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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The Christian's comfort in what the Triune God does in election
Text:CD 1 Articles 7-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-12-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 135:1-3

Hymn 52

Psalm 116:7-10

Hymn 1

Psalm 79:5

Scripture reading: Ephesians 1:1-14

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 1.7-8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

We’re all quite familiar with the idea of an election in the world of politics.  Every so often we have to go to the polls and elect new politicians.  We’re choosing new representatives.  So the concept of election is familiar:  it’s simply choosing.

When it comes to our Christian faith, election is also fairly simple in its definition:  God chooses us.  That’s a bare-bones definition which just about anyone who claims to be a Christian would agree with.  For example, Arminian churches teach election too.  They teach that God chooses believers.  They always have.  In fact, just about everyone in Christianity agrees that God chooses some to salvation.  That’s not controversial at all. 

What is controversial is the basis or ground for election.  Why does God choose some people to salvation?  To that, Arminians would answer that’s it mainly because of faith.  God chose some people to salvation because he saw that they would have faith.  They chose to believe in Jesus Christ, and so God chose them to be part of the elect. 

That’s an answer we reject.  Why does God choose some people to salvation?  The biblical answer found in the Canons of Dort is that it is purely out of his good pleasure.  It’s not because these people were better or more worthy.  It’s entirely because of God’s grace.  It’s not because he looked into the future and saw that we would choose him.  No, it’s because of his sovereign good will and decree.  The reason for election has nothing to do with anything in us and everything to do with God’s grace.  Election is all grace.  We need to keep that truth firmly fixed in our minds. 

This afternoon we’re going to learn more about God’s election of believers.  We’re going to see that this is a teaching which gives us comfort.  We’ll look at it in terms of each person of the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We’ll see that what the Triune God does in election is comforting for Christians.       

One of the most important passages in Scripture about election is Ephesians 1.  After greeting the church at Ephesus, the first thing Paul does is launch into praise for God.  All the praise here centers on God’s choosing of Christians, his election.  Specifically, in verse 1, Paul says that the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” ought to be blessed or praised for what he has done in election.  That echoes what we find elsewhere in Scripture.  For example, in 1 Peter 1:1-2, the Holy Spirit says that believers are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

What exactly has God the Father done?  He chose us.  Ephesians 1:4 speaks of him having chosen us “before the foundation of the world.”  The timing here is important.  Before creation, before time even existed, God the Father chose us to be part of his redeemed people.  He didn’t choose us in history, but before history.  It’s an amazing thought:  before there ever was a sun in the sky, the Father knew you.  Before there were stars, God the Father knew your name.  He not only knew you, but loved you and chose you to be his.  What an awesome thing!    

Brothers and sisters, you have to understand that the Father’s election of believers is personal.  He didn’t just choose a mass of faces without names.  He chose individual people.  As the Canons of Dort puts it in 1.7, “a definite number of specific persons.”  This isn’t general, but particular.  When you’re a Christian, you can be confident that the Father set his love on you as an individual before the creation of the universe.  You see, his love in election is aimed at specific persons. 

We’ve already noted the basis of the Father’s election:  it’s not with anything in us.  It’s “according to the purpose of his will,” says Ephesians 1:5.  Or as the Canons of Dort puts it, “according to the sovereign good pleasure of his will.” 

There’s more to say about the Father’s election.  As Canons 1.8 says, he has only one decree of election.  That’s said against the background of the controversy with the Arminians around the time of the Synod of Dort.  The Arminians taught that election involved several different decrees of God.  For example, they taught that there is a decisive decree of election and a non-decisive decree.  The decisive decree involves those whom God foresees as not only believing, but also persevering.  The non-decisive decree involves those whom God foresees as believing, but who are ultimately lost because they lose their salvation.  Against that background, the Canons of Dort echoes the biblical teaching such as we find it in Ephesians 1:  there is only one decree of election.  In that decree, God chooses those who will be saved, and he also chooses that they will have everything they need to be saved and to stay saved. 

