Statistics
1716 sermons as of June 5, 2020.
Site Search powered by FreeFind

bottom corner

   
Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
 send email...
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Only Comfort is Received through True Faith
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-04-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2                                                                                            

Ps 105:1,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Hosea 4:1-10; John 17; Belgic Confession Art. 1

Ps 115:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 7

Hy 3:1,2,3

Hy 52:1,2

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


Beloved in Christ, in our discussions with each other about matters of faith, we can’t always reach a clear conclusion. In conversation—perhaps at Bible study, or Catechism class, or just among friends—we reach a point sometimes where we can’t go any further. And we’ll say to one another: “You just have to believe.” It might be something we can’t explain, can’t define, something you can’t convince someone to accept. And so we say: “You just have to believe.”

Take creation, for example—you could try very hard to reconcile the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture by talking about all that happened during the flood, and how God might’ve built "age" into the world, but at the end of the day, it comes down to faith. You have to believe that God made all things out of nothing, simply by the word of his mouth.

Or take providence as an example, how God upholds and governs all things—when you dig into it, there are things that unsettle us. Why does a good God allow evil? If He really has control over it all, why doesn’t He put a stop to terrible diseases or end the cruel persecutions of his church? At such times, we say it again, “You just have to believe that God is in control. Accept it. Have faith.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. For faith means we don’t have all the answers. Faith looks to what is unseen. And there’s a mystery to our faith, for the LORD’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Mere humans cannot grasp all the majestic details of the works of God. We accept that there’s much that remains unknown.

Some people don’t like this approach: “It’s too easy,” they say, “It doesn’t make a proper use of the brains that God gave us.” And there may be times when we say this too quickly. For faith isn’t found in the same corner as ignorance. Rather, true faith is well-informed. True faith has content—it’s based on the clear and coherent truths of Scripture. We believe, because of who God is, and what his Word says! This is our lesson from Lord’s Day 7 this afternoon,

Our only comfort is received through true faith:

  1. the 1 object of faith
  2. the 2 parts of faith
  3. the 12 articles of faith

 

1) the one object of faith: Every once in a while, there’s a new survey about religious faith in our country. These surveys usually find that the majority of citizens still believe there is a God. Yet I always want to ask: “What God?” Just what kind of divine being or higher power are we talking about? For there’s so many gods, so many different religions. Are they all the same, then—different names for the same reality?”

In a way, the Catechism anticipates that kind of question when it asks, “Are all men, then, saved… just as they perished through Adam?” (Q&A 20). In the last number of Lord’s Days, we’ve seen how all people are in the same boat, spiritually-speaking—and we’re all sinking. So in the end, is the most important thing that sinners seek a Higher Being? Is it all about our willingness to depend on a god, whoever he or she may be?

Because it’s aiming to summarize Scripture, the Catechism must deliver a black-and-white message: not all people are saved. There’s a need, not just for a vague belief in God, but there’s a need for “true faith” (Q&A 20).

And you can’t talk about true faith without also talking about its object, its target—the One you believe in. Where is faith directed? The Catechism explains this in the next answer, “True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed in his Word” (Q&A 21). At once we narrow the focus. There are not many roads, but one road—not many gods, but one God. We look to the God who is revealed in the Word!

Those last three words make all the difference—it’s really the difference between life and death. We accept as true all that God has revealed… in his Word. We can learn some truths about God while observing the creation, watching his care over this world. Here you can learn a bit about God’s power, his majesty, his faithfulness. But the Scriptures take it to the next level and way beyond: to the level of sure knowledge, and firm confidence, and saving faith.

For in the Scriptures, we get to hear God speaking to us about himself. It’s his self-revelation. Now, we sometimes like to focus on the people we meet in the Bible. We like hearing about the faith of Abraham, Samson’s strength, David’s courage, the wisdom of Solomon, or the Peter’s boldness. These are people we can relate to. But remember the main character of this book. Have open eyes for the One who is always moving, always working, always accomplishing his purpose. And that is the LORD God!

So many passages portray God in his glory and reveal his character. It’s summarized in the first article of the Belgic Confession: “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is only one God, who is a simple and spiritual Being; He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” When we read Scripture with our eyes wide open, this is the God we’re allowed to see. This is the one object of faith.

Article 1 gives only a brief list of God’s attributes. So much more could be said about God in his perfections. One further aspect that the Catechism draws attention to is seen in Q&A 23. There we find the Apostles’ Creed, which you’ll notice is divided into three parts: a section on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The God we believe in is also Triune: one being, existing in three persons. Not one is greater than the other, not one is older than the other, not one is more important—but all three are equally eternal, equally God, equally worthy of worship and trust. How this can be, we don’t know! We won’t even try to explain this. In the Trinity we meet one of the deep mysteries of the faith, a reality about which we must say, “We just have to believe.”

So we believe in God the Father. The Catechism begins speaking of the Father here in Q&A 21. It tells us what He is like, and what He has done: “God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace.” We could say much about each of those three gifts: forgiveness, everlasting righteousness, and salvation. For now, the point is that the Father gives what we do not have, gives what we do not deserve. The Father gives out of mere grace, rescuing us from darkness and destruction, even bringing us into his own family.

