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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:Those who rest in God's grace will live in it
Text:CD 5 art. 12-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2022-02-20
Added:2023-11-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Greeting

Psalm 34:1

Hymn 1

Prayer

Read:  Titus 2

Psalm 111:1,5

Text:  Canons of Dort, chap. 5, art. 12-14; RE 6

Psalm 119:12,13

Prayer

Collection

Psalm 119:66

Blessing

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


* Introduction is time and place specific.  Will require an edit for use in the worship service.  Contact author if needed.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With the upcoming Federal Election, you can be sure that the airwaves will be full of talking and interviews with our Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, those in government and those hoping to get into government.  Some of those interviews will be exploring the issues of the day, but at other times it will seem like a bit of a game where the interviewer seems less concerned about getting the facts and more interested in having one of those "gotcha moments", when they get Scott Morrison or whoever it might be to trip themselves up and to say something that supposedly proves what they are really thinking or planning to do.  These sorts of "gotcha moments" aren't limited to politics and the press; at times you can even seem to find them in the history of the church.  In fact, at the Synod of Dort in the 1600s, the Arminians tried to get their "gotcha moments" with those who were Reformed, holding on to the doctrines of grace.  One of those so-called "gotcha moments" had to do with the effect of believing that not only does God elect us to salvation and not only does he work repentance unto salvation in us, but that he will also preserve us in that salvation to the very end.  When the Arminians heard that, they said, " That's going to have bad consequences!  That's not going to work!  Because if you believe that God's going to hold on to you, that he will preserve you in your salvation no matter what, then what's the point of even trying anymore?  What's the point of living a godly life?  What's to stop you from being incredibly careless in your walk with God? 

  "No", the Arminians said.  "You should not believe that.  In fact, you cannot believe that and hope to stay godly to the end.  The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints will make you proud!  It will make you complacent.  It will lead to carelessness and to the neglect of godliness.

  But is that true?  Does a firm belief in the doctrines of grace, as we've learned about them in the Canons of Dort, really lead to carelessness and even godlessness?  Did the Arminians really have their "gotcha moment"?

  No, they didn't have their "gotcha moment", and a true understanding and conviction regarding the perseverance of the saints cannot lead to carelessness and to godlessness but must instead lead to a greater love for God and desire to live in godliness. 

  Turning to God's Word in Titus chapter 2, and looking at what the church confesses in the Canons of Dort chapter 5, articles 12-14, I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

Those who rest in God's grace will live in it.

1. Not careless

2. But godly

 

1. Not careless

For the Arminian, there is always the fear that if you're not careful, you will fall from grace, you will fall heavily, and you will fall forever.  "Watch out!"  they will tell you.  "Be careful!  Never assume that all is well, that you will always be saved."  Now we might look at this and think, "What a horrible way to live!"  But the Arminians said "No, it is the right way to live!"  As they put it in the Rejection of Errors number 6,

"By its very nature the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and salvation causes false security and is harmful to godliness, good morals, prayers, and other holy exercises.  On the contrary, it is praiseworthy to doubt."

And at first glance, it might even seem that they really did have their "gotcha moment" with this claim.  Because it is true:  there are many people who claim to be Christians, even claim to believe the gospel, even profess the Reformed faith, but appear to be careless in their walk with God.  For some it is a failure to honour the Lord's Day and faithfully placing themselves under the preaching of God's Word.  For others, there is a looseness with respect to godly morals, to the abuse of alcohol or other substances, to sinful entertainment, to sexual sin, to sins of the tongue and so forth.  These sins are indeed very serious and to practice such sin without true repentance is deeply concerning.  The Lord Jesus himself said in Matthew 7:21 that

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

And in his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul acknowledged that there were even such people in those days in the churches of Crete.  "There are many," he wrote in Titus 1:10,

"There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party."

And chapter 1:16,

"They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work."

But that's not the same as saying, as the Arminians did, that a true believer can never be assured of his salvation, and that it is praiseworthy to doubt if you will ever be saved at all.  In fact, in his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul did not change the message of the gospel to one of "You need to try better to get to heaven", but he emphasised the true message of the gospel, confident that those who believed the gospel of God's grace would live in it.  In answer to those who denied God by their evil works Paul instructed Titus in Titus 2:1,

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine"!

And then indeed follows a long description of how all the different members of the congregation, both young and old, slave and free, were to live a godly life, something we will consider later, in our second point.  But this is not a return to some sort of legalism but it is a lesson of how one is to live from the gospel, being assured of your salvation in Jesus Christ.  We can see this from what Paul says further in verse 11-12.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness, and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

What verse 11 is saying is that it is the grace of God that teaches us how to live!  And that grace of God is the free and undeserved favour of God.  It describes the incredible generosity of God.  Grace is being loved when we do not deserve to be loved, blessed when we do not deserve to be blessed.  As Christians, the Bible tells us, we do not live out of fear, but out of grace!

And it is this grace that brings salvation.  It is this grace that promises us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and it is this grace that gives us life, even now.  Titus 2:14 says that our great God and saviour Jesus Christ

“. . . gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

There's a connection, therefore, between grace and works, between assurance and godliness.  It is by God's grace that we have been saved and it is in his grace that we now live.  And for we who live in the grace of God, we who are assured of our salvation in Christ and confident that he will hold on to us to the end, there is no way that we could become careless in our walk with God.  In fact, if you are careless, if you are one of those who is not diligent in coming together for worship, if you are one of those who does not practice those holy exercises of faith such as your personal and family devotions and so forth, if you are one of those who is not growing in holiness, the question you need to ask yourself is:  do you believe the gospel? 

