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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:Since God's grace comes through the gospel, you know what to do
Text:CD 3/4 art 17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praisse: 2014

Psalm 33:1,2

Hymn 50:1,3,4

Psalm 17:1,2

Psalm 119:39,40

Psalm 25:2

Read:  1 Peter 1:13 - 2:8

Text:  COD chapter 3&4, art. 17

* 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

Our Bible reading for this afternoon began at 1 Peter 1:13.  The Bible we use here in Melville Church, the ESV, says,

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

So as we set our hope fully on the grace of God in Christ Jesus, we are to prepare our minds for action.  That's an interesting phrase, but what Peter actually wrote in the original Greek text was even more interesting.  The King James, as well as the New King James Version, gives us a more literal translation, which is this:

"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind . . ."

Back in the days that much of the events of the Bible took place, a man would wear a tunic or a long robe, which was something like a dress that went down to your ankles.  In fact, some men in the Middle East still wear something similar today.  These robes were comfortable, but they tended to get in the way when a man had to do some hard work, if he had to run, or if he had to fight.  What the men would do, therefore, is that they would hitch up their robe and tie it around their waist, using a belt or a girdle to keep their robe in place.   And then, with their robe now something like a pair of shorts, they were free to work, to run or to fight.  And so that's the picture, that's the illustration that 1 Peter 1:13 gives us.  Preparing your minds for action is like hitching up your robe or to gird up your loins so that you're ready for action.  And in this case it clearly means that we need to get active in our service to God and in growing in knowledge and holiness.

But why should we?  Why should we gird up the loins of our mind, why should we press on, even strain, in our desire to seek the Lord, to be holy and to be obedient to the truth of God's Word?  Why should it matter what we do or how we live?  Is there any point in exerting ourselves to draw closer to God and to grow in knowledge and holiness?

  In our study of the Canons of Dort we've learned the Biblical truth that our salvation is the work of God from beginning to end.  He chose us, he elected us, he regenerated us, he holds on to us and he will preserve us.  Indeed, he has done it all, and he will do it all.  Which is why I ask, what's the point?  Why should we gird up the loins of our mind?  Why should we prepare our minds for action?  Why should we go to church, why should we listen to the preaching, why should we read our Bibles, and why should we evangelise and tell others about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ?

These are the questions we'll be considering as we turn to article 17 of Chapter 3&4 of the Canons of Dort, in connection is 1 Peter 1 and 2.  I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

Since God's grace comes through the gospel, you know what to do

The gospel is:

1. The seed of regeneration

2. The food of the soul


1.  The gospel is the seed of regeneration

Although First Peter calls us to gird up the loins of our mind, this letter does not say that we need to do this in order to save ourselves.  To the contrary, Peter begins his letter by addressing it "to those who are elect", and in chapter 2:9 he reminds them that they are "a chosen race" and those who are called out of darkness and into God's marvellous light.  Listen also to what Peter writes in chapter 1:3-5.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!   According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

Notice how much emphasis there is on the fact that it is God and not us who has caused us to be born again, and how it is God, and it is his power that is guarding us in the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.  It is God's work from beginning to end.

But then how does God actually do this work?  How does he cause us to be regenerated, to be born again?  The answer to that question, First Peter teaches us, and the Canons of Dort explains to us, is that he does this through the use of means. The word "means" is a bit unusual, so let me explain it to you.

  In the Canons of Dort we've already learned that although it is God who takes out our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, and although regeneration is the work of God alone, it is not as though God treats us like blocks and stones.  We're not some sort of radio-controlled robots or puppets on a string.  Rather, we learned, when God works in us, he changes our will and our desires so that we become interested in the gospel, we gain and understanding of our sin and of what Christ has done to take away that sin, and, by God's grace and by his Holy Spirit, we turn to him in faith and repentance.  That's what we learned in chapter 3&4, article 16.  What we're learning now, in article 17, is how God does this work in us, and the way or the means by which he does it is through the gospel.  Article 17 teaches us that God works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, he strengthens that faith by the use of the sacraments, and he keeps us in that faith through the right use of Church Discipline.  And that's why we call the preaching and the sacraments in particular the "means of grace", the way that God works the grace of his saving love into our hearts.

