” (NLT) This is all part of the understanding that those who want to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” have as the basis of their lives. This also enables them to fulfill their ultimate purpose and prove that they are not living for the moment but looking toward the future.
But there is one final thing I believe David wants us to see in our passage as he shows us why we were created, and we’ll sum it up this way…
Point 3: We glorify God and enjoy him forever… by pursuing righteousness (vv. 25-40).
Now, I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but even though I defined “the wicked,” I haven’t defined “the righteous” yet. And that was intentional because, though wickedness comes more naturally to us due to the fall, righteousness doesn’t. In Genesis 8:21, God says, “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” And in Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” So, we have a dilemma. How are those considered “wicked” by nature supposed to pursue righteousness?
Once again, it comes back to our first point, which is that we trust God. In a key event in the Old Testament in Genesis 15, Abraham is caught between doing what he wants in his flesh and trusting God. And he chooses the latter. What was the result? Genesis 15:6 says, “And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Folks, faith and trust are synonymous in Scripture, which drives home the point to us all that we don’t become righteous because of our works. Rather, God declares us righteous as a result of trusting him.
But what about our sin? Does God just ignore it and declare us righteous? And if so, how can he be just if he looks the other way concerning our sin? To make things more complicated, let me read the definition of a “righteous” person for the Hebrew word David uses in our passage.
The righteous person “tries to preserve the peace and prosperity of the community by fulfilling the commands of God in regard to others. This righteousness is exhibited only through conformity to standards set out in the word of God.” (Harold G. Stigers, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) It sounds like a bunch of works, doesn’t it? But it's not because the sin of those who trust God has been dealt with, and they have genuinely been declared righteous and enabled by God to carry out righteous acts.
Part of the big story that we are living is the idea that God would provide a way for our sins to be forgiven once and for all. In Genesis 3:15, God’s plan to redeem humanity from the fall is put into place from the very beginning. In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system pointed to a sacrifice, mentioned in Genesis 3:15, that would eventually end all sacrifices. Also, the righteousness in the Old Testament that came through faith would be fully realized in a person, again mentioned in Genesis 3:15, who would come from God and perfectly fulfill God’s standards on our behalf. And that person is Jesus.
In Romans 8:3-4, here is how the Apostle Paul describes what God has accomplished for us in Jesus, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”(ESV) With the arrival of Jesus, the righteousness that was applied to David, which he talks about in our passage, is fully realized in Jesus because of what he has done for us on the Cross, which we accept by faith, or should I say “trust” (Psalm 37:3,5).
And this trust that we have in God is what drives any righteous acts that we produce. This is what David and Abraham were both looking forward to. And this is why David, in pursuing righteousness, can say in the last part of our passage in verses 30-31, “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” (ESV)
By trusting God, keeping the big picture in mind, and pursuing righteousness as a result of having our sins forgiven by God through the righteousness we have as a result of the life and death of Jesus, we are fulfilling our ultimate purpose. A purpose where people who are wicked by nature and who pursued evil are changed into people who are declared righteous and pursue righteousness as a means of glorifying their God and enjoying him now and forever (Romans 5:19). As John says so clearly in 1 John 2:29, “Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children.” (NLT)
So, where does that leave us? For those living out their ultimate purpose in life of glorifying God and enjoying him now as they anticipate the future with joy, David says this in verses 37-40, “Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace. 38 But the rebellious will be destroyed; they have no future. 39 The LORD rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him.” (NLT)
In the last few pages of the Bible, after God has shown us the story that he is writing, we see in Revelation 21:1-4 what “wonderful future awaits those who love peace” and who have lived out their ultimate purpose in this life by glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Listen to what John, the author of Revelation, says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (NLT)
Folks, if you question what your purpose in life is, let me tell you. Your ultimate purpose is to glorify God and enjoy being in his presence now and for eternity. That is why he created you. If you have not yet trusted in Christ, I would encourage you to do so, for that is the only way to spend eternity with God and fulfill your ultimate purpose in life. And, if you are Christian, but you are not yet convinced that you are righteous in the righteousness that comes only through Jesus, let me leave you with these two questions from author Tim Chester, “How will we live if we think we need to earn God’s approval? How will we live if we are confident we have God’s approval in Christ?” (Tim Chester, Enjoying God: Experience the power and love of God in everyday)
Let's pray together.
Father, as hard as it is at times to glorify you and enjoy being in your presence now and as we anticipate spending eternity with you due to all the distractions, trials, and struggles we face, I pray that Your Spirit will help us to walk in the righteousness we have in Christ in all that we do. Thank you for giving us everything we need to make this possible. Thank you for the love you have shown us through Jesus, who made our righteousness possible through his life and death. Thank you for making yourself known to us through your Word and Spirit. Thank you for surrounding us with people who have the same desire to worship you now and are also anticipating the future that awaits us. Thank you for our hope as we anticipate a day where sin will be conquered once and for all and where we can spend our days basking in your glory for eternity. And thank you for even giving us the desire and ability to trust you. Father, all this and more comes from your hand, and we thank you! For to you and you alone belongs all the glory. - Amen
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Brothers and sisters, you are sent!