And what’s the purpose or result of the Father’s election?  There are two things you can see in Ephesians 1.  The first and most important of all is that it’s all about the praise.  It’s all about the praise of his glorious grace – grace is about giving sinners the opposite of what they deserve.  We deserve to be left under condemnation, but God decides to choose us for salvation.  That’s grace and it’s glorious, it leads us to praise God.  So, four times in verses 1-14, Paul speaks about the praise of God.  It’s in verse 3 with the word “Blessed” – you can also translate that as “praise”:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  Then it’s in verse 6, and verse 12, and then at the end in verse 14.  This is all about doxology, the giving of right praise, the offering of worship.  The Holy Spirit teaches us about the doctrine of election so that we humbly give all the glory and honour to the God who chose us for his own.  We’re to sing his praises!  Brothers and sisters, when you consider the Father’s election of you, let it lead you to worship him.

But don’t let it just be a matter of your lips.  It’s also geared towards a certain outcome in the way we live our whole life.  Notice Ephesians 1:4.  The Holy Spirit says that the Father chose us before creation, not because we were holy and blameless before him, but that we would be.  In election, God chooses us to everything included in salvation, including our sanctification.  The Father has chosen us so that we would live for him in holiness.  Holiness means having nothing to do with sin.  Holiness means being set apart from sin.  Loved ones, when you contemplate your election, banish any thought of now being free to live the way you want.  Instead, love the Father who chose you in his grace.  Instead, be filled with gratitude that you’ve been loved by him even though in yourself you’re a sinner.  Realize your election is a gift of infinite value.  For such a gift, the only appropriate response is a life of thankfulness and love to God.  The only appropriate response to this amazing gift is for us to look heavenward and say, “Father, what do you want me to do?  Teach me your ways and I will follow.”

God the Son also plays a role in our election.  In our reading from Ephesians 1:3-4, the blessing of election is said to be “in Christ.”  Everything that follows flows from what God has done for our salvation in Jesus Christ.  Almost everything that’s mentioned there in Ephesians 1 has to do with what Christ did in his suffering and death. 

But the Canons of Dort in article 7 also draws our attention to something that Christ did long before his ministry on earth.  It says, “He has also from eternity appointed Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation and thus he decreed to give to Christ those who were to be saved…”  What’s described there took place “from eternity.”  So again, we’re talking about something that happened before creation, before time.  There was an agreement between the Father and the Son regarding our salvation.  Sometimes this is described as the “covenant of redemption.”  It’s not a covenant between God and people, but between the persons of the Trinity.   In this arrangement, the Father entrusted all the names of each elect person to the Son with the calling to save them.  The Son received them and he agreed to come into this world for them.  He agreed that for these particular individuals he would live a perfect life.  Christ agreed that for the elect, he would go to the cross and bear the punishment they deserve.  Thus he would be their Mediator and Head.  A mediator is a go-between.  In the covenant of redemption, Christ agreed to be the one who would go between a chosen people who are sinful, and a holy God who is not.  He would be the one to bring them together in fellowship.  That’s what a mediator does.  That’s what Christ did.    

John 17 speaks of this truth.  John 17 contains what’s called Christ’s high-priestly prayer.  Jesus prays this shortly before he goes to the cross.  He speaks of God’s plan in all of this, and the relationship between the Father and the Son and what’s been ordained for our salvation.  And in verse 2, Christ speaks about people who have been given to him by the Father.  These are people who are given eternal life through the Son.  He goes on to speak of these people throughout the high-priestly prayer in John 17.  It’s clear there are specific individual people who’ve been given to the Son by the Father in an arrangement that existed between them from eternity. 

This is comforting for Christians as well.  It means that when Jesus did his redemptive work on earth, he didn’t do it for an anonymous mass of people.  He didn’t just come for salvation in general.  Instead, everything he did in his life, death, and resurrection was done for particular individuals.  For Christians, it was done out of a personal love for them.  Loved ones, your Saviour had your name on his heart.  Your name was on his heart from before the beginning of time.  After creation and before he came to this earth as one of us, he knew you, you personally.  As he was in heaven before his incarnation as a baby, the Son of God knew that he was going to do what it takes to rescue you from the hell you deserve.  When he lived on this earth and was perfectly obedient to the Father, Jesus was doing it out of love for you, for you personally.  When he lived on this earth, and suffered and died on that cross, Christ was doing it out of his affection for you, for you particularly.  Brothers and sisters, his salvation is a loving gift to you with your name on it, written in his own hand, personalized.  I don’t know about you, but when I think about that, I’m amazed at my Saviour’s love.  I’m thankful that I’ve always been on his heart.  This is a Saviour who is worthy of worship.  This is the Saviour whom we should love and follow.

