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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:Though they are sinners, God preserves his saints
Text:CD 5 art. 1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Psalm 124:1

Nicene Creed

Psalm 16:5


Read: Romans 6:1-14; 1 Peter 1:1-9

Hymn 53:1,2

Text:  Canons of Dort, chap. 5, art. 1-3; RE 2.

Hymn 53:3,4



Psalm 124:2,3


* 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.

I'd like to ask you a question:  Does the way that you live match who you really are?  Does the way that you live match who you really are?

How would you answer that question?  On the one hand, you might say Yes, the way I live does match who I really am.  That's true in a general sense, but it is also true for my life as a Christian.  I would not consider myself to be a hypocrite.  I know that my identity is in Christ and I try to live out of my identity in Christ.  I love him, and I want to serve him.  But on the other hand, does the way that we live really match who we are?  2 Corinthians 5:17 says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

And Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

But the fact of the matter is that we sin!  Sometimes we sin in big ways, and sometimes in ways that, humanly speaking, are small.  But whatever the sin, every time we break one of God's commandments or else fail to do what he has commanded us to do, how we live does not match the reality of who we are.

We wish, of course, that this was not the case but it is.  At times we are confronted with what chapter 5, article 2 calls those "daily sins of weakness."  At other times we are faced with sin in our lives that is fare more serious.  And it leaves us troubled.  It makes ashamed.  And at times those sins may even make us wonder, "Am I really then a Christian?  Am I even saved?  Can I be sure that that I really am saved, and that I will still be saved on the Last Day when our Lord Jesus returns?

This afternoon we will be considering these questions as we turn to the first three articles of chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort.  And so learning from these articles in connection with what we read in Romans 6 and 1 Peter 1, as well as the rest of Scripture I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

Though they are sinners, God preserves his saints

1.  Freed from sin - but not entirely

2. Secure in Christ - and that is entirely


1. Freed from sin - but not entirely.

Chapter 5 of the Canons deals with a troubling question:  How can the believer remain firm in the faith until the end?  How can a Christian resist the attacks of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh so that, as Lord's Day 52 of the Catechism puts it,

"we may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies, until we finally obtain the complete victory"?

This was - and is - a troubling question, and the reason why this is such a troubling question is because it happens all too often that how we live does not match who we really are.

  We read together from Romans chapter 6.  Romans 6 tells us very plainly what it means for our sin to have been put to death in Jesus Christ.  We have "died to sin", Romans 6:2 tells us.  We were "baptized into [Christ's] death", verse 3.  And verse 6,

"We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin."

Our "old self" and "the body of sin" is our old nature, who we were before we were regenerated, born again, and made righteous in Jesus Christ.  This "old self" was crucified, put to death and buried in Jesus Christ, which, Romans 6:3-4 tells us, is what our baptism is a picture of.  And that body of sin is now "brought to nothing", it is destroyed, annihilated, it has ceased to exist.  We are no longer, Romans 6:6 says, enslaved to sin because, verse 7,

"For one who has died has been set free from sin."

That's who we are.  That's what has happened to us.  And that's why verse 14 says that sin will no longer have dominion over us.  In Christ you have been freed from sin.  In Christ your sin has been put to death and buried with him.

  And that's a very real thing.  That's a very real experience.  That's the miracle of regeneration, of being born again.  And that's the reality for every Christian, for every person who is in Christ Jesus. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  And that's what we confess in the first part of the sentence that makes up chapter 5, article 1 of the Canons of Dort:

"Those whom God according to his purpose calls into the fellowship of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by his Holy Spirit, he certainly sets free from the dominion and slavery of sin."

But now comes the reality.  Now comes the rest of the sentence.

". . . he certainly set free from the dominion and slavery of sin, but not entirely in this life from the flesh and the body of sin."

And isn't that the truth?  We are no longer slaves to sin, and praise the Lord for that, but we are not entirely free from sin.  And that's why Romans 6 says what it says.  Romans 6:12-13,

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."

Romans 6 warns us not to let sin reign in our body because the temptation to sin remains.   But it's not just the temptation to sin:  it is also the reality of sin that remains.  Article 2 of the Canons begins in this way:

"Therefore daily sins of weakness spring up and defects cling to even the best works of the saints."

And next week, with chapter 5, article 4, we will be confronted with the truth that saints may even fall into serious sins.  And there is, therefore, a war going on inside of us, a spiritual war where the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.  (Galatians 5:17.). That's what we experience, that why how we live does not match who we are.

And that's the experience of all God's people on this side of eternity.  In Romans chapter 7 the apostle Paul went on to say in verse 14-15,

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

And Romans 7:18,

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."

And verse 21-23,

"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members."

