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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:God's grace shines forth when election is taught correctly
Text:CD 1 art 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Psalm 147:1,6

Hymn 1

Psalm 47:1,3
Psalm 131:1,2,3

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Read:  Deuteronomy 7:1-11; Matthew 11:20-30; Belgic Confession art. 16.

Text:  Canons of Dort, Chapter 1, article 14; R.E. 9.

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it takes others to make us see what we always had, and to uncover the blessings we took for granted.  It seems to be that way when it comes to the biblical doctrine of divine election.

  Since the turn of the century, something exciting has been going on in the wider evangelical world:  many evangelicals have "found" and embraced Calvinism.  In particular, they've discovered the doctrine of election and how this doctrine impacts all of life.  This is such a big thing that in March 2009 Time Magazine described this "New Calvinism" as one of the "ten ideas changing the world right now."  For their article, Time Magazine interviewed Collin Hanson who in 2008 published the book "Young, Restless, Reformed."  And when you read Collin Hanson's book you soon learn that this new-found discovery of the doctrine of election has indeed been mind-blowing for many Christians.  When they learn for the first time that we aren't the ones reaching out to God but that he is the one who reaches out to us and elects us to eternal life, they come so excited, thankful, and at the same time so humble.  One person Collin Hanson interviewed was a young lady named Laura.  When he spoke with her, Laura was relatively new to hearing about election and the doctrines of grace.  Prior to this she'd attended a church where there was no in-depth biblical teaching at all.  But hearing clear teaching on passages such as Ephesians 1 and 2 Timothy 1:9, Bible passages that clearly teach us that election is the work of God, hearing clear teaching on these things was eye opening in every sense of the term.  Looking back she could see how God had worked through events and other people to bring her to salvation.  But that wasn't all: it made her bold and joyful when it came to evangelism.  Laura had just spent her summer in the Middle East, in a town where missionaries had been working for a decade without a single person coming to faith.  But rather than be discouraged, Laura rejoiced in God's sovereignty, recognising that all she needed to do was be faithful and entrust the end results to God.  But it wasn't just mission: Laura's enlarged view of God's sovereignty and authority changed the way she saw worship and even relationships.  With respect to the roles of men and women in the home and in the church, she said, "I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way.  Just as he's chosen those who are going to know him before the foundation of the earth, I don't want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another.  He's a good God, so it will be in my best interest to be submissive in a biblical way."  (That's from page 44 and following in the book "Young, Restless, Reformed.)

  Laura's story of how Calvinism and the teaching of divine election shaped her thinking and behaviour is a story that can be told by many others.  This is a doctrine that is life changing and that is God glorifying.  And it is when we observe this in others who are getting to hear these wonderful truths of Scripture for the first time that we understand how necessary it is that these things continue to be taught.  But it must be taught correctly, so that God's grace shines forth when these truths are made know.  And that's the message I wish to preach to you this afternoon.

God's grace shines forth when election is taught correctly

1. Election must be taught

2. Election must be taught well

1. Election must be taught.

Teaching and preaching about election has not always been received well in the church of God.  In the first place, it has been twisted and misrepresented.  There are those who think it means that we are forced to believe in God even against our will and that others would dearly love to be saved if only God would elect them.  That's not what this doctrine is teaching.  There are others who say that it takes away all incentive for mission and evangelism since God will elect those he decided to elect anyway.  Others conclude that it makes us lax in our faith and falsely secure.  Afterall, why worry about falling away if God has determined that he will - or won't - save us anyway?  And so the objections go on.

  But whereas all these objections teach us the need for election to be taught well (and we'll get to that in our second point) they do not take away from the fact that election does need to be taught.  And chapter 1, article 14 tells us that it needs to be taught for the simple fact that it can be found throughout the pages of the Bible.  Let's re-read the first half of the article.

"This doctrine of divine election, according to the most wise counsel of God, was preached by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles under the Old as well as the New Testament, and was then committed to writing in the holy Scriptures.  Therefore, also today this doctrine should be taught in the church of God . . ."

