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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God's amazing sovereign grace produces fruit in our lives
Text:LD 24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-12-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 24

Psalm 101:1-3

Psalm 119:39

Hymn 1

Hymn 10

Scripture reading: Philippians 3

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 24

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


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Dick and Rick Hoyt did 257 triathlons together, including several Iron Mans.  The father-son team also did 72 marathons, including 32 Boston marathons.  They did 97 half-marathons and many other races together.  Dick and Rick Hoyt travelled to many places in their athletic endeavours together.  In itself, it might not sound that remarkable.  Surely there are many fathers and sons who like to run together and are into athletics.  But what made Team Hoyt special was the fact that Rick Hoyt had cerebral palsy and never walked a step in his life, let alone run.  When Dick and Rick ran a marathon, Dick pushed Rick in a wheelchair the whole way, the whole 42 km.  When they swam in triathlons, Dick pulled Rick along in a specially constructed boat.  When they biked in triathlons, Rick sat in a special basket on the front of Dick’s bike.  And every time they crossed the finish line, it was because of Dick’s physical effort.

It all started when Rick asked his dad to help him run a five-mile race to raise money for a lacrosse player who’d been paralyzed in an accident.  Dick had never run a race before and certainly not while pushing a wheelchair.  But for his son he trained and he did it.  And that began a legacy of running races together.  All because a father loved his son and carried him along.    

Isn’t that just like what we see in the Bible when it comes to the roots of our salvation?  When it comes to our justification, our being declared right with God, God does everything for us.  We’re like Rick Hoyt, born unable to run or complete the race.  But God takes care of everything.  He carries us through by his grace.  He gives us salvation in Christ as a free gift.  Because of what Christ has done in his life, death, and resurrection, we’re declared right with God and received into his family.  Even the faith by which we embrace Christ is a gracious gift of our Father in heaven, worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  It’s all grace. 

But the usefulness of that illustration has its limits.  Having been justified by faith in Christ as a free gift, we’re now enabled by the Holy Spirit to stand and run.  We’ve been grafted into Christ, we’re now in him, and because of that God’s work continues in our lives with sanctification.  His grace produces the fruit of good works.  Because he has carried us in our justification, we can now run with him in our sanctification. 

To remind you of our definitions, justification is God’s declaration that we’re right with him because of Christ’s work on our behalf.  Justification is an event, a one-time thing.  Sanctification is what happens as a Christian grows in holiness.  Our wills have been made alive and we work together with the Holy Spirit to please God in good works.  Sanctification is a process.  It’s an ongoing thing in our lives that continues until the day we’re glorified.  In Lord’s Day 24, we consider the relationship between those two important aspects of our salvation.  What’s the relationship between our good works and our justification?  As we consider what the Bible teaches on this, we’ll see that God’s amazing sovereign grace produces fruit in our lives.  We’ll learn about:

  1. The function of this fruit
  2. The reward for this fruit
  3. The source of this fruit

The Bible often uses agricultural imagery.  That makes sense when you consider how it was written in a time when most people lived close to the land.  Most people knew something about farming and how it all works.  An agricultural image often found in Scripture is that of the tree or the vine.  It’s found in the Old Testament already.  For instance, it’s in Psalm 1.  The righteous man is said to be like a tree planted by streams of water.  In the New Testament, Jesus is that tree.  He is the righteous man.  He says in John 15 that he is the vine and we are the branches.  Christians are grafted into Christ and so we have his sap flowing through us, so to speak.  Because we’re united to Christ in this real organic way, Jesus says we will bear fruit. 

Now it’s important we have the right perspective on the function of this fruit in our lives.  That’s what QA 62 is getting at.  Our Catechism asks why our good works cannot function in our justification.  Why can our sanctification not be mixed together with our justification, even just a little bit?  Can’t we allow for some overlap here?

No, there’s no overlap.  A distinction has to be maintained.  For us to be declared right by God, we need 100% perfect righteousness.  We need righteousness in complete agreement with the law of God.  Such righteousness is only found with Jesus Christ.  It’s not found in us.  Even the best things we do as Christians are imperfect and stained with sin.  One of the proof-texts here is Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…”  That’s actually a sanitized translation of these words.  Our righteous acts are like a rag that belongs in the sewer.  We have these things we do that we think are pretty decent.  But they don’t measure up in God’s sight.  They’re stained with sin and so they can’t stand as part of our justification. 

