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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:You can't claim credit for what you didn't do
Text:CD 3/4 art 14-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise:  2014

Psalm 34:1

Hymn 2

Psalm 44:1,2,3

Hymn 28:7

Psalm 116:7,9,10

Read: 1 Corinthians 1 - 2:5

Text:  Canons of Dort chap. 3&4, art. 14-15

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

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

The corporate world of business and industry is often seen as a world of metrics, targets and KPIs.  This is the way you are measured, this is the way you are valued, and this is the way you might rise or fall.  And whereas certain jargon such as KPIs or Key Performance Indicators might come and go the underlying measurement process does not.  In the world of commerce and business - and I could add to that the world of sport and education and pretty much every way in which we try to not only keep up with but to beat the "Joneses", we are, to put it nicely, aspirational.  Or perhaps less-nicely, as one person put it, achievement addicts.  And the result is that we view ourselves and we value ourselves in accordance with what we do and who we think we are.  And we often view others and value them according to what they do and who we think they are.

  But in many ways this is nothing new.  Whereas techniques change and the jargon changes, measuring people according to what they do and taking pride and a sense of identity in your achievements was already the case in the ancient church of Corinth when the apostle Paul wrote them his letter.  This is the way the people of Corinth saw the world and saw themselves and others in it.  That was their reality.  But what had happened was that these Corinthian Christians took their ideas and assumptions from everyday life and they then began to live by these things not just at work but also at home.  And not just at home, but even more, at church.  It's how they measured up themselves, and it is how they measured up others.

And aren't we in danger of doing the same?  "What do you have," Paul asked the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:7, "that you did not receive?"  And yet there's the tendency to think or act as if it's my life, my faith, my doing that sets me apart and gives me a place here in Melville Church and in the Kingdom of God. 

  And that's where the Canons of Dort gives us a wake-up call.  That's where the Canons remind us of what God's Word says about God and about us.  Because what the Bible says, and what the Canons therefore teach us is that you can't claim credit for what you didn't do.  And that's what I wish to preach to you this afternoon: 

You can't claim credit for what you didn't do

1. The fact of God's grace in faith 

2. Our attitude towards God's grace in faith


1. The fact of God's grace in faith

"A proud Calvinist," someone once said, "A proud Calvinist is an oxymoron."  In other words, you cannot be proud and a Calvinist or, as I'd prefer to say, and Reformed at the same time.  To be proud and to be boastful, you need to have something to be proud and boastful about.  But when it comes to your salvation and when it comes to your identity as a Christian, the Reformed faith teaches us that there's nothing that you did to boast about.  In chapter 3&4, article 12, we already learned that conversion or regeneration is the work of God alone.  He is the One who takes us who were dead in sin and makes us alive in Christ Jesus.  But now in article 14 we go one step further to learn that even faith is the work of God alone.  And even more, article 14 says, faith is not only a gift of God because he's offered it to us.  But more, it is a gift of God because he is the one who works it in us.  That's the point this article seeks to make.  Let's read the article again, so that you can see that.

Faith is therefore a gift of God, not because it is merely offered by God to the free will of man, but because it is actually conferred on man, instilled and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God confers only the power to believe and then awaits from man’s free will the consent to believe or the act of believing. It is, however, a gift in the sense that he who works both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, brings about in man both the will to believe and the act of believing.

Notice that last sentence, that faith is a gift in the sense that God brings about both the will to believe and also the act of believing.  In other words, he's the One who works it in our hearts so that we might want to believe, but even more, he is also the one who makes us believe.  And that means that our faith is a matter of God's work, on account of his grace from beginning to end.

Not everyone agrees with this, however.  The Arminians, against whom the Canons of Dort were written, and the average evangelical church today teach something else.  They say that faith is like a gift, a present, in this way:  when I share the gospel with you, it's like I'm handing over to you the most beautiful gift ever.  But the gift is wrapped up.  And now it is up to you to decide if you want to accept the gift and unwrap it, or simply put it to the side.  Now don't get me wrong here:  we've already learned about the call of the gospel, the call to repent and believe and so receive Christ as your Lord and Saviour.  That's true.  We've also learned in the Canons, chapter 3&4, article 12, that our will is involved in coming to faith.  You are not a robot and it is not as though faith is something that is put inside you without you actually embracing that faith.  In fact, article 12 evens says in the last line that

"man is rightly said to believe and repent."

