************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 14 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on February 9, 2014

Canons, Head III,IV Article 14
Ephesians 2:1-10
"God's Gift of Faith"

A notice comes by email. "You've won!" it says. "You've won a dream vacation for two to Florida." Or, "You've won a boat." Or, "You've won a color TV." This past week I answered the phone, "Congratulations, you've won a cruise."

Whenever I get one of these offers I make a point of finding out the catch. Sometimes you have to pay for regular air-fare. Other times you have to put up with a sales presentation two whole days out of five looking at condos and swamp-land. Or, you have to buy something. Wise people have learned to be skeptical of such come-ons. We have learned that:
-Nothing comes for nothing.
-If something looks too good to be true, it is.
-If something is free, there is a catch.
-If something is inexpensive, it is junk.
Whatever the case may be, you know ahead of time you will end up being disappointed and frustrated by the offer.
This past week my dear wife reminded me of the time I purchased a flashlight that never needs batteries. Just gently squeeze and a powerful beam of light will illumine your work area. The powerful beam of light ended up being weak and pathetic. The gentle squeeze turned into pumping a hand generator like crazy until you got sores and blisters on your hands. Yep, I got taken.
This week I took the plunge again. I received an email offer for the "Dollar Shave Club." In the grocery store and drug store a pack of razor blades can easily run you $18 or $20 but this club offered me two blades a month for $1. The blades came in the mail yesterday. I eagerly shaved this morning. By noon I was scratching baby's stomach with my 5 o'clock shadow. At 3:15 I had to do a full shave for the second service. Yep, I got taken again.

Tonight I want to tell you about a gift with absolutely no strings attached. I want to tell you about a gift that never disappoints or frustrates. It is not a car, not cash, not a house, not a dream vacation, not a flashlight that never needs batteries, not a great shave for $1 per month. It is something far better than any of these. It is salvation by grace and through faith.

I Faith is a Gift of God
A In our Scripture reading the Apostle Paul reminds us that both grace and faith are gifts of God:
(Eph 2:8-9) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- (9) not by works, so that no one can boast.
Grace and faith are gifts that God gives us. The Canons remind us that faith [and grace] are "a gift of God ... bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him."

B What does it mean that faith and grace are a gift? First, this means it is something you do not deserve.

Think about grace as a gift. As a gift grace is something given freely. Otherwise it is not a gift. Grace is something given not because you are so good, so deserving, so worthy. Rather, it is a gift that is unmerited, unearned, undeserved. Grace means you get the opposite of what you deserve. You deserve hell, and hell fire; instead, you get grace.

Like grace, faith is also a gift. It is given freely. It is not something given because you are so good, so deserving, so worthy. In fact, there is nothing about you that makes you a worthy candidate for faith. Rather, it is unmerited, unearned, undeserved. It also means you get the opposite of what you deserve. You deserve punishment and damnation; instead, you get faith.

At the time the Canons were written there were those who said that those who believe are somehow better, smarter, and more deserving than all others. It was argued that those with faith deserved to have faith. "No!" says the Canons with the Apostle Paul. Faith "is the gift of God."

Congregation, why do you believe? Do you think you are worthy of God's gift of faith, that you deserve God's gift of faith, that you are better than all others? If you do, then grace and faith are not for you because, don't forget, they are unmerited, unearned, undeserved. Paul says, "it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph 2:8,9). There is no room here for spiritual pride. There is no room for self-congratulation. We cannot pat ourselves on the back and be self-satisfied about our faith.

C Faith is a gift. This means, second, it is unconditional. There are no catches, no secret clauses, no requirements. God doesn't say, "I will give you faith if you ..."
One day a lady went shopping and met a homeless man along the way. She invited him home for a warm meal. During the conversation the man said, "I wish there were more people like you in the world." Whereupon the lady replied, "Oh, there are. But you must look for them." The old man simply shook his head, saying. "But, lady, I didn't need to look for you. You looked for me."
What a perfect picture of God's gift of grace and faith. We don't have to look for Him; rather, He looks for us. He freely gives, freely bestows, freely blesses. The Canons tell us God does not await "assent the act of believing from man's choice."

At the time the Canons was written there were those who believed that grace and faith were conditional. That you had to read the fine-print. That you had to meet some requirement or another. To get my "free" vacation, for instance, I have to pay for two tickets to Florida. These people thought that grace and faith were only given to those who chose to believe and chose to be saved. They saw salvation as a 50-50 proposition. God does 50% and man does 50%. God holds out the offer and man must choose to accept it and do something with it.

Do you know what the problem with this view is? It sees some good in sinful man. It assumes that fallen man has a measure of goodness, holiness, and righteousness left in him. It assumes that man is free to choose between good and evil. It assumes that man is capable of choosing for good.

It is true that man has a free will. And, it is also true that God does His part and we do our part. But not the way these people think. My part is the sinning and God's part is the saving. I chase after sin to follow it and God chases after me to save me. It can't be any other way. You see, as a fallen creature I never choose for grace and I never choose for faith; rather, I always choose for sin and evil and wickedness. It is only because of God that I receive grace and faith.

