************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 29, 2014
Canons, Head V Article 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
"In Doubt and Temptation"
We are talking about doubt tonight. I am sure you realize that there has always been doubts, questions, unbelief, and disbelief. People have doubted scientific facts and discoveries, miracles, prayer, faith, salvation, and God. For instance:
-in 1840 it was believed anyone traveling 30 MPH would suffocate
-in 1878 someone said electric lights are unworthy of serious attention
-in 1901 it was believed man could never fly
-in 1926 a scientist dismissed as foolish the idea of going to the moon
-in 1930 another scientist thought it impossible to harness nuclear energy
-in 1978 some doubted the prediction of the coming ice-age; in 1988 others doubted the prediction of global warming; today there are those who doubt man is responsible for climate change
What does all this tell us? It tells us even the experts can be wrong.
In the sphere of religion and faith, as I am sure you realize, there are those who doubt the existence of God. They doubt life everlasting and the immortality of the soul. They doubt their own salvation and eternal security. They doubt the power of prayer and the might of God.
Doubt, questions, unbelief, and disbelief – I'm afraid – are always a part of the human experience.
I Two Errors
A When it comes to doubt there are two errors we must avoid. First, we must avoid the error of those who say that the true child of God never doubts. They say that anyone who doubts cannot be a true child of God.
How proud and foolish are those people who talk or think this way. Are these people in their own little dream world? Are we to believe they never entertain the smallest doubt or have the slightest spiritual struggle? I am afraid that those who think and talk this way are shallow in and out. They do not know life. They do not know themselves. They have no real conception of their own sin and sinful nature. They dare to exalt themselves above such heroes of faith as King David, John the Baptist, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul – saints who all had their own moments of doubt.
What a cruel doctrine this is, to say the true child of God never doubts. Consider what this teaching does to those who are new to the faith or weak in the faith. He or she is not helped and comforted by such a doctrine. He or she is only pushed deeper into the crevice of despair and hopelessness. This doctrine creates a stumbling block, a rock of offense.
B But there is also a second error we must avoid. This is the error of those who say doubt is normal for the Christian. They would even go so far as to teach that doubt is a mark of piety, holiness, and faith because the Christian who doubts, they say, is struggling to be more sanctified. They think it praiseworthy that Christians fall into valleys of despair and hopelessness and doubt and disbelief.
I am not sure which view is worse, which view is more repulsive and nauseating: the view which denies doubt in the lives of God's true children or the view which glorifies doubt in the lives of God's true children. Both are equally wrong. Both are equally proud. Those with the first view proudly imagine that they never doubt. Those with the second view – if you can imagine this – are proud of their doubting. They give glory, laud, and honor to the Christian who has the least amount of confidence, assurance, and hope about the future. They delight in the mournful misery of God's children.
C Notice what the Canons say about both these errors. It says, "Scripture testifies that believers have to contend in this life with various doubts of the flesh and that under severe temptation they do not always experience this full assurance of faith ..." Notice, the Canons do not give a stamp of approval upon doubts and temptations as being something praiseworthy and desirable. Nor do the Canons deny their existence. Rather, it simply mentions doubt and temptation as a fact of the Christian life and takes the view that they are the result of sin in this life and in this body and on this earth.
This reminds us that Reformed theology is always realistic. It knows life. It understands the Christian's struggle with doubt and temptation. It realizes that the child of God is placed in grave temptations and is the object of severe attacks by the forces of darkness. It is acquainted with the Scriptures and the saints whose doubts and temptations and spiritual struggles are recorded there.
When it comes down to it, what is a Christian? Is a Christian someone who is supremely secure? Is a Christian someone who goes happily on his or her way with never a doubt or a fear? Is a Christian someone who has no battle to fight? Is a Christian someone who passes through no struggle of the soul? Is the Christian someone who never wavers or wanders or waffles in the Christian life? Is the Christian someone who is always strong, secure, and confident rather than small, weak, and struggling? No. No. No. None of these describes the Christian. The Canons take the view that there are times when even the strongest of saints are afflicted with doubts and temptations.
II Doubt and Temptation
A Article 11 speaks of doubt and temptation. What can we say about them?
We must start off by acknowledging that doubt is sin. Doubt does not and cannot arise out of faith. It is principally unbelief. It is the opposite of faith. For notice that it is characterized as doubts "of the flesh." Doubt is something we as Christians have to struggle against. Doubt, therefore, cannot be good. To live in doubt and to delight in doubt is not and cannot be a mark of piety.
Do you know what is a mark of piety and holiness and faith? To struggle against doubt and temptation – that is a mark of piety and holiness and faith. It is necessary and normal for a Christian in this life and on this earth and in this flesh to struggle.
B How is it that a believer can doubt? Here we come to the second word: temptation. Now the word temptation implies that there is a tempter. The Tempter, of course, is the Devil and his hosts.
