************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 25b ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on February 18, 2018

Lord's Day 25
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
"The Spirit Confirms Faith"

Where does faith come from? Sound doctrine tells us faith does not come from man. Faith is not man's decision. Faith is not man's response to an altar call. Faith is not man's answer to an invitation to be baptized.

Where does faith come from? Sound doctrine tells us the Holy Spirit produces faith in our hearts. It is God Who produces faith. It is God Who produces faith in the hearts of His elect.

Where does faith come from? Sound doctrine tells us the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the holy gospel to produce faith. The Spirit can sovereignly choose other means. But the Spirit doesn't choose any other means; the Spirit sovereignly chooses to use the preaching of the holy gospel. Therefore, we call preaching the primary means of grace.

This means faith is not produced by the use of gimmicks like bacon and car smashes, Easter egg hunts, drama, and a concert atmosphere. Faith doesn't get produced by altar calls. Faith doesn't get produced by seeker services. Faith doesn't get produced by programs and entertainment and happy-clappy songs. Sound doctrine tells us true faith is the result of the Spirit's work through the preaching of the holy gospel. Sound doctrine tells us true faith is the result of the Spirit's work through the preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23).

To the world this is foolishness. To the world this is part of the foolishness of the Gospel spoken of by Paul in our Bible reading. But, as Paul puts it,
(1 Cor 1:25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
To us who are called to believe this is sound doctrine. To us who believe, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).

I keep using the phrase "sound doctrine." This is a phrase Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus. Preachers are commanded to teach what is in accord with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Elders and pastors are commanded to encourage members with sound doctrine and to refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

What is sound doctrine? Sound doctrine is doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of God (1 Tim 1:10-11). That is, it is based upon the Bible. Therefore, it is true and reliable and trustworthy.

Remember what else Paul tells us about sound doctrine? Paul tells us men do not put up with sound doctrine; instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).

Preaching, as I already said, is the primary means of grace; that is what we looked at last week. But there is also a secondary means of grace: the sacraments; we look at the sacraments today (and in the weeks to come) as what the Spirit uses to confirm our faith. And after that we look at church discipline to guard the faith. So preaching produces faith, sacraments confirm faith, and discipline guards faith.

I What the Sacraments Are
A This brings us to our first point: What the sacraments are.

The word "sacrament" is not found in the Bible but the idea is. The root word is "sacred" meaning holy. So we know a sacrament has to do with holy things.

The word "sacrament" itself comes from the Latin, "sacramentum." A sacramentum is an oath. More particularly, a sacramentum is the sacred oath taken by soldiers to be true to their general and their country. It is like the oath of office taken by our President. Or maybe like the Pledge of Allegiance we make to our flag and country.

B A sacrament, then, is a pledge or an oath. But who makes the pledge or oath? Is the oath made by God or is the oath made by man? Most churches and most pastors say the oath is made by man. According to these churches and pastors, the sacrament of baptism is seen as man's pledge or oath to serve God. And, the sacrament of Lord's Supper is seen as our pledge or oath to accept the blood of Christ. This is a man-centered view of the sacraments.

Sound doctrine takes a God-centered view of the sacraments. It is God Who makes the pledge or oath. But what is the pledge He makes? Listen to what the Catechism says:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life
by grace alone
because of Christ's one sacrifice
finished on the cross.
(Q & A 66)
The sacraments are God's oath "that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross" (Q & A 67). The sacraments are God's pledge, God's oath, that Christ -- to quote our Bible reading -- is "our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30).

Notice, the oath of the sacraments is no different than the promise of the gospel in the preaching of the Word. The sacraments, like preaching, promises forgiveness and eternal life. The sacraments, then, are but an extra confirmation of what we hear from the pulpit.

C In the sacraments God makes a pledge, an oath. To whom? The sacramentum of the Roman soldier is a pledge to his general and to his country. The oath of office taken by our president is a pledge to God and to the people. So to whom does God make His pledge? God's pledge is to His people, the church, the elect.

Isn't this amazing? And wonderful? Almighty and sovereign God makes a promise, a pledge, an oath to the creatures of His hands! Who are we that the Almighty should stoop down to us? Who are we that the Almighty should make promises to us? But this is the grace and the wonder of the Gospel. This is the foolishness of the Gospel.

D The sacraments are three things according to the Scriptures and the Catechism.

First, sacraments are ceremonies or ordinances instituted by God. God instituted two sacraments in the Old Testament: circumcision and Passover. In the New Testament God also instituted two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Notice what is not listed as a sacrament: foot-washing, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders. Also not listed are some of the more extreme ceremonies like poison consumption, snake handling, and touching burning rags.

