************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 22, 2014
Canons, Head V Article 10
"How God Assures Us"
As you look back at today or perhaps at the past week can you say, "I am one of God's people"? Can you say, "I served God, loved God, lived for God"? Can you say, "I am one of God's children"? Or, are you not sure about this? Are you hesitant to declare this? Would you say, "I am almost His child"? "I almost served Him. I almost lived for Him. I almost served him." "Maybe I am an almost Christian." Almost believing. Almost living for Jesus. Almost serving Him. Is that you?
I want to tell you this evening that almost Christians believe in an almost Savior. Because if you truly believe He was a full Savior there wouldn't be anything almost about your faith and your assurance of salvation.
What if Jesus took an almost attitude? What if Jesus said, "Father, I hope none of those you give to me will perish"? "Father, I hope they will never be separated from the love of Christ"? "Ask and it will almost be given you; seek and you will almost find; knock and it will almost be opened to you"? What if Jesus took that kind of attitude – an almost Savior of an almost Christian? If Jesus took that kind of attitude that you can have an almost Christian with an almost faith and an almost assurance. But that is not the Savior we have. There is nothing almost about Christ. There is nothing almost about His work. Therefore there should be nothing almost about our faith and our assurance of salvation.
So one of things I want to warn you about tonight is having an almost faith in an almost Savior. I want to warn you of those who try to strip you of peace, who try to strip you of comfort, who try to strip you of assurance. Beware, my brothers and sisters. Beware of those who try to deprive the people of God of their peace of soul, their hope, their comfort, their assurance. Beware of the dreadful result of giving up the doctrine of perseverance and its assurance. Beware of the awfulness of giving up the certainty of the final victory and eternal glory. Beware! Because all that we are left with then is suffering and tribulation. Beware, says the Canons, because "if God's chosen ones in this world did not have this well-founded comfort that the victory will be theirs and this reliable guarantee of eternal glory, they would be of all people most miserable."
Ours is not an almost Christianity and an almost Savior. For what does Jesus say to us this evening?
(Jn 10:27-28) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."I know them." There is nothing almost about this. If we know Jesus we can declare "I know I am saved. I know that when I die I am going home to be with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). "I know that when the earthly tent I live in is destroyed, I have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Cor 5:1). "I know them ... I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."
Today we want to ask why. Why can we say this? Why do we have this confidence? How does God give us the confidence to say that when we die we are going home to be with the Lord? How does God give us the confidence to claim an eternal house in heaven?
I Not the Way of Assurance
A Before I give a positive answer to these questions I want to first give some negative answers.
Article 10 tells us that "assurance does not derive from some private revelation beyond or outside the Word." Those who are into a kind of mysticism make this mistake. All their emphasis is on the Holy Spirit and private revelations. In a private revelation the Spirit somehow tells them and assures them that they are God's child. Some go so far as to say that if the Spirit has not given this kind of revelation to you, then you cannot have any assurance of being God's child.
But the Spirit of God never just zaps people with salvation; nor does it just zap people with the assurance of salvation. It always works through and with the Word. It was through Paul's preaching of the Word, for instance, that the Spirit led Lydia to faith. It was through the Bible stories told to him on the laps of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice that the Spirit led a young Timothy to faith and salvation. It was through the preaching of Peter and the other apostles that the Pentecost day crowds were led by the Spirit to repentance and faith. The Spirit used the testimony of Philip to bring the Ethiopian eunuch to faith and baptism.
The Spirit never gives any assurance of salvation apart from the Word. It never whispers privately in our heart or ear that we are forever God's child.
B Our assurance about the final victory and eternal glory also does not lie in our conversion. There are those who pin all their assurance on their conversion. This is especially true of those who have had a sudden and spectacular conversion. You know the script: they were into drugs, they suffered from alcoholism, they lived on skid row, they used pornography, they beat their wife or children, they abused those around them, they lived by guns and violence, they led a life of crime, they sold their body in prostitution. But then they met the Lord and their whole life was turned around.
In order to assure themselves that they are children of God, in order to assure themselves of the final victory and eternal glory, they continually look back to their sudden and spectacular conversion.
Do you think that the Apostle Paul sought assurance of salvation in his Damascus-Road experience? Do you think Zacchaeus grounded his surety on what happened the day Jesus called him out of the tree? Do you think the thief on the cross was sure of his salvation because he defended Jesus against the other thief? Do you think Lydia faced the end with confidence because she thought back to the day on the river's edge that she first listened to the preaching of Paul?
Of course not! Our assurance can never be based upon ourselves, our deeds, our feelings. Because they can and do change. Because I can so easily and quickly fall into sin. Because I add to my debt of guilt every single day. Assurance built on me is assurance built on quick-sand. It is not a sure and secure foundation; it is an ever-shifting foundation. You see, as we struggle with and fall into sin in this life, doubts begin to arise within us concerning the reality of our conversion. Past conversion does not and cannot give us present or future confidence.
