Statistics
1459 sermons as of October 17, 2017.
Site Search powered by FreeFind

bottom corner

   
Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
 send email...
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The doctrines of grace motivate God's people to carry out their missionary calling
Text:CD 2 Articles 5-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Mission Work
 
Preached:2006
Added:2008-04-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 145
Hymn 62:3
Psalm 62:1-2
Psalm 96:1-4
Psalm 96:5-8 (after the offering)
Hymn 64

Readings: Psalm 96, Romans 10
* 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 Jesus,

Rightly or wrongly, some have given Reformed believers the nickname “the frozen chosen.” The nickname plays off our belief in God’s election or choosing. And then it adds the fact that instead of being on fire, we’re frozen. And that especially in connection with reaching out to those who don’t know Christ. Election is then associated with a lack of excitement about outreach. “The frozen chosen.”

The nickname is a contemporary one, but the idea is very old. For hundreds of years, non-Reformed Christians have claimed that teachings like election lead God’s people away from excitement about missions and evangelism. This is despite the fact that many of the men whom God used in most powerful ways through the history of missions – many of them were believers in what we call the doctrines of grace. Men such as William Carey, John Paton, John Mott, Henry Martyn, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon. At the end of the day, the evidence for the doctrines of grace leading God’s people to be indifferent towards missions is very slim. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. With most of the men I just mentioned, their evangelistic zeal self-consciously grew out of their believing the doctrines of grace. Zeal for missions and a love for and belief in the doctrines of grace went together for them.

Now when we talk about the doctrines of grace, we should be clear about what we mean. I’m speaking about the teachings that we find in the Canons of Dort. These teachings place God’s grace at the center of our salvation. They’ve often been summarized with the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. The first chapter of the Canons of Dort deals with unconditional election: the basic teaching there is that God chooses us before the foundation of the world, purely out of his grace. The second chapter deals with limited atonement. This doctrine of grace teaches us that Christ died only for the elect. His death was enough to pay for the sins of every human being, but it only works to pay for the sins of those who believe in Christ, the elect. As a result, Christ doesn’t make salvation a possibility, but a reality. He acquired salvation for us and then he also applies it to us. All out of grace – this is not something we deserve.

Articles 5 through 7 give attention to the preaching of the gospel. It comes against the historical background of the battle with the Arminians or Remonstrants. The Arminians knew the Reformed teaching about limited atonement. And they thought about it and said, “Well, if this is true, then there’s no point in preaching the gospel to everybody! If atonement is limited, then the preaching of the promise of the gospel has to be limited too!” Seems to make sense at first glance, doesn’t it? The Canons of Dort respond to this way of thinking in these three articles we’re looking at today. And rather than stymie evangelistic zeal, the doctrines of grace, including limited atonement, actually motivate God’s people to get excited and involved with their missionary calling.

And so our theme is this:

The doctrines of grace motivate God’s people to carry out their missionary calling.

We’ll see God’s grace:

  1. Announced and proclaimed
  2. Rejected
  3. Accepted

1. God’s grace announced and proclaimed.

There are two sets of facts that the Reformed churches taught from the Scriptures that the Arminians found to be contradictory. On the one hand, there is the teaching that Christ died only for the elect. On the other hand, there is the teaching that the gospel is to be proclaimed universally. In the Arminian way of thinking, those two things just could not go together. And that’s why these two sets of facts are here in chapter 2 of the Canons. The Reformed churches wanted to make it clear that there is no contradiction.

It starts with the promise. The Scriptures are clear about the the promise of the gospel. At the beginning of Article 5, there’s a paraphrase of John 3:16. The promise is that whoever believes in Christ crucified will not perish, but will have the life that lasts forever. To this point, the Arminians wouldn’t have had any problem. Most Christians today wouldn’t have a problem with this either – it’s plain Scriptural teaching.

But the next sentence is where the problems would start. Especially with the phrase “announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men…” It’s not that people would disagree with the statement as such. Nearly all Christians would agree that the gospel should be told to every one. The problem is that some Christians would read this and say that this doesn’t make sense in this context of the Canons of Dort. If Christ only died for the elect, why should we bother telling the gospel to everybody?

There are two reasons. First of all, Christ commands us to. In passages like Matthew 28:18-20, the so-called Great Commission, the church is sent out to preach and teach the good news. And our identity in Christ means that Christ’s command isn’t burdensome to us – it’s something we do naturally, something we want to do by the power of his Spirit working in us. Second, the telling of the gospel is the means which God uses to gather those for whom Christ died. The gospel and its preaching is the means by which God creates faith in the elect and calls them to Christ. It’s the way in which God’s decree of election is made to come to reality.

So, the gospel is to be proclaimed. And this is to be done universally. Many Scripture passages in the New Testament support that. But there are also passages in the Old Testament which compel God’s people to tell about him and his salvation to everyone. One example is what we read from Psalm 96. This Psalm encourages believers to declare God’s glory among the nations, to tell of his marvellous deeds. For Old Testament believers, those were God’s works of salvation, delivering his people repeatedly. This was entirely of grace – the people certainly never deserved it. For New Testament believers, we have what God has done for us in Christ – again showing us his grace, giving us what we never deserved: a new life that lasts forever. This Psalm calls us to share that good news with all nations. Romans 10 speaks similar language when Paul writes about the gospel being preached to both Jews and Gentiles.