Second, sacraments are signs. On the highway, signs point to something: a curve, an interchange, a stop light, a bridge, a town. Likewise, sacraments point to something. Sacraments point to the promise of the gospel. More particularly, baptism points to the washing away of our sins by Jesus Christ. And, the Lord's Supper points to the forgiveness of our sin by the sacrifice of Jesus and to the spiritual nourishment of our souls.

Third, sacraments are seals. There is a seal on my passport. And on my birth-certificate. And on my driver's license. The seal is proof that these documents are the real thing. A passport or a birth-certificate without a seal is not the real thing. Sacraments are seals. They declare that the promises of the gospel and the truths of Scripture are the real thing.

II What the Sacraments Do
A This brings us to our second point: What the sacraments do.

Let me start with what the sacraments do NOT do. The sacraments do NOT give grace, they do NOT bring grace. You are not saved because you are baptized. Nor are you saved because you eat and drink from the Lord's Table. We are not saved, my brothers and sisters, by eating and drinking and washing. We are not saved by ceremonies and rituals. We are saved only because of "Christ's one sacrifice finished upon the cross" (HC Q&A 66). To say we are saved by the sacraments is nothing less than a denial of "Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross" (HC Q&A67).

B Does this mean the sacraments do nothing? Remember, we are looking at where faith comes from. We are looking at what the Holy Spirit does.

So what do the sacraments do? The Holy Spirit uses them to confirm faith.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel ...
What do the sacraments do? They show us the gospel. They are like a play, a drama, that acts out the gospel.

We are meant to see the sacraments. We are meant to see the dipping in or sprinkling with water. We are meant to see the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the fruit of the vine. They are holy signs and seals for us to see.

There are churches and societies that have secret ceremonies; ceremonies that are done behind closed doors; ceremonies you don't even know about until you move up to the highest levels. The Mormons are that way. So are the Masons. So are various native-American tribes. But NOT the church. There is nothing hidden, nothing secret, about our ceremonies. The sacraments are out in the open for all to see. So that the faith of the elect can be confirmed and strengthened and encouraged.
Ruth and I were invited to the baptism of a friend. We arrived for worship. There was singing and prayer and the offering. Just before the sermon it was announced baptism was done before the worship service. And I thought to myself, "That does no good. That doesn't strengthen the faith of the believers."

Watch a baptism. And say to yourself, as surely as water washes dirt from my body so certainly the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away all my sins. Watch the Lord's Supper. And say to yourself, as surely as I see the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely Christ's body was offered and broken for me and His blood poured out for me on the cross. Watch and be confirmed in the faith, strengthened in the faith, encouraged in the faith.

We want our children to watch too. We want them to see the Gospel acted out. We want them to see the dipping in or sprinkling with water. We want them to see the bread being broken and the juice being poured. We want their faith to be confirmed, strengthened, and encouraged; we want their faith to grow; we want their faith to increase; we want them to become mature. This is why we don't send them out for children's church. We never want to give our children the message that the sacraments are not for them.

III What is the Relationship to Preaching
A I want to end with how the sacraments are related to preaching.

First, do you remember the series of questions Paul asks in Romans 10? I read those questions last week:
(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?
Notice the verbs: call, hear, believe, preach, sent. I called these the golden chain of faith. Paul doesn't ask, "How can they believe without a baptizer?" No! He asks, "How can they believe without a preacher?" Preaching comes first. Preaching is the primary means of grace. And the sacraments are the secondary means of grace.

B Second, preaching can be done without the sacraments but the sacraments cannot be done without the preaching. The dipping in or sprinkling with water is meaningless without the Word of God. The eating of a small piece of bread is meaningless without the Word of God.
A number of years ago I was visiting one of our members in a nursing home. A priest came in to visit her room-mate. He whipped open his bag, pulled out a wafer, put it on her tongue, and said, "This is the body of Christ." He was in and out in less than 2 minutes.
No Bible reading. No explanation of what was about to take place. No mention of the Word. No preaching. We don't celebrate the Lord's Supper this way. Similarly, we don't do quick kitchen-sink baptisms.

C Third, think about an unbeliever. An unbeliever who is sitting in worship may be converted by the preaching of the holy gospel. However, nothing happens to an unbeliever sitting in worship when there is a baptism or the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Why? Because there is no faith to confirm.

It is a sin for God's people not to put themselves under the preaching of the Word. But it is also a sin not to observe the sacraments. Those who neglect the sacraments are like an Olympic athlete with only one ski or one skate. Those who neglect the sacraments are wearing only half the uniform. Sound doctrine tells us this is what the Spirit uses to confirm our faith.

Come to church, dear friends -- you and your children. Come to church and hear the Word. Come to church and observe the sacraments. For then faith is produced. And, faith is confirmed.
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