So the Bible teaches us, over and over again, that God sends the gospel to one people rather than to another, and he elects them to eternal life not because of anything good in and of themselves, but simply on account of his good pleasure.  And that is indeed the case.  In fact, if you needed to be convinced of this you would have to look no further than to Abraham.  In Joshua 24:2 the LORD said,

"Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.  Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many."

It was God's choosing, his decision to choose Abraham - and there was nothing about Abraham or his family that made him so different from others.  In fact one might wonder why God chose to have a people from the line of Abraham and not from Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was already living in the land of Canaan and was a priest to God Most High!  But that's was God's choice.  Just as it was God's electing choice to choose Isaac and not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau.  The apostle Paul emphasises that fact in Romans 9:10-13 where it says,

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 And then there's the Bible passage that we read together, Deuteronomy 7.  In Deuteronomy 7:1-5 we read about God's just judgment on the people that were living in Canaan previously. To use the language of article 16 of the Belgic Confession, they themselves had plunged into perdition and ruin.  They had forsaken God to serve idols.  And the LORD was therefore just in calling for them to be destroyed.  For they could not live among his chosen ones, among those who were to live before his face in holiness since they were wicked.  Because Israel was to be a people holy to the LORD.

  But then comes the rest of Deuteronomy 7:6 and following. 

Deuteronomy 7:6b–8,

6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

God was just in leaving the nations that first inhabited Canaan in the fall and perdition into which they had plunged themselves, but he was merciful in electing Israel to be his covenant people.

  This is repeated in Deuteronomy 10:14-15, a Bible text quoted in the Rejection of Errors number 9.

"Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day."

So there was nothing in which God's people could boast.  Yes, the LORD chose them to be his own possession.  But it was on account of his great mercy and his grace, and not because of their worthiness that he chose them for himself.

  And our Lord Jesus Christ made a similar point in Matthew 11, our second Bible reading for this afternoon.  He first spoke words of woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida, towns of Israel where he had done many miracles.  Matthew 11:21,

"Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

So Jesus did not come to those cities because they were better or more worthy:  it was by God's will that the gospel was preached there.  In this case, however, the mighty works of God would count against them since they refused to believe.  And that was not God's fault but their own.  But then the Lord Jesus speaks further in verse 25 and following, and he prays to God, acknowledging that by his grace the LORD had chosen some to eternal life.  But this choosing was simply in accordance with his gracious will.  Matthew 11:25-27,

25 At that time Jesus declared, “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; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

And so this is why election has to be taught.  It has to be taught because the Bible teaches it.  The doctrine of election is woven throughout the pages of both the Old and the New Testament.  But even more than that, we need to teach this doctrine because if we failed to do so, we would fail to know how great our God is.  It is when we learn of God's total sovereignty over all things, including us and our salvation, and it is when we learn this in the light of our total depravity, that we begin to see the greatness, the goodness and the grace of God.  And that's why the apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, just after he had worked through this doctrine at length, concluded in Romans 11:33-36,

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

That's the reason why Divine election must be taught!  Because it results in praise to God.  But for that to happen, it must be taught correctly, it must be taught well.  That brings us to our second point,

2. Election must be taught well.

At the beginning of this sermon I spoke about the increased number of evangelicals who have embraced Calvinism since the turn of the century.  That's exciting.  The way that they've embraced the doctrines of Grace and then showed them back to us to explain how good and beautiful these doctrines are is an excellent thing for which we praise the LORD.  But this new movement has also displayed some weaknesses.  One of these weaknesses is that many of those who had come to faith in an Arminian church but then learned the doctrines of God's grace in election entered what became known as a "cage stage" of Calvinism.  Tim Challies, who is one of those aligned with this New Calvinist Movement, describes a Cage-Stage Calvinist as "someone who has learned TULIP - the five points of Calvinism - and goes on a relational rampage.  They attack, bludgeon, and judge others who did not see the doctrine of election with the same clarity as they could now see it.  In other words, since they had now seen the light, they became very impatient with others who had not yet learned these thigns.  And as a result many new Calvinists will fight and argue with those who used to be their friends.  Over the years many have also become keyboard warriors, joining Facebook groups etc. and then arguing with other Christians late into the night.  Responding to this, Tim Challies wrote, 

