************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 23, 2014
Canons, Head V, Article 1
"Not Entirely Free"
I Saints That Fall
A A member of the church attempts suicide. "How can such a thing happen?" I've been asked. "He was a pillar of the community, someone respected for his faith, with a loving wife and family. So how could he do this?"
A member of the church commits adultery. "How can such a thing happen?" I've been asked.
A member of the church is in the newspaper, charged with stealing from her employer. "How could she have done this?"
A member of the church is caught with child pornography on his computer. "How could he have done this?"
A member of the church is charged with sexual abuse. "How could he have done this?"
A member of the church is involved with a rape. "How could he have done something like this?"
A marriage falls apart. The couple is filing for divorce. But how can this be if they are members of the church?
These are all things that have happened within the last year – some within this congregation and some within the wider church community. How do we explain that Christians have actually done such things?
This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that God's people ask such questions. I've heard questions like this in every congregation that I have served. I think the Apostle Paul heard questions like this. And, we know from our Scripture reading, that he asked these kinds of questions about himself.
Take a look at Abraham, the man of faith. Out of fear he lied to Pharaoh and said Sarah was his sister. It was heathen Pharaoh who indignantly asked, "What have you done to me? Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?" (Gen 12:18). In other words, "How can you, a child of God, do this? How is this possible?"
Take a look at David, the anointed king of God. He was a peeping tom, an adulterer, a murderer. He forced those under him to participate in his sins. "How is this possible? How could he do such things?"
Look at Peter. He was praised for his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus called him a rock and said that on this rock He would build the church. Yet, this rock denied Jesus three times. "How is this possible? How could he do such things?"
One person told me that those who do such sins cannot be Christians and must be unregenerate. Is he correct?
B For 1.5 years now we have been looking at the Canons of Dordt. Over and over again in the first four heads of doctrine we have been told about sovereign grace. We have been told that the saints are predestined, or elected, to faith and salvation.
Today we start our study of the fifth head of doctrine, the Perseverance of the Saints. We learn in this fifth head that the saints are also predestined, or elected, to perseverance in faith and salvation. In other words, God preserves His elect so that though they fall, they are not lost.
C I want you to note that we are talking about the perseverance of the saints. The saints. We aren't talking about unbelievers in this fifth head of doctrine. We aren't talking about heretics. We aren't talking about fair-weather Christians. We aren't talking about temporary Christians who, like the seed among the thorns, soon get choked out by the worries and concerns of the world. We aren't talking about hypocrites. We are talking of true Christian believers. We are talking of the perseverance of the saints.
The perseverance of the saints. Sometimes this is also called the preservation of the saints. What's the difference between perseverance and preservation? It is the saints who persevere and it is God Who preserves them. But these are not two different doctrines; rather, they are two aspects of the same doctrine. The fact is, the saints persevere because they are preserved. In other words, God's grace of preserving the saints becomes visible in and through the perseverance of the saints.
Now, we need to ask, who are these saints? These saints that are predestined, or elected, to perseverance in faith and salvation, who are they?
Article 1 of the fifth head of doctrine gives us a rather careful description of these saints.
II Preserved Saint: Called by God
The first thing we notice is that a saint who is preserved is one who is called by God. They are people, says the Canons, "whom God according to his purpose calls ..."
A preserved saint is a person called by God to be a saint.
This means no saint is a saint because of anything she or he has done. You can no more make yourself into a saint than can a tree make itself into a boat. Any saint is a saint only because God has chosen and called him or her to be a saint. They are the righteous who live by faith (Rom 1:17b). They are not righteous in and of themselves but only because of Christ and His blood.
Yet, there are many who attempt to make themselves into the saints of God. Instead of lessening their burden of sin, they add to it every day. They keep on adding to their burden until it grows too heavy to carry; and then, in despair of God's mercy, and with sainthood nowhere in reach, they lose all hope and cry in despair.
Martin Luther was that way. He got up at all hours of the night to confess all sorts of real and imagined sins. One of his confessors got so sick and tired of being awakened for Luther's confessions that he told Luther to either stop or to find real sins to confess. Another time Luther claimed he threw a bottle of ink at the Devil. But he had no peace.
The saints that God preserves are those whom He from eternity has called to be one of His children.
III Preserved Saint: Has Fellowship with Jesus
The second thing we notice is that a saint who is preserved is one who has fellowship with Jesus Christ. They are people, says the Canons, "whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord ..."
Many times we mistakenly think that the purpose of God's work in Christ is to save us. But that is not the goal. God saves us in Christ so we can live with Him and fully enjoy Him forever. God saves us in Christ so we can walk with Him and talk with Him. God saves us in Christ so we can fellowship with Him. And, it is only when we do this that we begin to do what God has created us to do. You see, at the beginning of time God made us to fellowship with Him. All to His glory, of course.