But how has he done it?  How did you get to repent and believe?  What part of believing is God's work, and what part of it is yours?  And it is to that question that we say that this faith is the work of God - from beginning to end.  He's the One who gives you both the will, the desire to believe, and he is the one who works that faith in you.  And we have to say that because that is what the Bible clearly says.  The two Bible verses in the footnotes of article 14 are Ephesians 2:8 and Philippians 2:13.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

And Philippians 2:13,

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

And there are other Bible verses that teach us the same thing.  Philippians 1:29, for example,

"For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should [. . .] believe in him."

And Acts 13:48,

"And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

So the Bible clearly teaches us that when it comes to being a Christian and when it comes to our salvation, there is nothing for which we can claim even the smallest bit of credit.  Our salvation is by the grace of God from beginning to end.  And that includes faith.  That includes not only the power to believe but also the act of believing itself.

But so what?  What does it matter?  Why should we worry if other Christians say something else?  Why are we splitting hairs about this anyway?

In the first place it matters because all God's Word matters. If this is what the Bible teaches us then we need to know it, we need to teach it and we need to believe it.  But more than that, what we believe about faith and of God's grace with respect to that faith will have an effect on how you see yourself as a Christian and on how you bring all glory to God.

Let's go back to 1 Corinthians chapter 1.  When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, he was writing to a church that was filled with sin and beset with problems.  When you read through the letter you will learn that everything, from sexual sin to taking fellow Christians to court to improper worship, to joining those eating food offered to idols and to the wrong use of the Lord's Supper, all these things and more were going on in the Corinthian church.  And despite all this, they were not humble but they were proud.  And it is not just that they were proud, but there divisions among them where each one claimed to be better than the other.  But how should the apostle Paul deal with this?  How should he write to them so that they might see their sin, repent, and turn back to God?

  As you read through the letter to the Corinthians, you will see that Paul deals with these things directly, giving strong teaching and even direct words of judgment when that was needed.  But before he did any of that, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, he wanted the Corinthians to see themselves for who they really were.  And he wanted to teach them that all that they had, indeed everything that counted to their identity as Christians was entirely from God from beginning to end.

  Let's have a look at that, first of all in chapter 1:1-9.  Reading through the first 9 verses of First Corinthians, what is most striking is its emphasis and its focus on Jesus Christ. 

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This emphasis on Christ is deliberate and it is important since it was to teach the Corinthians and it was to teach us that all that we are and all that we have is only ours in Christ.  Verse 2, we are sanctified, made holy not in ourselves but in Christ Jesus.  Verse 4, the grace of God that was given to us was given "in Christ Jesus."  Verse 5, we were made rich in speech and knowledge "in him".  Verse 6, the testimony, that is the gospel, that was confirmed or verified or proven to be true among them was "about Christ."  And since that gospel was confirmed among them, meaning that it was given to them to believe in him, whatever gift they had was given to them in Christ.  And, waiting for the last day, it is Christ, verse 8 says, who will sustain them to the end.  And finally verse 9, "God is faithful" and it was by God through whom they were called into the fellowship of Christ.

  Why is it important for Paul to write these things at the outset of his letter?  It is impress upon the Corinthians, and so also to impress upon us, that all that we are and all we've received is in Christ alone.  When it comes to your faith and your relationship with God, it's got nothing to do with metrics, targets or KPI's.  When it comes to faith and your relationship with God, it's got nothing to do who you think you are or what you think you've done.  Rather, it is all of God in Christ Jesus from beginning to end.

  And you can see this further in verse 24 - 31.  After expressing dismay at how one thought he was better than the other by attaching themselves to different leaders, he said in verse 24 that it was "to those who are called" that Christ is the power and wisdom of God.  And in verse 26, they were to consider who it was that God had called.  And verse 27-28,

God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world . . ."

And why did he do it?  Verse 29,

"So that no human being might boast in the presence of God."

And why won't you boast?  Because you cannot boast.  You can't claim credit for what you didn't do.  Verse 30, it is

"because of him [that] you are in Christ Jesus"

so that, verse 31,

"as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'"

And that's why, also when it comes to faith, a faith that God wills in us, that is, that God works that desire to believe with in us, and a faith that God works in us, that's why, when it comes to faith, we must confess that all the thanks and all the praise and all the glory must go to God alone.  Because, chapter 2:5 says,

"your faith rests not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

That brings us to our second point,


2. Our attitude towards God's grace in faith

Having impressed upon us in article 14 of chapter 3&4 of the Canons that faith is a gift of God, and that it is a gift in the sense that brings about in us both the will to believe and the act of believing, article 15 instructs us on how to respond to all of this.  This article begins by saying,

This grace God owes to no one. For what could he owe to man? Who has given him first that he might be repaid?  What could God owe to one who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood?