The Canons of Dort says that God has ordained the use of the gospel to be the seed of regeneration.  In other words, the way that we are normally regenerated or converted is through the preaching of the gospel.  That's what 1 Peter 1:23 teaches us where it says that

". . . you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God."

It is through the Word of God that one is born again, or regenerated.  This is an important point, and it has some big consequences for what we are to think about the gospel, the Word of God, the Bible, and how we are to submit to it ourselves and how we are to want to see the Bible preached to others.

  First of all since we are regenerated through the gospel that is preached, it is absolutely critical that the gospel is both preached and heard if anyone is to come to faith.  That's what Romans 10 teaches us.  Romans 10:14,

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

And Romans 10:17,

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."

Preaching, therefore, is what we call the "means of grace".  The preaching of the gospel is the means, or the way, in which a person hears the gospel and comes to faith.  Without this preaching, no one would hear the gospel and therefore no one would believe.

And that's why we need to be in church to hear the gospel.  And that's why we need to see to it that the missionary command is obeyed and the gospel is preached to all people.  And that's why we need to be ready ourselves, yes every one of us, to tell the gospel story to others.  Both preaching and evangelism is necessary because this is the way that God has ordained for people to be regenerated, born again, and come to faith.

  Secondly, that in turn, has consequences for those of us who preach the gospel and for your elders when they visit you to admonish you in the gospel, as well as for everyone else.  For myself and all those who preach, it is of critical importance that the Word that is preached is the true gospel.  Preaching is not the same as telling good stories, but preaching must be focused on the message that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground for our salvation.  Lord's Day 25 of the Catechism teaches us that this is the message of the preaching, and it is also the message in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.   And Lord's Day 31 teaches us that

"the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ's merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel."


"the kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent."

So that's the message that needs to be preached, along with the command to repent and believe the gospel.  And that is also the message that our elders need to bring to us in our homes, so that we might admonished by the gospel and called to seek our wellbeing and salvation in Christ.  If I'm not preaching that, and if our elders are not teaching that, then not only will many die in their sin, but we will be held accountable.  In Ezekiel 33:8 the Lord said to the shepherds, the leaders of Israel,

"If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand."

And so therefore, rather than be indifferent about the gospel message that we preach, the Bible teaches us that this is very, very important.  In fact, it is a matter of life and of death to both the speaker and the hearer.

So that's the consequence of these things for me as preacher and for our elders.  But a third point is that there are also consequences for everyone else.  What this means for us is that we need to ensure that we're going to a church where we will hear the pure preaching of the gospel.  The Bible warns us in 2 Timothy 4:3–4 that

"the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

In other words, there's the temptation that when we come to church, we aren't so focused on the need to hear the full and the pure word of the gospel but that we start looking for something else.  But it is by the pure spiritual milk, as 1 Peter 2:2 describes it, that we may grow up into salvation.  And therefore take note of this, and stick to the gospel preaching.  And that means that you need to be in a church that has the pure preaching of the gospel.  There are many churches around and the temptation is there to speak and act as if ultimately it doesn't really matter where you go or what you get to hear.  "Go to the church that suits you, that makes you feel comfortable, that meets your personal needs" is what some people might say.  But that isn't true:  if it's not the gospel that you're hearing you really should not be there.  Even if it is a nice sounding message, even if it is easy to listen to with some great ideas for how to live your life, if the full gospel of salvation is clouded over, be very, very careful.

  But it's not just where you go to church, it also has to do with what you read and what you listen to.  Over the past 20 years or so there has been a massive change in how we get our information, and that includes what we hear concerning the gospel.  Although we still acknowledge the need to be in church, many of us supplement what we hear in church with books, articles, blogs, podcasts and online sermons.  In and of itself, that's really good, and God has clearly used these new means of communication for his glory and for the gathering in of his church.  There are countless people throughout the world - and perhaps even some of you - who have, by God's providence, stumbled upon the biblical and Reformed faith through a series of podcasts or the online sermons of a well-known pastor.  That is wonderful, and we praise the Lord for it.  At the same time, however, it also opens us up to hearing that which is not the full truth of the gospel.  It used to be that if you wished to hear a particular preacher you would have to either read a book that went through a publishing process or go to his church to listen to him directly.  Today, however, we have an online smorgasbord where we can pick and choose to our heart's content.  But that means that we need to be discerning and we need to be careful.  This is not a time for us to sit back and be blasé about the truth.  Rather, we need to know the truth and we need to know it well.  And that means that we need to apply ourselves to the teaching and the preaching of God's Word.


