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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Our God is the Source of All Good Things - Even our Faith
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Added:2022-01-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4

Lesson: Lord’s Day 25

 

OUR GOD IS THE SOURCE OF ALL GOOD THINGS, EVEN OUR FAITH

  1. It is not Ours, but a Gift

  2. It is not Large, but Small

  3. It is not Strong, but Weak

 

  1. Psalm 46: 1, 2, 5

  2. Psalm 36: 1-3

  3. Hymn 23:1-5

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Hymn 50: 1-4

  6. Psalm 124: 1-3

 

Words to Listen For: produce, teamwork, sprout, skeptical, bite

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Explain the fountain metaphor

  2. How are we all a little bit Roman Catholic and a little bit Arminian?

  3. Are we co-workers with God for our salvation?  What ARE we co-workers with Him for?

  4. What is more important - the preacher or the preaching?  Why?

  5. Compare and contrast preaching and the sacraments

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved by Christ our Lord,

As Reformed people, we hear quite a lot about GRACE.  We hear quite a lot about grace in our daily lives, “saying grace” at the table, giving thanks for the food you are about to receive.  A particularly kind or well-put-together woman is called “graceful.”  And we hear a lot about grace from this pulpit.

Grace is what we are saved by.

Grace can be seen as unmerited favor or kindness from God.

Grace is an acronym: GOD’S RICHES AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE.

But do we really understand grace?  It’s easy to misunderstand what it is, and how we receive it.  To help with this image, I ask you to imagine a fountain.  Picture it in your mind.  This is a tall fountain.  Even taller than that.  A fountain 30 feet high.  Towering over you as you stand beneath it. 

This fountain of grace is one of those fancy fountains with various levels, or tiers.  The water shoots out from the source at the top and then comes down through the various tiers.  One tier, or one bowl after the other.  In this particular fountain, God’s fountain of grace, there are 2 tiers.  Now, in order to enjoy this water, drinking it, or washing in it, feeling it cool you off in the hot sun, you would go to these various tiers, for the source itself is too high above you to reach.

Now, occasionally, a few droplets right from the source may land on your face, but USUALLY, NORMALLY, you cool off from the tiers.  And this is how we should view God’s grace in our lives.  This amazing, saving grace is like this fountain.  Every fountain has a water source, and the source of this fountain is God Himself.  We sang of this river earlier in the service from Psalm 46.  There is a river always bringing, to God’s own city joy and singing.  Within her are the holy courts where God Most High His grace imparts.

There is a river coming from God, that comes down to His people.  A river full of grace.  Revelation 22 describes it as the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  This is the source of the fountain.  The source of all good things is our God Himself.  There can be no other source.

And there are times, there are moments where we DIRECTLY, SPECIALLY, receive grace right from the hand of God Himself.  While we can see many examples of people coming to faith in the “regular way” like at Pentecost, the crowds hearing the preaching of Peter, and God using it to soften their hearts to repentance, or how Jesus’ preaching and teaching changed the hearts of many Israelites, there are times when grace is given DIRECTLY.  Special, unique moments when our God chooses to contravene His regular ways of working. We can see this in the example of the criminal on the cross beside Jesus Christ.  He drank right from the source.  Or the paralyzed man lowered in before Jesus Christ on a mat.  Both these men received forgiveness of their sins and the promise of eternal life directly from our Lord Himself.

But REGULARLY, NORMALLY, we do not drink right from the source, but from the divinely ordained tiers underneath.  These 2 tiers stand for the means of grace.  The preaching of the Word, and the sacraments.  The sacrament of holy baptism, and the sacrament of holy supper.

But none of these can work on their own.  Whatever power they have, is given to them directly from God.  Just as the tiers of the fountain do not produce water themselves, but simply hold the water that they receive, so too these means of grace - the preaching, baptism, and the holy supper...they do not have power by themselves, but only what they receive from God.  And He graciously works powerfully through them to strengthen us in our Christian walk and to feed our faith.  He works through them and, through them, He works in us.  For:

OUR GOD IS THE SOURCE OF ALL GOOD THINGS, EVEN OUR FAITH

  1. It is not Ours, but a Gift

  2. It is not Large, but Small

  3. It is not Strong, but Weak

Our God is the source of all good things, even our faith.  It is not ours, but a gift.

If you would break down the gospel into the big two things, the big two concepts...the big two spiritual terms that explain our salvation, it would be grace and faith, wouldn’t it?

