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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The elect are secure in their salvation
Text:CD 5 Articles 6-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 65:1-3

Psalm 33:1,5,6

Hymn 66

Hymn 1

Hymn 7

Scripture reading: Romans 8:18-39

Catechism lesson: Canons of Dort 5.6-8

* 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,

What kind of a learner are you?  Some experts say people learn differently.  One person might be more of an audio learner – they learn well by listening.  Another person might learn better by getting their hands involved.  Still another person might be a visual learner who needs to see the lesson in some way. 

God knows this and so in his wisdom he addresses us in different ways.  Most of the time he communicates with us through his Word.  However, sometimes we also get a multi-sensory presentation of the gospel with the Lord’s Supper.  Then God addresses us not only through our ears, but also through our eyes, hands, and even our tongues.  With the Lord’s Supper, God signs and seals to us his gospel promises in Jesus Christ.  As surely as you can see, touch, and taste the bread and the wine, so surely has the body of Christ been offered for you and his blood poured out for you.

In his wisdom, even in the Bible God uses pictures to drive home the comfort of the gospel.  No, not pictures in the sense of diagrams, drawings, or photographs.  He uses word pictures.  He uses vivid illustrations to help us understand our salvation in Christ.  There are three such pictures or illustrations in the articles of the Canons of Dort we’re looking at this afternoon.

In article 7, we read about the “imperishable seed of regeneration.”  Regeneration is the new birth Jesus speaks about in John 3.  It’s described as a seed that can’t be destroyed in 1 Peter 1:23.  Through the Word of God, this seed is planted in the elect, like a seed planted in a garden.  The seed can’t be destroyed – it’s imperishable.  It’s going to grow up and it’s going to produce fruit.  There’s security in this picture – regeneration is imperishable.

In article 6, we read about the “state of justification.”  That’s the biblical picture of justification.  It’s the picture of a courtroom.  God is the judge.  We have been accused of rebellion and treason against him.  Jesus Christ defends us with his perfect life, suffering, and death.  We look to him in faith and trust he did it all for us.  God accepts his defense and declares us righteous.  Christians are therefore in a secure “state of justification.”  Note well what that means:  your state of justification can’t be altered or lost.  If God has declared you righteous, you are always and forever righteous in his sight.  It’s a secure state. 

And it leads into the last picture in article 6:  “the grace of adoption.”  Justification brings us from the courtroom to the family room.  In his grace, after declaring you righteous, the Judge comes down from the bench and he puts his arm on your shoulder and says, “Welcome to my family!”  God is our Father and we are his beloved children.  We are secure in his family.  It’s like our adoption certificate has been written in indelible ink.  Indelible ink can never be erased.  If you have been adopted into God’s family by his grace, your position in that family is 100% locked in. 

So we have these three biblical images:  regeneration, justification, and adoption.  They all portray the same thing:  the elect are secure in their salvation.  We’re going to dig deeper into that beautiful truth this afternoon as we consider why and how. 

We start with why the elect are secure in their salvation.  It’s not because of their own strength or will-power.  We’ve already learned that saints have daily sins of weakness.  We’ve learned that true believers might even fall into serious sins.  Clearly even as regenerated, justified, children of God we still have an inclination to rebel against him and wander from him.  So we can’t be looking to ourselves for security.  There’s a reason why it says in Proverbs, “Whoever trusts in his own heart is a fool…” (Prov. 28:26).   There’s no security there.  That’s why article 8 of the Canons says that if we were left to ourselves, not only would we easily be lost, we would undoubtedly be lost.

We need to look upwards to the Triune God.  If we are going to be secure in our salvation, we need the God who is rich in mercy.  For our eternal security, we fully depend on the undeserved mercy of God.  Mercy means pity, compassion for the weak and helpless.  That’s what the Triune God has for the elect.

This God has an “unchangeable purpose in election.”  One of God’s qualities or attributes is his immutability.  When we say God is immutable, we mean he doesn’t change.  He always remains the same.  According to Ephesians 1, before the creation of the universe, God decreed the salvation of the elect.  Like the God who made it, that decree cannot be changed.  We are secure in our salvation because of God’s immutability.  He will never change, therefore we are secure. 

