************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 21, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 22
The latest figures indicate the U.S. national debt stands at 25 trillion dollars. How much is a trillion? A trillion is a million millions. For $1 million you can buy a very nice one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. With $1 trillion, you can buy a very nice apartment for everybody in the city. A trillion is a thousand billions. Go back a billion seconds and you'd be in 1987. Go back a trillion seconds and you'd be somewhere around 30,000 B.C.
Today I want to ask how much is faith worth? Is it worth as much as our national debt? Hebrews 11:6 states, "And without faith it is impossible to please God." Do you know what this means? It means faith is vitally important. It means faith is like a treasure hidden in a field or like a pearl of great value. We can't put a value on faith because faith is priceless. Faith gives us access to the riches of God in Christ, which is of far greater value than our national debt.
We have various paintings from Ruth hanging on our walls. Ruth and I think they are valuable and precious but when we go on vacation we don't hide them or put them in storage for safekeeping. However, if we had an original Picasso or Rembrandt, it would be kept in a museum or private gallery and so closely guarded that no one could steal it or even touch it. The greater its worth, the better it is guarded. Faith, my brothers and sisters, is worth guarding.
I The Origin of Faith
A "We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery ..." That's how Article 22 begins. It begins with mystery. In theological language, in Biblical language, mystery is NOT mysterious, NOT hocus-pocus, not magical. Mystery is something that needs to be revealed. By God. In His Word and by His Spirit. What great mystery is the Confession referring to? It is referring to what has been mentioned in the previous articles: election, incarnation, two natures of Christ, justice and mercy of God, atonement. In fact, mystery includes everything concerning salvation.
The Confession calls it "true knowledge." Although no one in this life will ever have this knowledge in full, what we do have is true. When those who have this knowledge enter into glory and meet Jesus, they will admit, as did the Queen of Sheba at the sight of Solomon's glory, "Indeed, not even half was told me" (1 Ki 10:7).
The true knowledge of this great mystery of salvation was hidden throughout the ages. To this day it remains hidden to the disbelieving. Think about it. Christ, the eternal Son of God, was made in human likeness. Christ, the King, hid Himself in the form of a servant. Christ, the Perfect One, became obedient to death -- even death on a cross. To the world all this is foolishness. To the world all this is hidden. It is even hidden to the angels for Peter tells us angels long to look into these things (1 Pet 1:12).
While it remains hidden to the children of wrath who will go lost, while it remains secret to those who are wise according to worldly standards, while it remains concealed to the angels, yet it is revealed to the children of God -- to all those who receive the Kingdom of God as a child.
B To acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery we need something. What do we need? We need "the Holy Spirit to kindle in our heart a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ." To acquire the true knowledge of the mystery of the Gospel we need the Spirit. The knowledge of salvation begins with the Spirit. It doesn't begin with man. It is not original to man. The world cannot attain to it. Science and philosophy will never reach it. It begins with the Spirit.
C What does the Spirit do? The Spirit kindles faith. To have true knowledge of the Gospel the Holy Spirit needs to kindle in our heart a true faith. The Holy Spirit gives faith to the church, to every believing sinner who seeks salvation. The Holy Spirit, whose work is irresistible, has access to every human heart. There is no heart so tightly locked, so stony, so full of enmity, that He cannot break it open. He kindles and lights the fire of faith and He does this primarily through the preaching of the Word. He works true faith in the sinner -- not just a recognition of some facts, not some feeling of ecstasy, not some vague experience.
What does the Spirit do? The Spirit kindles faith. Faith comes from the Spirit.
II The Object of Faith
A That brings us to our second point: the object of faith. Compare the Confession to the Catechism. The Catechism asks, "What is true faith?" The Confession, on the other hand, tells us what faith does. What does faith do? Faith "embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits." I love that word "embrace." Ruth and I embrace very morning: a hug, a kiss. The grandchildren are embraced every time we see them and every time they leave: lot of hugs and kisses. Faith embraces Christ. Faith clings to Christ. Faith recognizes it can never let go of Christ. Faith recognizes nothing and no one is as precious and desirable as Christ. Faith embraces Christ because it knows the gruesome reality of sin and misery and the awesome gift of Christ and His righteousness. Faith embraces Christ for it knows without Him we remain dead in our trespasses and sins and in Him is forgiveness and life.
The Spirit kindles faith and faith embraces Christ.