We also believe in God the Son, mentioned in the third last line: the Father has done all this “for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Q&A 21). It’s just a few words, but our very salvation hangs on them: “for the sake of Christ’s merits.” Merit means that a person has the quality of being notably good or worthy, that he’s so good and worthy as to deserve praise or reward.

Now, you and I don’t have an ounce of merit, therefore we shouldn’t expect praise or reward from reward. But God saves us for the sake of Christ’s merits. Salvation is only because of what Jesus accomplished, because of the reward that He earned.

And we believe in God the Holy Spirit. For “this faith” that we have as Christians—this precious link to the Triune God—“this faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel” (Q&A 21). We can’t do it ourselves. Though God’s self-revelation is clear, we stubbornly look the other way. So the Spirit helps us: He gives us ears that hear, eyes that see, an open heart. The Spirit wants us to know him as God, to depend on him for life itself.

The beauty is that we can depend on the Triune God! We put our trust in him, we call on his Name, and are not disappointed. For the object of our faith is greater than anything or anyone we might trust in or seek or find shelter with here below.

Let’s think again of those glorious attributes of God. We know this God won’t fade away over time, because He is eternal. We know that God won’t change his mind or break his promise, because He is unchanging. We know God won’t even run up against a problem that’s too big to solve, because He is almighty. We can go to God for direction, because He is perfectly wise. Beloved, we can seek the LORD for everything we need, because He is the overflowing fountain of all good. Each and every perfection of God is a source of renewed confidence: this is a God in whom we can put our trust.

From our perspective, that’s the most amazing thing about the Triune God: He thinks of us! We’re the people close to his heart, and He delights to bless us. He even enters a covenant of love with us, committing himself by his precious promises. To those whom He’s known before the foundation of the world, the Triune God speaks in his Word, and says, “I’m the God you can believe in. I’ll uphold you. I’ll save you. I’ll renew you. Now put your faith in me.”

 

2) the two parts of faith: It’s actually not often that the Catechism gives us a definition of something. But Lord’s Day 7 asks the question, “What is true faith?”, and the answer is well known (Q&A 21). For in the definition, we hear the two parts of faith: it’s a “sure knowledge,” and at the same time, “it’s a firm confidence.”

Not just in our faith, but in so many areas of life, knowledge and confidence go hand-in-hand. For instance, if you know an electrician well—if you’ve seen his quality workmanship in various jobs at your home year after year—then you’ll have confidence in him. You’re confident that he can also sort out some complicated wiring at your business. Because you know him, you’re confident he won’t overcharge you. Because you know him well, you’re even confident enough to recommend him to others.

Knowledge of God inspires confidence in God. See how these two aspects come out in Christ’s words in John 17. Here Jesus is a few hours from his arrest and trial, a day away from his crucifixion and death. And so He’s praying that He can give some final encouragement to his disciples, and seeking some final encouragement for himself.

Jesus prays about the precious knowledge that his disciples have gained through him. In verse 6, He says to the Father, “I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of this world.” This was Jesus’ mission on earth, to manifest or reveal the Father, to teach others about the LORD God—and to teach others about himself as the Christ. For those who accepted this knowledge, there was the promise of eternal life!

That’s the second aspect shining through Jesus’ words, the disciples’ confidence in what He has taught. He prays to the Father in verse 8, “For I have given to them the words which You have given me; and they have received them.” They didn’t just hear Christ’s teachings like so many others did, but the disciples welcomed his words—received his words—embraced them as the words of life. There was sure knowledge, and firm confidence. They’ll always go together.

People sometimes talk about a contrast between these two parts of faith. It’s when a person can just have a head knowledge of God, a collection of Bible verses and doctrinal data, or a person can have a heart knowledge—when God actually means something to you, when God has made you a different person. You can know all kinds of things about God and about his Word, but do these truths impact you, shape you, change you? You can memorize the Catechism, but do you live it? You can give intellectual assent to the points of the Christian faith, but are all these things meaningful for your own life?

The contrast between head and heart is real. It’s all too possible to know about God, even to believe in God, yet not enjoy a living connection to him. Even after a person goes to a Reformed church for years, the true God might still be a stranger to him. He doesn’t talk to God. He doesn’t walk with God. He doesn’t really listen to God, but mostly does his own thing.

We’ve probably all endured conversations with people who made this complaint about our churches. “In your church, everyone has all the right answers. They know their Bibles and the confessions, but all that knowledge doesn’t carry over into their life.” There’s only about thirty centimeters separating your head from your heart, but there can be a massive gap—there might be a canyon that some never cross.

And it’s probably true that to some extent we’re all guilty of this. Our knowledge of God and doctrine can exist up in the clouds, where it doesn’t really touch our daily conduct. Just one example: we insist on the truth that sinners are saved by faith alone—we even know the Latin: Sola Fide—yet is that a doctrinal truth that we really live by? Living by faith alone means we wholeheartedly trust in God for life and salvation, that we trust in him even when much is uncertain and when things are out of our control. We know that we should trust, we must trust, but do we trust? Is the head connected to the heart?

