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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God preserves us so that we persevere – and you can be sure of it
Text:CD 5 Articles 9-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Struggling with doubts
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-12-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 78

Psalm 27:1,2

Psalm 27:5,6

Hymn 1

Psalm 89:1,6,7

Scripture reading: 2 Timothy 4

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 5.9-13

* 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,

It was a dark time in the land.  The people were again doing what was right in their own eyes.  As he always does, God noticed and he gave the people over to their enemies to wake them up.  When they finally started to wake up, they prayed to God and asked him for deliverance.  In response, God raised up a judge named Gideon.  In Judges 6, the angel of the LORD comes to Gideon.  Gideon is afraid of the Midianites.  He has to beat out the wheat, separate the wheat from the chaff.  Normally, that would have been done out in the open on a threshing floor.  But because Gideon is terrified of the Midianites, he does it in a winepress, a pit out of sight.  Then the angel appears and says to Gideon, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”  The irony is hard to miss.  He calls him a mighty man of valor, but he’s terrified to do his work out in the open.  Gideon responds and says, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?...God has forsaken us and given us over to our enemies.”  Gideon doubts the words of the angel of the LORD.  Gideon doubts that God is really working to preserve his people. 

It’s not unusual to struggle with doubts as a believer.  We’re all human beings.  We’re sinful and weak.  We’re prone to question and wonder whether God’s Word can really be trusted.  This is also true when it comes to the question of whether God will preserve us so that we persevere until our glorification.  Is he really going to keep me in his Fatherly hands so that I keep my eyes on Christ?  Is he really going to keep me secure so that I go on walking in his ways until the day I’m called home or the day Christ returns? 

Sadly, there are those who claim you can’t be sure and you shouldn’t be sure.  In history, the Arminians around the time of the Synod of Dort said it was better to doubt.  It would make you more humble and make you work harder at being a Christian if you doubt and wonder about your eternal security.  The Arminians also said that, normally, no one can have assurance about preservation and perseverance.  The only way, they said, is if God gives you a special, private revelation.  So, if God speaks to you directly and says, “You are guaranteed to make it to glory,” if you hear him say that to you, only then can you be sure.  But that doesn’t happen to many people.  It’s very rare, they said.  The rest of us doubt and should doubt.

In response to that, the Synod of Dort went back to the Bible.  They went to passages like 1 Peter 1:5, which speaks about God’s people “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  They went to passages like Matthew 18:14.  There Jesus says about his flock, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  And from our reading in 2 Timothy 4, there’s verse 8, “Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  These sorts of passages speak not only about preservation (and therefore perseverance), but also about the assurance of it.  As we confess in article 9, “Believers themselves can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith.”  You can be sure.  In fact, if you’re a believer, you should be sure. 

So this afternoon we’re learning about the assurance of preservation and perseverance.  God preserves us so that we persevere – and you can be sure of it.  There are three questions we’ll answer:

  1. Where does assurance come from?
  2. Why is assurance not always felt?
  3. Where does assurance take us?

We confess that assurance doesn’t come through a “certain private revelation.”  No one should expect to hear God speaking to them directly and guaranteeing their preservation.  We’re not to expect to have dreams or visions in which God communicates with us.  That’s not God’s way of working in this age.  We live in a time where we have a complete Bible.  The Bible is God’s way of addressing us in our day. 

Faith in the promises of God found in the Bible is our first and most importance source of assurance.  God promises he will preserve us.  Faith takes him at his word.  Faith trusts that God means what he says and will do what he says.  Faith takes the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:18 and sees the promise in them, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”  If we’re believing, we take those words and make them our own.  God has promised to rescue me too.  God has promised to bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom as well.  I’m going to trust him.  I can be sure he’ll do what he says.  It’s all because the Bible is God’s Word, and God can be trusted.  He never lies. 

Assurance also comes from the Holy Spirit as he lives in us.  The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6 that we are temples of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit dwells in all true Christians.  And he witnesses “with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God.”  That’s a paraphrase of Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs…”  But how does the Holy Spirit give us this witness?  Or to put it better, how do we experience this witness of the Holy Spirit?  One of the ways is by observing what the Holy Spirit leads us to do.  It’s in Romans 8, but it’s even clearer in Galatians 4:6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba!  Father!’  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  The witness of the Holy Spirit is seen in our prayers.  We can experience his work as we call out to God as our Father through Jesus Christ.  When you pray to God your Father, that’s the Holy Spirit also witnessing to you that you have been adopted into God’s family – and that’s an adoption that can never be undone.  Loved ones, in your prayers to the Father, the Holy Spirit is witnessing to you about your eternal security.