It is not for us to tell God what to do.  That God works faith in the heart of anyone is a miracle and an act of his grace since he did not owe this to us.  But then how should we respond when God does, and when he does not, work that faith in the hearts of different people?  Article 15 of the Canons answers this question with respect to four different groups of people.  It answers it with respect to the believer, with respect to the unbeliever, with respect to how you consider a fellow Christian, and with respect to how you view your unbelieving neighbour.

First of all, with respect to the believer, this article says,

"He, therefore, who receives this grace owes and renders eternal thanks to God alone."

Why do we owe such thanks to God?  Because he owed us nothing and yet gave us everything!  That's why we say,

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!"  (Psalm 103:1)

But then with respect to the unbeliever, the Canons say in article 15,

"He who does not receive this grace, however, either does not care at all for these spiritual things and is pleased with what he has, or in false security vainly boasts that he has what he does not have."

So some do not care.  These are the ones who treat our Lord with indifference and disdain, who turn their back on the gospel of grace and deliberately walk the other way.  This is a warning to all those who might have heard the gospel but who do not care.  As the prophet Amos warned in chapter 6:1,

"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria!"

Be careful!  Be warned!  We cannot ignore the call of the gospel, as if it did not matter.  But rather seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him when he is near!  For when we truly do seek him, God will never cast us out.

  But there are also others who do not have this true faith but instead vainly boast in what they do not have.  These are the ones who are deceived by the lie and who look for their salvation and well-being outside of Jesus Christ.  How terrible it will be on that last day to have the Lord declare, "I never knew you!"  Let us therefore make use of the means of grace, let us turn to God and turn to his Word and be eager for the clear and true preaching of that Word.

Article 15 of the Canons goes on to speak about our attitude to others who do profess to believe in the only Saviour Jesus and who do appear to live according to his Word.  These are our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and just as the apostle Paul wrote to others as fellow believers and joint heirs to the kingdom of God, so we too must receive them as such.  It is not for us to go around labelling our fellow brothers and sisters as Christian or not.  Rather,

"Those who outwardly profess their faith and amend their lives we are to judge and speak in the most favourable way, according to the example of the apostles, for the inner recesses of the heart are unknown to us."

And then finally there are those who have not yet been called.  These are the ones who are not yet Christians: your neighbour, your co-worker, your fellow students at university, others in our city, our country and indeed the world.  Regarding them the Canons say,

"As for those who have not yet been called, we should pray for them to God, who calls into existence the things that do not exist."

This is the great thing about God's sovereignty in election and in who might come to faith!  The point is that since God is sovereign, since he is all powerful when it comes to repentance, conversion and faith, there is no one who is so lost that God can't work faith in his heart.  And that's why we do not give up, nor do we write others off, no matter who they are, as irredeemable.  But instead we may to pray to God for them, even by name, and even for many years, that they might yet be saved.

And then having described the attitude we ought to have in these different circumstances, article 15 of the Canons of Dort ends with these words,

"But we must by no means act haughtily, as if we had distinguished ourselves from them."

  And why not?  Because you can't claim credit for that which you didn't do.  Although God in his grace has set us apart to be the objects of his grace, it is not as if we had distinguished ourselves in any way from others.  And that's a lesson we need to learn.  That's a message we need to hear.  When he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, after giving praise to God for all that he had done in choosing a people for himself from those in the city of Corinth, the first thing Paul had to address was the pride, the haughtiness and the divisions that were evident among the people of God in Corinth.  And in answer to such behaviour, Paul reminded them where they had come from and who it was who had done the work of conversion and faith.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29,

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

And that's how the gospel is so different, so counter-cultural to the world in which we live.  We live in a world in which we measure ourselves and others according to who we think we are and according to the things we have done.  We live in a world of metrics, of targets and of KPI's.  But with God and the gospel it is different.  With God and the gospel we have no metrics and we have no performance and we have no credit that we can claim.  Instead we look to the metrics, that is, to the standard who is Christ, the One who alone is perfect and the only one who has the qualifications to save us.  And we look to the cross, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but for us who are being saved, the power of God.  We know nothing except Christ and him crucified, because apart from him there is nothing.  Because our faith and because our salvation is all of him.  You can't claim credit for what you didn't do.  But you can, and you must, praise God for what he has done.  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 2021, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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