************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 15, 2014
Canons, Head V Article 9
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
"God Assures Us"
I Fear and Trembling
A In one of the James Bond movies there is a house high on a cliff. It is accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is raised and lowered with a single rope. Half way up, of course, the rope starts to fray and break and the basket falls but Bond somehow escapes certain death.
Now, discovering halfway up a cliff that you're being held by a frayed rope doesn't make for much security! Unfortunately, many people believe they can have no better security in their relationship with God. They wonder if they can ever really know for sure that they're saved. When it comes to "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life" they live in fear and trembling.
"Fear and trembling." I told you before of a dog we sometimes looked after for friends. It shook and trembled every time it was with us. You looked at it and it shook. The doorbell rang and it trembled. A bird hopped toward it and it shook and trembled. It saw our David and it started to shake. The phone rang, the microwave beeped, the alarm clock went off, it started to shake.
I have met many Christians who are in fear and trembling over "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." I think of an older person I was visiting with. I asked him if he was ready to die. The answer was "No." When I asked why, he said he was not sure about his salvation. He lived in fear and trembling.
I think of another person who worried about the sins of her youth. She looked at those sins, she thought about those sins, she was ashamed about those sins, and she was in fear and trembling over "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." She thought she was not worthy for salvation, forgetting that no one is worthy of salvation in and of themselves, forgetting that it is only in and of and because of Christ that anyone is worthy of salvation.
I think of a young person who had a horrible accident. I asked him if he was ready to die. And out comes all this guilt concerning the sin that caused the accident in the first place. He too was in fear and trembling about "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
I think of a Christian filled with doubts and questions: "Is there really a God? Does He love me? Did Jesus really die on the cross. Did He die for me? How come my faith is not stronger? Aren't real Christians always confident about their faith and their salvation?" This Christian too is in fear and trembling about "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
I think of a Christian who has fallen; who has fallen hard and fallen far; who has departed greatly from the will of God and the ways of the Lord – adultery, a gay lifestyle, theft, alcoholism, addiction. This person says, "God won't save me. God doesn't want to save me. God can't save me." He or she looks at his or her sin and is in fear and trembling about "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
I think of a Christian who walks and talks with God, whose every day is filled with praise to and for God, who shows by her life that she loves the Lord. Yet, this Christian thinks it is arrogant or simply wrong to claim "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." "Even the best we do is tainted with sin," says this saint. "In this life we make but the smallest beginning in living a life of holiness," says this saint. "Salvation is up to God," says this saint, "and who can know the mind of the Lord or claim to understand all His ways?" So this Christian too is in fear and trembling about "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
All of these people are believers, but all of them – like the dog we used to watch – are in fear and trembling. Is this the way it is supposed to be? Are we not to have any assurance about "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life"?
B We are looking again at the fifth head of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt. The first 8 articles of this fifth head of doctrine tell us that no saint can fall from grace.
We all realize, I think, how far we saints can fall. All of us are capable of committing the most horrible kinds of sins. We can walk very stubbornly in our sin. We can so easily refuse to confess it and repent. In fact, if we were to be judged at the time of our fall others within the church would have to conclude that we are not children of God at all.
Nevertheless, God preserves His elect. As I said the last two times we looked at the Canons, 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. No matter how great the sin, no matter how fallen the sinner, no saint can fall from grace.
And, we were also told the reason for this. No saint can ever fall from grace because of the river of the Purpose of God – His mercy, His unchangeable plan of election.
C But now the question of the evening: Can any believer be certain that he or she will persevere in faith even unto the end? Can any believer be sure about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Can and may they know it? May they say it? Can and may they have trust and confidence in their own salvation? Can and may they derive comfort and hope and security and confidence from this? Can they say for sure that they will surely participate in the final victory?
There is no doubt that God preserves His saints. But can they have the assurance or the confidence of this preservation?
Or, to put the question another way, does God preserve His people without giving them the assurance of being preserved?
It is entirely possible, of course, that God would preserve His elect without assuring them of this preservation. After all, our preservation does not in any way depend upon our knowledge or assurance of preservation. I don't need to know my preservation in order to be preserved. The knowledge or lack of knowledge of a certain fact does not change the reality of that fact. We may not know the speed of light, but not knowing this fact does not alter in any way that light does travel at 186,000 miles per second. In the same way, it is not your knowledge of preservation that keeps you eternally safe; it is God and His eternal purposes which alone keeps you eternally safe.
