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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:Use the means of God's grace
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Old Book of Praise)

Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

Ps. 33: 2, 5

Ps. 111: 1, 5

Ps. 116: 7, 9, 10

Ps. 89: 1


Scripture reading:         1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3

Text:                            LD 25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

LD 25       Sacraments and the Word

Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

Ps. 33: 2, 5

Ps. 111: 1, 5

Ps. 116: 7, 9, 10

Ps. 89: 1


Scripture reading:       1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3

Text:                          LD 25


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


What would you say of a farmer who does not plough his land, nor fertilise the soil, nor sow any seed, but then expects a good harvest?  

What would you say if that farmer says to you: “I trust in the Lord; He will give me a harvest.   I am not able to make the wheat grow, and I am not able to produce the fruit, it is only God who can give life and growth, therefore I leave it all in His hands that He may grant me a harvest!”?

Even a child would be able to tell such a farmer that there will be no harvest.   If he wants a harvest, he should use the means which God has provided.


Dear congregation, the same is true regarding our spiritual life.   It is indeed God who gives faith through the working of His Spirit.  It is He that gives growth and fruit in our spiritual life.  But He will not give it to us without the means of grace.   He will not give it to you without the instruction of His Word. 

If someone refuses to use the means of grace, there will be no fruit and no harvest.


This afternoon we will note the means by which God gives us faith, as well as the means by which He sustains and increases our faith.


I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

Use the means of God’s grace

We will note:

  1. That the Holy Spirit works faith through the Word
  2. The meaning of the sacraments


In the first place we note that…


The Spirit works faith through the Word


We receive Christ and all His riches only through faith.  

But, where does this faith come from?   The Holy Spirit works it in our heart through the preaching of the Word, and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments.


Before we look at the instruments which the Holy Spirit uses, we have to know that faith is indeed a gift of God.   Faith is a divine work of the Holy Spirit in us.   It is not of us.   We are not of ourselves able to believe.   By nature we are born spiritually dead.   Thus the apostle says:


“…by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” – Eph.2:8.


Faith, he says, is a gracious gift of God.   It is not in the power of natural man to believe the gospel.

And God does not give faith to everyone; He gives faith only to His elect.

It is all God’s work of grace.


Now, the Holy Spirit works this gracious gift of faith in us only by one means: the Word of God!    Without receiving the Word there can be no faith.  

Scripture calls the preaching of God’s Word the seed of regeneration.   This afternoon we read from 1 Peter 1 where the apostle says that we have been…


“…born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…”

“Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” – verses 23, 25.


The word which is preached to us is the seed by which we receive new life.   God’s word is the incorruptible seed which the Spirit plants into our hearts.   By the seed of His word God begets us, and gives us life.


The apostle Paul says to the Corinthians that it pleased God to save us through the preaching of the gospel – 1 Cor. 1: 21.  

And in Rom. 10: 17 he says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 

Faith is through the word of God. 

In no other way will you receive faith.   In no other way will the Holy Spirit give you faith.


The Holy Spirit will not work faith in you in some mystic way apart from the Word.

Faith is believing God’s word.

Yes, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts only through the preaching and instruction of God’s revealed word which has been given to us in Holy Scripture.


Furthermore, we have to understand that the word of God is not only the means by which the Spirit gives us faith once; it is also the means by which the Spirit makes our faith to grow and to increase.   After the apostle Peter said that we received our new life through the preaching of the Word, he also continues, saying:


“…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” – 1 Peter 2:2.


God’s word is not only the seed of life causing a new birth; it is also the spiritual food for our souls; and there is no way for us to grow in faith but to eat God’s word, to drink it like milk and, as we grow in spiritual knowledge and discernment, to eat also the solid food of His word in order to grow to spiritual maturity.

The Word of God is both the seed of which we were born, and the milk, and the solid food, by which we continue to grow.


Do you long to be filled with the Holy Spirit?    Do you long for the Spirit to work powerfully in you?   You don’t have to look for strange experiences that happen in a strange way.   You don’t have to look for wonders and signs.   Here, in the church service, through the preaching of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit is working in you.   Whenever you hear the preaching and instruction of God’s Word, the Spirit is at work.  

And He will not work in you without this means.


Here in the church service the Word is being proclaimed publicly in the gathering of the congregation.   All are welcome to hear the words of the Spirit.  

Whoever then stays away from the church service cuts himself off from the work of the Spirit.  


Therefore, don’t refuse the work of the Spirit by neglecting your private devotions and your family devotions, the catechism classes and the Bible studies.   Don’t cut yourself off from the working of the Spirit by staying away from the church services.   For it is by hearing the Word, by receiving its instruction, and by meditating on it, that the Spirit will powerfully renew your life.  

