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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Election: are you sure?
Text:CD 1 Articles 12-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Struggling with doubts
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-12-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 77

Psalm 23

Psalm 56:4,5

Hymn 1

Psalm 122

Scripture reading:  Luke 6:27-49

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 1.12-13

* 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,

Are you sure of your election?  Is that a question you struggle with?  There was a time when a good number of Reformed people did wrestle with that.  In fact, it was almost a given that everyone would or should struggle with it.  If you didn’t question whether you were elect, others in the church might think you’re arrogant.  It became a mark of humility to doubt and wonder about your election.  Today people talk about “virtue-signalling.”  You let everyone know about your virtue through certain signals.  Well, there was a time when you would signal your virtue by claiming to be uncertain about your election.

Perhaps there are some in our church that are genuinely uncertain when they shouldn’t be.  I hope this sermon will help you gain the assurance you ought to have.  However, more than likely we go in the opposite direction and assume that election is a given for everyone.  So long as you’ve been baptized, so long as you’re a part of the covenant, so long as you’re a member of the church, you can be sure you’re elect.  I suspect that’s the more common way of thinking these days.  In that way of thinking, assurance of election is based on your baptism, on your place in the covenant, or on your church membership.  It has nothing to do with Christ, it has nothing to do with the gospel, nothing to do with faith or the fruits of faith.  Listen to me carefully.  I will make this clear right from the start:  there is a presumptuous assurance of election, a false assurance.  If you are basing the certainty of your election on your church membership or baptism, that’s presumptuous and unbiblical.

The Canons of Dort give us the biblical teaching on the assurance of election.  The historical Arminians taught that it is presumptuous for anyone to be assured of their election.  The followers of Arminius taught that it’s arrogant for you to believe you were chosen by God from before the foundation of the world.  That’s because there is always the possibility you might fall away from the Christian faith.  You can persevere, you have the ability, but you can’t know for sure if you will.  You just don’t know.  So you can’t be sure, the Arminians said.  So the Canons of Dort address that wrong teaching.  But they also address the wrong idea that we should be sure of our election if we’re living like the devil.  The Canons correct us if we’re thinking we’re elect when we really shouldn’t be thinking that. 

This afternoon we’ll learn about the assurance of election.  We’ll look at:

  1. The reality of assurance
  2. The means of assurance
  3. The purpose of assurance

Is the assurance of election a possibility?  Is it possible to be sure?  The Canons of Dort in article 12 answer that it is.  Not only is it a possibility for elect believers to be sure, it’s also a reality.  Elect believers are “made certain of their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation.” 

Notice that they are “made certain.”  That tells us that this is something that God does in the hearts of the elect.  Just like he gives salvation as a gift and faith as a gift, so he also gives assurance as a gift.  It’s something that comes from God. 

But also notice that assurance comes “in due time.”  What that means is that a believer could be lacking in assurance for a period.  It can happen that a Christian wonders and struggles for a time, and only later is made certain of his or her election.  Maybe it was a lack of understanding in some aspect of election.  The Christian needed to be taught something that had been missing in their understanding of the faith.  Some years down the road, they are taught the thing that was missing and the pieces all fall into place.  Or maybe it was a lack of maturity and an inability to understand something they had been taught.  Over time, they grow in maturity and become able to understand whatever it was that was keeping them from assurance.  Whatever the case may be, the passage of time eventually brings certainty about election. 

Article 12 also speaks about the assurance of election coming “in various stages and in different measure.”  That assurance doesn’t come instantly with every person.  It doesn’t come to the same degree with every person.  What we’re confessing here is the reality that there can be and are a variety of spiritual experiences amongst believers.  In the past, there have been those who have argued that everyone has to experience their faith and salvation in exactly the same way.  If you haven’t experienced it in that way, then they might even go so far as to argue that you’re not really saved -- you’re not really a Christian.  However, the reality is that not everyone experiences salvation with some great crisis or drama.  That includes the assurance of election.  People experience that assurance differently.  Every person is different and every Christian is different. 

For example, the one person is brought up in a solid Christian home, discipled as a Christian from her youngest days, and can never recall a time when she didn’t really believe in Jesus Christ.  The assurance of election isn’t a problem for this person.  She’s never struggled with it.  She has a quiet, confident certainty that she is God’s child, chosen by grace before creation.  That assurance has just always been there, as long as she can remember.  That’s fine.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all. 

But then there’s that other person.  He was brought up in a nominal Christian home.  Sure, the family went to church, but they didn’t take God seriously.  There was no Bible reading at home, no family devotions, the parents didn’t teach their kids to pray.  Christianity was just something you did on Sunday.  However, in his late teens, this young man heard the gospel preached as if he’d never heard it before.  He had heard it before, but it had never registered.  Suddenly it did.  He suddenly became alive to God, aware of his sin, conscientious of his need to personally trust in Jesus Christ.  Shortly afterwards, he heard about election and really understood what it meant for the first time.  Then he began to really wonder:  am I one of the elect?  How can I know for sure?  How can I know that I won’t fall back into being a nominal church member, just along for the ride?  It’s only over some time that he comes to understand that there are good grounds for a true Christian to be confident in his election.  He goes through stages to get to that point. 

