************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 3 ************


By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman


This sermon was preached on April 6, 2014


Canons, Head V Article 3
Philippians 1:3-6
"God Preserves Us"

I On Our Own We Cannot Remain in Grace
A The Bible says a lot about God's children persevering in the faith and godliness. Listen to these passages as I put them in the first person. As I read them I want you to ask, "Are they true for me?" "Can they be applied to my life?"
(Jn 10:28,29) No one can snatch me out of my Father's hand.
(Rom 8:35,39) I cannot be separated from the love of God.
(Col 3:3) I am hidden with Christ in God.
(Phil 1:6) I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be completed.
(1 Jn 5:18) I am born of God, Jesus keeps me safe, and the evil one cannot harm me.
Aren't these beautiful thoughts, comforting words, that we find in Scripture!? But are they true for you? Do they apply to you? I hope so. I pray so. You see, every single Christian should be able to yell an "Amen!" to each of these verses. According to the Bible, these verses are true for you and me and everyone who believes in Christ Jesus.

B But now another question: Why? Why do they apply to you? Why do you persevere in faith and godliness? Why are they true for your life?

There are two opposing theological answers to this question. The first answer comes from the Arminians. They say every Christian has the ability to persevere. All that she has to do is want it. When a Christian does fall away, the fault lies not in her ability to persevere but her willingness to persevere.

Note what this answer comes down to. It comes down to the power and will of the individual Christian. This answer is not only unacceptable, it is also wrong.

C Why do you persevere in faith and godliness? Why are the verses I read earlier true for your life? The second answer comes from the Reformed and is reflected by the Canons of Dort. Based upon the Bible we say that by His grace God powerfully preserves His people to the very end.

From beginning to end, salvation is of God and from God and by God. In our Scripture reading Paul says,
(Phil 1:6) be ... confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Think of the golden chain of salvation mentioned by Paul in Romans 8:
(Rom 8:29-30) For those God foreknew he ... predestined ... And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
The God Who does all of this by His grace also preserves His people from beginning to end. He preserves His people:
(Jn 10:28,29) so no one can snatch me out of my Father's hand.
(Rom 8:35,39) so I cannot be separated from the love of God.
(Col 3:3) so I am hidden with Christ in God.
(Phil 1:6) so I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be completed.
(1 Jn 5:18) so I am born of God, Jesus keeps me safe, and the evil one cannot harm me.

D What would happen to you and me and Christians everywhere if perseverance in faith and godliness was up to us? What would happen if we had to rely as the Canons put it on our "own resources"?

Let me tell you what would happen. Neither you nor I would persevere or could persevere. Apart from God's persevering grace I could never remain in the fellowship of Christ, keep on believing in Him, or keep on fighting against sin. Apart from God's persevering grace I could not nurture my new man of obedience so that it grows and develops and matures.
We have a couple of wireless internet connections in this church building. But our connections are not enough for the upcoming meeting of Synod as all documents and reports and recommendations will be distributed electronically. So, we are installing two new wireless routers upstairs in the sound room. As long as the delegates are connected with their laptops and iPads and iPhones and ultrabooks and tablets to the routers, they have access to the internet and to the documents of Synod.
God's persevering grace is like the connection to the router. God's persevering grace lets us continue in Christ. On our own, without that grace, we cannot maintain our fellowship with Christ. We depend totally upon God's persevering grace for the transmission of new life to flow into us and through us.

The fact is this: we cannot stand on our own for even a moment.

II The Enemies Who Tempt Us
A As the people of God we have three sworn enemies whose only goal is to tempt us to sin so that we fall and stray. This very moment they are hard at work. This very moment they are chipping away at your faith and godliness. This very moment they are trying to make you into a back-slider.

The first enemy is the Devil. The Bible tells us that at one time the age-long war between good and evil, between light and darkness, between righteousness and wickedness, took place in heaven: Michael and his angels on one side, Satan and his demons on the other. But when Satan got kicked out of heaven the war got moved to earth and the battleground became the hearts of men. Satan's hosts attack God's people for that is the only way they have of attacking God. This is no distant war in some far off land. This is war in our hometown, our backyards, our family rooms, our churches, our hearts. This is the spiritual equivalent of guerilla warfare. You and I find ourselves to be on the battlefield, in the front lines no less.

These attacks of Satan are real. Behind every temptation, every struggle, every persecution, every threat, every alluring offer of the world is the devil. He is both a powerful and a deceitful enemy. And don't forget: none of his operations are aimed at the world, which he already has in his camp; rather, they are aimed at the child of God. He is acquainted with the weaknesses of God's people. He knows how to attack them at their weakest point. So he attacks one person through his greed for wealth; another he will strike through his weakness for the pleasures and lusts of the flesh; still another he will deceive through his pride. He never misses an opportunity to attack the Christian in his weakest moments and most sensitive places.

Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden: Satan, in the guise of a serpent, attacked their pride; he tempted them to be like God and eat from the tree which God commanded them not to eat of (Gen 3). Think of Judas: Satan entered his heart and attacked his greed; he tempted Judas to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Luke 22:3). Think of Ananias and Sapphira: Satan filled their hearts and attacked their desire for honor; he tempted them to lie against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5).

