************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 6, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 22
"The Righteousness of Faith"
All you need is faith, and as long as you have faith, you are fine. And, since everyone has something they believe in, this must mean everyone is fine. This is the philosophy of our multicultural and tolerant society. This is the philosophy of Oprah and other daytime talk shows. This is the approach of politicians with their "faith-based" initiatives. This is what I come across again and again. Whether their faith is Muslim, Hindu, Christian heresy, or something strange and weird everyone believes they are okay. As long as a person has faith, no matter what that faith is placed in, he is considered a spiritually good person and things will work out for him.
Do you know what is even sadder? This is even the approach of some within the church; more than one person has said to me about a son or daughter or neighbor, "Just be thankful that they go to church" without distinguishing between true churches and false churches.
It is here, my brothers and sisters, that there is a dividing line a great big dividing line between the true Christian faith and the so-called "faith" of this world. To put it simply, we don't say it is good enough to believe. We go further and say what is important vitally important is what faith believes in, is what faith embraces as its object.
In the Bible, as summarized by the Belgic Confession of Faith in Article 22, we confess that faith in and of itself is useless to allow us to stand before God unless that faith is placed in Jesus Christ alone.
Our Protestant forefathers described this understanding of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, as the core of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin used the metaphor of a hinge, saying that justification was "the main hinge on which religion turns."
Let me remind you of where we are at in the Belgic Confession. So far, we have studied the doctrine of God in Articles 1-13. Then, we studied the doctrine of Man in Articles 14-15. Then we studied the doctrine of Christ in Articles 16-19. We are now in the middle of the doctrine of Salvation, which covers Articles 20-26.
In looking at Articles 20 & 21, Pastor Godfrey reminded us of God's justice and Christ's priestly ministry upon the cross. The Articles we are looking at this time and next time tell us about justification and explain that what Christ did on the cross is the basis upon which we are saved from the guilt of our sin. Following that, we will be looking at sanctification, or the pollution of sin, in Articles 24 & 25. As we move into these Articles of the Confession, I want you to realize that Christ's work has a doubt benefit: Christ won for His people not just justification but also sanctification.
I The Author of Faith
A The first benefit of Christ is justification. But how do we come to enjoy it? The answer: by faith. The Confession, however, begins even earlier by asking, "From where does faith come?" The answer: "the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith."
As I already said, Articles 20-26 cover the doctrine of Salvation. Article 20 starts with God the Father Who "sent His Son." Article 21 continues with God the Son Who "is a high priest forever." Now, Article 22 speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, our Bible reading says faith "is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). Hebrews describes Jesus as "the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). And, Paul says, with the "same spirit of faith we also believe" (2Cor 4:13). What does this tell us? That salvation from beginning to end is the work of the triune God.
B What does the Spirit do? He "kindles in our hearts a true faith." Notice the imagery evoked by that word "kindles" fire, flame, blaze. Something burns within us. There is a fire within us. This is not an offer of the Spirit something we can take or leave. It is something the Spirit breathes into us, infuses into us, confers upon us. The same flame that depicted the Spirit on Pentecost is put into us. So what the Spirit gives us is "true faith" and not the empty or vain faith mentioned in Article 24.
Isn't this the teaching of Scripture? Don't forget how our Bible reading starts. It starts with, "you were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Eph 2:1). Meaning what? Meaning we had no faith and did not deserve salvation. But what did God do? He gave us the gift of faith (Eph 2:8). It was kindled in us by the Holy Spirit.
II The Object of our Faith
A Did you notice what "true faith" does according to the Confession? It says that by true faith we "acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery." What is the mystery? It is the work of Christ as "high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" that we find in Article 21 in other words, Christ's work of salvation. Why does the Confession speak of this work of Christ as a "mystery"? The reason is that the Confession uses the language of Scripture. The Bible repeatedly describes Christ's saving work as a "mystery" (Rom 16:25; Eph 1:9; 3:3,4,9; 6:19: Col 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3; 1 Tim 3:9,16). Although we most often associate the word "mystery" with something unknown or puzzling, the Bible uses it in another way. It speaks of a "mystery" as something that once was veiled or hidden but now is revealed. Even though the Old Testament prophets predicted Christ's coming, the work of Christ was largely a mystery to them, hidden behind the veil of God's revelation. The curtain was raised only when God sent His Son in the flesh.
The Spirit of God, then, kindles the faith that enables us to know the mystery of the Gospel namely, that Christ Jesus is our Savior.
B Notice what else true faith does? It "embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him." Notice the verbs used here "embraces, makes, looks." In contrast to the empty faith mentioned in Article 24, true faith clings to Christ, rests in Christ, and seeks Christ.
Notice the object of faith: it is Christ. "Christ with all his merits." The person of Christ and the work of Christ. We look to Christ. Which means we don't look to ourselves. We don't look to our merits. We cannot look to ourselves because, as our Bible passage puts is, we are "dead in ... transgressions and sins" (Eph 2:1). We are beggars who can only receive what is given to us. And, what is given to us is Christ and Christ alone.