II God Grants Assurance
A Believers don't need to know their preservation in order to be preserved. Yet, says Article 9, "believers themselves can and do become assured" "that they have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
In the Bible, preservation and the knowledge of preservation go hand-in-hand. Preservation and the knowledge of preservation go hand-in-hand just like Kleenex and tissue, Jiffy and peanut butter, Tide and soap, Elmers and glue.
Assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life" is not just a possibility, but a reality. For believers assurance is not the rare exception, but the rule without exception. Assurance is not like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – something mythical and illusive and elusive. True believers not only can but "do become assured."
Think of what this means. This means that long periods of doubt about salvation is not normal for a child of God. This means that it is not really normal for a Christian to forever question the forgiveness of his or her sins. This means that any believer can confidently claim eternal life for him or herself. This means that believers have no reason to always be without confidence and hope and courage and comfort and assurance. This means there is no reason for endless doubt.
B Let me state why we can have this confidence. We can have this confidence NOT because of the strength of our faith, NOT because of the courage of our convictions, NOT because of our unwavering trust in the Lord. We can have this confidence NOT because of anything in or of ourselves. We can have this confidence only because of the Lord, His ways, His eternal purposes.
Some of the delegates to Synod asked me for tourist suggestions when Synod finished early. I suggested a visit to Yosemite and, if possible, a visit to San Francisco. Park your car by the Golden Gate Bridge, I said, and walk across.It is the same thing with the assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." It is not your faith that makes the difference; what makes the difference is God.
Whether you walk across or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge you have perfect faith that it will hold you and that you will arrive safely on the other side. Or, I least had that faith until I read this week's issue of TIME magazine. TIME reported that ten percent of the bridges of our country are structurally deficient. The Golden Gate Bridge is safe but "functionally obsolete."
Now, it is not your sincerity or your faith that keeps you safe. It is the object of your faith that makes the difference. What makes the difference is the bridge.
Take a look at our Bible passage for this evening. It is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the assurance that He gives:
(1 Corinthians 1:4) I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.It is God – His grace, His confirmation, His strength, His faithfulness – that assures and comforts the believer. It is because of God that any believer can say I "have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
(1 Corinthians 1:6) our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
(1 Corinthians 1:8) He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:9) God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
C We should also note, though, that the measure or amount of assurance can vary. According to the Canons, the assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life" in each believer is "in accordance with the measure of their faith."
Think of what this means. This means that different children of God have different levels of assurance. This means that where faith is small, assurance is small and where faith is large, assurance is large. This means that the same child of God at different times can have different levels of assurance. After all, none of us are always on the heights of faith where we can claim, with defiance and with confidence, that "nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:39). Nor are any of us always in the deep valleys or ravines of faith where we tremble at the smallest sin and are full of fear about God's coming judgment.
Every believer is given the assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life" in accordance with the measure of their faith.
III Assurance and the Church
A As we have been looking at assurance, I have kept repeating from the Canons the phrase "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." We have assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
But I have been purposely omitting what comes before this phrase.
According to the Canons, God assures believers "that they are and always will remain true and living members of the church." We cannot see the assurance of "the forgiveness of sins and eternal life" apart from membership in the church.
B When is a Christian granted assurance? Or, where is a Christian granted assurance? Only as a member of the church. Only in connection with the body of Christ. Only in the place where I hear the Word, participate in the sacraments, and experience discipline or discipling. Only in the place where we find the means of grace. I have all the blessings of salvation, I have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life only as a member of Christ's church. That's the point.
C In this light, it always amazes me when Christians try to be Christians by themselves, when they try to worship God by themselves, or study the Bible by themselves, or fight sin by themselves. A Christian alone is like a ship-wrecked sailor on a deserted island. It is not very pleasant, not very encouraging, not very healthy. We need the company, the fellowship, of other believers to be confirmed, strengthened, encouraged, and assured in our faith. That's why we gather together for worship, prayer, and Bible study.
Like Paul, we need to thank God. We need to thank God that He keeps us strong to the end. And, we need to thank God that He assures us of this. The result: I don't need to be filled with fear and trembling when it comes to my salvation; I don't need to have doubts or worries about my salvation. Instead, as an elect member of the church, I can confidently say, "I have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
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