That famous verse, Ephesians 2:8 - It is by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And remember what this says.  BY grace, THROUGH faith.  Our God is the one who gives us grace, and we reach out with the hands of faith to receive that grace for ourselves.

And our catechism follows this format as well.  If we look back to the Lord’s Days leading up to where we are right now, we see that Lord’s Day 23 and 24 answer the question: Why grace?  And now, here in Lord’s Day 25, we see the answer to the question: How faith?

Why grace?

  • Because we are only righteous because of Jesus Christ.  We have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, and are still inclined to all evil...BUT GOD.  BUT GRACE.

  • And our good works that we do...none of them can possibly add to the grace we have received, because even our good works are stained with sin.  We heard that last week.

But now, today, we are looking at how this whole “faith thing” works.  Now, one of you might say, “We know how faith works.  It’s mysterious, but it sort of connects us to Christ.  It’s a belief in the mind and the heart.  We know all of this already.”

And if that is the case, I am very glad for you, that faith is such an important topic to you, and that you have studied it again and again.  But we have to remember two things: first of all, the Heidelberg Catechism was written at a time when faith was NOT an important topic for the church as a whole.  Having just come out of the Roman Catholic Church, where the focus was on the sacraments, baptism ACTUALLY regenerating you, and the Lord’s Supper ACTUALLY re-sacrificing Jesus Christ...the concept of being saved through our own faith, faith in a God who we actually know, because we can actually read His Word for ourselves...this re-introduced concept of faith was a big deal, and it is important that the people understood it.

And secondly, if you completely understand faith, know that you are in the vast minority among us here.  I’ve heard before that each one of us is a bit of a closet Arminian and a closet Roman Catholic.

Deep down, each one of us has Arminian tendencies.  "Of course we have free will!  In my life, how it seemed to me at least, it seemed that I chose God!  If I think back to when I was a child, lying awake in bed, or sitting in the backseat of the car, I prayed that sinners prayer, and I decided to follow Jesus!"  But we are taught by Scripture that that isn’t the full story.

And deep down, each one of us have Roman Catholic tendencies.  SURELY our good works can offset our sins, even a little bit.  You lie, but then, to make yourself feel better, you donate a little bit more money in the offering.  You feel more assured of your salvation after you’ve visited one of the elderly members of our congregation, than after you just had a screaming match with your parents.  But we are taught by Scripture that our good works cannot be even a tiny part of our righteousness before God.

And so, we have to learn more about what faith actually does.  Because faith is the key to all of this.  And on first glance, it is easy to think that our faith is our accomplishment.  We love the idea that WE did something.

Faith makes it seem like we are co-workers with God.  He does the grace part, and we do the faith part.  It’s teamwork. Salvation is like God gives us a wrapped present, but it is our responsibility to unwrap it, and make use of it.  If God gives it to us and it lays in a closet, forgotten, then it is worthless and we aren’t actually saved.

This SOUNDS SO GOOD.  This SOUNDS SO RIGHT.  This is the kind of message you hear from evangelical Christians so often.  “Do your part of salvation!”

But it’s not true.  This isn’t true.  Because to truly know salvation, to truly understand what it is that God has given us, we have to know who God is and we have to know who we are.

And the God who saves us halfway, the God who lets us be sovereign over our own salvation...this is not the God of the Bible.  This is a false God.  And the human being who has the power in themselves to open that present, or leave it in the closet collecting dust...that human being DOES NOT EXIST.  No unregenerate human being actually has that power within himself.

We don’t actually know God very well if we think that we are co-workers in our own salvation.  Coworkers in the spread of the gospel, of course!  Co-workers in evangelism, and bringing about the Kingdom of God, yes!  This is a very overwhelming task that God has granted us, and a very essential task too.  We are not coworkers in our own salvation, but somehow, God has decided that we should join Him in the spread of the gospel.  That is a good story for another time.

But our faith,  The only way that we receive grace, how do we actually get this faith?  This is the question our catechism asks

Since then faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits, where does this faith come from?

From the Holy Spirit who works it in our hearts.

Our faith is not what we add to God’s grace, but our faith is another aspect of that same grace.  The same grace that sent God the Son to die for you, to make you righteous before the heavenly throne, that same grace sent God the Spirit to dwell in your heart and give you faith.

If we think back to the fountain metaphor, there is that water source.  That water shooting up into the air - that is the Holy Spirit.  He is the source of all of this grace.

