CHRIST'S BENEFITS ARE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FAITH - Rev. E. Kampen
A Lord's Day Sermon by Rev. E. Kampen
- Ps. 81:1,2
- Hy. 1B
- Read: Rom. 11:11-24
- Ps. 103:1,4,7
- Lord's Day 7
- Ps. 115:5,6
- Hy. 46:1,2
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ:
In L.D. 6 we confess that Jesus Christ is that mediator who is true God and true and righteous man. He is the one spoken of throughout the Scriptures as the one who came to restore the covenant with God broken in Paradise. But now we come before an important question. We remember that Adam's sin has consequences for the whole human race, as the whole human race shares in his sin and guilt. And so the question is: in what relation does the Lord Jesus stand to the whole human race? Does everyone benefit from His work as mediator? The question also has been phrased differently: For whom did Christ die?
If we would look for example at the C.O.D. II, especially the rejection of errors, we would be inclined to answer: "Christ died only for the elect, and Christ's death benefits only the elect." It was necessary to state the truth that way over against the Arminians who denied the sovereignty of God, and credited the free will of man for accepting a general offer of salvation, available to anyone who wished to accept it. Because of the Arminian problem, and let us not forget that Arminianism is the basic theology of most of modern evangelicalism as found, for example in Baptist and Pentecostal theology, we rightly should be leary of phrases like "letting Jesus into your heart", or, "accepting Jesus as your personal saviour."
Now we mentioned the C.O.D. However, this afternoon we are busy with L.D. 7 of the Catechism. And L.D. 7, you can plainly see, as it deals with the question "For whom did Christ die, who benefits from His death", does not speak so much of God's election. Rather, it speaks of faith! It is true that reference is made to the fact that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, but the emphasis falls on faith as a human activity. And that is important. For, it is a great sin to use the beautiful and comforting doctrine of election in such a way that we deny the importance of faith. To put it in other terms, we may never use the doctrine of election to excuse our covenantal responsibility to believe. And that's what we confess in L.D. 7, our covenantal responsibility. If we want to share in Christ's benefits, then we must have believe. Therefore we will listen to God's Word as summed up in L.D. 7 under the following theme:
CHRIST's BENEFITS ARE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FAITH
1. This is clearly taught in Scripture
2. This makes pressing, the question about TRUE faith
3. This leads to the question about the contents of faith
1. This is clearly taught in Scripture.
When we say that Christ's work as mediator benefits only those who have faith, then we clearly say that's Christ's work is limited. This does not mean that His sacrifice had only limited value. Rather, it is limited in the way it is applied, for it is applied to a particular group of people. This has been called particular or limited atonement.
Where does the Scripture say this? No doubt if you ever end up in a discussion about this point with someone with an arminian mindset, then they will refer to Romans 5. There it says, for example, in vs. 18, "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men." Thus, it looks like that Christ's relationship to the human race is parallel to that of Adam, and that it has a similar, universal effect.
Reference may also be made to I Cor. 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive". And to mention one more text that is often used, we think of I Tim. 2:5,6, where Jesus is described as the one mediator between God and men, who gave Himself as a ransom for all. These texts are used to defend a sort of universalism, even to the point that absolutely every human being is going to be saved.
Now when these passages mentioned are studied in their context, it will quickly become apparent that they do not teach that everyone will be saved by Christ. Rather, the comparison is this, that as all those who belong to Adam die because they share in His sin, all those who belong to Christ will live, because they share in His righteousness. They do not state that every person is linked to Christ as he is linked to Adam. In big terms, the comparison is not quantitative, that is, numberwise, but qualitative. That qualitative aspect comes out in Rom. 5, where it says in vs. 17 "If because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ." the point is: Adam is a source of death, Christ is the source of life!
Besides this, there are of course many other passages which show that not all people will be saved by Christ. The catechism mentions Mat. 7:14, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those that find it are few." The indication is clearly given that the majority of mankind will not benefit from Christ's work as mediator. Also the references from the gospel of John drive home this point of a limited number of people benefitting. In John 1:11 we read about the people who refused to receive Christ, but those who " received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God." Or we can think of John 3. Verse 16 is often quoted to show the depth of God's love in sending His Son, but that verse also emphasises that only those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Then it follows, in the easily forgotten vs. 18, "...he who does not believe is condemned already". And then there is vs. 36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him."
