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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Grow Assured of your Faith through Good Works
Text:LD 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-05-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 57:1,5                                                                                            

Hy 1

Reading – 2 Peter 1:1-11; Canons of Dort 1:12

Ps 138:1,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 32

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 74:1,4

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


Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, have you ever thought about this question: Am I one of God’s elect? Maybe you’ve never considered it. But it can make you pause for a moment or two. Am I elect? How would I know? Can I really be sure?

Perhaps we should back up, just so we’re clear on what it means to be elect. Election is the teaching that God, before the foundation of the world, has chosen a certain number of sinful people to be saved through his grace in Christ. We’d also say that this choice is set, fixed in God’s counsel. There’s no changing election, no adding to or subtracting from the number.

Which begins to make that first question very serious. Has God chosen me? And if I’m not elect, what then? It’s really a life-or-death kind of question. For it’s basically the same as asking, ‘Am I saved? Will I live forever with the Lord, or not?’

When we think about these things, people respond in different ways—and it’s good to be sensitive about that. Hearing about election, maybe some will worry, fret if they’re going to heaven. Others resign themselves to never being sure. And maybe there’s a few others who say, ‘What does it matter? If I don’t know I’m elect, why even act like a Christian? Because if I am one of God’s chosen ones, I’ll still be saved in the end.’

But God never takes away our calling. He says that every person, without exception, and without excuse, is called to believe in him and strive to live in God’s way. Only such a life is to his glory. And God says one of the key purposes of doing good is our own assurance. When we actively do God’s will, we start to gain a certainty of God’s work in us, a conviction of God’s choice!

This is the teaching we find in Q&A 86, when it says: “We ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits.” One of the key texts referred to by the Catechism is 2 Peter 1, where Peter writes about making our calling and election sure, and doing that through a life of faith and works. Let’s consider Lord’s Day 32 on this theme,

Grow more assured of your faith through doing good works:

  1. by God’s divine power
  2. for your confidence in faith

 

1) by God’s divine power: Before we say anything else about trusting and obeying God, we need to go back to the source. Where’s it all from? How can it be that we’re even talking about sinners (who are naturally inclined to evil) doing good works at all? We go back to God. For who is the source of all life but the LORD, and He alone? In the beginning, He created us with his own hands. We were intended for glory, designed for fellowship with God.

Yet God’s work suffered a major setback. In a way, we’re like the half-finished buildings you sometimes see today—a house half-built, a structure abandoned because of lack of money or lack of interest. God’s project of humanity was seriously delayed. Not because God gave up on us, but because of the devil’s opposition. Satan shook the very foundations of creation. He undermined the central pillars, hoping it’d all come crashing down.

And Satan inflicted some terrible damage. From a human perspective, God’s purpose has been badly delayed and hindered. Yet God’s not done with us yet! He who created us once will also re-create. Through the promise and power of God, we will slowly progress onwards to new growth, and finally: to completion.

The whole thing begins with faith. Through faith, we are made right with our Creator, built again on that chosen and precious cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Once hopeless, we now put our hope in him. By faith, we are confident that He’s the one who can save us from Satan, that Christ gives God the reason to restart this project. We believe.

But even this faith is provided to us by God himself. Peter writes, “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (v 1). Faith in Christ, that essential saving connection to our Maker, is something given to us! As a most precious gift, it’s received by God’s elect.

And through faith flows an endless supply of blessing. We are given Christ’s own merits and Christ’s own honour. Even Christ’s own Spirit now resides within our hearts! We’ve gone from being hollow shells of a structure, to becoming whole and holy buildings for God! Like it says in Ephesians, “In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). Those who believe in Christ are being rebuilt and remodeled as a home for God. That original construction project is underway again.

So that we don’t forget, let’s underline that all this is through God’s grace. The Catechism even slips that truth into its question, “Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ…” (Q&A 86).

Peter says it too, as one of the first messages of his letter: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you” (2 Pet 1:2). From God in heaven, we have received saving grace—and such grace is always enough, of course: always sufficient. But now we pray that we would possess even more of it, so that grace comes to dominate our whole life. May the effect of God’s love be multiplied among us! We pray for a heart and life that overflows with grace.

And what does God’s grace in us look like? It has an active influence, a real and present effectiveness. Peter says: “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (v 3). There again is the source of all good things we have: God’s divine power. He is graciously giving everything that we need for life and godliness: faith, hope, and love—preparing us for good works.

When God chooses you, when God changes you, this affects so much more than a small corner of your life. Compare it a home renovation. I don’t know much about such things, but sometimes a homeowner will just fix up one room at a time: just the bathroom, or only the laundry. But then there are those who do a complete remodeling, when absolutely everything old is ripped out and made new. That’s what God is doing in our lives, from top to bottom. He is restoring our condition, in each and every way. Like the Catechism says, Christ is renewing us by his Spirit “so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God” (Q&A 86).

