************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 16, 2014
Canons, Head III,IV Article 15
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
"In View of God's Mercy"
How do we respond to God's grace? The Ten Commandments give us one response:
(Ex 20:2-3) "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (3) "You shall have no other gods before me ...Romans 11 give us another response. For eleven chapters Paul has talked about sin and God's grace; with all of this in mind he breaks out in a song of praise to God:
(Rom 11:33-36) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (34) "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (35) "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.Romans 12 gives us an entirely different response:
(Rom 12:1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.
"Responses to God's Grace" is the heading to Article 15 of the third & fourth points of doctrine of the Canons of Dort. As we look at this article in the light of Scripture, I want you to think of God's grace as a pair of eye-glasses. When you look through a pair of glasses everything looks different. Likewise, when we look through the divine glasses of grace we look different, fellow believers look different, and the lost look different. "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view" (2 Cor 5:16).
I Looking at Ourselves
A What do we see when we look at ourselves through the divine glasses of grace?
Before going any further we have to realize that underlying grace is the truth that God is sovereign. That He is the Divine Potter. That we are the clay. That He is absolutely free to let the clay serve His glory in whatever way it pleases Him. That He is merciful to whom He wills. That He hardens whom He wills.
The truth, as the Canons put it, is that "God does not owe this grace to anyone."
B "God does not owe this grace to anyone." God owes us nothing. God owes no one anything. There are two reasons for this statement.
First, the Canons ask, "For what could God owe to one who has nothing to give that can be paid back?" We have to realize we are but men, mere creatures. All that we have, all that we are, comes from God. There is nothing that we can give to God that He has not first given to us. So how can God possibly owe us anything? Even our service of God is not something that arises from ourselves. So how or why can God possibly be indebted to us?
Let's say Adam perfectly served God. Would God then be obligated to give Adam eternal life? Absolutely not! God would not be obligated in any way or form to give Adam even one more minute of life. All that Adam could ever say, even if he perfectly obeyed and served God, was the words of the servant in Luke 17: "I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty" (Lk 17:10). Never, not even with everlasting obedience, could Adam ever make a claim upon God. God never owes any creature anything. Never. God is God and man is man! In fact, if God wanted to He could have simply dropped Adam back into the nothingness out of which he was created, simply drop him out of existence.
There is also a second reason why "God does not owe this grace to anyone." This reason is sin. As the Canons put it, "What could God owe to one who has nothing of his own to give but sin and falsehood?"
Man is a sinner. So the only thing of his own that he can ever bring to God is sin and falsehood. He can bring no hunger and thirst after righteousness, no broken and contrite heart, no "decision for Christ." Nothing does man have of his own except sin.
You realize, I am sure, what this means. It means God is not obligated to give us grace. Rather, if He should give us anything it should be hell and wrath and eternal condemnation.
When I look at myself through the glasses of grace, then, I see no reason for pride and every reason for humility. Why? Because what we have we have only from God. Grace and faith do not come from ourselves. In fact, none of the good things in our life come from ourselves. It all comes from God. What we are – as Christians – we owe to sovereign grace alone. We cannot boast about our own faith, spiritual accomplishments, godliness, Bible knowledge, Bible study, or financial donations.
Philip II, father of Alexander the Great and king of Macedon, was always accompanied by two men who had a very interesting duty. One man was to say to him each morning, "Philip, remember that you are but a man," while the second asked the king each evening, "Philip, have you remembered that you are but a man?" Most of us cannot afford two people on our payroll just to keep us humble! But when we look at all that God gives to us out of grace and what He makes us into out of grace – then we have every reason for humility.
When we look at ourselves through the glasses of grace we become aware of our smallness, our frailty, and our total dependence upon God.
In the evening, Theodore Roosevelt and his friend, the naturalist William Beebe, would go out and look at the skies, searching for a tiny patch of light near the constellation of Pegasus. "This is the Spiral Galaxy in Andro-meda," they would chant. "It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun." Then Roosevelt would turn to his companion and say, "Now I think we are small enough. Let's go to bed."Grace leads us to look at ourselves with humility. Grace leads us not to look at ourselves with pride.
B Grace also leads us to see a second thing about ourselves. We see not only every reason for humility (and no pride) but we also see every reason to "owe and give eternal thanks to God alone."
God owes us nothing. We deserve nothing. Yet, God gives us grace. He gives us new life. He gives us His Spirit. He gives us food and drink and clothing and shelter. It is undeserved, unearned, unmerited. Therefore we owe God and God alone "eternal thanks."
This, of course, is one of the marks of the true Christian. Those who have received God's grace see themselves as thankful people, as people who live for God's glory, as those who want to serve God.
II Looking at Fellow Believers
A We not only are to look at ourselves but we are also to look at our fellow believers through the divine glasses of grace.
What are we to see when we look at those who are in the pew with us? This is what the Canons say:
Furthermore, following the example of the apostles, we are to think and to speak in the most favorable way about those who outwardly profess their faith and better their lives, for the inner chambers of the heart are unknown to us.
If someone makes a profession of faith and changes his or her life then we are to assume they are sincere. With the glasses of grace we are to see a brother or a sister in Jesus Christ. We are to judge and even speak of them "in the most favorable way." That goes even for those, such as politicians and celebrities, who gain some kind of advantage by claiming to be Christian.
