************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 5, 2014
Canons, Head III,IV Article 10
1 Peter 2:4-12
"Conversion is the Work of God"
A He hated Christ and the church. He hated them so much that he approved their persecution unto death. He went from house to house and dragged off men and women and put them in prison. But then one day a Christian placed his hands on him and spoke to him and he was baptized. I am talking about the conversion of Saul (Acts 7 & 9).
B She sat at the river bank and listened. All week long she was so busy managing her household as well as her business. Finally she had time to listen as a fellow believer in the one true God told her about Christ Jesus. She, too, believed and was baptized. I am talking about Lydia and her conversion (Acts 16:11-15).
C There was a violent earthquake and all the prison doors flew open and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" Paul spoke the word of the Lord to him and his family and they were baptized. I am talking about the conversion of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-34).
D He was an intellectual; he read widely and thought deeply. He was also a romantic; certain sounds, tastes, and sights all filled him with longing and made him homesick. He was an atheist. He became a materialist; that is, he believed the material, physical universe is all there is. Then he became an idealist whose emphasis was on what one thinks. But even this seemed deficient.
What must he do? He wasn't searching for God. He was not all that excited about an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Yet, as he looked back years later he could see that he was being guided. The "great Angler" had dangled the bait and was slowly, irresistibly, luring him in. The Angler, the great Fisherman, could not be denied His catch. Years later he described the final capture this way:
You must picture me alone in that room ... night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the (third) term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.The man I am describing is C.S. Lewis and the story of his conversion is found in this book (HOLD IT UP), "Surprised by Joy."
E I have just told you four conversion stories. And, I want to ask, how where these four converted? How are you and I converted? The sinners, tax collectors and soldiers we looked at this morning who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist, how were they converted?
In previous articles we have been pointed to God's eternal decree of election whereby He chooses some to be saved. We have looked at the preaching of the gospel calling all men to repent and believe. And we have looked at the heart of man that accepts and believes the gospel. Which of these three is the controlling factor, which is primary: God's decree, the preaching and evangelism of the church, or the heart of man?
A Our question this evening: why do some come to Christ and are converted when they hear the call of the gospel?
Our attention is directed first of all to the wrong answer of Pelagius. Pelagius was a British monk active in Rome from A.D. 383-409.
Pelagius taught that all people are able to believe and be converted. And, those who do obey the call of the gospel, come to Christ out of their own free will. As for all others, out of their free will they do not obey the call of the gospel, do not come to Christ, and are not converted. According to Pelagius, Christians choose to be Christians.
We disagree with Pelagius. Man is so corrupt that on his own, apart from the grace of God, he always rejects rather than accepts the gospel. All that fallen man can do, quoting Peter, is "disobey the message" (1 Pet 2:8). As for those who do believe, they do so because, quoting Peter, they "are a chosen people" (1 Pet 2:8).
B Pelagius also taught that all persons have a free will and thus are able to choose either good or evil. According to Pelagius, our will is not under the dominion of sin and in bondage to corruption so we are still capable of choosing good. Pelagius would say that we are capable of being perfect in this life, on this earth, and in this body.
Again, we disagree with Pelagius. And, we do so when we look at Romans 3:
(Rom 3:10-18) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (13) "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." (14) "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (15) "Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) ruin and misery mark their ways, (17) and the way of peace they do not know." (18) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."We look at passages like this and we have to reluctantly conclude that we are so corrupt that on our own, apart from the grace of God, we always choose what is evil rather than what is good. As fallen sinners our choice is always anything but Christ. A bad tree bears only bad fruit. Sinners who can do nothing to save themselves, quite naturally hate a holy Savior.
If we look at our society with open eyes we have to admit the evidence for this is right in front of us: abortion, homosexuality, single parent homes, a rising divorce rate, more and more people in prison, drug and alcohol abuse, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, drive-by shootings.
One of the things featured in this year's Rose Bowl parade was a gay wedding ceremony on one of the floats.
It is not politically correct for me to say I am offended by this. Because – according to the liberal media – this means I am intolerant, unloving, exclusive, and homophobic.
It has reached the point where liberals and gays and lesbians can be offended by me but I am not allowed to be offended by them.
But the sin is not just out there in the world. We need to realize that except for the restraining grace of God each of us is capable of the worst sort of behavior. Sin and corruption bubble up out of my heart as naturally as water bubbles up out of a fountain. Perhaps you think, "My heart is better than most others." Or perhaps you think, "Most everyone has a better heart than I do." The fact is, no heart – in and of itself – is any better or any worse than any other. The Bible says the heart of every person is deceitful and desperately corrupt.
