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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God's grace calls us to a proper attitude
Text:CD 3/4 Article 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 19:1-3

Psalm 116:1-5

Psalm 116:6-10

Hymn 1

Hymn 28:7

Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 1

Catechism lesson: Canons of Dort 3/4.15

* 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,

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that attitude is the key ingredient in many different aspects of life.  Normally, you’ll never do well in school if you don’t have a good attitude.  And in the work world, a good attitude will get you places.  People with poor attitudes often get passed over when it comes to promotions and raises.  A poor attitude is a sure way to find yourself jumping from job to job.  So, you need to have a good attitude.  This is true everywhere in life and for us as believers it begins with our attitude when we consider God’s grace towards us.  That’s what we confess with article 15 of Chapter 3-4 of the Canons.  God’s grace calls us to a proper attitude towards God, towards others, and towards ourselves

It is rather peculiar that the Canons speak about “God’s undeserved grace.”  The article begins by saying that “This grace God owes to no one.”  We might think that strange because grace by its very definition is dismerited favour.  Grace is when you get the opposite of what you deserve.  So, why did the Synod of Dort add the extra words?  Well, people can and do make their own definitions for words.  So the Arminians in the 1600s redefined grace as well.  For them it basically came down to merited favour.  They taught that with the use of their free will, people could merit or earn God’s kindness.  We have to insist that grace is God’s dismerited favour.  Because of what the Bible teaches in Ephesians 1 and 2 (and elsewhere) we have to maintain that God owes his grace to nobody.  God is indebted to no one.  Here the Canons quote from Romans 11:35, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”  Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, people only have their sin.  Our sin is the only thing we bring to the salvation equation.

When we have that clear in our minds, then the stage is set for a proper attitude towards God.  Let’s look at our reading from 1 Corinthians 1 for a moment.  Paul says in verse 4, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.”  In verse 9, he goes on to say, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  He does not say, “I am so thankful that you did your part by exercising your free will and then God did his part.”  No, instead in verse 26 he tells the Corinthians to look back and see what they were when they were called.  They were nothing special.  But God called them.  God chose them – in fact, Paul repeats those words “He chose” three times in verses 27 and 28.  God’s choice, God’s grace is what stands on center stage. 

One of the intended purposes or results is there in verse 29:  “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  God did all this so his glory would be magnified.  God’s grace was shown to the Corinthians so that if they would have anyone or anything to boast in it would be the Lord and his glorious grace.  This whole section of verses 26 to 31 loosely parallels the golden chain of salvation in Romans 8:29-30.  We find choosing, calling and justification.  We find Christ as our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  And just like in Romans 8, here in 1 Corinthians 1, God is the subject of all the verbs.  God is the one doing the action. 

Brothers and sisters, this is why article 15 says, “He, therefore, who receives this grace owes and renders eternal thanks to God alone.”  Rather than God owing us, we in fact owe him and not just a little.  We are indebted to him for his grace to us.  God asks for our thankfulness to be shown with a Christian life of praise and obedience.  He asks for a thankful attitude.  We give credit where credit is due.  So, if someone asks about our testimony, how we came to be Christians, we speak about God and what he has done.  As we live the Christian life, we let our words and actions point to God.  That goes for every aspect of our lives, whether that be in school or work or leisure.  We increasingly die to ourselves and live to God -- we live to God, just as Christ does.  Remember:  we are in Christ, we have union with him, so with his Spirit in us we live to the Father’s glory like he does.  Someone once said that thankfulness is a lifestyle.  Those around us should be able to see that there’s something different about us.  We’re different because we live thankfully each day by the grace and mercy of God.  The one thing we should dread most to hear somebody say would be:  I never would have guessed you’re a Christian.  I hope none of us will ever hear somebody say that. 

Article 15 goes on to speak of the attitude towards God of those who do not receive this grace.  There are three kinds of people we can mention here.  The first are not mentioned here in article 15, but because they are discussed elsewhere in the Canons, I’ve included them.  These are those who have never heard about Christ and the grace of God.  We cannot think that these people wanted the grace of conversion and faith in Jesus Christ but were denied it.  Apart from God’s work, people do not go after these things.

Then there are those who have heard the gospel of grace but reject it.  This is the person who doesn’t care about spiritual things – by that we mean, the true spiritual things revealed in the Bible.  People can care about all sorts of false spiritual things, but when it comes to what the Bible says, they have no interest.  Here too, these people are not longing for the grace of God, but are happy to stay where they are.  They simply don’t care about what God has to say and sometimes they’re direct enough to say it. 

Finally, there are those who profess to have received the gospel but really have not.  These are the hypocrites.  Literally, a hypocrite is somebody who wears a mask, pretending to be someone that they’re not.  They have a false sense of security.  Sometimes, this false sense of security is tied to legalism and works-righteousness.  They don’t have God’s grace, so they think they can find God’s favour through their own deeds.   They imagine God to be a harsh judge who demands that Christians keep their side of the bargain so they can be saved.  Let’s be honest and we know that this way of thinking sometimes creeps into our own circles too.  Usually these kinds of people reflect who they imagine God to be and so they are entirely ungracious and uncharitable towards others, whether Christians or not.  They make major issues out of minor things. 

There is a story about an expedition to the North Pole.  The expedition was trying to head north.  Using their equipment, they charted a heading and set off.  A few hours later, they calculated their position and found that they were further south than when they started.  This happened because they were on a sheet of ice that was drifting southward.  The same thing happens with legalism.  We think that our so-called piety is bringing us closer to God when the reality is that we’re drifting further and further away.  And our hypocrisy gets exposed in our ungracious dealings with others. 

