************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Articles 12-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 21, 2013
Canons, Head I, Articles 12-13
2 Peter 1:1-11
"Make Your Calling and Election Sure"
How do we know we are one of the elect? A person may believe they are saved when that is not the case. A person may also fear that they are not saved when in actual fact regeneration has taken place. So, how do we know we are one of the elect? Or, to use the language of Peter, how do you "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10)?
Not all Christians have the assurance of their salvation at all times. More than one person has asked me how to be sure about salvation. If you are one of these, I want you to realize you are not alone; assurance of salvation is a difficult struggle for many. And, I hope and pray that this evening's message will help you.
I Reasons for a Lack of Assurance
A The primary reason why any of us are not sure about salvation is because of sin.
The sin that we are born with as well as the sin we actually commit make us question our own salvation. When we are disobedient to God's commands or indifferent to the things of the Lord, we may question whether or not we are among the elect.
We need to keep four things in mind. First, we need to realize that the old man of sin puts up a terrific struggle until we take our last breath and finally enter the presence of God.
Second, we need to realize that Satan wants us to question our salvation.
Third, we need to realize that no unbeliever ever worries about whether or not they are numbered among the elect! Only a Christian feels convicted by sin. Only a Christian is moved to repentance. Only a Christian desires to obey God's law and then struggles with his or her inability to do so. Only the Christian struggles with trying to do right and avoiding what is wrong.
We take our failures as a sign that God hates us. We take our poor performance in the Christian life as a sign that we are not elect. Instead, we should see our failings as a sign that God is convicting us of sin. No non-Christian has ever experienced this struggle. No non-Christian is ever worried about this.
Fourth, let us not forget that the closer we grow to God and the more we know His Word, the more dissatisfied we become with our sanctification.
B A second reason any of us may lack the assurance of salvation is to be found in the unbiblical teaching and false doctrine today about the nature of the Christian life. In much of the modern evangelical church world, assurance of salvation is often based upon performance, obedience, and external acts of piety. If it was a good week, then we feel God's favor. If we, for instance, have devotions and witness to a co-worker, then we are doing just fine. If it was a bad week, then we need to worry.
Don't ever make the mistake, congregation, of looking within yourself for the assurance of salvation. We need to look outside ourselves to the saving work of Christ. God's Word says that Christ saves sinners, even the worst! Do we believe that promise, regardless of our own performance?
C A third reason any of us may lack the assurance of salvation is because we confuse a person's character with the fruit of the Spirit. Over the years I have noticed there are nice and nasty believers. The nasty believers are rude and tactless; they come off as belligerent and unkind. The nice believers are sweet, soft, and gentle. Too often we assume that all Christians are to be of the nice variety. Too often we want to believe that no Christian can be of the nasty variety. Yet, we all know better. Both kinds are to be found in the church. Depending upon the circumstances, both kinds are to be found in the same person. We can never assume that someone who is rude and tactless is not a Christian. Don't confuse a person's character with the fruit of the Spirit.
D A fourth reason any of us may lack the assurance of salvation is because we are looking for it in the wrong places! When we seek assurance of salvation in our feelings and opinions, our religious experiences, our performance, we are setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment. God does not promise to give us assurance through these things. Rather, He gives us assurance through the means of grace – namely, His Word and the sacraments.
II Assurance of Election Given - Article 12
A There are those, of course, who deny that the elect can and do become assured of their eternal and unchangeable election. They teach instead that election can be interrupted and changed, recalled and annulled, and that to the very moment of death God's people have no firm assurance.
In one of the James Bond movies there is a monastery, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket.Unfortunately, many people believe they can have no security in their relationship with God – that they are held by an old and frayed rope. They doubt if they can ever really know for sure that they're saved. These people are mentioned in Rejection VII. There the Canons reject the error of those
Of course, the rope looked old and frayed.
Discovering halfway up a cliff that you're being held by a frayed rope doesn't make for much security!
Who teach that in this life there is no ... assurance of one's unchangeable election to glory...
In contrast to this the Canons teach that "Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen ..." Assurance is not something abnormal or unusual. It is normal and usual for the elect to be given assurance of their election. In fact, without that assurance, life would be very miserable indeed. At the back of my mind I would always have to be wondering.
B The Canons lay down some conditions to this assurance. It is given to the chosen "in due time." Due time, of course, is always God's time, not our time. The assurance of election takes place according to God's good pleasure. Some – as, for example, the thief on the cross – may not receive it until their dying moments. That is God's time for them. Others – as, for example, David and Timothy – may attain it at a very young age. That is God's time for them. But whenever it is, the elect are given assurance of their election.