Think of what this says about our sin and misery. I am so fallen, I am so sinful, that when God comes to me in grace I cannot embrace that grace unless He also gives me faith. I am so fallen, so sinful, that my will always chooses to run away from God. I am so fallen, so sinful, that I want nothing to do with grace and faith.

What it comes down is this: grace and faith are free; there are no stipulations; there are no requirements; no one has to prove his or her worthiness. As the song puts it:
Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
As I already said, this is a gift with absolutely no strings attached. This is a gift that never disappoints or frustrates. This is the greatest gift ever: salvation by grace through faith.

II Faith is a Gift that Cannot be Refused
A The Canons remind us that though faith is a gift it is not the kind of gift that can be refused or returned.
Two Thursdays ago I was asked to help out with a homeless project run by the Visalia Rescue Mission.
Now, you need to realize that the number of homeless people is a real problem in our community. What struck me, as I was helping out, was the number of young families with little kids.
The news of the project was broadcast all around the community to those who work with the homeless, to the homeless themselves.
As I was walking around I was impressed with all the services available for free:
-Copy of birth certificates
-DMV services
-Clothing, blankets and sleeping bags
-Reading glasses and books
-Legal aid
-Veterinarian services
-Bike repair
-Bus passes
And the list went on and on with agency after agency having booths, information, and help.
All of this free help yet it seemed to me we helped less than 400 people. At a training meeting before the event we were informed that 1200 people were helped last year and it was hoped we would have an even bigger turnout this year.
What happened? It was our first rain storm of the year that day so some didn't want to come. Others simply rejected the offers of help.
Faith is not this kind of gift. No one it is given to can decide whether or not to accept or reject it. Says the Canons:
... faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose ...

We hear of the human body rejecting organ transplants. That is always a danger when a person gets a new kidney or heart. But when God gives the gift of faith, He bestows it on man. He breathes and infuses it into man. It becomes part of a man's very being and makeup. This being the case, a man can no more reject faith than can the sun reject the moon or the cloud reject the rain.

B The Canons further explain this by telling us that God "works all things in all people." For instance, God not only enables us to make a beginning in living the holy life, He also creates in us the desire to lead a holy life. "God works in you," says Paul in Philippians, both "to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil 2:13). God not only gives us life but He has also given us a desire to live. God not only give us material blessings, but He also gives us a desire to share these blessings with other. God not only gives us fellowship with Him, but He also gives us a desire for that fellowship. "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God" (Ps 42:1).

When it comes to faith, God "produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself." God's gift is total. It is complete. It lacks nothing.
How many times haven't you received a gift only to find something essential is missing. For instance, a discrete message on the package might say, "Batteries Not Included," "Cable Not Included." Unless you have the cable or batteries in the house, the gadget or toy cannot be tested out and enjoyed.
God, as it were, includes the batteries and cables too. He not only gives faith or belief, but He also gives the will or desire to have faith or belief.

III Faith is a Great Gift of God's Love
A We, as fallen people, are sinners. As fallen people we would rather run from God than to God. As fallen people we would rather remain in sin than in righteousness. As fallen people we would rather be pagan unbelievers than Christ-confessing believers.

Notice what God does for us fallen people. God "made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions" (Eph 2:5). Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 5, "While we were still sinners" and, "when we were God's enemies" (Rom 5:8,10). God gives the gifts of grace and faith to transgressors, sinners, enemies.

Paul says God does this "because of his great love for us" (Eph 2:4).

How different God's love is from ours. We would never think of giving gifts to enemies, to those who oppose us and hate us and run away from us. But God's love is unconditional. God's love is so great that He gives grace and faith to His enemies.

B Out of love great love God gives the gift of grace and faith to enemies. It is free. It is unconditional. There are no hidden conditions or prerequisites. It is a gift.

As you know, it may be free, but it isn't cheap. It may be free, but it also is costly. The cost was the infinite sacrifice of God's one and only Son upon the cross. In giving us His gifts, God paid the ultimate price.

Congregation, there is a gift a free gift, a great gift that has no strings attached. A gift that can come to those we least expect. A gift that never disappoints or frustrates. It is the gift of grace and faith.
I remember talking to a young man after a worship service. He wanted to know what he could do to be saved. I told him anything he did was too little and too late. He didn't understand so I told him there was nothing he could do because salvation was accomplished 2000 years ago at the cross and grave of Christ. "It is finished work!," I said. "There is nothing you can do." Then the young man understood. There was nothing he could do to save himself. Rather, it is only God's gift of grace and faith that leads to salvation.

We have to praise God, congregation. We have to praise God for His gifts of grace and faith. We have to praise God that He takes us who are dead in sin and unbelief and creates within us a faith that embraces Christ and all His blessings. We have to praise God for His good and perfect gifts.
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