Last of all, we confess that assurance also comes as we observe the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Bible encourages us to be self-aware.  In passages like 2 Corinthians 13:5ff. God tells us to examine ourselves honestly, not only in terms of our sinfulness and where we continue to fall short, but also in terms of where there is fruit.  When you look at yourself, do you see “the serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works”?  Do you care about holiness?  Do you care about living in God’s ways?  If you do, this is because you are one of God’s elect children who will be preserved so that you can persevere.  Unbelievers don’t care about holiness and good works.  Unbelievers hear about godliness and are either indifferent towards it or even mock it.  People who aren’t Christians just don’t care about living in God’s ways.  But if you do care, this is something that God in his sovereign grace has worked in your life.  You can observe this with joy and praise for God.  Brothers and sisters, you can find comfort in seeing what God is doing in your life, so that you will be secure until you reach the final goal of glory.

Our second question this afternoon:  why is assurance not always felt?  Here we’re looking at the biblical teaching summarized in article 11.

As we get into this question, we have to distinguish between two things.  One is the objective reality and the other is our subjective feelings.  These things do not always line up.  The objective reality is found in the sure promises of God.  As we’ve seen, the Bible objectively tells us that true believers have eternal security.  God promises to preserve us so that we will make it to the end.  This is objectively true.  It’s true regardless of how you feel about it.  But your subjective feelings about it do relate to your assurance.  Assurance does have a subjective element to it – do you feel confident about your preservation or not?  It’s about your feelings, your experience.  And experiences can vary.

Because we live in a broken world and we ourselves are broken, sometimes we struggle with doubts.  Scripture gives many examples of believers dealing with doubt.  We could think not only of Gideon, but also of the Psalmist in Psalm 88.  Psalm 88 is known as “the Dark Psalm.”  It’s a type of psalm known as a lament.  Every other lament psalm ends on a note of hope.  But not Psalm 88.  The last word of Psalm 88 in both Hebrew and English is literally “darkness.”  It’s the psalm of someone struggling with doubts and questions.  It’s not someone who has confidence and assurance.  This is a psalm out of real life.  It tells us that God is aware of our doubts and struggles – he put this in his Word, after all.  It also tells us that it can and does happen that believers don’t feel assured.  They’re going through a rough patch and doubts can start to cloud your mind.  Doubts can obscure your view of God’s promises.  The promises are still there, just like the sun is still there hiding behind the clouds.  But because you can’t see them, you start to doubt.  Behind this experience of a lack of assurance is often not sin as such, but human weakness.  Sometimes it’s due to depression or other mental health issues.

But there can also be temptations.  As we confess, you might be placed under “severe temptation.”  Even as regenerated believers, we often have evil desires.  The presence of these evil desires can also contribute to our not feeling all that assured of God’s preservation.  You have those evil desires and then you wonder, “How is God going to pull me through when I have all these wicked impulses in my heart?  How is God going to preserve me?”  So your assurance starts going down the drain.  If someone were to ask you, “Are you going to make it to glory?”  You would say, “I don’t know.  I’m not sure.”  And it’s all because of those temptations eating at you, those evil desires haunting you. 

Now here’s the thing about this experience of assurance:  God makes even more promises to us.  If someone is struggling with assurance, whether because of doubts or temptations, God comes to them and says, “I will not let go of you.”  There are those beautiful words of Isaiah 42:3, “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”  God is not going to break you so that you lose your way.  God is not going to extinguish your fire so you grow cold to him.  He promises this.  When it comes to temptations and those evil desires, Scripture promises he will provide a way out.  When article 11 says that, it’s referring to 1 Corinthians 10:13.  It says there that God will provide a way of escape from our evil desires that we may be able to endure – so that we can and do persevere.  Now I want you to note something.  It doesn’t say that God will immediately provide the way of escape.  Sometimes you pray to him and ask for deliverance from a temptation and he does right away show you the way to break free.  But at other times, you pray and ask for the way of escape and he makes you wait.  You have to keep praying.  In his sovereign wisdom, he determines the moment when he’ll show you the way out.  Loved ones, the key thing is that you have to trust he will.  Whether he does it right way or takes a bit longer, you have to trust what God says in his Word.  He will not break the bruised reed.  He will not quench the smoldering wick.  He will again revive in you too the certainty of his preservation and your perseverance.

