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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:Unbelief comes from us, but faith comes from God
Text:CD 1 art 5-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2020-06-14
Added:2021-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

 

Psalm 111:1,2

Psalm 111:4

Hymn 22:1,2

Psalm 138:4

Read:  Ephesians 2:1-10

Text:  Canons of Dort chap I, art 5-6; Rejection of Errors 8.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Two of the most wonderful words in the entire Bible are the first two words of Ephesians 2:4.  "But God."  These are two of the most amazing words in the whole Bible because they place a contrast between what is written in before Ephesians 2:1-3 and what comes after, in verse 4 and following.  Verse 1-3 describes what a person was like before he became a Christian and it highlights not just the sin of those who are called "sons of disobedience" but also of the impossibility of such sons of disobedience to do anything in and of themselves to change, let alone be saved.  But then comes verse 4.  "But God."

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved."

The words "But God" in Ephesians 2:4 are two of the most wonderful words in the entire Bible because they tell us that God did what we could not!  And the more we comprehend that, the more we are amazed at the grace of God and the more wonderful our salvation in Christ will appear.  Because while unbelief comes from us, the gift of faith comes from God.

I preach God's Word to under this theme:

Unbelief comes from us, but faith comes from God.

1. The cause of unbelief

2. The source of faith

3. The comfort in God's decree

 

1. The cause of unbelief

The Canons of Dort is full of teaching about the gospel, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  It teaches us about the need for the gospel and how God has given us all things in Jesus Christ so that our salvation in him is assured.  As such, the Canons are not only biblical, but the teaching in it is both practical and pastoral.  At the same time, the Canons of Dort are very deep, and they deal with some very challenging questions.

  One of the more challenging questions has to do with how it is that some people believe the gospel whereas others don't.  During the 1600's, the time in which that the Canons of Dort were written, and indeed even today, people insisted that the reason why some people believe the gospel and others don't is simply because of them.  One person is better, more worthy, than the other, and so he believes.  The problem, however, is that the Bible clearly teaches us something different.  The Bible teaches us that by nature all of us, without exception, are sinners deserving eternal condemnation.  By nature we are sinners because we all share in the sin of Adam.  As Romans 5:12 says,

". . . sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."

Paul's letter to the Ephesians also spells this truth out, in chapter 2:1-3.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

There's no difference, nothing about us that makes us better than others.  We have all sinned.  Yes, we have all sinned.  All of us.  Every single man.  Every single woman.  Every single child.  Every single person who has ever come into this world, with the only exception being our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are all, by nature, dead in our transgressions and sins.  We are, by nature, "children of wrath, like the rest of mankind".  And, by nature, being children of wrath, we would all have suffered eternally under condemnation.

But then comes God.  "But God" Ephesians 2:4 says,

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive tother with Christ - by grace you have been saved."

And how is it that we have been made alive together with Christ?  Ephesians 2:8,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith."

But now we are faced with a question.  Because while all have sinned and share in the condemnation of Adam, not all people are saved and share in the righteousness of Christ.  And why not?  Because only those who believe are saved.  As the Heidelberg Catechism asks and answers in Lord's Day 7,

Q. Are all men, then, saved by Christ just as they perished through Adam?

A. No.  Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his benefits.

But then why do some people believe and not others?  Is this the fault of God?  Or does the fault lie with man?

  The Bible is clear on this question.  The fact that some people do not believe cannot be the fault of God.  1 John 1:5 says,

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is not darkness at all."

Since there is no darkness in God, he cannot be the cause of anything evil.  And therefore unbelief does not, and cannot, come from God nor could anyone ever say that God is the reason for their unbelief.  To the contrary, as it says in John 3:17,

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Unbelief is not and cannot be the fault of God.  It is, however, the fault of man.  The Bible teaches this in, for example, Isaiah 30:8 where it is said concerning God's people Israel,

"For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD."

And Isaiah 30:15,

"For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'  But you were unwilling."

It was Israel, not God, who was responsible for their unbelief, for their rejection of God and of God's promises.

And the same can be seen in the New Testament.  John 3:19,

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."

And in John 5:39–40 the Lord Jesus said,

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The Bible is clear therefore.  Unbelief is not the fault of God; unbelief is the fault of man.

But having now stated this, we are left with a question.  If the cause of unbelief lies in man, what about the source of faith?  Does faith then come from man or from God?  That brings us to our second point.

 

2. The source of faith.

Now we come to something that we have to get our heads around.  Here is the question:  If unbelief is clearly the fault of man, does that then mean that faith is also the work of man?  Does the source of faith lie in man himself?  That is what the Arminians taught and on the one level it seems to make sense.  As they would say, "If the cause of unbelief lies in man, then the cause of faith must lie in man also."

The Bible, however, teaches us something else.  The Bible teaches us that faith is the gift of God.  Even more, the Bible teaches us that faith has to be the gift of God because if it was up to us, faith could never happen.  The Arminians spoke as though people are in some sort of a neutral state.  The Arminians spoke as though we are free and independent people, fully capable of our own free will to either choose to believe or else to reject the word that is preached.  But that is not true.  By nature we are not in some sort of a neutral state; by nature we are children wrath and dead in our sins.  And therefore by nature we could never choose to believe in God of our own free will, apart from the Spirit of God.  Consider these Bible verses. 

