************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 25a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 11, 2018
Lord's Day 25a
"The Spirit Produces Faith"
Today we are looking at preaching. After that we look at the sacraments. And then we look at church discipline.
We have a title for these three things together: we call them the marks of the true church.
We have so many churches in town. At last count there are over two hundred of them. How do we know which church is true and which church is false?
Let me talk about this to our young people. At college or at work or at a wedding you meet a guy or girl who is not Reformed. They want you to go to church with them. How do you know if you are doing the right thing? Sound doctrine tells you to look for three things: the pure preaching of the Word; the right administration of the sacraments; the faithful exercise of church discipline. If these three are found, you are in a true church. If these three are not found, you are in a false church. If these three are not found, you need to go to another church. And, if your new friend is not willing to do that, you had better drop them like a hot potato and pursue a relationship with someone else.
I used the phrase "sound doctrine." That's our theme as we have been looking at the Catechism this time. Sound doctrine: that is, doctrine based upon the Bible; doctrine that is reliable and true and trustworthy.
Sound doctrine is not esteemed today. Nor was it esteemed at the time of Paul. Instead, people turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (cf 2 Tim 4:3-4).
I The Spirit Works Faith
A So far -- based upon the Bible -- the Catechism has said a lot about faith. It has told us the definition of faith: a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His Word is true and a deep-rooted assurance that I am saved. It has told us the content of faith: the articles of the Apostles' Creed. It has told us the benefit of faith: I am right with God and heir to life everlasting. Today the Catechism tells us where faith comes from.
B The Bible reveals that God -- not man -- God is the author of faith in our hearts. Most Christians do not believe the Bible on this point. The prevailing view among Christians is that faith is the work of man. They argue that if man is commanded to believe, and if believers are promised salvation if they believe, then surely faith is the work and decision of man. According to these people and this way of thinking, faith is man's decision. We have a name for this: it is called Arminian theology. Arminian theology is named after Jacobus Arminius, a theologian in the Netherlands, whose followers teach faith is man's decision.
Arminian theology is found in most Christian churches today. But just because the majority of people believe something, that does not mean it is right. After all, there was a time the majority believed the world was flat and the earth was the center of the universe. The opinion of the majority is not the final proof of what is right.
Sound doctrine cares not one iota about the opinion of the majority. Rather it asks, "What does the Word of God say?"
C Do you know what you hear when you go to Arminian churches? You will hear things like:
The Spirit is here this morning. He is knocking at the door of your heart. He is calling you to believe. He is calling you sweetly and softly and gently. If you ignore His call He will be grieved. So open your heart to hear His voice and believe.Who is this weak and pathetic Spirit Who must beg and plead and grovel at the door of the sinner's heart? He can't be the third person of the triune Godhead revealed to us in Scripture! He can't be the Spirit of the almighty and exalted Christ!
Not only does this approach make the Spirit weak and pathetic but it also makes faith small and easy. Faith is so small and easy that anybody can believe. Faith is so small and easy that any dead sinner can resurrect himself from the dead. Faith is so small and easy that any blind sinner can open his eyes and see. Faith is so small and easy that any hard-hearted man can give himself a new heart.
This approach makes faith so small and easy that it is not a miracle!
D You need to realize it is Arminian theology that lies behind altar calls and seeker services. It is Arminian theology that lies behind a concert atmosphere in worship; loud music; dim lights and strobe lights; tear-jerking and repetitive songs; and, outrageous gimmicks like free bacon and car smashes for dads who attend. All of this has one goal: to persuade a person to believe, to manipulate a person to believe.
E What does the Word of God say about this kind of approach? What does the Word of God say about altar calls and seeker services and faith being man's decision?
(Rom 3:10-11) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."How many seek God? How many make a decision for God? None. No One. None At All!
Why not? How come no one seeks God? How come no one makes a decision for God? Because we are fallen, depraved, twisted, corrupt. Because we are sinners. Remember what the Bible tells us about sinners? Sinners hate God. Sinners don't love God. Sinners don't seek God. Sinners don't want God in their life. Sinners are dead in their trespasses and sins. How can a dead person choose to believe? How can a person who lies dead at the bottom of the ocean grab hold of the lifeline of the Gospel?
A fallen man will not and cannot be persuaded to believe. Faith is NOT our decision.
F If faith is not our decision, where does it come from? It is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). The Catechism says "The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts." Faith is a miracle. It is as big a miracle as is the act of Creation. It is as big a miracle as is the resurrection of the dead. Blasphemous, I say, blasphemous to declare sinful man is responsible for the miracle of faith!
II The Spirit Works Faith Through Preaching
A Faith comes from the Spirit. And, says the Catechism based upon Scripture, the Spirit uses preaching: "The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel."
When the Spirit works faith in a person -- any person -- He leads that person to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Faith is not the result of feelings, experiences, or ideas; faith is not the result of taking a walk in Sequoia National Park; faith is not the result of a glorious sunrise or sunset; faith is not the result of a miraculous answer to a prayer request. "Faith," writes Paul, "comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17).