It is the Holy Spirit, and not we ourselves, who open our eyes to see our condition.  Because our condition is that of fallen wretchedness, is it not?  Without God working in our lives, there would be nothing but darkness.  We heard that in our reading this afternoon - the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

The god of this world - that is, Satan.  Through the fall into sin we have all become blind and helpless.  But it was God, the One who said in the beginning, Let light shine out of darkness, He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Do you see the amazing thing that the Holy Spirit is saying here through the Apostle Paul?

The same God who CREATED EVERYTHING BY THE WORD OF HIS MOUTH...this same God is the one responsible for your salvation.

He created you to be righteous.

          You fell. 

And then He recreated you to once more be righteous.

Adam did not form himself from the dust of the earth.  Eve did not, as a rib, tear herself from Adam’s body and then spontaneously develop flesh around that rib.

So too, did you not wake up one day and save yourself.  It was God who fashioned Adam and Eve, and it is God who refashions your heart.  He plants the seed of faith in you, and He grows it.  Our second point.

Faith is planted in our hearts as a seed, but it must not remain a seed for too long.  For no healthy seed remains a seed.  But very quickly, that seed, given the right conditions, grows into a seedling, then a sprout, and then a full plant.  And the same is true for us as believers.  We receive faith, and then that faith must grow.

And what is it that grows our faith?  It is, to return to our introduction, the first tier of the fountain - the preaching of the gospel.  And by now, most of you have heard many sermons.  Many sermons preached by preachers, many sermons read by elders.  Sermons watched online during the week.  That’s a lot of sermons...so what’s the point?  Our worship services revolve around the preaching and the pulpit...what is the point?

Returning to our Lord’s Day

Where does this faith come from?

From the Holy Spirit (the ultimate source) who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel

It is the Holy Spirit who does this, THROUGH the preaching.  Faith comes BY the Holy Spirit, THROUGH the preaching.

This is the regular way.  Think of the crowds at Pentecost.  How did they come to faith?  Was it through the speaking of tongues?  Through these miraculous signs?  No!  They mocked the miraculous signs.  And even those who did not mock them were confused by them.  But before that mass conversion, those 3000 souls that were added to their number that day...DIRECTLY BEFORE, was Peter’s sermon!

Acts 2:37 - When they heard this, they were cut to the heart.

Or you can think of Lydia in Acts 16, who came to faith when the Lord opened her heart to what was said by Paul.  Or the Philippian jailer who heard the good news from Paul and Silas, later in that same chapter.

Time after time, we see this pattern.  When the good news is preached, the Holy Spirit opens hearts.  It is preaching to start the Christian life, and it is preaching the whole way through.

2 Corinthians 4:13 - Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak.

This is the never-ending cycle of God’s grace.

Paul himself heard the good news.  First of all, directly from Jesus Christ, blinding him on the road to Damascus.  Then he heard it preached and explained by Ananias who was sent to heal him of his blindness.  Paul believed, and so he spoke.  He spoke as an Apostle to the Gentiles, and God used his preaching to make many converts, including Timothy and Titus, who later became preachers of that same gospel.

Do you see?  It is a pattern: believed and then spoke.  Believed and then spoke.  Again and again through the generations.  It is preaching to start, and it is preaching the whole way through.

Because if it was just about conversion, then we should not be gathering here, listening to me preach to you 78 times.  One time should be enough, and then we should all be out in the world, young and old, having believed, now speaking.

But preaching is not only for conversion, but it is for growing in faith.  Because what is faith exactly?

The catechism defined it for us back in Lord’s Day 7 - True faith is a sure knowledge...and a firm confidence

True faith affects the mind and the heart.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, our minds are, far too often, quite skeptical.  And our hearts are, far too often, quite hard.

And that is why we need preaching week after week, whoever God uses to bring it.  Because the preacher is, as Paul says, just a jar of clay.  The power belongs to GOD and not to US.  The preacher is a jar of clay...but the preaching?  The preaching has the power of God.

The preaching, if it is faithful, will feed and grow the mind and the heart.  In the preaching, we will learn more and more about all that God has revealed to us in His Word.  Whether we are hearing about Jacob’s ladder, the Passover, or how Christ is the Good Shepherd, we are learning WHAT God’s Word say, and what it means.

But it is not only that.  Good preaching, proper preaching, whether it is preached powerfully, or simply read off of a paper, it will speak to the heart.  Because, remember, beloved, it is not the person up here that brings the power with him.  But it is the Word itself.