"How many people do you think have been convinced of Calvinism by confrontation?  I'm going to guess it's as many carrots as I ate last month.  Zero.  But how many frayed friendships and frustrated family meals have been caused by the need to win the debate over predestination?  It's probably the same number of tortilla chips I ate last year.  A lot."

Challies also wrote,

"If you get more joy in being a Calvinist than you do a Christian, you have misunderstood Calvinism.  One of the reasons why Cage Stagers show their teeth in a theological argument is because they feel like their core is being attacked.  It's as though what makes them tick is being trampled.  It's a case of misplaced identity.

  We are Calvinists best when we aren't Calvinists first.  We belong to Jesus.  Find your identity by remembering:  'For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3-4).

We need to think carefully as to how we teach and speak about divine election.  We don't teach and speak about election to simply score theological points against our Arminian neighbour.  But we do it to focus on God and our relationship with him.  The second part of the Canons of Dort chapter 1 article 14 says,

"Therefore, also today this doctrine should be taught in the church of God, for which it was particularly intended, in its proper time and place, provided it be done with a spirit of discretion, in a reverent and holy manner, without inquisitively prying into the ways of the Most High, to the glory of God's most holy name, and for the living comfort of his people."

That's how we are to teach the doctrine of election.  In a way that gives glory to God and brings comfort to God's people.  And one good way to do this is to recognise that Calvinism, Reformed theology, and the doctrine of election is all about grace.  In his book "Letters to a Young Calvinist", published in 2010, James Smith wrote a chapter called "Grace all the way down" and this is what he wrote:

"God's revelation in the Scriptures indicates the radical inability of the sinner to 'choose the Good'.  In fact, the Scriptures describe the sinful human being as 'dead' (Eph. 2:1), and, as you know, corpses have no abilities.  In other words, the effect of sin is such that, while human creatures remain structured in such a way that they still desire God, that structure is perverted and misdirected toward aspects of the creation rather than toward the Creator (see Rom. 1:21-32).  This creational structure - the desire for God - can only be properly re-directed by God himself.  What this requires, then, is for God to restore and renew and, in a sense, re-create (2 Cor. 5:17).  So when Paul continues in Ephesians 2, he chooses his words very carefully: because we were dead, and lacked the ability to choose God as our proper end, God 'made us alive' (Eph. 2:4-6).  Note that God is the actor in this sentence, not us.  Because we were dead, it could only be "by grace" that we have been saved through faith, and that, we are told, is not of ourselves (Eph. 2:8).  What does that mean?  Very simply, salvation is a gift - and not just the 'objective' work of Christ on the cross, but also the 'subjective' appropriation of that work by faith: salvation in its totality.  This has to be the case because, for a 'dead' sinner, such faith is impossible.  (Indeed, Paul tells us that for the 'natural man' - that is, the unregenerate person - this whole matter is 'foolishness' and cannot possibly be understood (1 Cor. 2:14).

  All of this is a testimony to God's grace, not only because it is a gift, but also because God didn't have to do it.  Indeed, God owes us nothing."  End of quote.

And isn't that true?  Everything we have is a gift.  A gift of God's grace.  And that must be the focus when we consider the doctrine of election.  Because that will keep us humble.  And that will compel us to thank God for his Indescribable gift, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation that is ours in him.  And then we will echo the gracious call of our Lord Jesus Christ who, having just stated that no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son chooses to reveal him, said in Matthew 11:28-30,

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  And in this way God's grace will shine forth when election is taught correctly.  Let us therefore be eager to have this doctrine taught, for our comfort and for the glory of God.  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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