This is what we can expect to see—this is what we should see. God’s presence in your life changes everything. His sanctifying Spirit should flow into every small corner of your thoughts. The Spirit transforms every relationship, and impacts all your habits. And then when we see the things that God is doing in our life, when we see his plan for us taking shape once more, God gives us great assurance in the faith.

 

1) for your confidence in faith: We’ve been talking about buildings. Now let’s talk about fruit. It’s a very common image to describe the gospel’s effects. Think of what Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:17).

If you have a fruit tree in your backyard, it’s not hard knowing when the plant is alive and healthy. In due season, there will be good-sized fruit already formed, waiting to be picked. In the same way, the fruit of our lives tells us what we are. The words flying out of your mouth; the things that your hands find to do; the thoughts being generated by your mind—what does this say about you? If our faith is alive and well, we’ll see good fruits, good deeds done for God.

We’ll see love for our neighbor. We’ll see true joy in the gospel. We’ll see peace in the life’s difficulties. There will be patience with others. Others will enjoy your fruits of kindness and goodness and gentleness. In short, we’ll see a good crop. It might be small, but it’s good!

So how does that bring us assurance? How does a harvest of fruit give us confidence in the faith, as the Catechism says? The harvest should point us in one direction only: it points us back to the Source! We look at the fruits on our branches, and it should be obvious where they’ve come from. Their source is God, the life-giving fountain!

Christ said the same thing: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A living union with Christ—a relationship with him as Lord and Saviour—counts for everything. For then there’s real life, there’s real fruit. And there can be real assurance! ‘My faith is genuine. It has to be. True faith works—and mine is working! I know that I belong to God, because I can see what Almighty God is doing, even in me.’

This brings us back to 2 Peter 1:10, “Be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” When you listen to that text, do you hear a problem? We know it’s Scripture, but do you pick up something amiss? Peter tells us to ‘make our call and election sure.’ But I thought that it was sure! Election is written in God’s will, decided in his eternal counsel. So how can we ever add to that certainty? How can we make election ‘more sure,’ particularly by the insignificant and inconsistent good works that we do?

Election is firmly decided, of course. Long before we were born, God knew our names. Even before He created this world, He knew that we’d belong to him. He purposed to love us with a true love, though He also knew we’d never do anything to deserve it.

This is the amazing gift of election. Though we’re neither better nor more worthy than anyone else, God chose us. And as far as God is concerned, there’s nothing that we can do to make our election more certain, or less certain. That’s good news! If you are in Christ, God cannot love you any more, and He will not love you any less.

But here’s the point: When God chooses you, He also calls you. The Lord gives his elect something to do. In his first letter, Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…that you may declare God’s praises” (2:9). Chosen to declare God’s praises!

Or Paul says to the Ephesians, “God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). Chosen to be holy! As God’s elect, we’ve got a full agenda for this life: giving God our praise; showing a holiness in everything; leading a blameless life in the presence of God.

It is when we immerse ourselves in this kind of living that we grow in the certainty of belonging to God. For the fruits of God’s Spirit don’t just grow anywhere. His fruits don’t grow in the forgotten fields of this world, dry deserts and frozen wastelands. They grow only in God’s vineyard. A developing fruitfulness is God’s signature on our life, sure evidence of his claim and his care. 

As we increase in holiness, we make our election sure. As we grow in faith, we make our salvation more certain—certain in our minds, that is, and maybe also certain in the minds of others. This trust, this hope, this faithfulness, this joy, can only come from one place: from God, the faithful vinedresser.

This great work means we have a duty, beloved. If there is fruit developing on your branches, you need to get out the garden tools, and start cultivating. First, remove whatever parts are diseased—because our fruits definitely aren’t unblemished. Get rid of those sinful habits that you have allowed to become deeply rooted. Chop away those attitudes that are sucking energy away from your true purpose.

Then seek to add to your life a heap of fertilizer and lots of water. Commit yourself to feeding your faith with daily portions of God’s Word, and working it into your heart and mind through regular prayer. You simply will not be fruitful without the Word and prayer.

For doing God’s will still doesn’t come naturally. It’s something we need to learn, improve upon. Peter describes what this progress looks like. We should be “giving all diligence [to] add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (vv 5-7). It begins with faith. “Add to your faith” all these things. It’s when we daily put our trust in God that a stream of goodness will begin to flow from Him to us.

So here’s what to do. Let us aim for ‘virtue.’ In the Greek, it’s a word that describes moral purity or excellence. For in every area of our life, we have an opportunity to show uprightness. The strength of a person’s faith is seen in how wide his virtue extends. It starts touching places of our life that we never even thought of: our words, our affections, our ambitions and pleasures.