I have to admit there are all sorts of people whose conversion I have questions and problems with. One such person was Chuck Colson. Back in 1974 he was a hard man. He was known as Nixon's hatchet man. He did all sorts of dirty tricks, broke all kinds of laws, and led the Watergate coverup. I had great doubts about his jailhouse conversion. I thought he was perhaps claiming to be a Christian so he could get out on early parole. The same went for Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal. He too experienced a jailhouse conversion that I have great doubts about. Susan Smith, the mother who murdered her two children, was another with a jailhouse conversion. Again, I have doubts. The same went for Karla Faye Tucker, convicted of murder in Texas in 1984 and put to death fourteen years later. San Francisco quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, with all his tattoos left me wondering. I continue to have questions about the faith of Justin Bieber.
Article 15 admonishes me. And Chuck Colson's life after his release from prison proved time and again the sincerity of his faith and convictions.
Those in consistory need to keep Article 15 in mind when they hear those who make profession of faith or confession of sin. Sometimes, at the back of my mind, I think to myself, "They are lying. They are saying this only so I will marry them or baptize their child. They are trying to pull the wool over my eyes." I know other consistory members also think the same way. Yet, article 15 does not allow us to think or talk this way if someone "outwardly" professes their faith and betters their life.
Those church members who are not in consistory also need to keep Article 15 in mind. There must be no spiritual appraisers in the church, who weigh and measure the spiritual worth and sincerity of their fellow believers and conclude others are lacking. It is easy, isn't it, to sit in judgment about those who we think are less spiritual than we ourselves are?! It is easy, isn't it, to condemn those whose faith we think is not real or sincere?!
B We all know that the church on earth is not pure. There will always be weeds growing among the wheat and goats mixed among the sheep. And, none of us are completely able to figure out who is or is not a true believer. We cannot because the "inner chambers of the heart are unknown to us." Only God knows for sure who is or is not one of His children. But that is sufficient. The balances of judgment are in safe hands when they are in God's hands. They are not in safe hands when they are in the hands of us men who cannot know and see and understand all things.
We do not know, we can not know, what is really in the heart. So when we look at each other with the glasses of grace we need to see brothers and sisters in Christ.
Consider, for a moment, how mistaken we can be.
There may be those in the church who appear to us to possess the grace of God. They may profess the name of Christ and seem to live for Him. And we would say that they are children of God, when – in fact – they are not children of God at all. Everything is a show, a sham, a pretense – but we don't know.
How must we judge and speak of them? Must we hunt and peck for the smallest bit of evidence by which we can condemn them? Must we put a question mark behind their names? Not at all! We must still judge and speak the best of them because we cannot look into the heart.
But the opposite may also be true. There may also be those within the church who stumble and fall into sin. Maybe they do this time after time. To us they cannot possibly be children of God. Yet, they actually are. Even with them we must be careful to judge and speak the best because we cannot look into the heart. We should not be hasty to condemn one another as not being Christians.
When we look at each other through the glasses of grace we are to see each other as fellow believers, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
III Looking at the Lost
A We not only are to look at ourselves and our fellow believers but also the lost through the divine glasses of grace.
How do we view the lost? Do we think they are beyond hope, beyond God, beyond redemption? Do we dismiss them as pagans on whom we should not waste even so much as one breath?
Take the lost in the inner city. A lot of them are into drugs and alcohol. Teen-aged girls get pregnant. Young men join gangs and sell drugs. Fathers give up and run away. Do we say, "What's the use? They won't change."
Take the lost in our own area. Many of them live for weekends. They get drunk. They lie and cheat. Husbands beat and abuse their wives. Wives are unfaithful to their husbands. They live together before marriage, divorce, and live with someone else. They live for the moment. Because they don't hurt anyone but themselves they think they are okay with God and are guaranteed entrance into heaven. Are we hesitant to confront them with the gospel because it is a waste of time?
Take the lost in area prisons. We see murderers, rapists, drunkards, child molesters, wife beaters, drug dealers, robbers, and every other kind of criminal. Many of them engage in homosexual behavior. Do we think they too are beyond hope?
What about the lost in our own families? They can make us so angry. They refuse parental guidance and authority. They trample on what is most precious to us. They abuse our trust. They take advantage of our love and concern. Do we dismiss them with a shrug of the shoulder?
B What are we to see when we look at the lost through the glasses of grace. This is what the Canons say:
But for others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to the God who calls things that do not exist as though they did.
We are to view the lost as "potential converts" – even the ones who seem to be wolves. We are reminded there are wolves out there waiting to be converted into sheep and even into shepherds. Consider that at one time the Apostle Paul was also known as Saul of Tarsus and cheered on the crowd who was stoning Stephen to death. This is the same man God chose to be the apostle to the Gentiles! We are being reminded never to give up on them. We are to continually be in prayer for them. We are to pray that it be God's will that His grace and Spirit touch them and change them. We are to pray this way because we know and recognize that what is impossible with man is always possible with God. We are to pray this way because we know God is supreme and His sovereign grace is more than able to soften the hardest heart and change the most stubborn mind.
"So from now on," says Paul, "we regard no one from a worldly point of view" (2 cor 5:16). Things look different when we put on the glasses of grace. When we look through these glasses we cannot help but look at ourselves with humility and thankfulness rather than with pride and superiority. We cannot help but see other church members as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than as those whose faith we suspect. We cannot help but see the lost as "seeking souls" for whom we must daily pray rather than those who are beyond hope.
So let me ask, have you put on the glasses of grace? In view of God's mercy do you look differently at yourself, other church members, and the lost?
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