C Our assurance about the final victory and eternal glory also does not lie in the faith of our parents or grandparents. Corrie ten Boom famously asked, "Does being born into a Christian family make one a Christian? No! God has no grandchildren." Assurance does not rest on being part of a Christian family. Assurance does not rest on infant baptism. Assurance does not rest on the person doing the baptizing. Assurance does not rest upon the person who presented you for baptism.
II Voices of Doubt
A There are so many voices that try to tell me that I am not a child of God.
The devil, for instance. Remember how he challenged Job's faith and salvation before God? He said the only reason Job feared and worshiped God was because God blessed him with wealth and health. So God allowed Satan to test Job to the point that even his own wife urged him to curse God and die. The name "Satan" means adversary or accuser. And, what Satan did with Job he does with you and me too. Before the throne of God he accuses us of being fakes.
B I think too of the voice of the world. Like Satan, it too attacks our faith. It tells us there is no life after death. It denies the final judgment. It laughs at the idea of an eternal soul and eternal life. It talks of death as being the end and mocks the very idea of God. It denies there is any ultimate standard of behavior.
C Finally, I think of the voice of our own conscience. It pricks us with our continued sin and whispers in our ear, "You can't be a child of God if you do such sin." It makes me doubt my salvation.
III The Way of Assurance
A But, I want to tell you this evening, I want to tell you,
(Jn 10:27-28) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.You can take that to the bank. You can be sure of your salvation. You can be sure you won't perish.
Why? Because of Jesus. Because of His work. Because of what God has done through Him, and in Him, and with Him. You know, there are all those voices that say I cannot be sure, I cannot have confidence. But there is one voice, one Word, that says otherwise. There is one voice that says I can have confidence. That is the voice of God in His Word. That is the voice of Jesus, Who is the Word become flesh. Unless I hear His voice, unless I listen to that Word, I am without assurance, without hope, without comfort, without confidence. Because this is the one voice that says,
(Jn 10:27-28) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.
How can we be sure of salvation? The only way of assurance is the way of God's own Word. As the Canons put it, assurance does not "derive from some private revelation beyond or outside the Word."
Assurance comes from God's own Word. Assurance is not the work of man. It is not even partially the work of man. Just as salvation is absolutely and solely the work of God, so the assurance of salvation is the work of God alone.
What does the Word do? The Word assures me personally that I am God's child, that I am and always will be a true and living member of the church. So I can take the Word and apply it to me. So I can take the Word and make it my own personal confession. Listen to what happens when I personalize God's Word and put it into the first person:
(Luke 12:32) I am not afraid ... for my Father has been pleased to give me the kingdom.
(John 10:28) Jesus gives me eternal life, and I shall never perish; no one can snatch me out of his hand.
(Romans 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Matthew 9:2) Take heart; my sins are forgiven.
(John 3:16) I shall not perish but have eternal life.
The assurance of salvation comes, then, from the Word of God. More specifically, it comes from faith in the promises of God. Promises like those I personalized just a few moments ago.
B Now, for you and I to get this assurance and to make this assurance ours, two parties need to do some work. First, this requires the work of the Spirit. I claim the promises, I believe the promises, the promises become mine but only through the operation of the Spirit. The Canons quote here from Paul's letter to the Romans: "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Rom 8:16). It is the Spirit that allows me to make the promises of God's Word personal. In my heart the Spirit operates through the Word and applies the Word and gives me the personal assurance that I am a child of God and an heir of God. In my heart the Spirit operates through the Word so that the fruit of salvation becomes more and more visible within me.
Second, this also requires work on my part and your part. If the Spirit works through the Word to give me assurance this means I need to put myself under the Word. That is, I need to be in fellowship with Jesus. Meaning what? Meaning I need to come to church where I hear the Word preached and see the Word displayed in the sacraments. Meaning I need to spend time daily with the Word – I am talking about devotions and Bible Study. Blessed assurance is not something we are zapped with. Blessed assurance is not something we get automatically. God gives it only when we spend time with the Word.
Are you a trembling, fearful Christian? Do you have little or no confidence about the future? Do you hesitate to say that when you die you are going home to be with the Lord? Chances are you aren't faithfully in church. Chances are you don't spend time personally with the Word. Chances are you aren't walking and living in fellowship with Jesus.
Blessed assurance, congregation, comes from God but it comes only through the Spirit of Christ and the Word of Christ. So, I beg you, I plead with you, faithfully attend worship. And, spend time daily with the Word.
Ours is not an almost Christianity and an almost Savior. We dare to say that when die we are going home to be with the Lord. We dare to say we have an eternal house in heaven.
We dare to say it not because of anything in us but only because of God: His Word, His Spirit, and the fruit they work in our life. Thanks be to God. And, glory be to God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page