Romans 3:10-12.

"None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

John 6:44 where the Lord Jesus said,

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."

1 Corinthians 12:3,

"I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit."

The point of these Bible verses is that in and of ourselves we are unable to come to Christ, we are unable to believe.  Because, as it also says in Ephesians 2:1, we are, by nature dead in our trespasses and sins.  And no dead person can will himself to be alive.  No person who is, by nature a child of wrath "like the rest of mankind" can believe in God unless that person is first reborn, made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As article 6 of the Canons says, it is God who graciously softens the hearts of the elect, no matter how hard they may be, and inclines them to believe.  And Philippians 2:13 says,

"It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

And it is with that understanding that we then read the verses quoted in chapter 1, article 5 of the Canons of Dort.  Ephesians 2:8,

"For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."

And Philippians 1:29,

"For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake"

with the point of that verse being that it has been granted or gifted to you that you might believe in God.

Where does faith come from, therefore?  It comes from God.  And it has to come from God, because if was up to us apart from God, we could never have believed.  And that's why chapter 1, article 5 of the Canons says,

"The cause or guilt for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is by no means in God, but rather in man.  Faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through him, however, is the free gift of God."

But if that is true, then we also need to conclude that whereas God freely gives the gift of faith to some, he does not do so for all.  According to his own sovereign will, God works faith in the hearts of some, but not in everybody.  That is a hard thing to understand, but that is also what the Bible teaches.    Along with what it says in the Rejection of Errors 8, we have to accept that Romans 9:18 says that God

"has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."

And in Matthew 13:11 the Lord Jesus said,

"To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."

And Matthew 11:25,26

"I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."

So then, to summarize what we have learned, although God created us perfectly good, we have all sinned in Adam so that by nature we are corrupt, we are sinners, and deserving of condemnation.  But God in his grace gave us his Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.  God calls you to faith in Christ through the preaching.   If you refuse to believe in the saving work of Christ, that is not God's fault but yours, since it was by our own willful disobedience that we ended up in sin in the first place.  But if, upon hearing the gospel we believe, that is not our doing but that is the gift of God.  We who believe could never boast as if we were better than others.  Rather, all we can do is acknowledge the goodness and the grace of God, and that he is the One who changed our hearts so that we might believe.  And that gives us joy.  That gives us comfort.  And so we come to our third point,

 

3. The comfort in God's decree.

Article 6 of the Canons of Dort speaks about God's eternal decree and how, from eternity, he decided to give the gift of faith to some but leave others in their wickedness and their hardness of heart.  The Canons are very careful in how they word this teaching, and it would be good for us to read chapter 1, article 6 once again:

That God in time confers the gift of faith on some, and not on others, proceeds from his eternal decree. For he knows all his works from eternity, and he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). According to this decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, no matter how hard they may be, and inclines them to believe; those not elected, however, he leaves in their own wickedness and hardness by a just judgment. And here especially is disclosed to us the profound, merciful, and at the same time just distinction between men equally worthy of condemnation, or that decree of election and reprobation which has been revealed in God’s Word. Although perverse, impure, and unstable men twist this decree to their own destruction, it provides unspeakable comfort for holy and God-fearing souls.

This teaching is both deep and rich and we will be looking at this more closely when we learn more about the doctrines of election and reprobation over the next few weeks.  What I'd like you to take note of for now, however, is that what we are learning about how God works faith in the hearts of his elect is a teaching that "provides unspeakable comfort for holy and God-fearing souls."  Chapter 1 article 14 points out that what we are learning here with respect to the doctrine of election is particularly intended for the church God and for the living comfort of his people.  We are not learning these things so that we might go around labelling different people either elect or reprobate nor to anxiously and unhelpfully pry into the secret council and will of God.  Rather we are learning these things because they are of comfort to us.  And the reason why this teaching comforts us is because when we truly begin to grasp just how far we have fallen into sin, when we begin to grasp just how dead we are in sin, when we begin to recognize how we could never even begin to save ourselves, then we stand amazed at the grace of God.  Then we stand is awe of the God who did that which we could never do.  Then we see the gospel, the beautiful good news in the words "But God" in Ephesians 2:4.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

You see, that's what gives us comfort, and that's what makes us so amazed.  As it said earlier in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Ephesians 1:11, we have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.  And if the counsel of his will is to make us who were dead alive, if the counsel of his will is to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace, then surely he will do it!  And that gives me comfort.  That gives me assurance.  The assurance of my salvation lies not in my ability to choose and then to hold on to Christ, but the assurance of my salvation lies in His determination to choose and then to hold on to me!  That's the beauty, that's the wonder, and that's the comfort in God's decree of election.  And that's the beauty, that's the wonder, and that's the comfort in those two words, "But God."  Because God has done it.  He has done it for us.

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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