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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
 www.stalbertcanrc.com
 
Title:Connected to Christ
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2005
Added:2005-09-11
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 62:1,3
Hy 2
Readings - John 3:1-21; John 15:1-8
Ps 92:1,6,7
Sermon - Lord's Day 7
Ps 33:1,6
Hy 4:1,2,3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, think for a moment about a leaf, and it’s connection with a tree. A leaf on its own is pretty insignificant; that is, it only lives when attached to a tree. From the tree a leaf must receive water and nutrients and all that’s needed to produce seeds or fruit. It’s natural of course, for leaves to dry out and fall off the trees in the fall, but pluck a leaf or cut a branch from a tree in the summer time, and the leaves quickly die. No tree, no life.

Scripture talks about the importance of the connection from a leaf or branch to the rest of the plant. In John 15 Jesus is very clear about what happens to a branch when it is separated from the rest of the living plant: "It is thrown away and withers" (Jn 15:6). Such a branch, "disconnected," is good for nothing more than being tossed away to be burned.

But Scripture also speaks positively about this matter of connection. When a branch is well-connected to the rest of the tree, it thrives, growing leaves and bearing fruit. And Scripture adds an element to this idea of connection; like the useless branch of a tree can be cut off, to its destruction, so a branch from elsewhere can be grafted on, to its life.

Beloved, in the household of God it is we who have been grafted in! We, former Gentiles and pagans, who before did not have the gospel, are now included in Christ through faith. We who deserve nothing now share in the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Connected or grafted to Christ, we receive life and grace in abundance.

We cannot survive on our own, for we depend on the tree for all we need. No tree, no life. No Christ, no life. But when God by his Spirit grafts us into Christ, we do have life, for we’re made one with our life-giving Saviour. That insignificant leaf or branch remains only a leaf or a branch – but it is alive!

To be grafted then, what we need is a true and lasting connection from us to Christ, a securing of us to our life-giving tree, by faith. I preach to you God’s Word as it is confessed by the Church in Lord’s Day 7 of the Catechism,

                               By true faith we are connected to Christ:

    1. the function of faith
    2. the features of faith
    3. the foundation of faith

1. the function of faith: Our Lord’s Day begins with a question that might sound unusual in our Reformed ears. Are all people saved? Of course not; we know from Ac 4:12 and many other places in Scripture that only those who believe in Christ are saved! But we should understand why the Catechism asks this question.

The Catechism is unfolding the three-fold knowledge of our comfort. Some important steps have been made on the way thus far. Firstly, no man is able to do good; there is no human that can earn a right standing with God. In the beginning, man was able to live in a proper relationship with the LORD, but this was lost in the Fall, leaving every man totally sinful and corrupt and deserving of death. But there is a way out of this misery – that is, if payment could be made for all these sins. Such a payment could only possibly be made through a mediator who is true and righteous man, and at the same time true God. The glorious conclusion of LD 6 is that the one Mediator needed has been provided, and He is our Lord Jesus Christ; He alone is able and also willing to stand up for us and bear the wrath of God.

This is the gospel in LD 6: There is hope, there is rescue, for there is One who is perfectly qualified to restore righteousness and life to mankind. But that question again: If all men are sinful, is this redemption in Christ also for all? No one is excluded from sin and death, so is no one excluded from salvation and life?

Well, we must say this before anything else: Christ’s death is sufficient to save each and every human that has ever walked this earth. In his life and his death, Christ suffered fully, enough to pay for the sins of all, to bear the eternal punishment that hangs over the head of every man.

No one can say that Christ is incapable of fully saving, and no one can say that his sins are too many to be forgiven, for the cross is enough for every human being. For every human being, even as the world population today climbs to new heights, into the billions upon billions. Christ’s merits are enough to restore life to every heart – on every island and continent of this globe – to every heart enslaved to sin.

Christ is enough to save all, but not all are saved. For then we find that decisive word in this Q&A, and in all of Lord’s Day 7: faith; "Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his benefits."

There is salvation, there is a Mediator, but there is also a demand. And that demand is faith. Faith is the dividing line that cuts right through a humanity united in sin: Are you in Christ, or are you not? Christ is sufficient for all, but still some reject him. Yet those who believe are saved.

Our Lord taught this good news to Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus was a leading Jew who came to Jesus as a "seeker," as a man who had his questions, and Christ told him the good news of grace. He spoke the gospel to him in 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…" This is the wonderful basic message of Christ’s life and death – but a message that at once calls for the necessary connection of faith, "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (v.16).

This John 3:16 is of course a well-known text – used and abused by many. It’s posted on billboards along the highway, it sometimes hangs in football stadiums at playoff time, and it’s found on many plaques in many homes. But we cannot stop at the nice "God so loved the world" part. For read on; there is also a call (to faith), and a serious warning (against unbelief): "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son" (v 18).

The love of God in Christ is not given to anyone who quickly reads the billboard, or who has nostalgic feelings of "spirituality" when he thinks of the cross. By faith alone we receive the love and grace of God in Christ.