Articles 12 and 13 address our final question of where assurance takes us.  Let’s first learn about where it doesn’t take us.  This is article 13.  It doesn’t take us to carelessness.  If we have assurance from the Scriptures of our preservation, we are not going to neglect godliness.  We are not going to be complacent about living as God’s children.  With our experience of biblical assurance, we would not be indifferent about growing as disciples of our Lord Jesus. 

The Canons of Dort insists on that because the Arminians claimed the opposite.  They said that this teaching of eternal security was harmful to “godliness, good morals, prayers, and other holy exercises.”  The Arminians said that if you had certainty about your salvation, you’d be arrogant and think you could live whatever way you wanted.  After all, you’re sure that God is going to preserve you, so why not just live carelessly?  You don’t have to worry about anything.  Just live your life and don’t think about sin, don’t think about godliness, because God is going to bring you to glory anyway.

There are two things from the Bible that prove the Arminians wrong.  One is the example of believers.  In the Bible, we see a Christian like the apostle Paul.  As we saw in our reading from 2 Timothy 4, he was certain of his personal preservation and perseverance.  He absolutely had that assurance.  Yet the apostle Paul wasn’t careless about godliness.  He wasn’t arrogant or negligent about living in a Christian way.  So it doesn’t follow that assurance of eternal security inevitably leads a Christian to carelessness.

Another thing proving the Arminians wrong is what Scripture says in passages like 1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  So in that verse there’s confidence in our security:  we know that we shall be like him.  We’re assured of our future glory.  But then there’s also verse 3, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  Note well:  our confidence of future glory motivates our present purity.  This happens because the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the elect.  He works so that they do care about purity and godliness. 

So where does assurance take us?  Article 12 gives us a great summary. 

Assurance takes us to humility.  I’m this broken, weak, struggler and God has promised to take me to glory?  I don’t deserve it and I know it. 

Assurance takes us to childlike reverence for God.  My Father has been so gracious to not only save me through Christ, but also to carry me through to heaven. 

Assurance takes us to genuine godliness.  God has comforted me with his promises and I love him and I want to live in his ways. 

Assurance takes us to endurance in every struggle.  God has reassured me with his Spirit and because the Spirit lives in me, I can and will make it through all my temptations and evil desires.  I will not be overcome, but through the Spirit’s mighty power, I will endure.

Assurance takes us to fervent prayers.  I know that my preservation and perseverance depend on God’s power and strength, and not on me.  I depend on him completely.  For that reason I keep calling out to him for help in all my doubts and temptations.

Assurance takes us to constancy in suffering and in the confession of the truth.  When I face hardships, I remember God’s promises that assure me of his protection.  I remember Jesus’ words in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  I remind myself that I am held safe in the hands that bled for me.  That gives me strength to stand fast when the winds blow. 

Finally, assurance takes us to lasting joy in God.  I have the confident contentment in knowing that I belong to my faithful God and Saviour.  If he gave his Son to die for me on the cross, surely he will also guard me in this salvation.  He will finish what he started.  He’s a loving and mighty God and he doesn’t let go of his people.  That gives me joy in my heart.  My joy comes from him and his invincible love.                

Loved ones, assurance of your preservation is a precious thing to have.  So, let me ask you: are you sure of your preservation and perseverance?  Are you confident that you’re going to make it to glory?  If you have turned from your sins in repentance and placed all your trust in Christ as your Saviour, there is no good reason why you shouldn’t have assurance.  But if you don’t, if you’re unsure, talk to your pastor or your ward elder.  Because lack of assurance is a joy killer.  Lack of assurance deadens our worship.  Lack of assurance also affects our evangelism – if we’re not even sure for ourselves, how can we share the good news with others?  Assurance is what we’re meant for.  God’s Word holds it out to us as a promise and a beautiful reality that should be experienced by all true Christians.  May God graciously grant the experience of assurance of preservation to each one of us, that we might joyfully praise him and live for him.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your promises of assurance with regard to our preservation.  With your Spirit and Word, please work that assurance in all our hearts.  When we have doubts or when we face temptations, we pray that your Word will restore our assurance.  Father, help us always to trust you.  Help us to find our joy in belonging to you and in being kept by you.  Father, let our assurance also motivate us and drive us to greater measures of godliness for your glory.                                                              




* 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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