Some visitors come here and are disappointed that drama, rituals, or music is not central. Sound doctrine teaches us to make preaching central.
Earlier, in Romans 8, Paul lays out for us the golden chain of salvation: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Each item, we are taught, is an unbreakable link in the chain forged by God. In Romans 10, Paul lays out for us the golden chain of faith. Each item is an unbreakable link in another chain forged by God.
(Rom 10:13-15) "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (14) How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (15) And how can they preach unless they are sent?Do you see the links in the chain? Call, believe, hear, preach, sent?
Paul does not write, "How can they hear without a praise band?" Nor does he write, "How can they hear without a therapist?" Nor does he write, "How can they hear without a big-name entertainer?" Rather, he asks, "How can they hear without a preacher?"
The Holy Spirit is pleased to use one means, and only one means, to work faith in sinners. That one way is preaching. Let me be so bold as to say the Spirit refuses to use any other method. Some say the message is the same but the method must fit the 21st century. Scripture says both the message and the method is always the same. In fact, when you change the method it is because you have already changed the message.
B Most preaching today is NOT what the Bible means by preaching. Every once in a while I look at sermoncentral.com to see what other pastors have done with a passage. What do I see? Most of the time I see jokes, cute stories, political commentary, moral lessons. What don't I see? Most of the time I don't see a sermon that takes Scripture seriously!
Some preachers are careless, coming onto the pulpit without being prepared. Some preachers are shallow, barely scratching the surface of the text. Way too many preachers never really explain and apply the Scriptures.
Preaching is difficult, demanding work. I am more tired after a day of preaching then after a 6 hour bike ride; and hungrier too. The longer I am in the ministry, the more important I think it is and the harder I work at it. I remember the time a candidate for the ministry was being examined. His answers didn't sound right. So I stood up and asked him what are the duties of a minister. He responded with: "listening to people, relating to people, visiting." I stood up again and asked, "How important is preaching?" His answer: "Not as important as listening." Surprise, surprise, he did not last even a year in the ministry.
Preaching is difficult, demanding work. I study the passage. I look at the context. I look at the Greek or Hebrew. I read commentaries. I must understand the text myself before I can tell God's people what it means and how it applies to their life. I don't just walk on the pulpit and start talking about the first thing that comes to my mind (someone said this a couple of months ago). It requires preparation. It requires careful preparation. It requires hard work.
Why do I take this so seriously? Because this is what the Holy Spirit uses to produce faith in the hearts of the elect.
C What is a preacher? Paul says a preacher is a man sent by God, called by God. We speak of an inner call: from the Spirit Who calls and equips a man with the required gifts; and, we speak of the outer call of the church which trains him and examines him. This makes the preacher different from every other man who speaks about the Bible: it is not his gifts in preparing sermons, nor his skills in delivery, nor his personality, but that he is called to speak on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, the Spirit is pleased to use him to produce faith in the hearts of His people.
D Let me ask another question: What is preaching? It is the proclamation of "good news" says Paul (Rom 10:15). It is the proclamation of the promise
(Rom 10:9) That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.Notice the focus of preaching: the cross and grave of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only ground of our salvation. This means preaching is serious business.
Or, as the Catechism puts it:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross.
So the preacher doesn't come up here to state his opinion. He doesn't come up here to tell funny stories and cute jokes. He is up here as the Lord's servant, as a tool of the Spirit, to create faith. That's why preaching is so important. That's why we don't let just anyone of this pulpit. That's why Pastor Weaver has to study and study and study some more for his examination before classis next month.
There is a reason for weak faith in the church: it is because there is no or little faithful preaching; God's people are spiritually malnourished.
Is your faith weak? Could your faith be stronger? Then come to hear preaching. That's the only way. There are no shortcuts. The Holy Spirit will not feed you with empty experiences and feel-good stories. He uses preaching. Remember, faith comes from hearing.
E For this reason preaching is never to be despised or neglected: it is the voice of Jesus Christ. It is not the voice of the minister but of the Lord of heaven and earth. It is the voice of God calling His people to believe. This means it is a sin when God's people neglect worship. This means it is a sin when God's people do not put themselves under the preaching of the Word. Christ calls His people to hear Him. He lays out a spiritual banquet on which His people can feed. When Jesus speaks, it is better to listen than to watch a football game on TV or to visit with family or to stay home because you are tired. Instead, your attitude should be the same as the psalmist:
(Ps 84:10) Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
F I would like to end with our children and youth. Why do we have our children and youth sitting in worship rather than at children's church. Why doesn't our youth group meet on Sunday nights as it does in some churches? Because we want to feed the lambs and nurture the lambs and confirm their faith. Because we want them to be fruit-bearing trees with roots that grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We want our children and youth -- as was sung this morning -- to be "Fully Devoted."
The Holy Spirit produces faith by the preaching and hearing of the Gospel. That's what sound doctrine declares.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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