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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The Holy Spirit is involved with our faith from beginning to end
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Psalm 111:1,2,5

Hymn 52

Hymn 1

Psalm 145:1,2,5

Scripture readings:  Deuteronomy 16:1-8, 1 Corinthians 2

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 25

* 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,

There are certain things where’s there’s only one way to get it done.  For example, if there’s an election, the only way you can vote is if you’re a citizen.  If you’re not a citizen, you need to become one if you’re going to vote.  Another example:  if you were diagnosed with a malignant cancerous tumour, the only way for it to be removed is by going to a surgeon, going under the knife.  From these examples, it’s clear that we understand the concept of necessary ways and means. 

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been learning about justification.  To remind you, justification is God’s declaration that we are right with him because of Christ.  When it comes to justification, faith is the necessary means.  As the Catechism says, faith alone makes us share in Christ and his benefits.  When you share in Christ and his benefits, you’re justified before God, declared righteous.  But faith is completely necessary as the means by which we take hold of the Saviour through whom we’re justified. 

There’s a temptation here.  The temptation would be to think that because faith is necessary for our justification, and because faith is something we have, that then faith is somehow our contribution to our justification.  God does his part for our justification, and then faith is our part for our justification.  We might be tempted to think it’s a joint effort.  But this afternoon we’ll see how Lord’s Day 25 makes it clear that faith is A-Z a work of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, there’s no room for us to pat ourselves on the back.  Instead, all the glory and praise goes to God.

The theme of the sermon this afternoon is this:  The Holy Spirit is involved with our faith from beginning to end

We’ll learn about how he’s involved with our faith’s:

  1. Formation
  2. Fortification
  3. Focus

The first question in Lord’s Day 25 is a sensible one:  where does faith come from?  We can’t take the answer for granted.  That’s especially true because wrong answers aren’t hard to find. 

One popular wrong answer is that faith comes from ourselves.  When you’re a Christian, faith is something that was produced by your own heart.  The false teaching known as Arminianism says something like that.  Arminianism says that faith comes from our free will cooperating with God’s grace.  It’s a joint effort between God and us.  These kinds of answers are attractive.  They’re attractive because they appeal to our pride.  Our sinful human hearts want to be told that we’re able to make a contribution to something so important as salvation.

But if we’re Christians, we need to set our pride aside.  In humility, we need to go to the Bible and find out what God says about this.  What does the Bible say about where faith comes from, how it’s formed? The Bible tells us that faith is a gift of God.  Think of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  No one can boast about their salvation as if it’s their doing.  No one can boast about their faith as if it’s their doing.  It’s a gift of God.  Specifically, it’s a gift of God the Holy Spirit.  He works faith in our hearts.  1 Corinthians 2:12 says that the Holy Spirit makes us understand the things freely given us by God – he makes us understand and believe the gospel.  And in 1 Corinthians 12:3 we learn that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit leads people to faith and expressions of faith.

Then how does the Holy Spirit form faith in us?  He uses a means, an instrument.  Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”  The faith the Holy Spirit gives comes through the preaching of the gospel.  Our Catechism is right.  When we’re sitting in church and listening to the preaching of the gospel, that’s a crucial way that the Holy Spirit is working faith among us.  He may be working faith in our children’s hearts, but perhaps also with others who haven’t yet believed.  Maybe he’s working faith in the hearts of visitors.  Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ preached.  That’s how the Spirit works. 

But I can imagine a question at this point.  What about that guy you met who became a Christian by reading the Bible his late mom left behind?  He didn’t come to church and hear a pastor preaching.  He became a Christian sitting in his house and reading that Bible for himself.  Does that contradict what we confess in Lord’s Day 25?  No, and there are two reasons why.  There are two things you need to keep in mind.

First, our Catechism doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts ONLY by the preaching of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit is free to work as he pleases.  Other means of working through the gospel aren’t excluded.  It can and does happen that people become Christians through reading the Bible, whether by themselves or with others.  Other people might become Christians by the witness of a friend.  Our Catechism doesn’t mean to exclude these other ways the Holy Spirit might work.