That was exactly Paul’s conclusion in Philippians 3.  He warns the Philippian believers about the Judaizers, those who want to mix good works into the roots of salvation.  He says these false teachers are dogs, they’re evil.  Why?  Because they pervert the gospel of grace.  They put confidence in the flesh and they turn faith upside down.  Faith for salvation is supposed to be directed upwards to God, but they flip it over and put confidence in human works.  Then Paul says, “I know something about that.  I used to be a super-Jew, an uber-Pharisee.  I worked hard at being righteous and I was good at it.”  But then Christ came along and Paul’s world was turned right side up.  Then he saw the truth.  He realized his own righteousness was rubbish and worth nothing before the sight of a just and holy God.  He needed Jesus and his righteousness.  He needed the righteousness that comes by resting and trusting in Christ alone – that’s exactly what all of us need.  There’s no other way to be right with the Father, to be saved from the wrath our sins deserve. 

But Paul’s journey in Christ didn’t stop there.  He was justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works, apart from the law.  But being in Christ changed his life.  Being grafted into Christ, fruit began to emerge.  According to Philippians 3, Paul really came alive.  He pressed on “to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of” him.  He forgot what was behind and strained toward what was ahead.  He pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called him heavenward in Christ Jesus.  He wanted to live up to what he had attained in Christ. 

So what’s the function of that fruit in the life of a believer?  It’s the outcome of our justification.  It’s the response to our justification.  Sanctification, the process of growth in godliness, is what happens when we’re amazed at God’s sovereign grace in our lives.  We’ve been smitten by the love of Christ and now we aim to love him and please him.  Not because we think we have to do it to somehow do our part in earning our salvation, but because we genuinely want to live in him and for him. 

One of the most dangerous errors is to think that our good works do play a role in our justification, that they somehow still do factor in.  This is what Satan wants us to think.  This is what the remnants of our sinful nature incline us to think.  “You’re not such a bad person.  You do a lot of good and surely God will notice and it has to count for something.”  That’s what we call snake-think.  It’s Satanic and it undermines the gospel of free grace in Christ.  It detracts from the glory of Christ.  Loved ones, I urge you again to cast yourself entirely on Christ alone.  You’re not good enough to play any role in your justification.  You never will be.  That’s why our salvation is said to be of God’s sovereign grace.  Because you can’t do it.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can.  Listen to the realistic appraisal the Word of God gives you of yourself and your deeds:  it’s all like filthy rags, it’s all rubbish.  In Jesus you find the pearl of great price, in Christ you find blood more precious than silver or gold – righteousness that can truly save you. 

Be impressed and amazed at sovereign grace, brothers and sisters.  Turn your heart in love towards your Saviour.  And then give attention to what the Word of God says about your response to this great salvation we have in Christ.  Be serious about godliness and holiness because you love your God and want to please him and glorify him.   That’s the proper place and function of the fruit of our justification. 

Then what about the reward for this fruit?  Our Catechism is right:  God promises to reward our good works in this life and the next.  For example, Revelation 14:13 says that the deeds of those who die in the Lord will follow them.  In other words, there will be a reward waiting for those who have lived and died in Christ.  When we respond to God’s sovereign grace with good works, with growing holiness, God does bless that in this life and the next.

So then the next question becomes:  don’t we then earn something after all?  Aren’t there some wages here being doled out?  Well, no.  Here we have to distinguish between wages earned and a gift of grace.

In Luke 17, Jesus uses an illustration to get this across.  He speaks of a servant working on a farm.  Now to get this illustration, you need to understand something about servants in the days of the New Testament.  Servants had no right to wages.  People who owned servants often paid them, but not because they were required or expected to.  When servants received something, it was entirely grace.  In Luke 17, Jesus says imagine you had a servant.  Would you thank him if he did what he was expected to do?   Jesus says we should think of ourselves in the same way.  God owes us nothing.  Not a word of thanks, not a wage, nothing.  That God then promises to reward our good works is something amazing.  He doesn’t owe us anything, but yet promises to give us something anyway – and he doesn’t do it grudgingly, but gladly.  That’s awesome. 

