************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 4-5 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on April 13, 2014

Canons, Head V Article 4,5
James 4:1-12
"Watch and Pray"

The last couple of weeks a couple of headlines in the Christian press caught my attention.

Some of you might be acquainted with Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It was revealed in the last month that he used a marketing firm to buy books in quantity in order to get his book "Real Marriage" on prominent best-seller lists. In a letter of apology, Driscoll wrote, "I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again."

This past October, Doug Phillips resigned from his office as president at Vision Forum Ministries citing an emotional affair with a woman other than his wife. He has also discontinued his speaking responsibilities.

Bill Gothard resigned from his ministry a few weeks ago after a whistle-blowing website gathered accusations of sexual harassment from more than thirty women.

Last week World Vision, a one billion dollar Christian relief agency, announced plans to hire employees in gay marriages. Prominent evangelical leaders condemned the decision, and several thousand donors canceled their child sponsorships. Within two days the charity was forced to backtrack.

The biggest surprise is not that things like this happen. The biggest surprise is that we are surprised when things like this happen. When we turn to Scripture we see instance after instance of saints falling into sins.

So, what are we to think when notorious Christians become public sinners?

We cannot make the mistake of shrugging our shoulders and making light of these sins. We can never minimize the guilt of the saints. In Article 5 the Canons say,
By such monstrous sins, however, (the saints) greatly offend God, deserve the sentence of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound the conscience, and sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time ...

I Is God's Grace Deficient?
A Let me remind you, for a moment, of where we are at in the Canons. We are dealing with the fifth head of doctrine, the one we know as the Perseverance of the Saints. We learn in this fifth head that the saints are predestined, or elected, not just to faith and salvation but also to perseverance in faith and salvation. In other words, by His grace God preserves His elect so that they are not lost.

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.

B The message of the Bible is that God finishes the great and glorious work that He begins in us. To the church at Philippi, for instance, Paul can say,
(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 also 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.
Think of the passages I put into the first person last week:
(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.
God, by His grace, preserves His people from beginning to end. That's the message of the Bible.

C 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 in Article 3 on our "own resources"?

You know 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 depend totally upon God's persevering grace.

The fact is this: we cannot stand on our own for even a moment. It is God's grace, and only God's grace, that preserves us, that allows us to persevere.

D Back to my headlines. What are we to think when a professing Christian is caught in sin? What are we to think when professing Christians are revealed as adulterers, manipulators, liars, and cheats?

Are we to think there is a problem with the grace of God? Is the grace of God somehow, in someway, deficient? Follow the argument. We cannot stand on our own for even a moment. It is God's grace, and only God's grace, that preserves us, that allows us to persevere. Therefore, when professing Christians fall the fault has to lie with God's grace. The problem is that God's grace did not do what it is supposed to do. The problem is that God's grace did not preserve so the Christian can persevere.

Is this the conclusion we are to come to? Is there something wrong, something lacking, with God's preserving grace?

How do we answer this charge?

II No Deficiency in God's Grace
A Our starting point has to be the faithfulness of God. The message of the whole Bible is that God is faithful.
(Deut 7:9) Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

(Ps 25:10) All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

(2 Tim 2:13) if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

God is faithful; He is absolutely trustworthy. God is faithful; He is utterly dependable. God is faithful; He will keep covenant with us, and He will do so forever. God is faithful; His is undying love. God is faithful; His is sacrificial loyalty. God is faithful; His faithfulness abides forever. As the Canons put it in Article 3:
But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening (the saints) in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.

B If God is faithful and He is what happens when true Christian believers are led into temptation and fall? Is the power of God's grace overcome by the power of the flesh? Is the Lord God helpless to prevent the fall of His children? Did God have to stand helplessly by when David fell into adultery with Bathsheba? Did God have to stand helplessly by when Peter denied the Lord three times? Did God have to stand helplessly by when Ananias and Sapphira sinned against the Holy Spirit? When you and I fall into sin, is it because God's grace is unable to prevent our fall? Is the power of the flesh beyond the control and dominion of God's grace?

C God forbid that we should ever talk this way! The Canons tell us that the "power of God strengthening and preserving true believers in grace is more than a match for the flesh." God's preserving grace is always stronger than man's sinful flesh. At no time in the life of any saint regardless of what happens is the power of the flesh stronger than the power of God's grace. The flesh cannot overcome grace, no matter how hard it tries.

III The Deficiency Lies With the Saint
A If God is faithful and He is and if grace is always stronger than the flesh and it is why is it that even the holiest of saints like Peter or David can have such grievous falls?