It is God Himself who reaches through all the sinful blockages in the hearts of the hearers, and truly applies it to the heart.  When we continue to hear about God’s work of grace, and how that is worked out in the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and salvation...then our faith will grow.

Our faith that starts off as that small seed in us will grow when the gospel is preached, but sometimes, due to our insensitivity and our weakness, for us to have a truly vibrant and living faith, that faith must also be strengthened.  Our final point.

It is here in our final points where we come to the second tier of the fountain: the sacraments.

This fountain of grace finds its source in God.

Faith is worked and grown in us through the preaching

Faith is strengthened in us by the sacraments

And it is important for us to notice the difference in the function of these different means of grace.

The Holy Spirit WORKS [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel

And STRENGTHENS it by the use of the sacraments

There is a certain hierarchy here.  For the sacraments are not equal to the preaching of the Word.

And here is the hierarchy, moving from the bottom up.

The Sacraments.  Both holy baptism and the holy supper serve the cause of the preaching of the Word.

The preaching serves as the Spirit’s primary tool

And the Spirit Himself is at the top of this hierarchy, choosing to use these normal means for the salvation of His people and the building up of His Church.

And the sacraments, not only are lower in the hierarchy than the Word, but they are function in quite different ways.

They function differently, first of all, in their approach.  The approach of the gospel is an approach appealing to the sense of hearing.  It is through God’s voice that He called creation into being, and it is through His voice that He re-creates it also.

But the approach of the sacraments is an approach appealing to the sense of sight.  And we can see this when working with children.  Simply explaining concepts to them isn’t always enough.  That’s why I have a whiteboard that I use in my catechism classes.  While the lecture format is the best format for teaching information, sometimes it must be supplemented by diagrams.  By examples or analogies, like the squiggles of salvation, or the number chart of Christ’s obedience.  These examples are not the lecture itself, but they serve the same goal and the same purpose.  The diagrams come alongside the words and help the students understand.

And that brings us to the second difference between the two means of grace: their necessity.

Though it may seem almost sacrilegious to say so, but the sacraments are not NECESSARY for our salvation.  They aren’t.  While we dearly love to partake of the body and blood of our Lord and be spiritually nourished, strengthened for our lives in this world of sin, or when we see a baby or new believer baptized...this is a wonderful and meaningful part of being the church of Christ.  But let us not give the sacraments more power than they actually merit.

The sacraments alone, without the Word are meaningless.  Without any explanation, the holy supper would be an ordinary meal, and a very small one at that.  A single bite and a single sip.

Without the Word, baptism would be just one of many baths a child receives.  Without the Word, the sacraments are meaningless.

But not so with the Word.  There is nothing lacking in the Word of God that the sacraments HAD to be added.  The only thing that was lacking was us.  

The Belgic Confession says so very directly - We believe that our gracious God, mindful of our insensitivity and weakness, has ordained sacraments to seal His promises to us and to be pledges of His good will and grace towards us

There is nothing lacking the Word of God.  It is pure, it is powerful, it is inspired, and it is truly an honour to be able to administer the gospel to you week after week, Sunday after Sunday.  The Word is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

The sacraments are a wonderful blessing, and there are those who wish we would celebrate the holy supper more often.  And there is nothing prescribed in Scripture to celebrate ONLY every two months.  There are faithful churches who celebrate it more often, and there are faithful churches who celebrate it less often.

But we have what is most important.  We have the Word preached each Sunday yet again.  And let us never think that the sacraments tell their own story, and we only witness that story very occasionally.  But, in fact, the sacraments tell the same story as the Word.  Both the sacraments and the Word, means of grace, tell the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The story that I love to tell.  The story of Jesus and His love.

The story of a people, weak and lost.  Desperately in need of a Saviour.

The story of the God who saw them in their need and stepped in.

The God who stepped in by being born as a baby, taking on the same nature as His creation.

The God whose love for His people, though fallen and sinful, knew no bounds, giving up all the heavenly glories that were rightly His, and becoming obedient.

Becoming obedient unto death - even death on a cross.  A death that He suffered publicly, horribly.  His body was broken and His blood was shed, for the forgiveness of all the sins of His people.

Through the power of His Holy Spirit, His people partake in that same death.  We die with Him, but we are also raised with Him.  Raised with Him to new life, where He promises that He claims us as His own children.  Where He promises that all our sins are washed away in that blood, never to be remembered anymore by Him.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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