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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-03-30
Updated:2010-03-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 59
Psalm 62:1-4
Hymn 53
Hymn 1A
Psalm 71:1-3

Reading: Acts 16:16-40
Text: Lord's Day 7
* 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,

 

Have you ever wondered why the Heidelberg Catechism deals with the definition of faith?  From one perspective, we could say that it’s simply important to understand what faith is.  It’s important for our children to be taught what faith is.  And obviously, faith is central to the teaching of the Bible and to being a Christian.  Those are good enough reasons to devote an entire Lord’s Day to what the Bible says about faith.

 

But there’s also an historical reason.  In the sixteenth century the definition of faith was a hot issue.  It was an issue between Protestants and Roman Catholics.  On the one hand, the Roman Catholics said that a faith which saves is primarily about what you know.  They emphasized knowledge.  But they also said that, at its heart, faith includes good works.  Good works are part of the definition of faith according to the Roman Catholic Church.  Protestants, both Lutherans and Reformed, denied this.  According to Protestants, the essence of saving faith does not in any way include our obedience to God’s law.  Good works are necessary as the fruit of saving faith; good works are the evidence of saving faith – but good works are not part of the essence of faith.  Our definition of faith cannot include good works. 

 

You might hear that and think that’s just an old discussion from the sixteenth century.  However, it’s still important for us today to be clear on the definition of faith.  There are those who would like to have our understanding of faith reconfigured to include our good works.  Today those folks include not only Roman Catholics, but also other Protestants.  One of those is Norman Shepherd.  Shepherd is a retired Christian Reformed minister.  Shepherd has publicly written of his belief that good works are integral to the definition of faith.  This has raised concerns in many circles that Norman Shepherd is introducing a doctrine of justification that includes works.  Yes, Shepherd agrees:  we are justified by faith alone.  We are right with God only through faith in Christ alone.  But then: what is faith?  If you include obedience to God’s law in the definition of faith, then you’ve smuggled in works through the back door.  The result will be that Christians will believe that what we do does in fact contribute somehow to our salvation. 

There’s a lot more that could be said about that (I’m just scratching the surface), but I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that this is still an important issue today.  How we define faith matters.  So, we can be thankful that the Heidelberg Catechism brings us back to the biblical teaching of what faith looks like.  This afternoon we want to consider that again and we’ll also give special attention to Acts 16 and the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  So, this afternoon I bring God’s Word to you with this theme:

 

“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”

 

We’ll consider:

 

1.      What makes faith necessary

2.      What faith is (the definition of faith)

3.      What faith believes

 

Everyone perishes through Adam – that is a plain biblical fact and it undergirds the first question and answer of Lord’s Day 7.  The Catechism asks if there’s a parallel.  All perish through Adam, does that mean all are also saved by Christ? 

 

Before we look at the answer to that, we need to reflect on those two words, ‘perish’ and ‘save.’  We find that last word used a couple of times in Acts 16.  Paul and Silas had been imprisoned.  Around midnight an earthquake shook the prison and the doors flew open and the chains fell off.  When the jailer saw the doors open, he thought it was curtains for him anyway and he decided to commit suicide.  It’s important to understand why he would do that.  According to Roman law, if a prisoner were to escape, the jailer would be liable to the punishment the prisoner would have received.  At the very least, the jailer would have been publicly beaten and humiliated in front of the entire city.  If there were some serious criminals in the prison, he could have been executed also. 

 

But Paul shouts to him and reassures him that the prisoners are all still there.  The jailer then calls for lights and falls at the feet of Paul and Silas.  He asks them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Notice that word, “What must I do to be saved?”  Saved from what?  Well, considering that the prisoners are all still there and showing no signs of escaping, he doesn’t have to worry anymore about being beaten or executed.  Instead, most likely he understood that the earthquake was a sign of coming divine judgment. 

 

Whatever the case may have been in his mind, the next use of the word “saved” comes from the apostles and their understanding of it is clear.  They seize on the opportunity to present the gospel to this jailer and they tell him what he must to do to be saved.  To be saved from the coming judgment of God.  To be saved from the wrath of God against sin.  To be saved is the opposite of to perish.  To perish means that you will spend eternity in hell under God’s wrath.  To be saved means to be rescued from that terrible punishment. 