Of course, the opposite can also happen.  We can be lulled into a false sense of security through believing in cheap grace.  Cheap grace means we believe we’re forgiven and now we can live however we want.  Those who believe this can sometimes be heard to say, “We’re under grace, not law!”  Such thinking is just as unbiblical as legalism.  It forgets what God says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 

Both cheap grace and legalism are road blocks to the narrow way.  They divert us to the broad way that leads to destruction.  The way forward is to look to Jesus Christ.  He is the source of God’s grace at the beginning of our salvation.  He is also the source of God’s grace as we live the Christian life.  We sometimes speak of the indicative and imperative of the gospel.  In grammar, the indicative is the way things are.  The indicative is that we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.  The indicative is that we are in Christ.  Read the first two chapters of Ephesians and you’ll see the indicative laid out.  But then there is also the imperative, the command:  be who you are in Christ.  Live out of your union with Christ.  You see that especially in the last three chapters of Ephesians.  All of that is tied to the proper attitude of believers with respect to God’s undeserved grace and that attitude is a praise-filled, thankful lifestyle before God.

Now when we think about God’s grace, we’re also called to a proper attitude towards others.  Here too 1 Corinthians 1 has some pointed words for us.  Right away in verse 2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they’re not the only ones who have been called by God in Christ Jesus.  Verses 10 through 17 tackle a particular problem in the Corinthian church.  There were divisions among the believers.  Some claimed Paul, others Apollos, others Peter, and still others Christ.  In verse 10, Paul pleads with them that there would be no divisions and that they would work towards perfect unity.  After all, all of these Christians are members of Christ’s body in Corinth. 

In article 15, we confess that “about those who outwardly profess their faith and amend their lives, we are to judge and speak in the most favourable way, according to the example of the apostles, for the inner recesses of the heart are unknown to us.”  We have such an example with Paul here in 1 Corinthians 1.  Now we have to remember that this was addressed to the church in Corinth.  So, if we’re going to apply this text to ourselves, it only makes sense that we begin with our own local church.  We are to strive against having divisions or schisms in this congregation.  We are to speak about one another in the most favourable ways and deal with one another charitably – always thinking the best of one another.  But we can take things a step further.  We also should make efforts at recognizing and maintaining the unity of the faith with others too.  Imagine a set of concentric circles.  In the center is the local church.  Then we have the federation of churches and then we have the churches with whom we have ecclesiastical fellowship and then outside of that, others who also profess the same faith but with whom we may not yet have official contact.  This text does not speak about unity with those who may be false teachers, churches that aren’t true, and those who get the gospel wrong on important points.   Paul has other words in other places for those kinds of situations, but we’ll leave that for some other time.  For now, let’s notice that it is a biblical notion to strive against schism and division.  Instead, we’re to work for unity and harmony in the body of Christ, both locally and further afield. 

So there are those whom God has called and who have already responded in faith.  But then article 15 goes on to speak about those who have not yet been called.  What should be our attitude towards them?  Simply put, it should be prayerful.  When we have family, friends, fellow students or co-workers who have not been converted by God, we should be regularly praying for them.  Mention them by name in our prayers and bring them before the throne of grace.  God created the world at the beginning and he has the power to still make new creations in Christ – something which is just as miraculous and awe-inspiring as the original creation.  And when you think about the lost you know, don’t ever jump to conclusions about them.  Remember you don’t know who God has chosen and who he hasn’t.  Perhaps that young man with tattoos and body piercings is one of his and just hasn’t been called yet.  You don’t know.  So instead of jumping to conclusions, pray and pray, pray for their salvation and pray for opportunities to be God’s instrument for their salvation.  And when you can, speak loving and compassionately of your Saviour, like a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.    

Finally, this article speaks about a proper attitude towards ourselves.  “But we must by no means act haughtily, as if we had distinguished ourselves from them.”  “Them” here refers to the as-yet-unconverted.  Our proper attitude must be one of humility.  Thinking about, considering and really embracing the doctrines of grace should produce more humility in our lives.  This definitely has a bearing on how we view others who come among us who may be coming to a church for the first time.  We’re not making a helpful contribution to Christ’s church-gathering work when a newcomer gets right away blasted for what he or she is wearing to church.  Or perhaps it’s not our words, but our non-verbal communication.  Glaring and staring and sending the clear message:  you just don’t fit in, you don’t belong here with us.  That’s actually a kind of haughtiness -- the kind that is warned against here in our confession.  Rather, we should be warm and welcoming.  If we see a newcomer before the service, greet them and then also why not pray for them?  Ask God to work in them during our worship, just as you would pray for yourself and your family.       

Brothers and sisters, a proper attitude is a matter of the heart.  Where is your heart?  Has it been set on fire by God’s grace?  Living in union with Christ, our heart has to be where his heart is.  Entirely passionate about God’s glory.  Entirely passionate about serving others, speaking favourably and charitably, praying regularly.  Having our heart where Christ’s is means being entirely passionate about knowing ourselves for who we really are:  sinners redeemed by God’s grace.  AMEN.

PRAYER

O God of infinite mercy,

Your grace towards us has been completely undeserved.  We acknowledge that in ourselves we deserve the opposite of what we received in Jesus Christ.  With your Holy Spirit, please give us the proper attitude towards your grace.  Help us to be thankful to you and filled with love for you.  Help us to be kind and charitable to one another, and also other brothers and sisters.  Please help us also with those whom you have not yet called, to be gracious, kind.




* 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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