2. The gospel is the food of the Soul.

  The use of the gospel, the Canons of Dort, chapter 3&4, article 17 tells us, is not only ordained by God to be the seed of regeneration, but it is also "the food of the soul."  We therefore have to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, and nothing else.  And that means, the Canons goes on to say, that

"those who give or receive instruction in the church should not dare to tempt God by separating what he in his good pleasure has willed to be closely joined together.  For grace is conferred through admonitions, and the more readily we do our duty, the more this favour of God, who works in us, usually manifests itself in its lustre, and so his work best proceeds."

What this simply means is that we need to make use of the means of grace not just to come to faith but also in our life of faith. We need to be here, in church and we need our families, also our children, to be here in church with us.  We need to apply ourselves to the reading of Scripture, to the preaching and to the use of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.  Church isn't a time to clock off for an hour, to zone out, to let our minds wander or even let ourselves be distracted by our phones or other devices.  Rather, as 1 Peter 1 instructs us, we need to gird up the loins of our mind, we need to apply our minds for action, and we need to be engaged in our listening and in our worship.  Skipping church, therefore, whether that's choosing to come just once a Sunday or missing for all sorts of other reasons, is not something to be taken lightly.  Of course, there are always real and legitimate reasons that will keep us away from church from time to time.  But to despise God's Word or to despise the sacraments, which is what we are really doing if we just can't be bothered, if we're not prepared to arrange our lives around our worship, or if we think that it's not so important and that we'll be fine in our Christian faith without it, to despise God's word is not only sinful but it is very, very dangerous for your soul.  And that means that all of us need to organise our lives and our schedules, as much as possible, around the coming together here in church.

  That's the first thing we need to keep in mind, and it is critical importance for your soul.  But in addition to coming to church each Sunday, the gospel must also be the food for our soul from Monday to Saturday.  And, God-be-praised, we all have many opportunities to be instructed in the gospel and to grow in it also during the week.  I've already mentioned the things that we can read and listen to, both in books and online.  This is a beautiful way to be soaked in the truths of the gospel.  But there's something even more basic - and more important - than that which we should do, and that is the reading and studying of the Word of God itself.  It is the Word of the Lord, 1 Peter 1:25 says, that remains forever, and this is the pure spiritual milk that you are to drink so that by it you may grow up into salvation.  And that means that we need to take God's Word up in our hands and read it.  Most of us live busy lives, and many of you are in a hurry every morning again.  But where in your schedule do you take time to open God's Word and read it?

  From time to time our elders reflect together on certain trends and things they hear more often.  One of the things that they hear is that some of you do not maintain a consistent habit of opening the Bible and reading it every day.  That's worrisome.  That's scary.  It's not entirely surprising since we all understand how easily we can drop off in our reading of the Bible, but you need to realise how dangerous this is for your soul!  You cannot act or think as though this does not matter, as though your salvation is "in the bag anyway", so to speak, that God's got is in his hand and it will all be ok.  If you're not reading the Bible, and if you're not praying to God every day, this will have a serious effect on your walk with him.  That's why the Canons of Dort warns us so strongly in article 17, that we "should not dare to tempt God by separating what he in his good pleasure has willed to be closely joined together."  The use of the gospel has been ordained by God to be both the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul.  If you starve yourself of God's Word, your faith in him and your walk with him will necessarily suffer. 

  And that's why 1 Peter 1 speaks to us with such urgency.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

And from there on First Peter describes how we are to live by the gospel and to grow through the preaching of the gospel so that we might be like living stones, built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.  (1 Peter 2:4-5)

As we've made our way through the Canons of Dort to this point, learning the doctrines of grace, and learning of how great a salvation God has accomplished for us, we are not left as blocks and stones.  Nor are we left with the idea that our responsibility to open the Bible, to read the Scriptures, to come to Church for the preaching of the gospel and to make use of the sacraments, or to welcome the elders into our homes to admonish us in the truth of the gospel, nor are we left with the idea that these things don't really matter, that they are not so important.  To the contrary, since God's grace comes through the gospel, you know what to do.  Gird up the loins of your mind.  Prepare yourself for action, take hold of God's Word with both hands and grow in the gospel of salvation.   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, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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