There’s also comfort in learning about the work of the Holy Spirit in our election.  He’s also involved, though his role may seem like more of a background thing. 

First of all, the Holy Spirit is the one who has revealed the doctrine of election to us in Scripture.  The Bible has come to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in human beings.  Second Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  We need to always remember that the Bible is first of all a divine book.  We can speak about Paul or John or Moses having written a particular passage, but we ought always to keep in mind that ultimately the Holy Spirit is behind it all.  That’s why you’ll often hear me say while preaching that the Holy Spirit says this or that in a passage.  It’s to remind us that the Bible is a book from God, specifically breathed out by God the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has delivered to us the doctrine of election.  He hasn’t hidden it away, but worked through human authors so that we would learn about it, understand it, believe it, and be comforted by it.  One of the titles of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is “Comforter,” and one of the ways he comforts us is by impressing encouraging truths on us from the Scriptures.  Election is one of those encouraging truths he brings home to our hearts. 

The Holy Spirit is also involved with bringing our election to life in the here and now.  As we’ve noted, our election really goes back to before the creation of the world.  But we only started existing from the moment of our conception.  At a certain moment, we didn’t exist, and then we were conceived and did exist.  After we came into this world, God sent his Holy Spirit to begin working out the reality of his eternal decree of election for us.  So, at a certain time, the Holy Spirit began working in us to give us the new birth, a new heart.  He came to us and gave us the gift of faith, brought us to Jesus Christ as the Saviour who lived and died for us.  You see, the Holy Spirit is the one who activates or effects God’s decree of election in our lives in time and history.  He does this for every single one of the elect.  He does it for everyone who was chosen by the Father and given to the Son. 

There’s one more thing that he does.  It says in Ephesians 1:13 that the Holy Spirit seals the elect who’ve believed in Christ:  “you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”  The idea of a seal here is meant to get us thinking in terms of certainty, confidence.  Let me illustrate.  You could think of it like an envelope being mailed to a destination.  The Holy Spirit seals you in that envelope and you’re sent off, and you’re for sure going to reach the destination, because he also carries the envelope there.  He’s going to make sure you’re safe and protected, and that you arrive at the final destination.  You’re going to make it.  You’re going to arrive in God’s presence in glory.  You can have comfort and confidence knowing the Holy Spirit is going to ensure that your election works out exactly the way it’s supposed to.  Every Christian can have the same confidence as the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”  Loved ones, with faith in Christ worked in you by the Holy Spirit, you can have that same comfort and confidence.  God will bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom.  It’s certain because the Holy Spirit has sealed you for it.    

There’s more to say about the doctrine of election.  Further in the Canons we learn more about the basis of our election and what the Bible says about that.  There’s also the question of assurance:  how you can be sure that you’re one of the elect?   For now, remember that election is not an academic or intellectual matter.  It’s a matter of comfort for Christians.  It’s something reminding us of the love and care of our Triune God.  Election tells us we have a God who has loved us before creation – it tells us of our loving Father.  Election tells us of a God who loved us enough to come on a rescue mission to this earth for us – it tells us of our loving Saviour.  And election tells us of a God who loves us as he works in our hearts and keeps us on the narrow path – it tells us of the loving Holy Spirit.  The Triune God assures us we have always been loved, are loved right now, and always will be.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Eternal merciful God,

We praise you Father for having chosen us before the creation of the world.  Thank you for setting your love on us out of your gracious good pleasure.  We deserved nothing but condemnation, but in your love you’ve given us everything, and above all, a relationship with you.   

We worship you our Saviour Jesus for having received us from the Father and agreeing to come into this world for our redemption.  Thank you for your perfect life in our place.  Thank you for your blood shed on the cross for our forgiveness.  Thank you for loving us personally and individually and for still doing that to this very day. 

We exalt you Holy Spirit for inspiring the Scriptures which give us so much comfort, also comfort about our election.  Thank you for coming into our lives to regenerate us and to give us the gift of faith.  We’re grateful also for what you doing in sealing us in our redemption.  Thank you that through you, we can be confident that we will reach glory. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our whole salvation is from you.  You deserve all praise and glory for our election and for everything else.  LORD God, create in our hearts a sense of wonder at these things.  Lead us to more love for you and a deeper gratitude.  We pray that considering our election would lead us to more holiness in our lives, more honour for you through us.        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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