The Confession is taking aim at Roman Catholicism and Thomas Aquinas here. They believe we do have merit. That we can reach the point where God owes us salvation. But God owes us nothing. You can slip $100 bills into every special offering or $2000 checks into general fund offerings, but God owes you nothing. You can volunteer at church and school, but God owes you nothing. You can lead people to Christ, but God owes you nothing. You can be nice to puppy dogs and old ladies, but God owes you nothing. You can try your best and let God do the rest but God still owes you nothing. Nothing. Nada. Squat.
I have mentioned this before, but here is the big error of Federal Vision theology. We have a report dealing with this heresy before Synod 2010. A number of you like me have been thrown off by the name. Don't worry about the name; instead, worry about the teaching. Federal Vision theology believes our faith can earn merit with God. But this is nothing but a return to the Roman Catholic view of things.
The only One with merit is Christ. The only One Who has done anything good in the eyes of God is Christ. The only One Who earns a reward is Christ. Not you. Not me. Not Billy Graham. Not Mother Theresa. Not the virgin Mary. Again, as our Bible reading puts it, we aren't saved by good works but for good works (Eph 2:10).
So, those with true faith seek Christ and Christ alone. Nothing more is needed other than Christ Himself. For, if something more is needed, then Christ "is only half a Savior" and ours is only half a salvation.
C I have to say more about the merits of Christ. True faith "embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits." Notice how this is stated in the second last paragraph:
Jesus Christ is our righteousnessNotice, Jesus is our righteousness. His merits becomes ours. His holy works becomes ours. God grants and credits and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. It is as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.
in making available to us all his merits
and all the holy works he has done
for us and in our place.
What can we say about the righteousness of Jesus? He perfectly loved God and man. He perfectly kept God's law. He was tempted but did not fall. He was angry but did not sin. He hated sin and injustice. He showed compassion to the needy and turned no one away. He spent time with the Father in prayer and in worship. His was and is a perfect righteousness. When we, by faith, embrace Christ and all His merits, all of His righteousness becomes ours.
Topic: RighteousnessThis picture reminds us that we are considered righteous not on our own because we have no righteousness of our own but only because of Christ. Think of it this way. If I look through a piece of red glass, everything is red. If I look through a piece of blue glass, everything is blue. If I look through a piece of yellow glass, everything is yellow, and so on. God looks at us through the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. When He does, He sees in us all the glorious holiness of His Son.
The Chinese character for "righteousness" is most interesting. It is composed of two separate characters -- one standing for a lamb, the other for me. When "lamb" is placed directly above "me," a new character -- "righteousness" is formed.
III Faith an Instrument
A Quoting from the Apostle Paul, the Confession reminds us that we are justified "by faith alone." Do you realize what this means? This means, my brothers and sisters, that faith is necessary. It is vitally necessary. There is no justification and no salvation apart from true faith. That is the whole point of our Scripture reading from Ephesians that we are saved only by grace and through faith. I think also of what we read in the book of Hebrews:
(Heb 11:6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
B Now, we have to be careful that we do not misunderstand faith here. In spite of how our English translations of the Bible may read in a number of places, we are not justified by faith but through faith. Faith never justifies us. Only God does.
The Confession of Faith makes the same point. Quoting from the Apostle Paul it reminds us that "we are justified 'by faith alone' or by faith 'apart from works.'" And then it hastens to add this:
However,In the same way as a carpenter's tools are a hammer and a saw, and a farmer's tools are a tractor and a plow, so the Christian's tool is faith. Faith is the tool, the instrument, that God uses to bring us to Himself.
we do not mean,
that it is faith itself that justifies us
for faith is only the instrument ...
Many people misunderstand faith. They think of faith as some kind of good work which God admires and rewards with salvation. If you only have faith, or enough faith, then you will be accepted and glorified. But faith is not some do-it-yourself proposition. It is an instrument, a tool, used by God to join us to Christ and His merits. Think of it this way:
Topic: FaithLikewise, it is not your faith or the sincerity of your faith that keeps you safe eternally. Rather, it is Jesus that keep you safe.
Subtopic: In Christ
You drive your car over the Golden Gate Bridge with perfect faith that it will hold you, and you arrive safely on the other side.
With just as much faith you may drive onto some wooden bridge over a country stream, but if the boards are decayed you will crash through and fall into the stream.
It is not your faith or the sincerity of your faith that keeps you safe. Rather, it is what you have faith in that keeps you safe.
Is it enough to believe? Of course not! Even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). What you need is a faith in Jesus. What you need is a faith in the Jesus of the Bible.
This is the faith that the Holy Spirit kindles in the lives of God's children. Faith that embraces Christ alone. Faith that rests on Christ alone. Faith that seeks Christ alone. Faith that joins us to Christ and His merits. This is the only faith that saves us.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page
Back to Belgic Confession