************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 4, 2014
Canons, Head V Article 6
"Saints Cannot Fall from Grace"
Saints cannot fall from grace. Take any Christian and any sin. Peter, with his denial of Christ. David, with his adultery and murder. Joseph, with his arrogant attitude before his brothers. Jacob, with his scheming ways. Lot, with his tolerance of Sodom's evils. Fill in your name and your sin. No matter how great the sin, no matter how fallen the sinner, no saint can fall from grace.
Look at Peter. He fell. Did he ever fall! Three times in the courtyard of the high priest Peter was asked about his relationship with the Lord. And three times Peter denied the Lord. But he was forgiven and restored.
We know that there were three separate events to Peter's forgiveness and restoration. The first we find in the Gospel of Mark when an angel tells the three women that Christ has risen. The women are told to bring this message of good news to the disciples and Peter. Jesus, through an angel, makes a point of mentioning Peter by name (Mark 16:7).
The second event is recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke. The men on the road to Emmaus rush to Jerusalem after their meeting with the Lord. When they get there they are told that "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon" (Luke 24:34). We don't know what was said or what happened in that meeting. But once again we see that Christ goes out of His way to work with Peter.
The third and final step of Peter's restoration is found in John 21, our Scripture reading for this evening. Just as Peter denied Jesus three times so now Peter has to say he loves Jesus three times.
Do you see what is going on here? Peter is being given a second chance. Peter is being given the chance to undo what he did the night before Good Friday. Peter is being forgiven. Peter is being restored.
Tonight we want to ask why. Why was Peter restored? Why Peter? Why not Judas too? And why did the Lord take all these steps? Or, consider the Prodigal Son. Why did the Prodigal Son return home to his father? Why did he ask for forgiveness? Why did the father welcome him back? And, if we were to grievously fall, could you and I be restored in the same way as Peter or the Prodigal Son? Why is it that no saint can fall from grace?
I The Reason is God
A According to Article 6, the primary reason why no saint can ever fall from grace is God. God Himself is the reason. It is God alone Who delivers us from the misery of our deepest falls and powerfully preserves us even in and all the way through our most awful failures. When we fall into horrible sin our friends may desert us, our family may abandon us, but God stays with us every single step of the way.
B The quality of God that makes Him do this is His mercy – His rich, abundant mercy. "God, who is rich in mercy ..." says the Canons.
We all should know what mercy is. Mercy is the opposite of justice. In justice you get exactly what you deserve. If you are thrown into prison for sexual abuse, that is justice – you are only getting what you deserve. Or, if your wife divorces you after repeated instances of adultery, that is justice – you are only getting what you deserve. Or, if you get AIDS as a result of a promiscuous lifestyle, that is justice – you are only getting what you deserve. Or, if you end up in the hospital or without a car after drinking and driving, that is justice – you are only getting what you deserve.
With mercy you get the opposite of what you deserve. You deserve prison for sexual abuse but instead you receive therapy; that is mercy – you are getting the opposite of what you deserve. Your wife could divorce you after repeated acts of adultery but instead she gives you another chance and another chance and another chance; that is mercy – you are getting the opposite of what you deserve. After sleeping around with anyone anywhere you should contract a sexual disease but instead you are given a clean bill of health; that is mercy – you are getting the opposite of what you deserve.
When Christians sin, God could be just. He could choose to leave them in the dirt. He could choose to keep them in the hole into which they have fallen. He could choose to let them stumble to their doom. After all, every sinner deserves to go to hell. God could choose to be just with fallen Christians. But He isn't. Instead, He chooses to be merciful. He chooses to give the saints what they do not deserve. He chooses to deliver them from the misery of their deepest falls and powerfully preserve them even in and all the way through their most awful failures.
Take Peter. He did not deserve to be restored by the Lord. Instead, He deserved to be forever rejected by the Lord. Remember what Jesus said?
(Mt 10:32-33) "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (33) But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.Peter disowned the Lord before men. Jesus had every right to disown him before God. But, out of mercy, Jesus restored Peter.
Take the Prodigal Son. He did not deserve to be welcomed back into the family home. After all, the son had publicly wished for his father's death, he had turned his back on the way he was brought up, and he had squandered his share of the estate in loose living. The father had every reason to lock the door when he saw his son come walking down the road. But, out of mercy and love, the father welcomed back his son.
C When God's saints fall, He shows mercy rather than justice. But why does God do this? Why does He choose to show mercy rather than justice? He does this, says the Canons, "according to his unchangeable purpose of election."
Now we understand why no saint can ever fall from grace. The saints are God's elect. God has chosen them for salvation. Don't forget the golden chain of salvation: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. This is an unbreakable chain. No link can be broken. Because it has been forged by God. Those who are elect by God will be glorified by God. That's the promise of God.
Election is the reason why God preserves His saints. Election is why God chooses to deliver His saints from the misery of their deepest falls and powerfully preserve them even in and all the way through their most awful failures. Election is why God chooses to show mercy rather than justice.
