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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Faith is a mark of Christians and a gift of God
Text:CD 3/4 Article 14 & BC 29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Psalm 33:1-3

Psalm 33:4-6

Hymn 1

Hymn 71

Scripture reading: Hebrews 11:1-12:3

Catechism lesson:  Belgic Confession article 29 & Canons of Dort 3/4.14

* 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,

We live in a world where doubt is sometimes considered to be a virtue.  This is probably most true when it comes to spiritual matters.  The person who is confident about spiritual matters is often regarded as arrogant.  Somebody who states that what he believes is true, not only for him, but for the whole world – well, that’s not just arrogance, that’s insanity.  Our society tells us that when it comes to matters of religion and morality, it’s far better to hedge your bets.  At the very least, you should always say, “Well, that’s just my personal belief.”  By saying that, you maintain the idea that your beliefs place no obligation on anybody else.  Doubt and uncertainty are thus more highly regarded than certainty and confidence when it comes to religion. 

However, when we go to the Bible, we find a different view of the matter.  Doubt is presented in the Bible as being a negative thing.  Look at Adam and Eve in the first chapters of the Bible.  They doubted God’s Word and fell into sin.  The letter of James says in 1:6 that the person who doubts is like a wave of the sea being blown here and there and all over the place.  Doubt stands in the way of God’s work.  Doubt is nothing to boast about or rest in.  Rather, doubt is an obstacle that needs to be overcome.  Certainty and confidence are lifted up in the Bible as virtuous, doubt is not.

Faith is a virtue.  That’s partly why chapter 11 of Hebrews spends so much time on the faith of the patriarchs of the Old Testament.  If we go back to chapter 10, we find God warning us about doubt.  Verse 35 says, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.”  Verse 38 says, “But my righteous one shall live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  Faith here is contrasted with shrinking back, or, we could say, doubting and losing confidence.  And then verse 39 leads us into chapter 11 by saying, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”  Do you see it here?  Shrinking back and doubting, losing confidence – the result of all that is destruction.  Belief and faith result in salvation.  This whole issue of doubt versus faith is something that matters for your eternal destiny.  And that’s why chapter 11 launches into this long description of what faith looks like.  Here in this chapter, we see the foundation of what we confess in the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort, namely that faith is both a mark of Christians and a gift of God. 

Perhaps some of you thought it a bit strange that we read article 29 of the Belgic Confession.  If you’re familiar with the Belgic Confession, you know this article is usually discussed in connection with the church.  And it’s true: the title over the article does say, “The Marks of the True and the False Church.”  However, that title was not originally placed there by Guido de Bres, the author of the confession.  It was added later.   Moreover, the article does deal with more than the church.  Summarizing what the Bible teaches, the article also speaks about the marks of Christians.  We find that in the third paragraph.

For our purposes this afternoon, we just want to look at one of those marks.  We confess that Christians are people who “believe in Jesus Christ the only Saviour.”   Christians are people who “appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in him.”  You see, this is what faith looks like.  People who have faith in Jesus Christ are constantly making an appeal to God.  They’re pleading to God.  Now why do they do that?  It’s because of their sins.  The Bible teaches us that all people fall short of what God wants -- we call that sin.  Christians sin too.  And sin is a problem because God is holy.  That means God will not have fellowship or a friendly relationship with anyone who sins.  In fact, God is the enemy of sinners.  The Bible says in Ephesians 2:3 that by ourselves we are objects of wrath.  Sin separates people from a friendly relationship with God.  This is public objective truth – in other words, this is not only true for Christians, but for all people.  But the good news of the Bible is also truth for all people – the good news is that God has provided a way to deal with this problem.   Let there be no doubt about it:  the way is through Jesus Christ.  When someone prays and says, “Lord Jesus, please take away my sins and pay for them with your blood, suffering, death and obedience” – then God’s wrath is turned away and he says, “You are now my child, my friend.”  Then there is reconciliation with God. 

There is only one way that is possible and that is by, as Hebrews 12:2 puts it, looking to Jesus, fixing our eyes on him.  Jesus Christ said very clearly in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In other words, the object of our faith has to be Jesus Christ.  And it has to be Jesus Christ alone.  We cannot trust in anyone or anything else, whether that be ourselves, another human being dead or alive, our reputation, or our good works.  Sometimes people have this idea that when they die, God will make his decision on where you spend eternity based on the idea of a balance.  If there are more good works on the one side than bad works on the other side, then you’ll be okay.  Listen carefully:  God does not work with a scale.  The Bible is clear that even one sinful word, thought or action is enough to place you in debt with God forever.  And your good works, well, God says in Isaiah 64:6 that he regards all the good things you think you do as something that ought to be flushed down the toilet.  You cannot place your hope and trust in good deeds, hoping that the good will outweigh the bad.  Nothing and no one but Jesus Christ is the way to the life that lasts forever with God.  There is only hope and life in him.

Now somebody might say, “But hold on.  What about all those people in Hebrews 11?  Sure, they had faith, but they didn’t have faith in Jesus Christ!  With some of them, Jesus didn’t come until hundreds or even thousands of years later.  They couldn’t believe in him.”  Now it has to be said that there is a little bit of truth to that.  But if we take a closer look at Hebrews 11, we’ll soon find that those people mentioned there actually had a similar faith to Christians today.