And so we see that the struggle is real!  That's the reality of our present existence.  How we live does not always match who we are in Christ.  But God knows that!  And rather than reject us on account of our sin, he calls us to confess our sin and to turn again and again to Jesus Christ.  That's what we do every Sunday when the Law is read.  And that's what we also do when we celebrate the Lord's Supper together.  In fact, the Form for the Lord's Supper says,

"For we do not come to this supper to declare that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves.  On the contrary, we seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ and, in doing so, we acknowledge that we are dead in ourselves.  We also are aware of our many sins and shortcomings.  We do not have perfect faith and we do not serve God with such zeal as he requires.  Daily we have to contend with the weakness of our faith and with the evil desires of the flesh.  Yet, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are heartily sorry for these shortcomings and desire to fight against our unbelief and to live according to all the commandments of God."

And that's also what we confess in the Canons, chapter 5, article 2.

"Therefore daily sins of weakness spring up an defects cling to even the best works of the saints.  These are for them a constant reason to humble themselves before God, to flee to the crucified Christ, to put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness, and to long and strive for the goal of perfection until at last, delivered from this body of death, they reign with the Lamb of God in heaven."

It's not all a failure.  God's work of regeneration in us is real, and as Christians we will therefore grow to be more Christ-like as we seek him and his Word.  But it's a process.  A life-long process.  And it's a process that won't be over until this life is over.

But that brings us to another question:  will we ever make it?  If it is true that how we live does not match who we are, if it is true that in this life we are not yet entirely free from sin, what's the guarantee that we will persevere in our new life with Christ?  What's the guarantee that at the end of our lives we really will be standing before the throne of God, singing our praises to him?  That brings us to our second point,

2. Secure in Christ - and that is entirely

The main question that Chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort seeks to answer is this:  How can we make it in our walk with God to the very end?  How will we be preserved in the redemption Christ has obtained for us, and how can we be sure?

  The Canons of Dort were written at the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands in the 1600s.  These Canons, or judgments, from the Synod, were written to teach what God's Word has to say about the doctrines of grace and the work of God in our salvation.

 When it came to the question of "How can you persevere in your faith to the very end?" the Arminians acknowledged that you need help from God to do this.  What they also said, however, is that while God does provide you with the strength to carry on, it is up to you and up to your personal decision, outside of God's working, as to whether or not you will take what God offers you and remain true to the faith.  This is how the Arminians described this, as found in the Rejection of Errors, chapter 5, number 2.

Error: God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient strength to persevere, and is ready to preserve this in him if he will do his duty. But even with all those things in place which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, it still always depends on the decision of man’s will whether he will persevere or not.

It's that last line in particular that the Reformed theologians at the Synod of Dort took issue with.  The Arminians said that "it still always depends on the decision of man's will whether he will persevere or not"  and when you first hear that, it might sound reasonable:  God offers you the strength to carry on, but it is up to you to decide if you're going to take what he is offering or not. 

  But when we think this through, and when we do so with an open Bible, we have to conclude that this would never work.  Because in and of ourselves we could never even begin to persevere in our faith.  Listen to what the Fathers of Dort said in the first sentence of article 3 of chapter 5.

"Because of these remnants of indwelling sin and also because of the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in that grace if left to their own strength."

And isn't that so very true?  If it was up to us to persevere in our faith we could never make it.  In fact, those daily sins of weakness remind us again and again as to how weak we really are!  Remember what it says in Isaiah 64:6 and the first part of verse 7, that

"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you."

That's the problem!  And therefore the Arminian claim that it is still up to us and that we can still do it, that we still have it in us to persevere to the end through our own strength, is so very wrong.  And not only is it wrong, but it is depressing and makes us anxious.  Because then I am left with nothing but doubt.  Then I am left with the question, "Will I ever make it to the end?  Will I be the last man standing?"

But what does the Bible say?  1 Corinthians 1:4-9,

"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."

Did you hear that in 1 Corinthians 1:8?  He will sustain you to the end!  Because, verse 9 said, "God is faithful."

  And Philippians 1:6 says the same thing.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

And then there is what we read together from 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 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, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

He has given us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  It is "kept in heaven for you" and it is being guarded "by God's power". 

  And there is also 1 Peter 5:10, that Bible text that is used at our profession of faith.

"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."

Scripture could not be more clear.  Though they are sinners, God preserves his saints. We are freed from sin, but not entirely.  We are secure in Christ, and that is entirely.  And that's why the Canons teach us at the end of chapter 5, article 3,

"But God is faithful, who mercifully confirms them in the grace once conferred upon them and powerfully preserves them in that grace to the end."

He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.  He who has done great things for us will sustain us to the end. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


* 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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