B The Confession goes on to say either the believer has in Christ everything that is required for salvation, or the believer has nothing in Christ that is required for salvation. It is either all or nothing.
A similar and equally strong statement is found in Q & A 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Either Jesus is not a perfect savior,
or those who in true faith accept this savior
have in him all they need for their salvation.
The background of both statements -- whether from the Confession or the Catechism -- has to do with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of Rome basically says Christ is not enough, that something else is needed as well. So they added the mass as a daily offering of Christ, indulgences, confession, prayers of penance, and acts of penance. Before we self-righteously think that we are better, realize we Reformed Christians have our own dangers. We are big on conviction of sin, sorrow for sin, being active in the church and kingdom, worship attendance, devotions, and so on. But none of this takes anything from our guilt and adds nothing to the work of Christ. That's why we have to say with Paul that we are justified by faith alone or by faith apart from works.
Anything that hints at Christ's work not being enough is "a most enormous blasphemy against God -- for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior." A Christ who did not really do all that is necessary to save us is not worth following or embracing.
It is in Christ's work and sacrifice that our full salvation lies. The whole of Christ's work and ministry, the whole of the person and message of the Lord, stands or falls with this one truth: that His work is complete, and it is accepted by the Father. If it fell short by even a hair, He would not be the Savior and we would be lost for eternity.
Brothers and sisters, if we embrace Christ in faith, we have full salvation, complete salvation. The Old Testament priest applied the blood of sacrifice to the right ear lobe, thumb, and big toe of a person to declare that individual was fully cleansed. Christ gives so much more. His blood washes over us; it is poured upon us and we are cleansed thoroughly. He applies to us all His merits and benefits: His perfect and obedient life, His prayers, His agonies on the cross. It is all applied to guilt-ridden sinners through faith.
Brothers and sisters, we need to embrace Christ in faith. It does not depend on the quantity or quality of our faith. Faith is faith, whether it is as small as a mustard seed or as big as our national debt. Faith is faith, whether it is as simple as a child's or as complex as a theologian's. If we embrace Christ in faith, we have full salvation.
I hope you realize how precious and amazing is this gift of the Spirit.
III The Instrument of Faith
A In our last point we need to make clear and proper distinctions. Failure to do so leads to confusion, uncertainty, and doubt. To help you understand this, let me ask one of the questions we answer in pastor's class: "Why should God let you into heaven?" Let me list a bunch of answers:
-because I go to church
-because I put money in the collection plate
-because I try to live a good life
-because I know and confess my sin
-because I do good works like visit the sick and the widow
-because I am a pastor or an elder or a Sunday School teacher
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Let's try another answer, an answer that many of our people give:
-because I believe in Jesus
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Because this means it is your belief, your faith, that saves you. Because this means we save ourselves. We know better: Jesus Christ -- not our works, not our faith -- is our righteousness. Dear people, faith does not save you. Faith does not justify you. I need to emphasize this point because so many people look to their faith rather than to Christ.
B So what is the role of faith? What is the place of faith? What does Paul mean when he says "a man is justified by faith." What he means is that faith is the instrument of salvation. Faith is nothing more than the arms and hands that reach out and embrace Christ and His righteousness. Let's say you are drowning and someone throws you a rope. You cannot be saved if you have no arms and hands to reach out and grab the rope. Now, do your arms and hands save you? No! Does the rope save you? No! What saves you is the person who threw you the rope and pulled you to safety. This is how it is with faith. While vitally important, it is no more than the arms and hands, it is no more than an instrument.
Faith is an instrument. But do not despise faith or think faith is not necessary because Scripture says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). Faith is a necessary instrument.
C Are you concerned about your salvation? Are you troubled by your sin? Are you fearful the Judge of heaven and earth will not accept you? If these things concern you -- as they should -- you must listen to the Gospel and have faith. The Gospel declares to you that those who repent and have faith receive the righteousness of Christ.
What is the value of faith? What is the value of your faith? It is through faith that we embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. It is through faith that we enter into communion with the Lord and are kept there. It is faith that makes it possible for Christ's blessed righteousness to cover all our sins, and makes us partakers of Christ and all His benefits. Faith makes the trillions of our national debt look like nothing. Faith provides riches that never end because God is an infinite God who gives us the best, the most precious, the dearest He can give: His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you see why we thank God for the Spirit's gift of faith?
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