Add to your faith and virtue the gift of knowledge. What is the most important knowledge there is? The knowledge of Christ and his Word. We already know something about the Scriptures, but the mind is weak. Last Sunday’s sermons are already long gone. Meanwhile, there’s so much depth and breadth to the Word of God. So in your life, will you add knowledge to your faith? This will happen through you being connected to the Word throughout the week and coming to church faithfully every Sunday.

If you know Christ, then strengthen too, your self-control. Sometimes we lose control. It’s easy to say the wrong things at the wrong time. We stop managing our emotions, and in an instant we become so angry. Or we let our desires take over. In these moments of testing, how do we react? Do we show the fruit of self-control?

Train also for perseverance. Because many troubles afflict us, and the Christian life can be hard: always on alert to the devil’s temptations, and ready for opportunities to serve. Any of us get weary with all this effort. So we have to grow in perseverance. This is continuing and pressing on in the life of faith, by fixing your eyes on Christ.

And if we aspire to anything, Peter says, aspire to godliness. You shouldn’t just know about God, but try to be like God: merciful, faithful, generous, truthful. Pursue godliness, when you are more and more like God in your attitudes and actions.

Then there’s brotherly (and sisterly) kindness. That’s an unselfish love, and it’s another difficult fruit to grow. Some people have treated us badly, or have disagreed with us on some matter, so we hate the idea of being kind to them. But kindness reaches out. Is this fruit growing in your life, when you have a tender affection for your fellow believers?

Peter began this list of fruits with faith, and he ends with love. It’s on purpose that we end with that, for this is the greatest of all fruits. Be filled with a dedicated and active love for your neighbor. Love them really and truly.

These fruits tell us where we’re made of. This is the unmistakable label on our life, the label that declares to everyone, and declares to us: ‘Lovingly Handcrafted by God.’ As Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship” (Eph 2:10). We’re his piece of art, his personal project—still in progress, but clearly his work. You can see it.

So of course election will not lead to apathy. There will be no true believer who says, ‘Well, I’m ‘in’ with God. I’m sure I’ve been baptized and I’m pretty sure that I’m elect, so I’ve got no worries—and few responsibilities either.’ Will the chosen people be a frozen people, like we’re sometimes accused of?

Listen to what the Spirit says, “If these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:8). If you truly belong to God, and know Christ as Lord, you won’t be inactive or unfruitful. We’ll be zealous for service! It’ll bring God glory. And yes, it’ll bring you confidence, for in your good harvest you see the hard work of the vinedresser.

Does that mean there are never doubts or uncertainties? Is the Catechism too optimistic when it speaks of being “assured in our faith.” Sometimes we wonder. We’re still so raw and unfinished in our sanctification, we're still so weak.

Maybe we’re doing well in one or two areas of the Christian life—you’ve got good devotion habits now, you’ve quit gossiping and drinking so much. But then we suddenly realize how badly we’re falling down somewhere else, how we’re becoming proud or we’ve had a lot of anger lately. Scanning our lives for the fruits of the Spirit, we still see evidence of spiritual rottenness and stunted growth. So does that mean we’re actually bad trees?

What the Canons of Dort say here is helpful and encouraging. It speaks about being assured of our faith, in the same way that the Catechism does. “The elect, in due time, though in various stages and in different measure, are made certain of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation” (1:12). We can grow in the certainty of our faith and election.

And then the Canons adds colour to that. What kind of evidence are we looking for? What are the fingerprints of God that we expect to see on our lives? It says that believers “attain this assurance…by observing in themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unfailing fruits of election…such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, and a hunger and thirst for righteousness” (1:12).

Underline those fruits of election. It doesn’t mention ‘perfect obedience.’ There’s no expectation that we’ll be able to present God with ‘spotless service.’ Rather, it speaks of true faith, childlike fear, godly sorrow for sin, and a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They’re not the fruits of someone who is done growing. For there’s still a need to humble ourselves, to cast ourselves on the mercies of the Lord.

The evidence of our election lies not in the total absence of sin and weakness. The evidence lies in our attitude and response to the sin that remains. Do you know the sin in your life, and do you have sorrow for it, repenting and confessing? Do you press on to overcome your weaknesses—or do you just resign yourself to falling again tomorrow or the day after? Do you try leave the path of sin, and to walk in righteousness instead?

A child of God will grieve his sins and try flee from them. For it is completely safe to acknowledge to God your utter emptiness. You can seek daily grace in Jesus. And you can make it your aim in all things and in every way to please and thank God.

We’re still inclined to live for ourselves and trust in idols, but it’s slowly changing. I still think a lot of myself, and still seek my own interests in the first place. I still stumble every day, you do. But we slowly find in growing a harvest of fruit so that “with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits” (Q&A 86).

This becomes our identity: “I am one of God’s children. So I’m here to serve him. I’m here to bring him glory.” As the elect of the Lord, there’s our primary task. That’s what God wants from you, from the start of each day to its close every night: to declare his praise as your Saviour and King.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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