So you have two people who are both members of the same church.  But they have very different experiences with election and their certainty of it.  Others will have still different experiences.  This is the way things are and there’s nothing wrong with it.  God works with different people in different ways and at different times.  It’s something we observe in life, but it’s also seen in Scripture.  You compare Paul’s dramatic experience of salvation on the Damascus Road with Timothy’s upbringing with a Christian mother and grandmother who discipled him.   They’re different.  God works with different people in different ways.  So we can’t go and insist that everyone has to be at the same place at the same time when it comes to the assurance of election.

The main point in the first sentence of article 12 is that assurance is not only attainable, it’s also a reality.  For true Christians, God will give the confidence that his love has been set on you before there were stars in the sky.  God will assure you that you were included in his unchangeable decree of election. 

Now God has provided means by which we attain this assurance.  There is a way he has given through which we can experience this confidence in our hearts. 

It doesn’t come from “inquisitively prying into the hidden and deep things of God.”  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  There are secret things belonging to God and there are revealed things belonging to us.  The exact content of God’s decree of election is secret.  God has revealed that he has a decree of election, but he has not published the names included in that decree.  There is no way for us to access that.  People have tried to inquisitively pry into God’s secret things.  They’ve tried through mystical techniques like chanting mantras.  They’ve tried to escape this plane of reality and get into God’s mind so that they can access God’s secret things.  But Scripture teaches us to respect what God has revealed and what he has not revealed.  He has put limits on his revelation and we have to respect them.  So forget about “inquisitively prying into the hidden and deep things of God.”  That’s a non-starter.

We need to turn to God’s Word.  In our reading from Luke 6, Christ spoke about trees and their fruit.  He said in Luke 6:43 that good trees don’t bear bad fruit, nor do bad trees produce good fruit.  It’s a simple principle.  You know the tree from its fruit.  Those who are God’s elect will inevitably produce the fruit of God’s elect.  If the fruit of God’s elect is not there, then the question arises of whether election is a reality for that person.  Jesus spoke in a similar way in John 3 with Nicodemus.  He told the Jewish leader that you know the presence of the wind from its effects.  Similarly, you can tell the presence of the Holy Spirit from his effects.  If the Holy Spirit is present in a person, you’ll know it.  What kind of people have the gift of the Holy Spirit in their hearts producing spiritual fruit?  The elect.  If the fruit of the Spirit is present, the Spirit is present, and if the Spirit is present, election is real.

This is how the Canons say we can attain assurance of election.  It’s by self-examination.  It’s by observing ourselves, carefully considering our lives.  Scripture tells us to do this in 2 Cor. 13:5.  Look at your life.  Do you see the “unfailing fruits of election”?  Let’s go through these fruits right now.  Examine yourself right now for the fruits of election.    

For example, do you have a true faith in Christ?  Do you see your great need for a great Saviour?  Do you see your sinfulness and the holiness of God, and flee to the cross?  Do you rest from any ideas of your own righteousness and place your trust entirely in Jesus Christ?  Is Jesus your only hope for life and death?

Another “unfailing fruit of election” is the childlike fear of God.  Do you have great respect and reverence for your Father in heaven?  Do you aim to take him seriously in your life – in every single aspect of your life?  Are you concerned about offending or displeasing him?

The next thing mentioned in article 12 is “a godly sorrow” for sin.  Scripture distinguishes between ungodly and godly sorrow for sin.  Second Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  Worldly grief is sorrow that you get caught.  You got embarrassed by your sin.  Your pride was hurt.  Ungodly sorrow for sin is all about you.  Godly sorrow is about God.  Godly sorrow is sorrow that your sin has offended God and displeased him.  Godly sorrow involves true repentance, true turning from sin, a true change of heart about sin.  So, do you have godly sorrow over sin?  Do you hate your sins because of what they do to God and your relationship with him?  Do want to take your sin and spit on it because it’s so destructive and blasphemous?  That’s a fruit of election.

Last of all, there’s “a hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Are you eager to learn what is right and pleasing to God?  Are you humble and teachable when it comes to growing in a Christian walk of life?  Do you want to grow in reflecting Christ in your life?  Do you have the desire to honour God by increasing in Christian maturity and holiness? 

Loved ones, if you can answer “yes” to these questions, God’s Word says that you can definitely be sure of your election.  If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions, you’re a Christian and you’re one of God’s elect. 

