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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:To be saved by Christ, a true faith is necessary
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-07-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 2
Hymn 1A
Psalm 2
Hymn 53
Psalm 72:7 (after offertory)
Psalm 117

Readings:  Romans 4, Belgic Confession Article 22
* 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 the Lord Jesus,

 

In the early years of the twentieth century, there was a common refrain heard in many churches throughout North America.  It was said that “Christianity is not a doctrine, but a life.”  The people who were saying this were liberals, theological liberals, people who did not believe the Bible to be a revelation from God.  They argued that Christianity is about deeds and not creeds.  It’s not so much about what we believe, but about what we do.  They said that faith is not agreeing to a creed, but confidence in a person.  You don’t have to know God, so much as feel him and experience him.  That was what the liberals said in the early twentieth century.

 

Today the same refrain is heard, but now it comes from those who claim to take the Bible seriously.  A popular American pastor and author has been arguing that Christianity is about deeds and not creeds.  Doctrine divides, but service unites.  Predictably, this impacts the view of faith as well.  Faith has little to do with the content of what we believe, instead it’s about an experience, about a feeling.  Faith is not so much outward looking, but inward, looking for a new buzz.  This experience-emphasis is reflected in popular Christian literature today, music, worship and many other areas. 

 

But what does the Bible teach about all this?  That’s what we want to consider this afternoon as we consider a summary of the Bible’s teaching on this point in Lord’s Day 7.  The Catechism first asks about salvation.  All men perish through Adam, does that mean that all men are also saved by Christ?  The answer is clear enough:  salvation is only possible through a true faith.  True faith is the way in which one is joined to Christ.  True faith means accepting all of Christ’s benefits.  If you are not joined to Christ by faith, if you do not accept all his benefits, you cannot be saved from the wrath to come.

 

That’s the bottom line here.  How is salvation possible?  How can we get right with a holy God who is justly angry with us because of our sins?  How can God turn from being our judge to being our Father?  These are the questions that the gospel answers.  The Bible is not about self-improvement or about finding that peaceful, easy feeling.  It’s about how Jesus – and Jesus alone – sets us right before a holy God who is angry with sin.  It is about how we did nothing to deserve any of this love from God.  It is the most amazing and beautiful story ever told.  Faith is the means through which we are written into that story.     

 

I proclaim God’s Word under this theme:

 

To be saved by Christ a true faith is necessary.

 

We’ll consider:

 

  1. The heart of saving faith
  2. The object of saving faith
  3. The origin of saving faith

 

According to the Catechism, true faith is three things.  I know that many of us have grown accustomed to only seeing two things in QA 21, but really, if you take a closer look there are three. 

 

We confess that “true faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed in his Word.”  First of all, true faith involves a sure knowledge.  It involves an understanding of the important truths of the Bible.  Christians are people who with their minds have an understanding about Christ and the gospel.  They’ve been instructed in the basic facts and they know them.  There is such a thing as “the Christian faith”; there is an objective body of basic Christian doctrine which all believers should understand with their minds.

 

But second of all, true faith involves a “sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed in his Word.”  For faith to be true, a bare intellectual knowing is not enough.  We have to go further and say that all the facts that we know are true.  What God says in his Word about me in my sin is true.  What God says in his Word about Christ as my Saviour is true.  I believe that everything in the Bible is truth because it comes from God.

 

Both the first and the second elements involve the mind or the intellect.  The third element of true faith involves our wills.  True faith is not only a matter of the mind, but it also involves trust, it is an act of the will.  The Catechism says that it is a firm confidence that God graciously grants to his people, including me, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation.

 

Let’s look at this third element a little bit closer with the help of Romans 4.  Romans 4 is Paul’s test case for justification by faith alone.  In the first three chapters, Paul argues that there is none righteous before God.  No one is going to be right with God through what he does.  Then he concludes chapter 3 by insisting that getting right with God, justification, can only take place through faith in Jesus Christ.  Now with chapter 4, he comes to Abraham and he says, “Let’s see what happened with Abraham and his justification.”  He does this for a strategic reason.  He wants to answer the Judaizers who have twisted the gospel by saying that salvation is through Christ plus through our good works.  The Judaizers regard Abraham as their father, so Paul says, let’s go to Abraham and see what happened with him. 

 

Verse 3 of Romans 4 says that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness” – Paul is quoting there from Genesis 15.  If we go back to Genesis 15, we find that there’s a context there.  Genesis 15:1 tells us that the word of Yahweh came to Abram followed by God’s promise to be Abram’s shield and reward.  Verse 4 says again that the word of Yahweh came to Abram and there we find God’s promise to provide a son for Abram. 

 

Abraham had the facts of God’s revelation.  He understood what it was that God was saying.  When he looked up into the night sky and saw the thousands of stars, he understood with his mind what God was saying.  But then he also took it for true.  He accepted as true what God revealed.  And he didn’t stop there.  He also trusted in God and rested in his promises.  Romans 4:18 makes the connection between Abraham’s faith and his hope.  His hope and his trust were in God and his promises.  Romans 4:21 tells us that Abraham was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  His faith was fully persuaded, he fully trusted God and rested in him.            