 

This is what makes faith necessary.  To be saved from eternal punishment one must believe and have a true faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s what the apostles told the Philippian jailer too:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved...”

 

That brings us right away to our next question and that’s the heart of the matter this afternoon:  what is faith?  According to the Catechism, true faith consists of three parts. 

 

First, it is a sure knowledge.  Knowledge is important for faith.  One has to know the basics of what is to be believed.  One has to know the basics of what the Bible says about God, about ourselves, our sin, our Saviour, and so on.  Knowledge of God’s Word is crucially important. 

 

Second, true faith takes that knowledge and works with it.  Faith includes not only knowing the knowledge, having it up there in your head, but also accepting it as being true.  Let me give you an example of what the difference is.  I find Islam fascinating.  It’s a false religion, but its intricacies are an amazing (and sad) testimony to human creativity.  I can read the Qur’an and I know what it says.  I may have a basic knowledge of the message of the Qur’an.  But that does not mean that I’m a Muslim.  I don’t accept it as being true.  Similarly, someone could read the Bible and know the basic teachings of the Christian faith.  Someone could even conceivably go to catechism and go to church each Sunday and have an intellectual interest in Christian doctrine.  But they don’t accept it as being true.  They may have the knowledge of a Christian, but without accepting it as true, that person is not a Christian.  He or she doesn’t have faith.

 

So, true faith is knowledge, but it’s also assent to that knowledge.  Then last of all, our Catechism says that true faith is also a firm confidence.  In other words, a true faith not only engages our minds, but also our wills and hearts.  A true faith has confidence that all the truths of the gospel are not just for other people, but also for me, personally.  When I hear the minister say that “God has granted you forgiveness of sins out of mere grace for the sake of Christ’s merits,” I say to myself, “Yes, that’s true for me too!”  When I hear the minister say that “God has granted you everlasting righteousness and salvation out of mere grace all because of Christ,” I say, “Amen.  That’s my God.  That’s my Saviour.  This good news is for me!”  So faith must include personal appropriation of what the Bible teaches.  It’s not enough to know what the Bible says, it’s also not enough to be able to say that the Bible is true.  You have to go all the way and say that what God offers in the gospel is also for you personally and individually.

 

So, according to the Catechism true faith is knowledge, assent, and confidence.  That approach comes straight out of Scripture.  Think of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  How can we be sure of what we hope for if we don’t know what the Bible teaches?  How can we be certain of what we do not see, if we don’t know anything about what the Bible says and don’t agree that it’s true?

 

That’s also the picture of faith in Acts 16:31 and following.  The Philippian jailer was told to believe in Christ and then he would be saved.  He was taught and then from the fact he was baptized (along with his family), we know that he did in fact believe.  What does it mean that he believed?  He received those basic biblical truths and he embraced them.  John 1:12 adds some insight when it says about Christ, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...”  Believing in Christ includes receiving him and resting and trusting in him, accepting all his benefits.  Faith is the hand which receives what God offers.  Faith always involves looking outside of yourself to God and his Word, especially to the gospel promises in Christ.  Article 22 of the Belgic Confession puts it beautifully:  “This faith embraces Jesus Christ with all his merits, makes him our own, and does not seek anything besides him.”    

 

Now the one thing that is definitely not present in the biblical definition of a true saving faith is good works.  Listen to Paul in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  In that passage “Observing the law” is set against “faith.”  It’s impossible that Paul meant that faith includes observing the law.  Now, it is true that there are passages of Scripture which use the word “faith” in the sense of “faithfulness.”  But everywhere Scripture teaches about salvation in general and justification in particular, we find that the word “faith” is used in the sense of looking outward to Christ.  Faith is about looking to Christ and receiving from him everything we need for salvation, it’s about resting and trusting in him to do everything. 