Yes, whoever neglects to come to the church service where God’s word is preached, and whoever neglects doing Bible study, and neglects to meditate daily on God’s Word, cuts himself off from the very means by which the Holy Spirit works. 

If anyone does not feed his soul with God’s Word, he is like that foolish farmer who desires a harvest without ploughing or sowing.


God gives us faith through His Spirit.  That is grace alone.  But He gives it to you in a sermon.   Yes, it pleased God to save us and to preserve us by the preaching and instruction of His Word. 


Do you want to grow in union with Christ?   Do you want to share in all His riches?   Come to the workshop of the Holy Spirit.   Here, through the preaching of the gospel God will give you the life which is in Christ alone, and here He will feed you with Christ, that you may grow in Him and bear fruit.   Here God wants to strengthen our weak faith which is attacked so fiercely every day.  


Let us eagerly come to hear the Word of God that the Spirit may unite us more and more to Christ, and that we may grow in the grace which we once received, and continue to the end, growing in maturity, increasingly bearing fruit, that we may indeed see a great harvest.


Dear congregation, if the preaching of God’s word is indeed the instrument by which the Spirit works faith in Christ and union with Christ, then we have to examine ourselves whether this is our expectation when we come to attend the church services, or whenever we open the Bible.   Do you come with this expectation that the Spirit will work powerfully in you to unite you to Christ, and to strengthen and to preserve you in Christ?  

Do you know that the preaching of God’s Word is a power of God unto salvation?  

Or do you come without any expectation?   Has it maybe become to you a mere tradition?


No, let us eagerly use the means of God’s grace, and use it prayerfully.  

Don’t cut yourself off from the only means by which the Spirit works faith and obedience, and then expect that there will be any harvest. 

Rather, let us use the means faithfully, and prayerfully, and then indeed trust God for the harvest.


In the second place we note…

The meaning of the sacraments


The Lord gave us two sacraments.   In the OT it was circumcision and the Passover.   In the New Testament it is baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  

It has been given as signs and seals of the covenant which God has made with us.

God said to Abraham:


“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you” (Gen.17:7).


That is the summary of the covenant promise: I will be your God and the God of your children.


This promise is repeated throughout the Old Testament, and also throughout the whole New Testament.   Finally we find the same promise back in the book of Revelation:


“…Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.   God Himself will be with them and be their God” – Rev.21: 3


And again:


“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” – Rev.21: 7


All the heavenly blessings are summarised in this one promise.   If God is our God, then we received everything.


This promise of the covenant finds its fulfilment only in Christ.  

Through Christ we are reconciled to God.  Through Him God becomes our God.   He is Immanuel – God with us.

This is the promise of the covenant.   And in the NT this same covenant promise is called the gospel.   Through Christ we are reconciled to God.  Through Him God became our God.


The sacraments are signs and seals of this gospel.   We read for example that the apostle Paul says that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal – Rom. 4:11.   He speaks of circumcision as a sign and a seal.

It is a sign of the covenant, and it is a seal given to you to confirming that God has indeed made His covenant with you.


As a sign it is a picture of the whole gospel.  The whole gospel is portrayed in the sacraments.    The essence of the gospel is the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross whereby we are washed from our sins and reconciled to God.


Thus the catechism also asks:

“Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?”


And the answer:

“Yes, indeed.  The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross”.


When we look at the sacraments it serves first of all as signs that signify God’s covenant promises.   It signifies to us all that God has promised us in Christ.

But, the sacraments are not only signs; they are also seals whereby the promise of the gospel is visibly guaranteed and sealed to us.  


When you were baptised into the name of the Father, God the Father testified and sealed to you that He has established an eternal covenant with you.   He has adopted you as His child and as heir of all the heavenly riches.

When you were baptised into the Name of the Son, God the Son promised you that He washes you in His blood from all your sins and unites you with Him in His death and resurrection.   Thus you were freed from your sins and accounted righteous before God.

And when you were baptised into the Name of the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit assured you by the sacrament that He will dwell in you and make you a living member of Christ, imparting to you what you have in Christ, namely, the cleansing from your sins and the daily renewal of your live, until you shall finally be presented without blemish among the assembly of God’s elect in life eternal.

We heard it again this morning in the Form for Baptism.   There you have the whole gospel in a nutshell signified and sealed to you.


This heavenly promise is given in absolute terms and very strongly emphasised.   Yes, it was sealed to you.   

What then if a baptised member will not be gathered with the elect in eternal life?   Was the promise then truly given to him?  

Yes, it was truly given and sealed to him, even when he rejects it in unbelief.  

The covenant still stands, even when disobedient children reject God’s promise and break the covenant.   And therefore, for those who reject the promise in unbelief, the curse of the covenant will follow.