  You see, that's the point.  When you know what you've been saved from and you know what you've been saved to be, there is no going back!   If it was not for grace, the Christian life would be a burden.  If it was not for grace, we would find the Christian life to be hard.  If it was not for grace we would be overwhelmed with the burden of guilt, of failing in our Christian life.  If it was not for grace, we would be doing everything in an attempt to seek the approval of others, even of God.  We would be trying our hardest to look good on the outside.  If it was not for grace, we would be comparing ourselves with others to see if were doing ok – and we would come down very hard on those who do measure up to our standards of holiness.  And, interestingly, if it was not for grace, we would also be looking for ways to minimize the demands of God’s holy law.

  But when we live in the grace of God, and when by his grace we live in the assurance of eternal life, this grace teaches us a new way to live.  The grace of God teaches us that we have been freed from a life of sin and misery to be redeemed from every lawless deed and purified to be the special people of God.  The grace of God teaches us to be zealous for good works.  Indeed, the more we understand grace and the more we live in it, the more it is a joy to live a godly life. 

  And that's what Chapter 5, article 13 teaches us.  Article 13 says,

"Neither does this renewed confidence [of our assurance of salvation] produce carelessness or neglect of godliness in those who have been restored after their fall; rather, it produces in them a much greater concern to observe carefully the ways of the Lord, which he prepared beforehand."

And we would not have it any other way!  For the opposite would be "to abuse God's fatherly goodness" with the result, article 13 goes on to says, that the Christian "would fall into still greater anguish of spirit."  And that would bring back to what article 5 of the Canons describe, a loss of the sense of God's favour, a sense that God has turned his face from us.  And that is something that is horrible to contemplate.  And therefore, living in the grace of God, rejoicing in his presence and being sure that God will preserve us in the redemption he has obtained for us will not leave us careless but rather careful to walk in godliness before him.  We will see this further in our second point.

2. But Godly.

I chose to speak about "resting in God's grace" for my theme because this is what the perseverance of the saints, or the assurance of salvation, is all about.  It's resting fully in the work of Christ, and trusting fully in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and believing fully that God will hold on to us in his grace until the end.  But resting in God's grace has nothing to do with complacency.  Far from it!  Rather, as chapter 5, article 12 of the Canons says,

"This certainty of perseverance, however so far from making true believers proud and complacent, is rather the true root of humility, childlike reverence, genuine godliness, endurance in every struggle, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in the confession of the truth, and lasting joy in God.  Further, the consideration of this benefit is for them an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints."

And that is also the testimony of Scripture as we read it in Titus chapter 2.  Titus 2:14 says that  

Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

In this verse there are two reasons why Christ gave Himself for us.  In the first place He offered Himself as a sacrifice to redeem us from every lawless deed.  In other words, to free us from a dark and rebellious life, to free us from a life of sin.  But the second reason is this:  to purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.  The Lord has saved us from our sin so that we might be His special people and able to live a new life of holiness and obedience before Him.  And the more we understand the gospel and the more we rest in it, the greater our commitment will be to living godly lives, the more eager we would be to "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour" - as Titus 2:10 puts it. 

  And that is the context in which Titus 2 calls the church to holy living.  Older men: you are to be sober, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness.  As you rest in God's grace, be sure to turn your back on the godlessness of this world.  Live in the awareness that the Lord is close by and that soon you will live with him forever.  Be a good example to others while being patient with their weaknesses and shortcomings.  Encourage everyone to a new obedience in Christ.

  Older women:  live lives of reverence so that you neither end up as gossips or drunks, but models of goodness.  You are an example to those women who are younger to them, so be a good example, training them to love their husbands and children, being virtuous and pure, keeping a good house and being good wives. 

  Young men, and also young women:  live sober and disciplined lives, and be a model for good works.

  What Paul was describing in Titus 2, was a church that showed itself to be the special people of God not just in their Sunday worship but in all of life.  In Christ we are not only to enjoy the forgiveness of past sin; in Christ we are to live in freedom from the grip of sin.  We are to live as those whom God has purified, His own special people.  As the theme for this sermon puts it, those who rest in God's grace will live in it.  But understand the Christian's motivation for living a godly life.  We do not try to live this way out of fear, frightened that if we don't live godly lives we might fall and lose our salvation any moment.  Rather, we live this way out of faith and out of a love for God, and out of the sheer pleasure of living before his face.  "The contemplation of [God's] face is sweeter than life", chapter 5, article 13 of the Canons says, "but it's withdrawal is more bitter than death."

But even then, even knowing the joy of resting in God's grace, we are still weak.  Even then the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh do not cease to attack us.  And that's why we need help.  That's why we need the ongoing presence and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live in God's grace.  And the Holy Spirit does that through the means of grace.  Chapter 5, article 14 of the Canons says,

"Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so he maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of his Word, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats and promises, and by the use of the sacraments."

The Arminians said that he who doubts his salvation is to be praised, because this will make you try harder and so be saved.  But the Word of God says it is not good to doubt but it is good to trust.  To trust not in yourselves but to trust in God and in the sure promises of God.  To trust that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.  And to trust that he who began a good work in you will be the One to bring it to completion.  And the way the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith is through the reading and the preaching of the Word, the Bible.  And the Holy Spirit further assures you of your eternal security in him is through the promises given in that Word, and impresses them upon us through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

And that's how those who rest in grace will live in it.  Not careless, but godly.  Not proud, but humble.  Not complacent, but eager.  Not in doubt, but confident.  Confident not in yourself, but in God.  For he will preserve you in his grace to the end.  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 2022, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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