To have communion with Christ, I must add, means we have been called to no longer have communion with the devil and the forces of darkness. As Paul puts it, we have been called from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Col 1:13).
The saints that God preserves are those who fellowship with Him right now, in this life and on this earth.
IV Preserved Saint: Regenerated by the Spirit
The third thing we notice is that a saint who is preserved is one who has been regenerated by the Spirit. They are people, says the Canons, "whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord and regenerates by the Holy Spirit ..." In other words, the saint who is preserved by God is one who is inwardly renewed.
You should know as well as I do that there are those in the earthly church who perform works that are apparently good, outwardly good. Such persons are known as Christians to us; we include them in the list of saints. They lead praiseworthy lives. They may even be leaders and teachers in the church. Yet, what they do, they do out of habit or custom or superstition and not because they have been renewed by the Spirit of Christ. They are hypocrites. They are the chaff mixed in with the kernels of grain. We do not recognize them for who they are, but the Lord knows.
We see this with Judas. Judas was a highly esteemed member of the band of disciples. So highly esteemed that he was appointed as treasurer and carried the money bag. When Jesus predicted that one of the Twelve would betray Him, none of the disciples even considered the possibility that the betrayer was Judas. That is how highly regarded he was in the community. But, as we all know, Judas fell away. Judas fell away because he never was one of the Lord's saints. The Spirit of God had never worked a real renewal in his heart.
The saints that God preserves are those who have been renewed by His Spirit so that theirs is new life, fruitful life, born-again life.
V Preserved Saint: Set Free From Sin
The fourth thing we notice is that a saint who is preserved is one who has been set "free from the reign and slavery of sin."
This means two things. First, he has been forgiven of his sin.
Second, he is no more the servant of sin. We can best show this by a comparison. Those who are not saints, what we call natural men and women, serve sin willingly; they love sin and delight in sin and run after sin; they are enemies of God. Those who are saints, on the other hand, in their hearts hate sin and detest it when they see it; they run from sin; they are friends of God. Like Paul, they hate it when they do sin. Or, like Joseph – in Potiphar's house – they flee from sin. Or, like Samson and David, when they do sin they confess it and repent of it.
The saints that God preserves are those who in their heart want to run from sin rather than after sin.
VI Preserved Saint: Still a Sinner
A What is a saint? Who are those that God preserves in faith and salvation? They are called by God, have fellowship with Christ, are renewed by the Spirit, and are set free from the reign of sin.
Why do such saints need preservation? It is the last two lines of Article 1 that tell us why. We are told that in this life the saints are not entirely set free "from the flesh and from the body of sin." Saints are free but not entirely free from the power of sin.
It is to this that Paul speaks in Romans 7. Saint Paul – and Paul is one of God's saints – tells us straight out about his problems and difficulties with sin as a Christian. You have heard his words before:
(Rom 7:15,19) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.
This tells me of a horrifying feature of the Christian life. Believers are deeply divided persons. Genuine piety and genuine wickedness can live side-by-side in the greatest of saints. This certainly explains the behavior of Abraham, David, and Peter that I mentioned earlier. And, this certainly explains why church members today commit suicide, rape, sexual abuse, embezzlement, adultery or become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
The saints that God preserves are deeply divided persons, persons who struggle daily with sin, persons who need the preserving grace of God in their hearts and lives or else they will fall away.
B In this life and on this earth and in this body we are not entirely free from sin and the power of sin. We struggle in the Christian life. Our faith is often weak. We continue to fight with doubts and fears.
Even so, we come to realize the truth that God will never leave us or forsake us. Our confidence is that nothing will ever snatch us from the all-powerful hands of God.
Notice, we are not strong in ourselves. We are not able to persevere in our own strength.
Right now our little Alexander is learning to walk. I need to take both of his hands and hold them in mine. He is able to walk only when I am holding him up.This is a picture of the Christian life. We don't walk on our own. Never on our own. We walk only when held by the hands of God. It is He Who holds us up. It is He Who carries us. It is He Who preserves us in the Christian faith.
Listen to how Paul ends our passage: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24). I don't know if you realize this, but Paul has a vivid image in mind:
It was the custom of ancient conquerors to prevent the escape of their prisoners by tying a dead body to their backs. With such gruesome burdens, these poor wretches could not run away. Imagine that: carrying around a dead body, a body of death.Paul compares his struggle with sin as a Christian to carrying around this body of death: "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Paul knows the answer: "Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:25).
The point is this: God preserves His saints. Yes, they are elect. Yes, they have fellowship with Christ. Yes, they are renewed by the Spirit. Yes, they are set free from the reign of sin. Yet, they still carry around the body of death. Yet, they are deeply divided persons. Yet, they are not yet perfect. So God needs to preserve them in the faith and in salvation or all will be lost and none would be saved.
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