Let’s draw that out for a minute. We have various missionaries we support. But look around us. There are many in our communities and broader surroundings who’ve never heard the promise of the gospel. I’m positive that you could go into certain neighbourhoods and find hundreds of people who know nothing or very little about the Lord Jesus. What’s the answer to this? Is it to call another missionary and send him to some ethnic group? No, the answer is simpler than that and it begins with you and me. It begins with us developing relationships with individual people whom God puts on our path. And sometimes we have to extend our paths a bit and get outside our comfort zone. Go places we might not otherwise go. Speak with people to whom we otherwise might not speak.

So God gives us opportunities to speak about Christ. How are we to do that? Article 5 of the Canons speaks of announcing and proclaiming. It’s interesting that two different words are used there. I can’t say for sure, but I think the Synod of Dort was working with the Scriptural distinction between witnessing and preaching. Witnessing is something that all believers are called to do and it takes place in all kinds of circumstances. Witnessing can be conversational, it can take place over e-mail, or whatever other means. Preaching is more official, which is to say that it’s tied to a special office. Preaching is generally done by a specially appointed ambassador or herald of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us about both and we’re called, as a church, to do both.

And how we specifically do that announcing and proclaiming or witnessing and preaching is something that we also get some guidance on from the Scriptures. Look in the book of Acts and study the way the apostles did their missionary work. They preached the promise and they gave Christ’s command to repent and believe. The apostles did not say to the unconverted, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The apostles never preached to unbelievers saying, “Jesus died for your sins.” They never said, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. Won’t you please let him come in?” They knew that the Lord Jesus only died for the sins of those who believe in him and this was reflected in the careful way in which they told the gospel. Preaching the promise and giving the command to repent and believe. Our gospel efforts should fall along the same lines. When we get opportunities to speak about Christ, we share the promise: if you believe in Christ, your sins will be forgiven, your life will be changed forever. You’ll have a new and healthy relationship with your Creator. This is the promise, now God says you have to repent, you need to have a change of mind about your sins, about yourself and about him. God says in the Bible that you have to believe in Jesus Christ. Christ says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

And we’re not done after we’ve told the gospel. We prayed for God to give us the opportunity. We prayed for God to give us the words and the strength we needed. Then we also have to pray for the conversion of those with whom we’ve talked. Pray vigorously. We pray and put it in God’s hands. He is the only one who can graciously take a heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. And when we pray for that and then see God do it, we’re filled with praise for him! Pray and keep on praying, even if it takes years before God gives the answer we seek…

You see, the doctrines of grace are beautiful, because they focus all our attention on God. He is the one who gives new life. And when we think about limited atonement, we’re reminded that he makes it a reality, not merely a possibility. And then when we consider our missionary calling, there’s no contradiction between holding to these teachings and being zealous for gospel outreach. Why wouldn’t we want to tell everyone we can about a gracious God? Why wouldn’t we want to share the good news of what Christ has done? God did it all! It doesn’t depend on us in the least. God’s grace is truly amazing and worth sharing wherever and with whomever we can. And when we do that, there are two responses. Let’s look at the first one now as we see:

2. God’s grace rejected.

As we come to Article 6, again we have to read this in its historical context. The Arminians or Remonstrants said, “Okay, given your teaching about limited atonement, and given that you preach the gospel to all (which doesn’t make any sense, by the way), you still have to deal with the fact that many don’t believe the promise. With your way of understanding it, the fault has to be laid at the sacrifice of Christ. Obviously, Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to pay for their sins.”

But of course, the Canons have already insisted in Article 4 that Christ’s death is of infinite value and worth. Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. There is nothing lacking in the value of Christ’s work of atonement. You cannot blame Christ’s sacrifice for the fact that many do not respond positively to the call to faith and repentance.

When God’s gracious promise in Christ is rejected, there is only one address for the blame: the unbeliever himself. You can’t pin it on Christ. You can’t pin it on God. Unbelievers are responsible for their unbelief for 100%.

We find the same teaching in Romans 10. The preaching of God’s grace in Christ goes out to both Jews and Gentiles. Preaching is the means by which God creates faith. But some, in this context particularly Jews, did not accept the message. They heard it, they were called by it externally, but many of them rejected it. And whose fault was that? Entirely their own. They were a disobedient and obstinate people.

Likewise today, when people are called by the gospel and then reject it, it’s completely their own responsibility. It’s not as if they have a desire to believe, that somehow God or Christ stands in their way and keeps them from obtaining what is promised. They willingly remain in unbelief. That’s where they want to be and they’re entirely responsible for that. It’s not like they remain in that position against their will.