Election, as we all should know, is sovereign and unchangeable. And therefore it most certainly is realized, beyond a doubt it is fulfilled, and one hundred percent for sure it is accomplished. Saints can never fall from grace. They can never fall from grace because their perseverance is sealed in eternity! They can never fall from grace because they are God's chosen. Take note of the following Bible texts:
(John 6:39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
(John 10:28-29) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (29) My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.
II What God Does
A Notice what God does with His chosen ones in order to preserve them. Based upon Scripture, the Canons tells us four things. First, God does not take His Holy Spirit from His own completely. Second, God does not let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification. Third, God does not let them commit the sin which leads to death. Fourth, God does not let them plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by Him, into eternal ruin.
Have you noticed all the negatives? The language of this article is all negative. There is a reason for this. God's preserving grace is mysterious; it is easier to say what it doesn't do than what it does do.
B So what does God do? First, God "does not take his Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously."
We need to understand the role and place of the Spirit in the life of the Christian. It is the Spirit that makes me a member of Christ. It is the Spirit that softens my hard heart and opens it up. It is the Spirit that makes me born again. It is the Spirit that renews me and equips me. We become a child of God, because of Christ, only when the Spirit makes its dwelling within us.
So what happens when a saint falls, like Peter, like David, like Jacob? Is the Spirit withdrawn? If that was the case, then the fallen saint is no longer God's child, no longer one of God's people. But even when we sin big, even when we fall hard, even when we transgress in an awful way, God does not completely remove His Spirit from us. In other words, we remain as one of His children. Once the Spirit takes up its dwelling in us, it plans to stay there forever. It puts out a "No Vacancy" sign. It signs a hundred, a thousand, and a ten thousand year lease. It becomes a permanent occupant.
The sinner has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the Spirit will live in him and stay in him. He cannot accomplish it. He cannot prevent it. He cannot drive the Spirit out.
C So what does God do with His chosen ones? Second, God does not "let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification."
Adoption and justification. Catechism students know about the different stages of the salvation process. I ask them, when does sanctification take place? They answer: all your life. I ask them, when does justification and adoption take place? They answer: once for all times at the cross and grave of Christ. Once we are justified we can never lose it. Once we are justified we can never be and need never be justified again. Justification and adoption, like a diamond, are forever. You see, adoption and justification do not depend on us. They depend upon Christ, His suffering, His death, His resurrection. The result: we can never lose adoption and justification.
D So what does God do with His chosen ones? Third, God never lets them "commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit)."
What is the sin against the Spirit? Those who sin against the Holy Spirit have no sorrow, feel no shame, and do not repent. They close and harden their heart against the operation of the Spirit. They become indifferent to their sin and show no concern for their wrong. They are like Pharaoh in Egypt.
But when God's elect sin they, like David, eventually feel sorrow for that sin. They become filled with shame. They repent. God brings them to the point where they confess their wrong.
There are many sincere Christian believers who are scared they have sinned against the Spirit. In fact, this is the number one thing I am asked about by those who look at the church's website. They wonder if they have committed the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. But let me tell you what I tell them: anyone who is sorry for his or her sin, anyone who has a sense of shame, anyone who experiences a measure of guilt, has not committed the sin against the Spirit. Sorrow, shame, and guilt are proof positive that they have not.
E So what does God do with His chosen ones? Fourth, God does not let them "plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by him, into eternal ruin." On our own, left to our own devices, that is exactly what we are ever ready to do.
In a previous church we lived right by Niagara Falls. We would often take visitors there. One day we were standing right at the edge of the falls. A couple of feet from us the water plunged over the cliff. Hanging over the wall watching the water, one of our guests felt a sudden compulsion to jump in. "Grab me," he said. "Grab me before I jump in."Perhaps he suffers from acrophobia – a fear of high places. Perhaps he has vertigo – a dizziness in high places. Those with these diseases can get a sudden compulsion to throw themselves off a cliff or skyscraper. When it comes to sin and evil, man suffers from acrophobia and vertigo. He, on his own, has a compulsion to jump to his doom. But God never lets this happen to His elect. He Who has begun a good work in us always carries it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
I repeat what I said before: no saint can fall from grace. Take any Christian and any sin. Peter, with his denial of Christ. David, with his adultery and murder. Joseph, with his arrogant attitude before his brothers Jacob, with his scheming ways. Lot, with his tolerance of Sodom's evils. Fill in your name and your sin. No matter how great the sin, no matter how fallen the sinner, no saint can fall from grace.
Because of God – His mercy, His unchangeable plan of election – no saint can ever fall from grace.
Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that comforting as we struggle with our own sins? Isn't that reassuring as we worry about the salvation of our loved ones?
No saint can ever fall from grace. Thanks be to God for His indescribable grace. And to God be the glory forever! Amen. And amen.
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