Why does Scripture speak of these rewards?  It’s there to motivate us to good works.  There are different ways God motivates us to holiness.  Our Catechism focusses on thankfulness.  We should be thankful we’ve been saved, and out of thankfulness we should aim to live godly lives that follow God’s will.  But the Bible does speak of other motivations.  For example, there’s love for God and the desire to please him.  There’s the glory motive – that we bring glory to God with our good works.  There’s the neighbour motive – that we win our neighbour for Christ through our lives.  To those motivations, we could add the knowledge that our good works will be rewarded as a gift of grace.  In this life and the next, God will bless our efforts to live a life pleasing to him.  Our efforts will never be in vain.  Scripture doesn’t make a lot out of this motivation – it’s not as central as the glory of God or love or thankfulness.  But it’s there and God does hold it out to us a part of the total package motivating us to be serious about sanctification.

One of the classic objections to the sovereign grace of God in our salvation is that this teaching will make people careless and wicked.  “I’m saved by grace anyway, so now it makes no difference how I live.  I like to sin, God likes to forgive, so we each carry on.  It’s a great deal.”  Our Catechism refers to this way of thinking in QA 64.  That objection has been around for a long time.  The Roman Catholics used it against Reformed theology back in the 1500s.  Then it was revived again by the Arminians in the early 1600s.  The Arminians said that if you focus on the sovereign grace of God in election and don’t speak about human effort, then people will get lazy and complacent.  They’ll think they don’t have to keep the law of God anymore and they’ll start living like the devil.  The Canons of Dort answer this objection in a couple of places and the basic answer is much the same as what we find in our Catechism.

The answer has to do with the source of the fruit of sanctification.  Here again we can refer back to the image that Christ uses in John 15 of the vine and the branches.  Why do the branches bear fruit?  It’s because they’re grafted in to the vine, united to the vine and connected to its roots.  They have the sap running through them from the vine.  Similarly, when someone has been saved by sovereign grace, they’re grafted into Christ.  They’re united to him, they have his Holy Spirit living in them.  That being the case, it’s impossible that there won’t be fruit. 

But what if there is no fruit?  What if there’s someone who claims to be a Christian and yet they have no good works to show for it?  They love sin and they live in sin.  What if someone is being careless and wicked while claiming Christ as their Lord and Saviour?  Well, then the Bible teaches us to see this as a false profession.  True believers humble themselves before God, they adore the depth of his mercies, they cleanse themselves, and they fervently love the one who first so greatly loved them.  When a person says they’re a Christian, but show no fruit, the conclusion has to be that they really aren’t grafted into Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit.  They have no connection to the source and that’s why there’s no fruit.

Why did the Lord give us this instruction?  It’s not so we can analyze others around us.  This doctrine isn’t first so we can make judgments about others, though sometimes that might be necessary.  Think for instance of the fact the Scripture tells us to marry in the Lord.  The Bible tells Christians only to marry fellow Christians.  So if you’re single, you have to judge whether a potential spouse is in the Lord and one of the ways you do that is by looking for fruit which matches the profession of faith in Christ.  So there may be instances, where you do have to apply it to others. 

Yet this doctrine is first of all for us to apply to ourselves.  Am I connected to the source through faith?  Am I grafted into Christ, united to him through faith?  Is there fruit of that in my life?  Am I bringing forth fruits of thankfulness?  Do I realize how deeply I’ve been loved and now seek to love in response?  Loved ones, these are the questions we should be focussing on here.  And the answer has to be, “Yes, Jesus Christ died and rose again for me.  He did it all for me and in my place.  All his satisfaction, righteousness and holiness is mine, though I deserve nothing, and in fact deserve the opposite.  I deserve wrath and I get love.  I’m amazed at the sovereign grace of God.  I have been loved from before eternity and it blows my mind.  I love God, I love Jesus, and I want to serve him.  I want to follow his Word because I belong to him.”  That’s where this teaching is designed to lead you, loved ones.  That’s where you need to be.

God’s sovereign grace is truly amazing.  As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we come to realize that in ever greater measures.  Like Rick Hoyt, we’ve been carried the whole way in our justification.  Unlike Rick Hoyt, we now also have the ability to run and aim to please our Saviour in our sanctification.  Brothers and sisters, let’s be thankful and run hard for him.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

O God in heaven,

Your sovereign grace amazes us.  We’re so thankful that we can be your children because of what our Lord Jesus has done for us.  Thank you for declaring us right through him.  We praise you for loving us from before the foundation of the world in Christ.  Now Father, we pray that you would stir up greater love for you in our hearts.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so we love you and want to thank you and please you with good works that follow your will.  You’ve been so gracious to us and we’re so glad for that.  Please give us more grace for our sanctification.  Please help us to be eager to serve you and our neighbour.  We want to do that for your glory, because we love you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 




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

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