We need to remember that the Christian is imperfect, that he or she is not yet delivered from the body of sin and the weakness of the flesh. The Tempter uses that sin and weakness to sow seeds of doubt. Sometimes the child of God finds him or herself in a very painful and crucial struggle to believe the Bible. The Devil uses the philosophy and learning of man to reject and mock the Word of God. Sometimes the child of God is tempted to believe the truths of Scripture but not to believe that they apply to him or her. So the Devil gets the saint to say, "I believe God's Word is true, but I do not believe that I am a child of God." Sometimes Satan gets us to look at ourselves and our sins and weakness rather than the Christ Who has died for those sins and weaknesses. The Tempter constantly chases after us. He wants us to fall and fail, to be full of doubt and temptation.
III The Solution is God
A Now, what is the solution to the problem of doubt and temptation?
Let me first tell you where the solution does not lie. The solution does not lie in man, not even in Christian man. We cannot talk about human strength overcoming the power of temptation. For if that were the case, then the situation would be hopeless. For on our own we cannot help but fall into temptation. Don't forget, we are faithless and inclined to sin and evil.
B There is only one solution to the problem of doubt and temptation. That solution is God, His grace, His power, His Spirit, His presence.
Over against our temptations, which are common to man, stands God. The contrast is not between the power of temptation and mere human strength. The contrast is between the power of temptation and the power of God. As Article 4 puts it, the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God.
C What does God do? Here we come to our Scripture reading for the evening. Listen to what Paul, inspired by the Spirit, writes:
(1 Cor 10:13) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."God is faithful." That is the starting point. As we face trials and temptations, doubts and questions, disbelief and unbelief, our starting point is that God is faithful. He loves His children. He protects His children. He preserves His children. God is the God of comfort and consolation. It is He Who takes His child and assures him or her that he or she is His child and is saved. "God is faithful."
What is it that our faithful God does? First of all, we are told that God Himself determines and limits the measure of our temptation: "God is faithful," says Paul. "He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" (vs 13).
Do you know what this tells me? This tells me that the Devil, in all his attacks upon the faith of the saints, is strictly limited. He cannot do what he wants. He would like to destroy the faith of the saints, but he can never succeed. Yes, he can cause the believer to struggle. Yes, he can cause the believer to lose his or her assurance for a while. Yes, the believer may fall deeply into temptation. But, the Devil can never succeed. He would like to deprive the saint permanently of all faith and assurance, but this he can never do. God says to him: "This far you can go, but no further!" God says to him: "This long you may tempt, but no longer!" When the Devil reaches that point he must stop. We see this in the life of Job, don't we?!
"He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" (vs 13). This also tells me the Devil can tempt successfully for a time but he can never cause the saint to reach the point of no return. He can never tempt the saint in such a way that his or her faith is destroyed. Yes, the Devil can cause the saint to fall very deeply. But he can never cause the saint to fall so deeply that the seed of new life is lost. The Devil can never tempt in such a way that the believer loses the power of God to overcome temptation.
We are being told here that we may fall and fail, stumble and waver, waffle and wander, but in the final analysis the new life God has implanted within us will surely grow and blossom and flourish.
So this is the first thing God does: He sets limits to what Satan can do; He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.
D But there is also a second thing our faithful God does. Paul tells us that when we are tempted, God always provides a way out so we can stand. With temptations, God provides a way of escape.
What is this way of escape? What is the way out when we fall into temptation? The way out is through the Word and Spirit. In the Word we are reminded, again and again, how God expects us to live. God, by His Spirit, gives us the strength and desire to live for Him. God, by His Word and Spirit, leads the saint to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for sin, and to a desire to live for Him.
Think about this. Once we know what God's will is and once we know the strength that God's Spirit provides, we are able to escape the temptation facing us. If our temptation is internet pornography, for instance, the way of escape – with the guidance of the Word and the strength of the Spirit – is to unplug from the internet or to move the computer into the family room where everyone can see what we are doing or to put strict parental controls on what can be seen. If our temptation is greed and theft, then the way of escape – with the guidance of the Word and the strength of the Spirit – is to avoid situations where we are alone with other people's cash or possessions. If our temptation is alcohol or drug addiction, then the way of escape – with the guidance of the Word and the strength of the Spirit – is to avoid parties that serve alcohol, or to avoid old friends who would have us use drugs, or to keep out of situations where we are alone and not accountable to anyone. If our temptation is anger or a temper, then the way of escape – with the guidance of the Word and the strength of the Spirit – is a good work out at the gym or on the bike so that we burn off our aggression. If our temptation is to cheat on papers or on tests, then the way of escape – with the guidance of the Word and the strength of the Spirit – is to study hard and to avoid procrastination.
When it comes to temptations, God always provides these kinds of escape if we know His Word and the strength His Spirit provides.
Doubt and temptation. The Christian is not immune to this. He is not above this. Nor does the Christian glory in this and wear this as a badge of piety. Rather, the Christian struggles against this. But never on his own, never relying on his own power. As the song puts it:
In doubt and temptation
I rest, Lord, in Thee;
My hand is in Thy hand,
Thou carest for me ...
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