As we consider this, we have to also reckon with our limited perspective on things. We can’t determine whether somebody is elect or reprobate. We can’t look into hearts. And that has to be kept in mind when we tell the gospel. Perhaps we have an unbelieving co-worker or acquaintance and we’ve told them the gospel promises once. They rejected it. It was their own fault. Does that mean they’re reprobate and we shouldn’t bother with them anymore? Not at all! It’s happened many times throughout history that people have heard the gospel message numerous times before finally submitting to Christ. If you want a Biblical example, think of the apostle Paul. He says that he was formerly a blasphemer, but he was shown grace. So, don’t misunderstand the doctrines of grace as saying that we give people one chance and then after that one chance, we’ll know whether they’re elect or reprobate. That just isn’t in the picture here. It’s not up to us to determine whether or not someone is reprobate. Our calling, our mandate is to tell the good news of God’s grace. When we encounter rejection, Article 6 summarizes the teaching of Scripture: that’s man’s fault. But that doesn’t say anything about whether or not there will always be a rejection and whether or not this particular person is reprobate.

The whole point here is to realize that salvation is entirely of God. Damnation belongs to man in his sin. When man is in his sin, he doesn’t respond with repentance or faith. He remains under the just judgment of God. That result is not pretty or something pleasant to think about, but it is a reality. God uses the telling of the gospel to further implicate those in rebellion against him so as to display his justice. And when his justice is displayed, then praises are also given to him – we see that in Psalm 96 as well, verse 13: “….they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.” That’s in connection with the singing for joy and praises in the verses preceding So, when we tell the gospel and it is met with rejection, we will be sad and disappointed. But we can also know that this is part of God’s plan to magnify his glory one way or another and then we can accept it. Of course, the telling of the gospel can also have a positive outcome and we’ll turn to that now with our last point:

3. God’s grace accepted.

In Paul’s description of what’s happened with the gospel among the Jews in Romans 10, we do find that some accepted the good news. Some believed that God raised Jesus from the dead. Some called on the name of the Lord and were saved. When the gospel of grace is told, there are those who, in the words of Article 7, “truly believe and by the death of Christ are freed from their sins and saved from perdition (eternal punishment).”

And to whom do we give the credit for that outcome? We have to turn our hearts and attention entirely to God! His work in people’s lives is the reason why anybody believes the promise. His work is the reason why people repent, why they have a change of mind about their sin, about him, and about themselves. His work is the reason why people believe in Christ for the complete forgiveness of all their sins.

That’s why the Canons say that “this benefit comes only through God’s grace, given to them from eternity in Christ.” There is no one else to praise. People ought not to be proud that the gospel promise has been believed. Rather, this is reason for humility, thankfulness and praise. It’s entirely of grace. And just to make sure we understand that the Synod of Dort added those few words at the end of Article 6, “God owes this grace to no one.” If it was owed, it wouldn’t be grace!

Now this isn’t the first or last time that the Canons of Dort make this point, but it’s important enough to repeat, also in our day. People, even when redeemed by Christ, are prone to be proud, thankless and slow to praise God. We can be thankful to God that our confessional standards, summarizing Scriptural truth, poke and prod us in the right direction! Anyone who believes the gospel of grace can only attribute his belief and every other good thing in his life to the God of grace.

And what does that do to our motivation with respect to our missionary calling? To answer that question, let me give you a quote from John Piper. As far his doctrine of salvation goes, Piper is a Calvinist. In some ways, he’s not Reformed, but we can still go a long ways with Piper as Reformed people. John Piper has an excellent book on missions that I can highly recommend: Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions. He starts that book with these powerful words:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship -- we can call it the magnification of God’s glory -- is what it’s all about. When we believe the doctrines of grace, we’re eager to see God worshipped for being who he is: the one who gave us and all his chosen people all the good we never deserved. And we long to see the gospel message embraced by those who are called so that we can praise God more for his grace.

The doctrines of grace teach us that the gospel must be announced since it’s part of God’s plan. When that gospel is told, there are two responses and each one is part of the sovereign God’s plan to reveal his glory and magnify his praises. Whether it’s belief or unbelief, God will have himself exalted through us. That pushes us and inspires us to be faithful in carrying out the missionary task that Christ has given us today. For we know why we’re here on this earth: it’s to live for his praise and honour.

You see, the nickname “frozen chosen” is difficult to defend historically. Reformed believers have embraced the doctrines of grace and so been motivated to mission. But the nickname does challenge us today. Are we “the frozen chosen”? And if we are, have we really understood the doctrines of grace? We can’t blame the Canons of Dort or the doctrines of grace if we are lacklustre in our zeal for outreach. In fact, the problem is more likely that we haven’t really understood them or if we have understood them, we’ve just been lazy in seeing how they ought to impact our own lives. Brothers and sisters, the truth of Scripture challenges us today to be a fierce and fiery light in the world. The doctrines of grace give us ample motivation to get out there and shine for Christ, sharing the gospel, praying for those who hear it, praising God for those who accept it, praising God that we accept it! All for his glory. AMEN.




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

Please direct any comments to the Webmaster


bottom corner