Okay, but what if there were a few of those questions where you had to be honest and say, “Well, no”?  Or what if there were some question where you had to say, “Not always”?  Then I have another question for you:  do you wish it were different?  For instance, perhaps many of us would have to say there isn’t always godly sorrow over sin in our lives.  I’ll be the first to admit that’s certainly true for me.  At times I do, but there are also times where that godly sorrow is either not there or it’s diluted, watered down.  What about you?  If you’re honest, I imagine you would say something similar.  But here’s the thing:  do you wish it were different?  I do.  I wish I could be more consistent in having godly sorrow over sin.  Why would I wish it were different if I didn’t have the Holy Spirit creating that desire in me?  Isn’t the desire for it to be different a gift of God’s Spirit to his elect?  Isn’t that desire then also a fruit of election?  Yes, it is.  So even if your answers to those questions are not all consistently “yes,” all the time, if you see that and it bothers you and you wish it were not that way, be encouraged.  It doesn’t mean you’re among the reprobate.  It means you’re a battling elect child of God along with the rest of us.  You too can have assurance.  You can and you should. 

One more thing on this point:  the fruits of election are not described for us in order to examine others.  The point here is to examine yourself.  We can have personal assurance of election, but we cannot look into the hearts of others and have assurance or not about someone else’s election.  In the church, we use what is called the judgment of charity.  If our fellow church members profess Christ as their Saviour and are living a Christian life, we take that at face value.  We accept them as Christians.  We don’t entertain questions about their election and whether God has actually written them into his decree of election.  That’s not our business.  If someone says they’re a Christian but live an ungodly life, then there’s discipline that has to be exercised -- absolutely.  We have to admonish them.  But even then we can never know whether someone is elect or not.  We don’t know whether someone will repent in the future and yet be saved from the wrath to come.  Brothers and sisters, when it comes to election, don’t fall into the trap of looking at other people.  That’s off-limits, forbidden territory.  Stay within the boundaries:  examine yourself for the fruits of election, not others.     

Now, what’s the purpose of assurance?  Why does God give the assurance of election to his children?  It’s not to puff them up and make them proud of themselves.  It’s not so that we would be cocky, so that we can go and live however we want.  The Canons of Dort rightly says that the person with that attitude is presumptuous.  The person who thinks that they’re elect and therefore they can live like the devil, that person is falsely secure.  They think they’re safe and so no matter what they do, they’ve got their one-way ticket to paradise.  In reality, they’re deceiving themselves.  Scripture teaches that people who think that way are not Christians.  Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Hebrews 12:14 tells us to strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Look, if you think that election is a license to sin, you’re a deluded fool.  Not only that, but you’re actually heading for hell.  You have no security whatsoever in reality.  Any assurance you have is a fantasy if you think like that.  No one should be assured of election that with such wicked and worldly ideas. 

The assurance of election has the opposite effect for a true Christian.  The awareness and assurance of election makes a true Christian humble before God.  It makes that person adore the depth of God’s mercies.  You have to remember that God chose us when he knew that we were sinners.  He knew us inside and out, warts and all.  Theologian Donald Carson once put it like this:

When he says he loves us, does not God mean something like the following?  “Morally speaking, you are the people of the halitosis, the bulbous nose, the greasy hair, the disjointed knees, the abominable personality.  Your sins have made you disgustingly ugly.  But I love you anyway, not because you are attractive, but because it is my nature to love.”  And in the case of the elect, God adds, “I have set my affection on you from before the foundation of the universe, not because you are wiser, or better, or stronger than others but because in grace I chose to love you.  You are mine, and you will be transformed.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from my love mediated through Jesus Christ (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 63)    

Isn’t God’s electing love amazing?  It is humbling and makes us worship him.  We know the reality of what we’re like, and then we see what he’s like and what he’s done for us and it drops us to our knees. 

We worship him, but we also aim to be who we are as his children.  The Canons speak of us cleansing ourselves.  That’s referring to sanctification.  The awareness and assurance of election stimulates us to sanctification – that’s the process of growing in a Christian life of holiness.  We want to honour the God who showed us so much love and compassion.  We want to thank him with our lives.  That’s how we respond to the assurance of our election.  As a further part of that, we fervently love him who first so greatly loved us.  The assurance of election leads us to greater love for God.  It does something in our hearts, it works the strengthening of our relationship with God.  When you know what someone has done for you, when you see love in action, the normal response is love in return.  That’s what happens in the lives of God’s children.  That’s where the assurance of election is designed to lead us.  That’s its purpose:  a closer walk with God. 

Perhaps we’re not all that accustomed to thinking about these things.  But they are good things to reflect on.  If you’re a true Christian, you can be and should be sure of your election.  But if someone is just a faker, forget it.  Assurance is only for those who, by God’s grace, are the real deal.  Loved ones, listen to 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.”  And 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…”  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Heavenly loving Father,

Thank you again for revealing biblical truths to us about election.  Father, we thank you that we can have assurance as your children.  We pray that you would work that in the hearts of all who need it.  As we look with a true faith to Christ our Saviour, please give us the confidence that your unchangeable election is ours.  Help us to observe the unfailing fruits of election in our hearts and lives.  When we do, we pray that your Spirit would also work the appropriate response of humility, worship, holiness, and love.  Father, please keep us in your loving arms and make us constantly sure of our place with you, of your love and power for us.     




* 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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