A true faith connects us to Christ. The Catechism talks about accepting all his "benefits" through faith. As we said, this is just like a branch or leaf receives all the benefits of being attached to the tree. And it is not as if we naturally belong to the good tree – we have to be grafted in from elsewhere, from a hopeless and "God-less" existence.

Maybe we’re not familiar with the idea of grafting. Grafting is a process by which a portion of a plant is made to unite with another plant. This can be done from one plant to another within the same variety, and also from a different variety to another. The branch of the one tree is joined with the other by making a small cut into the stock or "host," there inserting the graft, and securing it with string or mud. And so the tree provides water for growth; the tree provides nutrients for health; the tree provides, more basically, a new "home" for that foreign or wild branch which was grafted on.

And Q&A 21 lists some of the benefits we receive from being grafted into and living in Christ: Forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation. Without a proper connection to him, we are only dead wood! But grafted to him – not by mud, nor by string, but by faith alone – we receive life and every single thing we truly need.

Connected, receiving forgiveness in Christ, we may thrive – our sins and our deserved punishment need not weigh us down any more, but we now live in the joy of our redemption. Connected, receiving everlasting righteousness from Christ, we take our place confidently in the presence of God, having been given a right standing with him. Connected, receiving salvation in our Lord, we know for certain that we will have all that we need for this life, and perfection in the next.

Are we connected? Are we (hopeless pieces of wood) now grafted to Christ? And are we receiving life from him who was hung on a tree? Of ourselves, we’d have no hope of being connected, let alone of holding on. When was the last time you saw a maple branch graft itself to an apple tree? It simply doesn’t happen – a Gardener is needed.

When Jesus instructs Nicodemus in John 3, He teaches this same truth. Nicodemus wonders how he can be born again and see the kingdom of God – that is, what can he do to receive salvation? But Jesus explains that he must first be born again, by the Spirit. Where the Spirit blows like wind, He works that connecting faith in human hearts.

This is the amazing grace of our God! He who provides us with all those rich benefits in Christ, also provides the needed connection to Christ. He gives us the faith by which we are united to Christ.

Beloved, by grace we are grafted, we are born again by the Spirit – these are passive activities, you might say. Where do I come in? What is my role as a branch? Indeed, it is God’s work from start to finish, but this faith also belongs to you, as we see when we look at the features of faith.

2) the features of faith: The Catechism explains that the character of faith is two-fold: it is a sure knowledge, and it is also a firm confidence. Again, notice that this God-given faith is "mine"; "Faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true…it is firm confidence that not only to others but also to me…" Faith is not something unreal forced onto us from above, for this gift of God is my sure knowledge and firm confidence, it is my connection to Christ!

And what do I know so surely? I know that all that God has said is true. What a sweeping statement! Who could say of himself, without any qualification or fine print, that he has never spoken a lie, even a half-truth?

And what do we know of God? Has He ever lied? God is not a man that he should lie. The LORD has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures, and we may know that every word He says there is truth. We can know every promise of grace as guaranteed, we can know that God means every command he gives, we can know every event described in the Word is fully trustworthy. How do you know all this? Because God has told me so!

We know these things, and we are also confident in them. We can build on his Word with conviction, without ever second-guessing it. The knowledge of God’s Word is true for me, therefore I am confident in faith!

You may hear someone talk about a person’s strong self-confidence or his air of self-assurance – but a true confidence can only come from God, a personal assurance rooted in his Word. May we always be confident, for the right reasons! With conviction we may live, knowing in our hearts that we most certainly have received grace in Christ. To every promise I may say "Amen! That is for me." How can you be confident about this? Because God has told me so!

It is good to note here a little but important word in this Lord’s Day. Our Catechism is usually sparing with adjectives or adverbs, but three times it adds a key word: true. This emphasizes that there is also untrue or false faith, a faith that might have the appearance of a proper connection to Christ, but in the end proves to be artificial and weak.

For faith to be true, its two "pillars" or marks must be taken together: Knowledge and confidence. False faith tries to separate them. Sometimes people will stress knowledge alone: "Knowledge is power," they say. Others might emphasize the confidence aspect of faith: "Just so long as you believe in Jesus," they say. Or it is sometimes said of a church in deep doctrinal error, "Well, at least they’re very sincere…" But the house of faith will fall if one of these pillars is knocked over!

It is not a true faith when we falsely oppose knowledge with confidence. All the knowledge that could possibly be gained about the Scriptures and the confessions will not graft you into Christ. It is possible to study such things your life long, and discuss and talk about Christian doctrine at length – but it is all emptiness without the confidence that this Saviour of whom you so often speak is your Saviour. "Not only to others but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins…" Am I confident that He died also for me, for me in all my pride and hidden sins?

It is also not true faith when all you want to talk about is the feeling of faith, that personal confidence you have that Christ is your Saviour. For sometimes we can get caught up in the emotion of first following Christ, because He seems to take away all our problems. But often this kind of faith does not endure when heated with trouble or persecution, or this kind of faith simply withers with the passage of time.

And confidence without knowledge is the type of faith that’s easily confused or crowded out. The worries and cares of life and the attractive things that the world has to offer slowly choke this faith, because it does not receive new strength and growth. The confidence of faith must have a basis in knowledge: What is it that you believe? You believe in Christ and his cross – good, but there is more than this in the Scriptures, much more that will help you grow up into him as a strong branch.