Second, you have to remember the context of the Catechism.  It comes from a church context where it can be expected that many church members have faith worked in this way.  That many church members have faith worked in their hearts through the preaching of the gospel from the pulpit.  In fact, we could say this is the ordinary way.  But again, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways. 

Still, it does highlight for us the importance and value of the preaching of the gospel.  It should especially have the attention of Christian parents.  Parents, listen:  bringing your children to church each Sunday is important because the preaching of the gospel is a key way through which the Holy Spirit works faith.  You love your children.  You want your children to believe, don’t you?  Make sure they’re regularly under the preaching of the gospel. 

So the Holy Spirit is involved with forming faith.  And he carries on by also fortifying our faith – that’s the second thing we’ll learn about this afternoon. 

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Canada, you might find yourself in the province of Quebec, the French-speaking part of the country.  The capital of Quebec is Quebec City.  It’s famous because it’s Canada’s only walled city.  When it was founded by the French in 1608, it was just a small town.  There was some strength because of the number of people and because of the soldiers among them.  But when they started building the walls of Quebec in 1620, it became much stronger.  Quebec became a fortified city.        

Similarly, faith formed by the Holy Spirit is strong.  There’s strength right from the beginning.  But the Holy Spirit has a way of making that faith stronger.  He does it so that your faith can withstand attacks.  Faith does come under attack.  Attacks can come from outside – from the world, from Satan.  Attacks can come from within too – we can start to have doubts or fears that attack our faith.  But the Holy Spirit has a way of fortifying our faith.  It’s like he’s building a wall around our faith to strengthen it and to protect it. 

So, how does the Holy Spirit do this work of fortifying our faith?  There are a couple of ways.  The first is again the preaching of the gospel.  The preaching of the good news not only forms our faith at the beginning, but also continues to strengthen our faith as often as we hear it. 

But the focus in our Catechism is on the second way:  through the sacraments.  Through the sacraments, the Holy Spirit fortifies and strengthens our faith. 

We need to be clear on what we’re talking about.  What is a sacrament?  Answer 66 deals with that.  We confess that sacraments are signs.  Signs point to something else.  Signs are visible things that point us to the invisible spiritual realities we have in Christ.  We also confess that sacraments are seals.  That means they assure us of God’s gracious promises in Christ.  A seal is a guarantee or an assurance of something.  Basically, sacraments are gospel ordinances directing us to the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through the cross.  Unlike preaching, sacraments are also multi-sensory.  Preaching mainly just works through your ears, but the sacraments work through your senses of touch, sight, smell, and taste. 

All of this has to do with Jesus.  The preaching of the gospel presents us with Christ, and so do the sacraments.  Except the sacraments do it differently, a way which compensates for our human weakness.  Puritan Robert Bruce put it well when he said, “In the sacraments we don’t get a different Christ than the one found in the gospel, but we get Christ better.”  We get Christ better, because he comes to us in this multi-sensory way. 

Now the sacraments of the New Testament are two:  baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  I’m not going to go into detail about them this afternoon.  There’ll be time enough for that in the weeks ahead. 

For today, I’d like you to note that there were also Old Testament sacraments.  The sacraments of the Old Testament were also designed for fortifying faith.  They were pointing ahead to the sacraments of the New Testament. 

One of those Old Testament sacraments was the Passover.  The Passover was instituted at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.  Each year the Israelites were to commemorate their departure from Egypt with this special meal.  In our reading from Deuteronomy 16, as well as elsewhere, the Passover is mentioned as a feast of remembrance.  Deut. 16:3, “…that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.”  Remembrance is key here.  Remembrance strengthens faith.  As you remember God’s deeds of salvation, they become more deeply embedded in your heart and mind.  Remembering builds up faith, fortifies it.  Forgetting tears down faith.  Forgetting destroys faith.  If you were a Jew in the Old Testament and you wanted your faith in God to get stronger, you had to remember him, also by means of the Passover sacrament. 