Sometimes God permits people to follow the flesh rather than grace. Says the Canons,
by God's just permission they sometimes are ... carried away -- witness the sad cases ... of David, Peter, and other saints falling into sins.

God permits people to follow the flesh. Notice, I don't say He causes people to follow the flesh. He permits people to do this. Nothing happens, of course, without God's permission. If God does not permit something, it simply does not happen. God permits sin to happen.

B What it comes down to is this: the fault, the reason, for the fall of a saint lies not in God but in the saint.

Back to my headlines. What are we to think when a professing Christian is caught in sin? What are we to think when professing Christians are revealed as adulterers, manipulators, liars, and cheats?

What are we to think? We are to think that the fault lies in the saint. The Canons put it this way:
those converted are not always so activated and motivated by God that in certain specific actions they cannot by their own fault depart from the leading of grace, be led astray by the desires of the flesh, and give in to them.
When the saints are not completely led and molded and guided by the Spirit of Christ and who among us can say we are then we can be led astray by the flesh.

IV The Need to Watch and Pray
A God permits His saints to follow the flesh rather than grace. In response, what the saints need to do, what the saints must do, is "constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptations." James has this in mind when he says
(James 4:7-10) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (8) Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

B "Watch and pray," says the Canons. What exactly is in mind here?

It means that the saints must constantly pray the petition Jesus taught them to pray: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." This prayer does not mean we ask God to keep temptations away which does not and cannot happen in this life, on this earth, and in this body. Rather, it means that we ask God to uphold us and make us strong so that we do not go down to defeat when faced with temptation and evil.

C "Watch and pray." What else does this mean?

I think of what Jesus did when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus said, with all three temptations, "Satan, it is written. It is written." That's what He said. "It is written." And every time Satan tempted Him Jesus quoted Scripture.
(Mt 4:4) It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone.
(Mt 4:7) It is written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
(Mt 4:10) It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
Over and over and over again He quoted the Scriptures. And guess what happened? The devil fled! This tells me, my brothers and sisters, that we don't have to fall for temptation. We don't have to stay in our sin. Like Jesus, quote the Bible to Satan. Spend time with the Word, and the devil will run. Spend time with the Word and you can easier stand up to temptation.

This reminds me of what James says. He says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Jesus resisted the devil, and the devil was forced to leave.
A rancher in Montana had problems with coyotes killing her sheep. She tried just about everything. She used odor sprays and electric fences. She slept with her lambs during the summer and placed battery-operated radios near them. She corralled them at night, herded them at day. She tried sheep dogs. But the southern Montana rancher still lost scores of lambs fifty of them one year alone.
Someone told her to try llamas. "Llamas don't appear to be afraid of anything," she said. "When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won't have anything to do with that ... Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take away that opportunity."
The devil, like the coyote, cannot handle aggressive behavior. When we resist him and fight him, he flees away.

D "Watch and pray." What else does this mean?

It means we need to keep alert. The devil is very inventive. He comes to us as a wolf dressed up in sheep's clothing (Mt 7:15). He often masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). And, He does a superb job of dressing up evil as good. Unless we keep watch we will be fooled. Satan fools a lot of people when he calls abortion "pro-choice" rather than what it really is. Satan calls the lottery "fun" rather than gambling. Satan calls extra-marital sex a "fling" rather than adultery. Satan calls pictures of naked men and women "freedom of expression" rather than pornography. In each and every case he makes something bad sound like something good. So we need to keep watch. We need to watch for his attacks. Or else we will fall when temptation comes.

Christians, I am afraid, often fail to identify the attacks of Satan for what they are. They fall asleep on the job. They don't "watch and pray."

E "Watch and pray." We need to realize the Devil is also very sneaky. He attacks when we don't expect it. The Apostle Paul warns us about this in his first letter to the Corinthians. He says, "if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Cor 10:12). Paul wants us to imagine a big strong man walking down the sidewalk. He is athletic and confident of his footing. Suddenly, he hits a piece of ice, slips, and falls.

Of course Paul is not really thinking of a man slipping and falling on ice; rather, Paul is thinking of a man slipping and falling on temptation. He thinks of a Christian who is over-confident, full of spiritual pride, self-assured. He is thinking of a Christian who believes he or she is so strong and firm in the faith that temptation can come knocking but the door will not be opened.

Back to my headlines. What are we to think when a professing Christian is caught in sin? What are we to think when professing Christians are revealed as adulterers, manipulators, liars, and cheats?

What are we to think? First, that there is nothing wrong with God's preserving grace. Second, that God is always faithful. Third, that the problem lies in the saints. Fourth, that we need to always watch and pray. That's what we need to think!
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