We have to discern between election and covenant.   God’s gracious election is without any condition.   He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would believe, or because He found anything good in us.   We were in all respects unworthy, and He elected us without any condition, out of mere grace alone, according to the good pleasure of His will.   

With regard to the covenant, however, the fulfilment of the covenant promise is indeed conditioned.   The promise is proclaimed with the call to repent and believe; and only those who believe the gospel promise will receive its fulfilment.


            “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever “   believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3: 16


And again:

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3: 36


The promise of the covenant will not be fulfilled in your life if you reject it in unbelief.   The promise will be fulfilled in your life only through faith in Jesus Christ.  And you will taste the fruit of God’s grace only in the way of obedience.


The covenant indeed contains two parts: a promise and an obligation.   And so we are called and obliged by the covenant to a new obedience.   The promise is preached and openly proclaimed to us with the call to repent and believe the gospel.    The covenant demands the response of faith.


Dear congregation, the promise is truly given and sealed to us, but it is not an unconditional promise; it will be fulfilled in our lives through faith only, and it will be experienced and enjoyed only in the way of obedience – the obedience of faith.

When someone rejects the promise in unbelief, then he is still in the covenant, and the covenant still applies to him, however, he will then not receive the fulfilment of the blessings, but the fulfilment of the curse in all its bitterness.


Brothers and sisters, the sacraments are not a sign and a seal that you have eternal life.   It does not seal your election unto eternal life.   The promise of the gospel is given and sealed to you, with the call to repent and believe the gospel.


Thus we see the relation between the Word and sacraments.   The sacraments do not add anything to the gospel.   The sacraments seal to us only that which we have in the gospel – nothing more, nothing less.   And without the Word the sacraments are meaningless.  


Imagine a missionary that goes out on the mission field baptising people without preaching the gospel.   Will that baptism benefit them? 

Not at all!


We may compare the sacraments to a signet ring.  

If a king would write a letter to you appointing you as heir of all his possessions, and take his signet ring from his finger and seal the letter, the letter then bears the sign and the seal of the king.   When you see the seal you will be all the more certain that the king has indeed promised you such a wealth.   The seal guarantees the content of the letter.  

But, if the same seal is placed on a blank piece of paper, what will it mean to you? 

Nothing at all!  

So are the sacraments without the Word meaningless.


Dear congregation, God has not given us a blank piece of paper.  He has given us the whole Bible as the book of the covenant, the book of His promise.  And He has sealed the content to each one of us personally by giving us the sacraments.   This promise and seal He has not given to the world, but to those whom He calls out of the world.


Now we see the relation between Word and sacrament.   The two belong together.


We do not receive faith through the sacraments, but through the Word only, and afterwards our faith is strengthened by the sacraments.     


The sacraments have no magic power.  The grace of God does not flow into us automatically when we use the sacraments, but the sacraments do strengthen our faith when we use it not out of superstition, but trusting in Christ who is preached to us in the gospel and sealed to us in the sacraments.


Through the preaching of the gospel the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, and the sacraments are added to the preaching to strengthen our faith.

If someone refuses to listen to the preaching of the gospel, the sacraments will serve only to make his condemnation heavier. 


Yes, the covenant, of which the sacraments are signs and seals, calls and obliges us to faith and repentance.  Therefore parents are obliged to educate their children in the covenant as they grow up.  Without the instruction in the covenant, without the instruction of the gospel, a child’s baptism will work no faith.   Then such a child will become guilty of breaking the covenant and receive the curse of the covenant.


For that reason it is so important that with every baptism and with every Lord Supper, and with every opportunity in between, the gospel is preached, because the sacraments itself is not the first cause of our faith, but only strengthens our faith which is given to us through the preaching of Christ.


Yes, it is necessary to spell this out, for we see in the history of the church how the sacraments were very often used out of superstition, and the result was devastating.  We may think of the struggle that arose around covenant and baptism because of the error of presumptive regeneration, where covenant and election were mixed up; or we may think of the Roman Mass.   


Without the sound preaching of the Word the sacraments become idolatry.  


For us, however, who put our trust in Christ alone, the sacraments do strengthen our faith.   And as such we receive them thankfully from the Lord’s hand.

Everything that the gospel promises and commands us is also portrayed in the sacraments.   The sacraments are the gospel in a nutshell.

Eternal life for everyone who believes and obeys, but judgment and curse for everyone who do not believe and repent!


Dear brothers and sisters, if you know your own sin before God, flee to Christ, for in Him we have complete forgiveness of all our sins.  


Christ gave Himself as a ransom for us, and by His death made atonement for our sins, and reconciled us to God.   


Hear the gospel, and see the gospel.   

The punishment for our sins was on Him, and by His stripes we are healed.








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

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