 

Then someone always says, “But what about James?  Doesn’t James say that faith must be living and active?  Doesn’t James make it look like obedience is part of faith?”  Well, what does James say in 2:17?  “...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  The question there is:  how you can tell if someone has faith?  What are the evidences or the fruits of faith?  The answer is that a true faith, a living faith, will always bear fruit in obedience to God.  One has not truly trusted in Christ if there is no obedience to evidence it.  This happens because, as the Catechism says, true faith unites us to Christ.  And if we are united to Christ, then inevitably his Spirit will work in us to bring forth fruit.  True faith is always living and active, absolutely.  But note carefully, brothers and sisters, the distinction between faith and the fruits of faith.  They are two separate things.  They always come together and so it’s easy to confuse them, but especially when we’re speaking about our salvation, they must be kept separate.  The moment we start including the fruits of faith with the definition of faith we’re headed back to Rome.  So, no, James does not include works in the definition of faith.

 

Before we move on, let’s consider just one more point from the Catechism and its summary of Scripture.  At the end of QA 21, it says, “This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.”  That comes from the Bible in places like Romans 10:17, “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  That word of Christ is the word of good news (gospel) brought by God’s messengers (Rom. 10:15).  According to Lord’s Day 2, we know our sin and misery from the law of God.  The law of God makes us recognize our need for the gospel, it drives us forward to faith.  But it is the gospel which the Holy Spirit uses to work faith in our hearts.  It is the good news that Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.  When we hear that, the Holy Spirit works with that to make us say, “Yes, I not only hear those gracious promises, I believe those promises are true, and I believe those promises are true for me.”  That’s faith.   And introducing works of the law into this only introduces confusion.  In its very nature, the gospel is not about us and what we do, but about what Christ has done.  To put it in grammatical terms, it’s not about the imperative, but about the indicative.  Faith is worked by the gospel.  Then through the Spirit that faith produces the fruit of thankful and loving obedience to the law of God.  But its root and source in the gospel are part and parcel of the definition of faith.  The fruit isn’t. 

 

Finally, we want to briefly consider what faith believes.  The answer that Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer is the bare bones:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved...”  True faith looks outward to Jesus Christ, resting and trusting in him.  When we have true faith, we cast ourselves totally onto Christ, we cling to him.

 

The Catechism is faithful to this biblical perspective when it says that a Christian must believe everything that is promised us in the gospel.  Then everything promised in the gospel is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.  That’s an interesting statement.  Have you ever thought about that?  Every Sunday afternoon when we confess our faith by singing the Apostles’ Creed, we’re singing a summary of everything promised to us in the gospel.  It’s easy to take those familiar words and hear them mindlessly and even sing them mindlessly.  We know the Creed off by heart.  We don’t even need to have our Books of Praise open to follow along.  So, we go through the routine every Sunday afternoon.  What are we doing, what are we thinking about as we confess our faith?  Do we actually think about what we’re singing? 

 

Loved ones, let me encourage you to confess your faith thoughtfully each Sunday.  If it helps to have your Book of Praise open and to see the words that you’re singing, then by all means do that, even if hardly anybody else does.  Moreover, for all of us, let’s be thinking about the fact that what we are confessing is the summary of all the promises of the gospel.  The Apostles’ Creed is all gospel from front to back, it’s all about the good news of what our gracious God has done for his people.  That’s what we believe.            

 

So, over these next few weeks we’ll be going through the Apostles’ Creed.  As we do that, we’re going to consider its gospel character.  We’re going to look at how each of the articles brings good news to us, the good news that God calls us to embrace and accept in faith.

 

Faith matters and its definition matters because it’s at the heart of our salvation.  Faith is something that God calls us to, and because we have that call, it’s very easy to think that faith is somehow our contribution to salvation.  We can crack that door open even more by making our works part of the definition.  We need to resist the temptation to make faith something other than just accepting, receiving, resting and trusting in what Christ has done for us.  If we understand faith that way, then it is all of grace.  I don’t think there’s any better passage than Ephesians 2:8,9 to give us the right perspective as we conclude:  “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Through faith, not by works.  AMEN. 

 

Our gracious and merciful God,

 

The gift of faith is so precious and we thank you for it.  We thank you for saving us through this gift.  We thank you for giving us a sure knowledge of your Word and also the acceptance of that Word as truth.  We thank you for giving us the firm confidence, for working in us a persuasion that the gospel is true for us.  We pray Father that you would increase our faith daily.  Help our faith to grow in consistency and in its fruits.  Father, we pray that this would happen so that you would receive more glory through us your children...     




* 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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