************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 24 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on December 27, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 24
"Live the Life"
Very often in life proper distinctions or categories are essential. To learn to speak you need to know the differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. To learn mathematics you need to know the differences between addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. To learn different languages you must know different words, alphabets, and dialects. Now if you learn all these things, but can't put them in proper categories, your idea of truth will be muddled, and ultimately incorrect.
This idea is very important in Christianity as well. Obviously that is why we have our confessions. We want to clearly understand categories. We want to put things properly as scripture presents them. And that is especially important to remember with the articles we've been looking at. In the last article Pastor Dieleman preached about Justification. Now you see we've come to the article on Sanctification. The distinction between the two is perhaps the most important thing to understand in Christianity, when we speak of our salvation.
Remember what justification is. It is God's free grace given to us. Where our sins our pardoned. Where we are made righteous in God's sight, because of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ. And this is imputed to us.
Sanctification is different. It is a gracious and continuous act that purifies us from sin, renews His image in us, and enables us to do good works.
Some of the differences that one good theologian helpfully highlights are as follows;
First; Justification removes the guilt of sin, where Sanctification removes the pollution of sin.
Second; Justification takes place outside the sinner, where Sanctification takes place inside the sinner.
Third; Justification is an action that is once-for-all, where Sanctification is an ongoing act.
Finally; Both have to do with the merits of Christ, but Justification is usually more connected with a relationship to the Father, where Sanctification is usually connected more with a relationship to the Holy Spirit.
In the Roman Catholic church this distinction was utterly absent. Talking about what Christ had done for us (justification), and what he was now doing in us (sanctification) was one in the same thing. But in the Belgic Confession, and more importantly in Scripture, this clear distinction between Justification and Sanctification is upheld.
Sanctification must be viewed as the new life that we (the justified) now live. And we must ask, what does this life look like? First, it is built on the Firm Foundation of Faith. Second it is a Necessary Fruit of Faith. Finally, it is Dependant on God's Grace.
I. Built on a Firm Foundation of Faith
When you begin something you need a firm foundation. In the youth group over the past months we've been going through what is known as the ordo salutis or the "order of salvation." It is the various steps that takes place in salvation. It involves calling, regeneration, repentance, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. I keep making the point to them that the order is very, very important. Here the article makes the same point. Notice that this article speaks about the "Good root of faith." We can view our faith as a root or foundation of our sanctification. In fact the whole first section of the article serves as the foundation of our sanctification. It points to the fact that we are a New Creation with a New Life, and it comes Through Means.
A. New Creation
In II Corinthians 5:17 we are told "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the Old has gone, the new has come!" This speaks to our regeneration. We are no longer dead in our trespasses, but have been brought from death to life.
B. New Life
Romans 6:4 states that we were "Raised that we might live a new life" This flows out of our new creation. We who have been brought to life… now live
C. Through Means
This new life and new creation must come through means. The means we are given is the word by the Holy Spirit. These means have brought us justification. These means now bring us sanctification.
As always the confession wants to ground our consideration of sanctification in the context of justification. It makes it crystal clear that all these things must take place before we can ever speak of the life we now live. We must be a new creation, having a new life, having the word and Spirit. And once we have these things, then we can consider the fruit of our faith. And indeed it is a necessary fruit.
II. The Necessary Fruit of that Faith
Here is the really important part for us to stress as we look as the Belgic Confession this evening. It is so important because this was a big accusation against the Reformers. Indeed it is still a big accusation against the Reformed today. The question comes, "Won't a view of justification as you put it make us lazy? Won't make us apathetic towards the godly life?" That's what the Roman Catholic church said, and that's what a lot of Christians still say today. But here we're given all we need to answer in article 24. We're told it is "Far from making [us] cold", and it is "impossible for us to be unfruitful." With these words in mind we turn to Romans 6 where we read in vv. 1-2 "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!!! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" We who have been brought from death to life will necessarily show the fruit of those who are alive!!! It is inevitable.
If you're dead in the water, and someone dives in and drags you back into the boat. They perform CPR, you begin to breathe again. You are literally brought back from certain death. Would you jump back in the water and start swallowing water as quickly as possible. Of course not!!! You're going to live!!! What's more you're most certainly going to live in gratitude for whoever jumped overboard and saved you.
But yet this has been a battleground idea throughout history. In Galatians 5:6 we're told that this is "faith working through love," but so many of the foolish Galatians did not understand this truth. Likewise in the book of Romans we see that Paul is speaking to the tension between those who confused justification and sanctification as one, and those who understood the distinction as he was putting it.
The reason the confession was written was because the Roman Catholic Church had the same exact debate going on. The Council of Trent used the language of sanctification in its definition of justification. The Belgic makes the proper distinction, as did Luther, Calvin, and so many others. That's why the Concil of Trent declared their views heretical. Today that battleground continues. Pastor Dieleman has told you of this same heretical war in our circles known as the Federal Vision, and similarly the New Perspective on Paul. Basically this is the same debate wrapped up in a new shiny bow.
It is all so unnecessary. Rather than trying to shove good works into the definition of faith, why not just understand them as they are. They are the necessary fruit. If you believe, then you will show fruit. If you believe, you will live a godly life. The one necessarily follows the other. The confession then goes on to reiterate the point that this necessary fruit can only come from a tree that is alive, "otherwise they could not be good anymore than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place." This fruit still depends on the grace of God.
III. Dependant on God's Grace
Our sanctification is dependant on God's grace as its foundation and dependant throughout the process. Why?
A. We're Still Sinners – Still dependant on God's grace for strength.
There is a fallacy that says, "It is God's work to save me, and it is my work to live!" "God's work is justification, ours is Sanctification." We need to remember that sanctification is still a work of God. In Philippians 2:10 we're told God, "works in us both to will and do." That's a great encouragement beloved; The Christian life is difficult. And the process of sanctification is something continuous, ongoing, never complete this side of glory. We need to know that God is at work in us. So that every time we stumble and fall we don't think it's up to us alone, we don't lay down and give up. We don't think, "I've got to pull myself up by my bootstraps and conquer this sin." Or on the other side think, "I'm just to weak, I'll never overcome." Sanctification is dependant on God's grace. We also need to know this because…
B. Still Tainted by Sin – Our works are only acceptable by God's Grace
Remember in Isaiah 64 we're told that our best works are as "filthy rags" in the sight of God. That's pretty crazy to think about. Often we can think pretty highly about our works. We do something nice, we think we've conquered a sin, and we start to feel pretty good. But imagine a time card at work. Imagine working a grueling 7 day week with 12 hours shifts, and at the end you look at your time card and see only 15 minutes. In essence that is what our works are like. Even our best works are tainted by sin, and the things we think are great are still as filthy rags in God's sight. This should be a humbling point for us all, and it points us back to the grace of God because though our best deeds are so meager, by God's grace he sanctifies these works. He takes these filthy rags, these inadequate thank offerings, and He makes them acceptable in His sight. What a glorious God we serve!
C. Doesn't Earn Salvation
Sometimes I can be a little worried when I come to a text like this morning's. We can so easily misunderstand texts such as these. So easy to take these moral exhortations and say that they are a part of our salvation. Indeed it is often the case that after a text that gives a charge toward Godly living someone will say, "we need to hear that so we remember to do our part" or "well, that's good to hear, and I'm doing my best"
The good works that flow out of our sanctification don't earn salvation. If we had to depend on that there would be no hope!!! That's why the article finishes by saying that we would be "always in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior."
But beloved we know that we have been saved, by the grace of God, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We have been justified. Therefore, we have been sanctified. Therefore, live the life, of sanctification… Amen.
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