If you look at article 8 for a moment, you’ll see that there’s a whole string of “cannots” in the second half of that article. The elect cannot possibly be lost.  Why not?  “…Since his counsel cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be frustrated nor destroyed.”  These are some of the most beautiful and comforting words in the Canons of Dort!  In my last church, when I was teaching this to some catechism students there, one of them said that what we have here in article 8 are the “Cannots of Dort.”  All these “cannots” are related to what the Triune God cannot and will not do – he cannot and will not let go of us.  The elect are secure in their salvation because of God’s decree of election.  Because of God’s unfailing promise, his irrevocable purpose.  It’s because of the work of Christ that can’t be cancelled out and the work of the Holy Spirit that can’t be undone.  It’s all God.  All because of him, not us.

You can see that in our reading from Romans 8 as well.  You could think of Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  This verse is known as the Golden Chain of Salvation.  There is a chain of things here that God does that connects eternity past to future glory for the believer.  It’s all portrayed as having already been accomplished.  All of it taken together has certainly been done for the believer.  Now that makes sense when it comes to predestination, calling, and justification.  But what about glorification?  Isn’t that something which is still in the future for believers on this earth?   The note in the ESV Study Bible says it well, “Paul speaks of glorification as if it were already completed, since God will certainly finish the good work he started.”  There’s a reference there to Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  There the Holy Spirit teaches us to have confidence in God, that he will definitely accomplish the full measure of everything included in our salvation.  Our security rests in God and what he does for us. 

In Romans 8, we also find security in the love of God.  Think of the rhetorical question in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  It’s a rhetorical question – that means the answer is obvious.  There’s nothing and no one that can separate us from Christ’s love.  That’s security right there!  Then there’s also Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Beautiful!  Nothing can stand in the way of God’s love.  And because that’s true, we can and should be confident that he will always hold on to us.                           

So, loved ones, trust your God that he will never stop loving you.  If he chose you, if he regenerated you, if he adopted you, you are secure in his loving hands.  If he is rich in undeserved mercy, you are protected in his kingdom.  If his counsel cannot be changed and his promise cannot fail, you’re safe in his care.  If the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified, how could you possibly truly believe in Christ and then yet be lost?  If the sealing of the Holy Spirit cannot be frustrated or destroyed, truly you will persevere until the Day of Glory. 

Let’s now learn about how God keeps us secure in our salvation.  There are things he works in us and through us to keep us on the straight and narrow.  These things are described in article 7.

We confess that if the Holy Spirit is really dwelling in the heart of an elect person, he will always bring about repentance in that person.  Whether it’s with daily sins of weakness or serious sins, the Holy Spirit will always work with the Word of God to bring true believers back to God when they’ve strayed.  Because of God’s mercy, there will always be repentance in true Christians. 

Now I’ve already used the word “repentance” a few times and it’s good that we’re clear on what that means.  This word too has a picture behind it.  Actually, the Bible has a few pictures associated with repentance.  But let’s just use one of them here this afternoon.

One of the biblical words for repentance has in it the idea of a U-turn.  Repentance involves a 180 degree change in direction.  You were going one way, and now you’re going the complete opposite direction.  That’s what repentance is.  Repentance involves a turn away from sin and a turn to God.  It’s a turn away from the path of sin, and a return to the path of God.  That’s a picture of repentance – a U-turn.

Repentance is a gift of God.  When this gift is given by the Holy Spirit, certain things happen.  Article 7 of the Canons mentions these things. 

Believers “grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow for the sins they have committed.”  The Bible speaks about two types of sorrow over sin.  You can find this in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  So there’s godly grief and there’s worldly grief.  Worldly grief or sorrow does not take God into account.  It’s the kind of sorrow where you’re sorry you got caught.  You’re sorry you were exposed and humiliated.  It’s selfish, narcissistic grief.  But God doesn’t factor in.  Godly grief and sorrow over sin is focussed on how our sins have offended and grieved God first of all.  After David’s serious sin in 2 Samuel 11, he truly repented and the evidence is in Psalm 51.  David’s sorrow over his sin was godly and you can see that in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight...”  David recognized that his sin was against God above all.  That’s godly sorrow in repentance.          

Another thing that happens in the true repentance of the elect is that they “seek and obtain through faith with a contrite heart forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator.”  Repentance involves prayer.  Repentance includes going to God in prayer and not only saying you’re sorry, but also asking for his forgiveness through Jesus.  We’re asking for our Father to blot out our sins, remove them from his sight because of what Christ has done for us on the cross.  We’re asking our heavenly Father to take this obstacle out of the way in our relationship with him.  And when we do that, 1 John 1:9 encourages us like this:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  When we’re brought to repentance, we can be confident that God will restore our relationship with him. 