C The Canons call the teachings of Pelagius a "proud heresy." Consider the person who hears the gospel, who repents, who believes. Whether it be Paul, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, or those who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist – according to Pelagius they all are better than those who don't believe. Don't forget, all people have the same opportunity to repent and believe but not all people do repent and believe. So those who choose to repent and believe must be smarter, wiser, more intelligent, and more discerning than those who do not repent and believe.
This is a "proud heresy" not only because it thinks believers are above unbelievers. It is a "proud heresy" because it also exalts believers above the living God. According to this viewpoint it is man, not God, who decides who is and is not chosen to spend eternity with God in heaven. It is man, not God, who is in control. This proud heresy, in other words, sings "Glory to man."
The Bible teaches us that election and salvation are to lead to praise for God, and leads away from human pride. In our Scripture reading, for instance, Peter says:
(1 Pet 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, [WHY?] that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.An elderly pastor made this superb observation, "It is very hard to glorify God and yourself at the same time." In fact, we would have to say it is impossible.
III Sovereign Grace
A Back to our question: why do some come to Christ and are converted when they hear the call of the gospel?
When it comes to saving faith, we do not place our confidence in the natural ability of sinful men and women; rather, we place our confidence in the power of God. We must never leave the door open in any way for man and his work. Never must we leave the impression that man on his own responds to the gospel. Never must there be even a hint of "Glory to man," instead of "Glory to God." Says the Canons,
The fact that (those) who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man ... No, it must be credited to God.
It is positively unbiblical to speak of conversion as the work of the sinner when the Bible tells us that conversion is the work of God. Salvation is of God, not man.
B How does God do this? Why is it that God must get the credit? The Canons tell us:
... just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son ...
Paul, Lydia, the Philippian Jailer, and C.S. Lewis all discovered and experienced the point of Article 10 of the 3rd and 4th heads of doctrine of the Canons of Dort. They each discovered that God's decree is the controlling factor. They each discovered and experienced that the grace of God is irresistible. They each discovered that the elect can no more resist grace than can our bodies resist gravity.
Look at Paul. He was "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 9:17), then he was baptized. Look at Lydia. "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14). We see the same thing when we look at C.S. Lewis or the Philippian Jailer.
What does God do? He causes His elect to believe. "Causes" is a rather cold word almost as if God forces somebody to do something he or she does not want to do. People, as we saw with C.S. Lewis, are moved, drawn, lured by God. They are chased down by God. But while they are going through the process of conversion, God's movements may be largely hidden in events that seem quite "natural":
-An old friend turns up.
-You begin dating a Christian guy or girl.
-You have a baby.
-You come upon a book.
-You hear a sermon.
-Your job disappoints you and you take a look at your goals.
-You finally discover that money is not everything.
-You or a loved one have a serious illness.
-A family member dies.
All of these – and more – are used by God to chase down His elect, to draw them, pull them, into His kingdom.
C We call this "sovereign grace" and "irresistible grace." One Christmas we bought chocolates for each of the boys to give to their church-school teacher. Two of the boys gave the present. One of the boys did not. The thought of the chocolates inside the box was irresistible to him. So he opened the box and began to eat. His teacher never did get those chocolates.
God's grace is far more irresistible than chocolates. In the lives of His children, His elect, God always overcomes the stubborn rebellion of their heart. A person can try to resist God all the way – and often does – but this resistance is in vain. God drags His elect, in spite of their resistance, into His kingdom.
To His elect God says "Come to me!" And they come.
To His elect God says "Repent of your sins!" And they repent.
To His elect God says "Believe in my one and only Son, Jesus Christ!" And they believe.
God breaks down the resistance of His elect. He melts frozen hearts, bends stubborn minds, and softens hard attitudes.
The point is this: God is sovereign. He will have His way with His children. He will have His way with every single last one of them, with every single lost one of them – none excepted. His grace is irresistible.
Are you worried about yourself and your salvation. Rest assured that God will have His way with you. Are you worried about the salvation of a loved one. Rest assured that God will have His way with him or her. Are you worried about the lost of the world. Rest assured that God irresistibly calls the elect to come, to repent, to believe.
God is sovereign. He is in control from beginning to end. He is the great Angler Who always gets the fish, the great Hunter Who always gets His prey, the great Trapper Who always bags His limit.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page