Verse 9 tells us about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had received a promise from God.  This was essentially the same promise that had been there from the beginning in Genesis 3.  All the promises of the Bible come from the one mother promise in Genesis 3:15.  After Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God came to them and promised them that someone would come who would save them.  God promised that the Saviour would smash the skull of the serpent – which, of course, was the devil.  As time went on, this promise was repeated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others.  That’s why Hebrews 11 mentions the word ‘promise’ over and over again.  All the Old Testament patriarchs mentioned in this chapter had faith.  They had faith in the promise God had made in Genesis 3:15 and repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament.  They believed God would send someone to rescue them from sin and its effects.  And for the Old Testament believers who lived before the coming of Jesus Christ, this was the same as us believing in Jesus Christ.  God accepted them and had fellowship with them because they were declared right with him through faith in the promises leading to Christ.  The object of their faith was what, or rather who, had been promised:  Jesus Christ.

For us, we know about Jesus Christ because the Bible tells us all about him.  Verse 40 of Hebrews 11 says that “God had provided something better for us…”  And indeed, he did and he carried out his plan when he sent Jesus Christ to live in this world about 2000 years ago.  Jesus Christ lived and ministered on this earth.  He was always obedient to God, never once sinning.  At the end, he bled, suffered and died.  He rose from the dead and he went up into heaven – and he did all that for those who believe in him as their Saviour.  Those who are going to be saved from the judgment to come must have Jesus Christ as the object of their faith – and him alone.  Like the Old Testament patriarchs, we’re challenged to believe God’s promises.  A heavenly city is coming, more glorious and incredible than you can imagine, and there is only way to enter this city and that is by faith in Jesus Christ.  God calls every person here this afternoon to faith in him alone.

But now you have believed in Jesus Christ.  Who gets the credit for that?  That’s the second thing we’re going to look at this afternoon.

Like the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort give us a summary of some important Bible teachings.  In article 14 of Chapter 3-4, we confess from the Bible that faith is a gift of God.  The clearest passage on this point is Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  “It” in this passage refers to faith.  Faith is the instrument or tool by which we receive salvation in Jesus Christ.  And God tell us that this faith is itself also a gift of grace.  By grace we mean that it’s undeserved.  In our day-to-day world, there are sometimes gifts we think we have coming to us.   Think of children on their birthdays – they would be upset if their parents didn’t get them something.  It’s almost as if they feel entitled to a birthday gift – “I’m your child, you have to buy me a gift.”  But this gift is not like those gifts.  No one deserves the gift of salvation in Christ and no one deserves the gift of faith.  No one has this gift coming to them.  No one is entitled to it.  In fact, we don’t deserve gifts.  What we deserve is curse and condemnation.

Our confession explains this further when it says that it is not a gift in the sense that it’s just offered by God to the free will of man.  That’s what the Remonstrants or Arminians taught in the 1600s.  They believed that man by himself was able in spiritual matters to choose between right and wrong.  People could use their free will to accept or reject God’s gift.  The Bible teaches us something different.  In the Bible, we learn that fallen man is a slave to sin when he does not believe in Jesus Christ.   Man is not a sick patient lying in a hospital ward.  No, man is a corpse in the hospital morgue.  So, it is not possible that God offers the gift of faith and waits for man to accept it.  No man would accept it!  Fallen man prefers to be on his own and do his own thing.  Left to ourselves, nobody chooses for God, nobody chooses to accept God’s gift of faith. 

Thankfully, the reality is different.  We confess that it is a gift of God in the sense that God actually gives it to man.  He puts the gift inside of man.  God works through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to create faith in people.  And we see that in Hebrews 12:3 when we’re told that Jesus is the founder of our faith, or you could say “the author of our faith.”  He is the one who is like an author writing a book.  Nobody else gets the credit for the book except the author!  Our faith is like a book that Jesus has written and so he gets all the credit and praise. 

However, somebody could come along and try to explain the gift of faith in a different way.  You could call this the cooperation model.  God does his part by giving man the power or ability to believe and then man has to do his part by acting with that power.  You could imagine a car.  It has an empty gas tank.  God fills that tank.  Then he hands the key to the driver and the driver has to choose to start the car.  That’s gives you an idea of the view here, this cooperation model.  That’s another view that some of the historical Arminians held to.  However, we find that Philippians 2:13 teaches something different.  It says there that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  There is no cooperation happening in that picture.  It is entirely one party doing all the work and that one party is God.  God takes a fallen person and creates in them the will to believe.  He is also entirely behind the act of believing.   If we use the image of the car again, God fills the tank, but God also gets in the driver seat and starts the engine.  This is what Ephesians 2:8 means when it says that faith is a gift of God.

Somebody might say that this makes it sound like we’re robots.  However, it’s not like that.  God is bringing life to that which was dead.  The will of a person who believes in Jesus is being acted upon by God and then this will itself, part of the person, acts.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a person comes to faith and that person himself can be said to believe.  We can say, “He has faith in Jesus.”  He has not done this by himself – it was God in him – and that is the main point here.  The main issue is again:  who gets the credit?  Who gets the glory?  People are naturally prideful and they want to take some of the credit.  But the Bible insists that only God can be praised when somebody has faith in Jesus Christ.  There are many Bible passages that teach that, but think only of Romans 11:35-36, “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen.”

Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Faith in Jesus Christ is the only road to a good relationship with our Creator.  And when we have that faith, we praise God for it, because it is his work in us.  We give him all the glory, knowing that it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith.  May we all, each and everyone, be able to praise God for this gift of faith in us.  AMEN.   


Heavenly Father,

For the gift of faith, we praise your Name and your Name alone.  Faith is a gift of your grace, something worked with your Holy Spirit.  Thank you for working in our hearts so that can and do take hold Christ for salvation.  Help us with that same Holy Spirit to continue holding on to Christ in faith.  Help us so that our faith grows ever stronger.  Please also give this gift of faith to all our children as well.  Please add your blessing to our efforts to disciple them.  We pray that they will all walk with you in true faith. 

* 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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