 

So it must be for believers today.  Abraham looked outside of himself to God, his Word, his promises.  Our faith today must do the same.  We must look outside of ourselves and rest on another, on Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.  Faith is not about an internal experience, about looking inward for something, some kind of feeling, but about looking outward to Jesus Christ and trusting in him, leaning on him, depending on him.  Let me call you with the Word of God to do that again today.  Let the Word of God call you to say, “Yes, Lord, I know what your Word says, and I know that it’s true, and I trust and believe that you have granted to me forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”

 

Let’s now consider the object of saving faith.  In whom must we believe in order to be saved?  This is an important question and we shouldn’t take it for granted that we’re asking this question.  Today, you can hear people speak about faith and sometimes it almost sounds like an objectless faith.  It happens that you can hear unbelievers in times of difficulty saying things like, “You gotta have faith.”  Okay, but faith in what?  Or in who? 

 

Biblical, saving faith is not a general virtue by which someone keeps their chin up when things go south.  Rather, it’s very specific, directed to something or better, someone.  Saving faith believes everything written in the Law and the Prophets, like Paul says in Acts 24:14.  But it goes further and rests in Christ himself, the one to whom the Law and the Prophets pointed.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Acts 10:43, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”    

 

And with Abraham too, his faith also had an object.  He believed God.  Romans 4:4 says that he trusted God.  Romans 4:16 speaks of God in whom he believed.  He believed God’s promises, which for an Old Testament believer was the same thing as believing in Christ for a New Testament believer. 

 

That idea of believing God’s promises is also captured in the Catechism with QA 22.  When asked what a Christian must believe, the authors of our Catechism wrote about all that is promised us in the gospel, everything that’s summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.  Now every Sunday we confess our faith, and usually we use the Apostles’ Creed, we usually sing it together.  It’s all too easy to do this mindlessly, without even thinking about what we’re singing.  Do you ever stop and think that the Creed is a summary of God’s gospel promises?  Think about it.  God promises to be our Father.  God promises to be our Saviour.  God promises to be our Renewer.  We could go through each article of the Creed and elaborate on that this afternoon, but perhaps that’s something for the weeks ahead.  All that is is promised in the gospel is there in the confession of faith that we sing together every week.  We hear the law in the morning service and in the afternoon we take the gospel confession upon our lips.  Law and gospel every Sunday, both directing us to the God of our salvation.

 

When we speak about the object of a saving faith, it must be the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Of course, faith in Jesus is included in that, trusting in his perfect obedience and his perfect sacrifice.  But we should never have this idea that faith in God the Father is optional or that faith in God the Holy Spirit is optional.  To be saved, a Christian must believe all that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of the Apostles’ Creed teach us in a summary.  Those articles show us that the promises of the gospel are bound up with the three-in-one God.  To truly believe in the Triune God is to believe the gospel; to truly believe the gospel is to believe in the Triune God.   

 

That brings us to briefly consider the origin of saving faith.  Where does faith come from?  The Catechism gives the simple Biblical answer:  “This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.”  Here there are a few things to note.

 

First of all, it is the Holy Spirit who works faith.  Ephesians 2:8 is one of the key passages here, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  Faith is a gift of God.  1 Corinthians 2:10-14 elaborates on this gift of God and reveals that it is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Second, the Holy Spirit works this faith in our hearts.  While faith does look outwards to its object, it is something that exists within each believer.  In other words, no one can have faith for you.  While it exists within the context of the church and other believers, faith is something personal and individual.    

 

Finally, this faith is worked by the Holy Spirit through a tool or an instrument:  by the gospel.  Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…”  And Romans 10:17 also says it, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

 

So when we speak about the origin of saving faith, we look to God and his Spirit working through His Word in our hearts.  It is God’s sovereign grace that saves us through Christ and it is God’s sovereign grace that leads us to embrace the gospel and accept all the benefits of Christ.  At the same time, there is a call to faith, a call that goes out to each of us individually.  To be a Christian, you must believe certain things.  There is a human responsibility. 


That’s where we conclude this afternoon:  with our responsibility.  Simply, the Word of God calls us this afternoon to believe all that is promised in the gospel.  To say that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and that everything the Bible says about him and about our salvation is true.  The Word calls us to reject this false and dangerous idea that doctrine is irrelevant or unimportant, that we should focus more on deeds and less on creeds.  We need the doctrines revealed in Scripture because they are the basis of our faith.  How are we to embrace all that is promised us in the gospel if we say that all that is promised us in the gospel is irrelevant?  Following the deeds but not creeds mantra may lead you to an outward religiosity, but ultimately it will not lead you to the Christ revealed in Scripture.

 

But someone might say, “What about what James says about faith without works being dead?”  Yes, the epistle of James says that a living faith produces the fruit of good works.  And yes, true faith will do that – we confess that in the Catechism in Lord’s Days 32-33.  But that has nothing to do with the basis, with the foundation of our salvation.  The Bible does not tell us to base our salvation on what we do, to fix our eyes on what we do, or to place our faith in our deeds.  Rather, it says in Hebrews 3:1, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”  And Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”          

 

Dorothy Sayers was a famous British novelist from a few generations ago.  She lived through the early twentieth century incarnation of the anti-doctrine mantra.  She wrote in her book Creed or Chaos:  “We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – ‘dull dogma’ as people call it.  The fact is the precise opposite.  It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness.  The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be again considering that dramatic dogma, all that is promised us in the gospel.  As you hear it again, and as you hear it every Sunday, believe it. 


Let us pray:                        

 

Lord God,

 

We do thank you for all that is promised us in the gospel.  We adore you for the work of your Holy Spirit in our lives, creating faith through the gospel.  We pray that you would by a true faith continue to graft those who are yours into Christ and lead them to accept all his benefits.  We ask that you would help us to continue to know your Word and its promises, and that we would not only know it but also accept it for what it is, the very truth.  Please continue to give us all that firm confidence, that resting and trusting in Christ alone.  We pray all of this in him, AMEN. 


* 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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