Also, all the elect are not assured to the same degree and with the same measure. The Canons say "Assurance ... is given ... by various stages and in differing measure." We know this to be true from personal experience. There are some Christians who are very firm and clear about their election and who seldom know a moment of doubt. But there are also some Christians who are very hesitant to speak of their election, who frequently despair, and who are plagued with doubts and fears and questions. Furthermore, there are times when we are more sure than others. There are times when an individual can be in the depths of despair – those usually are times when we live and walk in gross sin – and other times when the individual can be on the mountaintop of faith. And there are various degrees of assurance between these extremes. But whether it be strong or weak the elect do obtain assurance of their election.
C How do we get this assurance? The Canons give us both a negative and a positive answer. Negatively, the Canons say,
Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God ...What is forbidden here is going beyond the boundaries of Scripture. Where Scripture is silent about election and reprobation we have to be silent too. We can't say more than the Bible does. We can't go beyond what the Bible says. This warning is mentioned because there are those who look for assurance of their election not in the Word of God but in dreams or special revelations or unusual feelings or extraordinary experiences.
Positively, the Canons say the chosen are assured of their election
... by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God's Word ...What are these fruits?
-a true faith in Christ – that is, a faith that looks to Christ and Christ alone for all the blessings of salvation: such as forgiveness, righteousness, new life
-a childlike fear of God – that is, not the fear of a slave, but the respect and love of a son or daughter
-a godly sorrow for sin – that is, not merely a sorrow about getting caught or because of the consequences of sin, but a deep and abiding sorrow that we have offended God and His majesty
-a hunger and thirst for righteousness – that is, a desire to walk in God's ways, to follow His laws, to be like Christ
Those who can truly and sincerely observe these fruits or a measure of these fruits within themselves can rest assured of their election. They can be assured of their election because these fruit come from nowhere but election. Just like apples come only from an apple tree and pears come only from a pear tree so the fruits of election come only from election.
How do you know if you are elect? When it comes down to it, the assurance of election just like election itself is the work of God. It is a gift of His grace. God assures us of our election by the fruit He works in our lives through His Word and His Spirit. So from beginning to end, salvation is totally a work of God. He elects us. He calls us. He justifies us. He glorifies us. And, He even assures us that we are included in this golden chain of salvation.
D In this connection we have to listen to what Peter says to us about election and assurance of election:
(2Pt 1:10) Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.Peter warns us against presumption. You can't presume you are elect to be saved just because you are raised in a Christian home or are sent to a Christian school or attend church on Sundays. If the fruits of election are not found in your life, don't presume to think you are elect to be saved.
On the other hand, if you think the fruits are there, but are hesitant to say so, then make your "calling and election sure." Start off by spending time with the Word and in worship. Then, within this context, encourage those fruits to be more real in your life. Cooperate with the Spirit of God rather than resist it. By the grace and power of God work at making those fruit more visible in your life. Make a conscious and deliberate effort at fighting off sin and leading a life of righteousness.
III Assurance Doesn't Cause Carelessness - Article 13
A Article 13 answers the greatest objection that has been raised against the doctrine of election – namely, that it makes people careless; that it makes "God's children lax in observing his commandments or carnally self-assured." The argument goes like this:
I am elect. My election is eternal and unchangeable. I can do nothing to it, and I can take nothing away from it. It therefore makes no difference what I do or how I live. I can sin if I please to sin. I need not fight nor struggle against sin.
B How do we answer this objection? Experience shows us it isn't true to fact. Believers in election have been and still are among the most godly of all people. The Puritans, for instance, believed in election and they were widely respected because of the great purity of their lives.
This objection is addressed by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q & A 64?
Q. But doesn't this teaching (of justification by grace through faith) make people indifferent and wicked?
A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.
The Canons take a similar approach. They say that being sure of election leads the chosen away from carnal security and moral laxity.
First of all, election and the assurance of election leads to humility. Those who believe in election know the truth about themselves: that there is nothing in them or about them that makes them worthy to be chosen; in fact, they know that everything about them is unworthiness and sin.
Second, election and the assurance of election leads to adoration of God and His mercies. Over and over again the elect come back to the same question, "Why me? Why me and not another? I am no more deserving than any other so why me?" The answer is only to be found in God's grace and good pleasure. Knowing this can only lead us to praise Him and thank Him and adore Him.
Third, the Canons say the doctrine of election leads us to work at cleansing ourselves. We can't forget what Scripture says about the purpose of our election by God:
(Eph 1:4) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.These verses remind us that God has chosen His elect unto holiness. They remind us that God has chosen His elect to live and act as His children.
(Eph 2:10) For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(1Pet 1:2) who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ ...
Fourth, the Canons say the doctrine of election makes us want to love Him Who first so greatly loved us.
My brothers and sisters, you don't have to wonder like a love-sick woman: he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.
You don't have to wonder because it has pleased God to grant His chosen ones assurance of their election.
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