Satan is a deceiver. He uses deceit and lies to make us fall. He makes sin look attractive and righteousness unattractive. He takes what is holy and pure and turns it into filth and trash.

We can't ever forget that the devil is our great opponent: he is powerful (but not almighty) and is equipped with many tricks, wiles, or schemes (Eph 6:11). Peter sees him as a "roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8).

B The second mentioned enemy is the "world." By "world" is meant that part of society and culture which opposes the goodness, purity, and truth of God and His Christ. The world prompts us to follow our lusts and passions; it attacks us with vain philosophies; it tosses us to and fro with every wind of false doctrine; it beckons us with treasures and pleasures; it attacks our faith; it mocks and blasphemes God; it denies Christ. It is the world that tries to separate religion from the rest of life. It is the world that prizes tolerance above all else; but it has no tolerance for conservative Christians whom it judges to be intolerant. It is the world that holds to no absolutes except the absolute "THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES." It is the world that demands a value free education in our public schools. It is the world that aims for political correctness. It is the world that condemns only certain sins like child abuse and sexual harassment while allowing and even encouraging euthanasia and abortion. It is the world that deems climate change rather than sin to be the biggest threat facing mankind.

"By "world" is also meant the things of this present time: things like money, homes, boats, computers, bikes, honor, promotions, awards, sex, marriage, food, pleasure, concerts, basketball games. Now, these things are not evil in themselves. But to live for them is wrong. To set our hearts on them is wrong. To seek them rather than the things above is wrong. When the things of this earth become a barrier to the things of heaven, they become our enemy. One example of this is what happened with the Titanic.
When the unsinkable Titanic sank, warning after warning had been sent to tell them they were speeding into an ice-field. But the messages were ignored. In fact, when a nearby ship sent an urgent warning, the Titanic was talking to Port Authorities about the time that chauffeurs were to meet arriving passengers at the dock, and what menus were to be ready.
Preoccupied with the trivia of the world, the Titanic ignored all warnings.
How many times aren't we like that? How many times aren't we preoccupied with the things of the world and ignore the warnings of eternity?

C The third mentioned enemy is our very own flesh. By "flesh" the Bible does not mean our body; rather, it means the old man of sin that still lives within us and which Paul warns us against:
(Gal 5:19-21) The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
You know this old man of sin. When a temptation comes along he whispers in your ear: "Go ahead. You will like it. Go ahead. You deserve some fun. Go ahead. After all, you aren't hurting anyone."

D The devil is our opponent who attacks us from the outside. The world is the hostile environment in which we live. And our own "flesh" is the enemy within us. Our enemies are all around us. This is what makes our enemies so dangerous. In this life, in this flesh, on this earth, we can never get away from them. That's why no Christian can persevere in faith or godliness if left to their own resources.

On our own, against these tempting enemies, we are weak and helpless. Like the soldier who knows he will be overwhelmed by a superior enemy, we must admit that on our own we cannot hold out against the power and strength of our enemies.

We have to realize, congregation, that we are powerless on our own. And we have to admit it. For a false sense of security or confidence will lead again and again to our undoing. Look at Samson. He thought that on his own he could withstand the wiles of Delilah; he thought that on his own he could withstand the attacks of the Philistines; he relied on his own cleverness and strength. And he fell.

People rarely like to admit their powerlessness in the face of temptation. How often has some cried out to you, "Help me with my temptations"? How often have you or I cried that out? People don't like to admit that on their own they don't stand a chance against temptation. Men and women by the millions have become alcoholics and drug addicts because they made the mistake of thinking they could control the temptation facing them. Young people, thinking they could withstand the temptation of pre-marital sex, end up going through the agony of abortion, or the disgrace and tension of having to get married, or the loneliness of being a single mother, or the pain of adoption.

Abraham, the father of all believers, was tempted to doubt the promises of God. He yielded to that temptation and tried to make Ishmael the child of the promise. David yielded to temptation: he committed adultery and tried to cover it up with murder. Peter boasted that he alone of all the disciples would never deny the Lord and would even die for Christ; yet, when the attack came and Peter tried to stand on his own strength, he quickly fell away.

If these men of God, congregation, could not stand on their own, neither can we. We must know, we must admit, "we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 127).

Conclusion
The Bible says a lot about God's children persevering in the faith and godliness:
(Jn 10:28,29) No one can snatch me out of my Father's hand.
(Rom 8:35,39) I cannot be separated from the love of God.
(Col 3:3) I am hidden with Christ in God.
(Phil 1:6) I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be completed.
(1 Jn 5:18) I am born of God, Jesus keeps me safe, and the evil one cannot harm me.

I ask what I asked before: Why? Why do these words apply to you? Why do you persevere in faith and godliness? Why are they true for your life?

It is not because of me. It is never because of me. As Paul puts it in Romans: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24).

Only One defends me and preserves me in the faith. It is not me. It is God in Christ. By His grace God powerfully preserves His people to the very end. In our Bible reading Paul says,
(Phil 1:6) (we are) confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
That is the promise of God to do what we cannot do to preserve us in the faith and godliness.

If you are a Christian and if you remain a Christian, it is not because of you but only because of God. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:25).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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