And then we’ll “experience the favour of a reconciled God and adore his mercies and faithfulness.”  Repentance brings you to again experience God’s love.  Repentance brings you to worship and thankfulness. 

Last of all, God’s gift of repentance also results in a renewed commitment to our sanctification.  Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more Christ-like.  That’s what the last sentence of article 7 is about.  It says, “And from now on they more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.”  That’s a reference to Scripture in Philippians 2:13.  Working out your own salvation is not about earning your way to God, but about living out the proper response to what God has done for your salvation.  It’s about sanctification, being committed to God and his ways in every aspect of our lives. 

Now to be clear:  Scripture calls us to repentance.  There is a human responsibility to repent.  You must repent from your sins and turn to Christ in faith.  But here in the Canons of Dort the focus is not on the human responsibility, but on how repentance is something God works in our hearts with his Spirit and Word.  This is about the fact that repentance is a gift.  Since that’s true, we ought also to be praying for repentance.  We ought to ask God regularly for strength from his Spirit and guidance from his Word so that we would repent from all our sins, whether they’re daily sins of weakness or serious sins.  When we see those we love falling into sin, we ought to pray for their repentance as well.  We ought to pray that God would bring them back to himself.    

But what if there is no instant change?  Or what if the godly sorrow is barely there over some sin or maybe it looks like it’s not even there at all?  What if it seems like God is withholding the gift of repentance over sin? 

Let’s go back to the picture of a U-turn.  There can be different kinds of U-turns.  I mean you could imagine a man walking in one direction and then he realizes he should be going the other way.  He instantly turns around on the balls of his feet.  Almost instantly, he’s turned around 180 degrees.  Now imagine a woman riding a push bike.  She realizes it’s the wrong way.  She has to slow down, maybe even stop, and point the bike in the other direction.  The process is a little more involved.  If it were a car, again, more time and room would be needed to make the U-turn.  And imagine if you were the captain of one of these huge American aircraft carriers.  You realize you’re going the wrong way.  Aircraft carriers don’t turn on a dime.  It’s going to take a good deal of time and ocean to make a U-turn with an aircraft carrier. 

It’s like that with repentance.  Some sins are small and repentance can be relatively straightforward.  It doesn’t take a lot for God to work in us the U-turn.  It happens quickly.  We get turned around straight away.  But some sins are more serious.  Some sins are even huge like an aircraft carrier.  God may take time to work in us the U-turn.  He is capable of doing it quickly, but sometimes he also works slowly, sometimes we can’t even tell he’s working.  But he is.  He’s doing it his way and in his time.    

Loved ones, these things are true whether it’s with repentance in ourselves or other believers.  If we have been praying for repentance and there’s no immediate result, keep praying.  God promises to work repentance in the hearts of all his children and he is faithful.  He will do what he says with those who are his.  We’re secure in his care.  Trust him.

Our God loves us and so he comforts us with the knowledge that our salvation is eternally secure.  When we reflect on this carefully, it’s got to lead us in at least two ways.  One is love.  We love him who first so greatly loved us.  We love the one who loves us unstoppably, the one whose love will certainly see us through to glory.  The other is joy.  I mean joy in the Christian, biblical sense.  It’s that joy which goes far deeper than a smile on your face.  It’s the joy of confidence and contentment, knowing you’re safe and secure in your Father’s hands.  It’s a joy which can and should express itself in praise, and we’ll do that in a moment.  But our eternal security also gives us joy when we can no longer lift our voices in song – it runs that deep.  The love we have and the joy we experience are all because of God’s sovereign grace.  Indeed, we “adore his mercies and faithfulness.”  AMEN.


Gracious God,

We adore your mercies and your faithfulness.  We thank you that you will not allow your elect to be lost.  You regenerated us with an imperishable seed.  You justified us with an unchangeable verdict.  You adopted us with indelible ink.  We praise you for all of that!  We’re grateful that you promise to preserve us.  If we were left to ourselves, we would undoubtedly be facing eternity in hell.  But in your grace you won’t let us go and we’re so thankful for that.  Heavenly Father, please also work in us with your Word and Spirit so that we’re always brought to repentance when we sin.  Whether it’s with daily sins of weakness or serious sins, please bring all of us to make the U-turn away from sin and back to you.  Please continue to work in our lives with your sovereign grace.

* 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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