The dangers of a false faith or a partial faith are real for all of us. Is it not true that sometimes we go through a time of wonderful joy, living in Christ? Maybe it’s when we professed our faith before the congregation or when we made it through a time of hardship in total reliance on God – at such times our gladness and confidence in faith seems to know no bounds. But perhaps your faith seems shriveled now in comparison, burned out by busy schedules and an unhappy home life or unconfessed sin. Our confidence will last only when it is girded up by knowledge.

Or maybe we love to talk about doctrine and Scripture or about "church," but just for the sake of talking about it. It can happen that we often hold in our hands the riches of salvation or dig to the depths of the Word in our Bible study, but we’re hardly moved by it any more. We’ve handled the Scriptures so often that our hands and hearts become calloused. Then it all becomes so much knowledge, like knowledge about current events or car engines.

But we cannot know the gospel and not live it. We cannot be members of the church and not be living branches! Our knowledge of salvation and our membership in the church must drive us to act, to confess, and to work. If you have knowledge, may it inspire a deep confidence!

Beloved, how is it with your faith? Scripture teaches us that our faith must be knowledge and confidence together. Only such a faith will connect us to Christ – so is that connection solid? It is not mud nor string, but faith that connects us to the branch – it’s got to last! It needs to be solid! Only with a good connection will life flow from Christ to us! We will have our up and down times, but our faith cannot depend on our mood. Our connection to Christ must be made firm and sure!

So we must protect and nurture our faith. Protect your faith by fleeing those things that might damage it. Nothing attacks our connection to Christ more than persistent sin! So get rid of those things that detract from your devotion to God’s service. Take a good look at your life and ask where your confidence is: Is it in money? Your looks? Your friends? Your future? Or is your confidence only in God?

And nurture your faith: strive to increase in knowledge, through the study of God’s Word. Don’t fill your head with the lyrics of all kinds of godless songs, don’t let your thoughts be dominated by what will happen next on your favourite TV show, but fill your mind with the knowledge of the Word. For it is a book with a glorious content, the promise of the gospel.

3) the foundation of faith: We’ve seen that our knowledge of faith is rooted in "all that God has revealed to us in his Word" (Q&A 21). Because it’s God himself who speaks in his Word, a Christian is not allowed to choose what he wants to believe, selectively hearing, but he must believe all that God says. What it is that God has revealed to us? What must a Christian believe?

We must believe "All that is promised us in the gospel." The Church has summarized the gospel with an ancient confession, the Apostles’ Creed. This Creed is a faithful summary of the gospel that has been revealed.

When we confess our personal faith, in the worship service and in our daily lives, we do so with the whole church. We stand not as individuals, but together with all Christians; this is the faith of the catholic church of Christ, from every time and place and people, built on the unchanging cornerstone of Christ and the foundation of the apostles.

And when we confess our faith, we may do so without doubt. The Catechism says it is an undoubted faith, for we know that God does not lie. In a world of uncertainty, of this gospel we may be sure – because God has told us so!

When we confess our faith, with our voices in the worship service and in our daily life, we dare not say it is this faith that makes us good or pleasing in God’s sight. Yes, it’s beautiful to sing and recite the creed in church and at home, and it’s wonderful to have this faith as a sure knowledge and firm confidence. And faith, as we’ve seen, is that vital connection to God. Faith is good and faith is necessary! No one here would want to go a day without his or her faith. If we do not have faith in God, what do we have?

Yes, we need faith to be acceptable to God, and to make it through this life. But whose faith is perfect? Who does not sometimes have a doubt, or who does not live like he doubts that there is an Almighty God in heaven? By faith we are grafted into Christ and receive all his benefits – but whose faith is a worthy connection to Christ? No one’s!

Do we worry then? Is my little, struggling, doubting, wandering, shrinking, faith enough to keep me from being cut off and thrown away? Must we worry about our imperfect faith?

Beloved, do not worry. Rather, strive to nurture and protect your faith, and then give thanks all the more! For remember this: It is not our faith that saves us, but God! For what is an insignificant branch of leaf on a great and majestic tree? The leaf and branch still can never live on their own, even with that proper connection, in place and secure. Life is from the tree! Life is from the True Vine!

It’s not how much or how greatly I believe, but how much God has promised and given in his grace in Christ. It’s not that our faith is so admirable, but that the grace of God is so amazing! In the Scriptures and in our creed, the Triune God keeps on saying, "This is what I have done for you." It is by grace, from first to last: That the Father created us and always sustains us by his hand; that the Son came for us, died for us, rose for us, and rules for us; that the Spirit dwells in us, changes us, and guarantees the eternal inheritance in store for us – "This is all for you," by grace.

It is all by grace. This is our foundation and confidence. Having been grafted into Christ by faith, now let us grow up into him! God has given us so much, now let us hold on to it! Let us strengthen our connection to Christ every day, and receive from him grace and every good thing. And like a good branch on the True Vine, may we bear much fruit, to the glory of God! Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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