This is why the Catechism brings out a personal emphasis, and says faith in God must be living and transforming. What is faith? It means that “I accept as true” what God has revealed. That’s the knowledge side of it, an awareness of what is true—but for not one second is this kept separate from what we ought to feel in our hearts, for the Catechism links the two, “I accept as true… At the same time [I have this] firm confidence.”

Knowledge and confidence together: that “not only to others, but also to me…” See again how this is such a personal definition. Faith isn’t just saying, “Sure, God exists eternally, and He is three-in-one.” No, true faith means that we say, “This Triune God is for me. He’s my God. For I too, am a hopeless, rotten sinner. I too, need a Saviour—and I have one in Jesus Christ. Now I too, will serve the Lord with my whole life. I will serve him with all that I am, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of God the Father.” When God in his grace works in our hearts, we’re able to say it. “Not only to others, but also to me…”

So don’t think you can study your way to eternal life. Don’t imagine that a thorough understanding of the Bible and the confessions can somehow substitute for a humble heart before God and a godly walk with Christ.

But let’s also be warned against the opposite kind of mistake. Let’s not ever say that a knowledge of Bible verses and details is unimportant. Let’s not ever say that the feeling of faith is all that really counts. Again, the two go closely together, not just in the Catechism, but also in the Scriptures.

With good reason Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). At this time, Israel was a terrible mess of depravity. The prophet describes what he saw around him, “By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed” (v 2). And what was the problem? What was the root of all this evil? This is what the prophet says, “There is no… knowledge of God in the land” (v 1). They didn’t know God, so they didn’t fear God. And without this knowledge, there is death.

Today maybe a person imagines he can be a fine and faithful Christian without ever growing in his knowledge of the Word. Maybe someone thinks he can regularly leave aside her reading and studying of Scripture, and still be able to lead a God-pleasing life. But for lack of knowledge, we will be destroyed. For lack of knowledge, we will surely forget God and stray and suffer the effects.

Listen to what Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth” (v 17). He says that it’s the Word of God which sanctifies us, makes us holy and devoted to service. It is the Word which is uniquely able to prepare us for godly living and working in this world. That’s because the Word sets before us the glory and majesty of God. By knowing the word, we see what a God we worship. And this motivates us to continually show our thanks, and to boldly confess our faith.

   

3) the twelve articles of faith: We’ve spoken about how the Bible is a precious gift, for in it we have words from God’s own mouth. It’s a precious gift, but it’s also very large. It’s a big book: more than 1200 pages in most English translations, comprising some 700 000 words.

Whenever you’re navigating a large territory, it’s nice to have a map, a handy tool for showing us the lay of the land. That’s what we have in the confessions, documents like the Heidelberg Catechism. For what we have unfolded before us is a summary of the key points of God’s Word, our guide to the beautiful territory of Scripture.

But just like maps can be made to different scales, so can the confessions. The Catechism or the Belgic Confession are on one scale. And on a grander scale, there are what’s called the “ecumenical creeds.” These give an overview of Scripture from a higher and broader perspective. Only the most prominent “points of interest” are included.

One such map is mentioned in Lord’s Day 7, the Apostles’ Creed. Behind this creed, there is a long history. One tradition has the twelve apostles writing this creed in one sitting. The story goes like this, “On the tenth day after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, the Lord sent the promised [Spirit] upon them…. And being filled with the knowledge of all languages, they composed the creed. Peter said, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.’ Andrew said, “and in Jesus Christ his Son, our only Lord.’ James said… John said…” and so on.

In a way, you can understand how this story would arise. This creed has twelve articles, which corresponds perfectly to the number of the apostles. Besides that is the name, “the Apostles’ Creed,” suggesting that it’s actually the work of their hands. But the creed is called the Apostles’ Creed, not because it was written by the apostles themselves, but because it contains a brief summary of their teachings.

It summarizes the teaching of the men who’d been with Christ during his ministry, and who went out to preach his gospel to all the world. Christ himself looked forward to this. In John 17 He said about his twelve disciples, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (v 20). The apostles’ job was to bring the gospel to the nations so that many would believe.

Now in just twelve short articles, some 115 words, the church summarizes the apostles’ teaching. These are the fundamental parts of the gospel, everything that’s necessary to life and salvation. Here is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the true and living God, the God who has become our God.

Without this knowledge, we’d be doomed. If God hadn’t unveiled his glory to us, we’d be hopelessly lost. But the good news—the best news ever—is that God has introduced himself to us. It’s been said rightly, “God is the Gospel.” That we may know the Triune God, that we may call on him in true faith, is all the good news we could ever need.

Time for a final word from John 17. Christ prays, “Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory” (v 24). He’s saying  there will come a day when we may be with him, when we’ll no longer see in a mirror dimly, and every mystery will pass away. Christ is saying there will come a day when we can behold his glory, a day when faith finally becomes sight. We look forward to that day, when we will know the Lord fully, even as we are fully known!

Until we get there, hold fast your knowledge of God, firm and sure. And hold fast your confidence in God, real and true. For in the words of our Saviour, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

Please direct any comments to the Webmaster


bottom corner