As I said, that points ahead to the New Testament.  The Passover points ahead to the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper too is about remembering.  It’s about remembering what Jesus Christ has done, especially on the cross.  As we remember his one sacrifice on the cross, the Holy Spirit strengthens and fortifies our faith. 

Before we move on to our last point this afternoon, it’s also important to remember that the sacraments don’t form faith.  We don’t get faith from baptism or from the Lord’s Supper.  Back in the 1800s, there was a famous American revival preacher named John Leland.  John Leland refused to administer the Lord’s Supper in his church.  He wouldn’t give congregation members the Lord’s Supper.  Absolutely refused.  Why?  Because, he said, in 30 years he’d never seen anyone converted through it.  John Leland didn’t get it.  The Lord’s Supper and baptism don’t normally convert people.  They strengthen the faith of people who already believe.  That’s the design and intent of the sacraments.  We shouldn’t expect the Lord’s Supper or baptism to bring anyone to faith.  That’s something the Word does. 

Last of all, we want to learn about how the Holy Spirit focusses our faith in a certain direction. 

People talk about faith all the time.  Even unbelievers will talk about faith.  You sometimes hear people say things to encourage one another, “You just have to have faith.”  But when people talk like that, listen carefully.  Usually that kind of “faith” has no object, no focus. 

But in the Bible it’s different.  In the Bible faith always has an object, a focus.  The Bible teaches us to have faith in someone.  Faith is always personal.  It comes from a person and is focused on a person. 

That dovetails perfectly with the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit forms our faith.  He fortifies our faith.  Then the Holy Spirit also points our faith in the right direction.  He focusses our faith on the right person.

In the preaching of the gospel, he points us to Christ and the cross.  You can see the priorities of the Holy Spirit reflected in what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and his crucified.”  The focus of Paul’s ministry, led by the Spirit, was Jesus and the cross.  That’s why we always have to make sure that’s our focus here too.   

In the sacraments, the Holy Spirit also points us to Christ and the cross.  In Romans 6:3, we hear baptism described.  The Holy Spirit says that being baptized into Christ means being baptized into his death on the cross.  And in 1 Corinthians 11:26, the Holy Spirit says that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death on the cross. 

You may have heard it before, but it’s worth repeating:  the Holy Spirit doesn’t like the spotlight.  He doesn’t want centre stage.  In fact, the whole ministry of the Holy Spirit is to shine a light on Jesus Christ.  He wants our attention and our faith to be fixed on Jesus, on who he is and what he’s done.  Indeed, as the Catechism rightly says, the Holy Spirit focusses our faith on Christ as the only ground for our salvation. 

Loved ones, the Bible teaches us how our salvation is a complete work of God’s sovereign grace.  In other words, we don’t deserve it and we don’t make it happen.  Our faith is a gift of God.  And when he grants that gift to someone, he doesn’t just leave it behind and let it do its thing.  No, through the Holy Spirit, he continues to graciously nurture that faith.  Like a gardener with his favourite plant, he waters it, he tends it, and he wants to see it grow.  He also ensures that day by day, this precious gift he’s given is pointed in the right direction, focussed at the cross of our Lord Jesus.  So what should you do now?  Stand in awe of God who cares so profoundly about your salvation.  Praise him that he cares so deeply that he doesn’t leave your faith to just blow where it wills.  And if he’s done all this with you so far, be assured that he’ll carry you through to the end too.  AMEN.           

PRAYER

Our great LORD God,

We worship you for your sovereign grace in our lives.  With your Holy Spirit, you grant the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.  We adore you for caring so deeply about our salvation that with your Spirit you fortify and strengthen our faith with your Word and with the sacraments.  Thank you LORD God, for working with your Spirit so we concentrate our faith on the right person, on Christ alone and what he’s done on the cross to pay for our sins.  O God, we pray that would continue to grant the gift of faith here among us, whether to our children, or visitors, whoever may not yet have true and saving faith.  Work in hearts with your Holy Spirit.  And for those of us who do believe, continue to strengthen our faith with your Word and also with the sacraments when we have the opportunity.  Father, please work with your Spirit to keep our faith fixed on Jesus alone.   




* 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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