We could easily continue. For example, the LORD rejected the old covenant people, because they refused to believe and obey! The desert generation died out, because of unbelief. Then there are the many references to judgment, with the goats and the sheep. Not everyone will enter the rest of God.
It should thus become very clear that there is no such thing as automatic inclusion in Christ, like there is automatic inclusion in Adam. By nature we are all children of wrath, but not all become children of God in Christ. Scripture makes it clear, that only through faith is one linked to Christ. Without faith there is no relationship with Him, and there can be no sharing in His benefits. Answer 20 uses the expression "grafted into Christ". That is an image from agriculture, as branches can be grafted, made part of another tree. That image is also used in Rom. 11, where it speaks about wild olive branches being grafted into Israel. Christ is the vine, and by faith believers are grafted into Christ so that all benefits and blessings flow from Christ to those who abide in Him. God can take out or put in. Do you see the consequences of all this, brs. and srs? Do you see the need for faith? No one can say: I belong to the covenant people, therefore I partake in Christ's blessings. O.T. Israel found that out. No one can say: I belong to the Church, therefore I partake in Christ's blessings. Neither covenant nor Church work automatically.
Belonging to either does not mean you belong to Christ, for there are those who are in the church but are not of the Church! And there are covenant members who are covenant breakers. Let us thus take careful note again of our confession at this point, the confession which emphasizes the need for faith, for accepting the benefits of Christ. If there is no faith, you cannot be saved! Thus, no excuses based on election. Simple, covenantal language: Believe and you will be saved, do not believe, and you are condemned already. Seeing then the great importance of faith, "we see how pressing" is the question about TRUE faith, our second point.
2. This makes pressing, the question about TRUE faith
2. We should note that q. 21 asks, "What is TRUE faith?" Yes, notice that well: TRUE faith. That is a healthy reformed custom, to talk in clear, black and white terms. We also confess about the TRUE Church. True stands in contrast to false. We know what damage it does when people don’t want to live by their confession anymore when it speaks about the true and false church, and prefer such words as pure and less pure. Then the call to faithfulness in church gathering is soon obscured. The same danger lurks if we don’t dare speak of true and false faith. Some people will speak of historical faith, saving faith, and you name it. Now Scripture will speak of strong and weak faith, or of having little faith. But, it does not speak of more or less pure.
Yet many don’t dare to say that people of different theological opinions have a false faith. No, rather, there is spoken of more or less insight, or of emphasizing different elements of the truth. Of course it comes under the guise of being nice, of not judging anyone. But, let us remember what we confess. And let us remember how important it is that we find out not what pure or less pure faith is but what is true faith as opposed to false faith. For, if we do not have true faith, we will not partake of Christ's benefits obtained as mediator. That's the norm we confess together!
Now as any catechism student will be able to tell, true faith has two inseperable aspects: sure knowledge and firm confidence. First, something about that sure knowledge. Knowledge of what? The catechism points us to the gospel, God's Word. There can be no faith without knowledge of what is told in God's Word, and without accepting what it says. That's why the Lord has given such great importance to the preaching. Paul says in Rom. 10 that faith comes by the hearing of the Word. It was the Lord Jesus who stated that eternal life was to know God.
We should understand the significance of the word "know" in Scripture. We read that Adam knew his wife. That use shows "knowing" means more than knowing the facts. It points to having a close relationship. It means living in close communion with the facts, yes, making the facts part of your very life, accepting it all as true. God's Word is the truth. Through that Word God gives Himself to us. Through that Word He is near to us. The very fact that God has preserved the Bible for our use is ample indication of the importance of knowledge of the Word for faith. Bible study and knowledge may never become a spectator sport, but calls for intense personal involvement! When that Word is not taught, then the people are destroyed, yes, faith is quenched. Why do you think oppressive regimes often try to destroy all Bibles, and forbid worship services? Because by cutting off knowledge of the Word they try to squelch faith!
All this may sound very straightforward. But, it must be given special emphasis because of the spiritual climate we live in. For, we live in a world where many profess to believe. And often their lives appear as outwardly quite Christian too yet. Yet, when you investigate, then you realize there is no knowledge of God's Word. They have heard a little here and there about Jesus, and that made them feel so good, that they decided to believe. It is like the seed on shallow ground, that is, people who hear the basic message rejoice, but when the going gets tough, they shrivel up as they have no root. What is called faith is nothing but emotionalism. That is the tactic of many modern evangelistic movements and the T.V. preachers: appeal to the emotions, not the mind. Religion is reduced to feeling good.
It is unrealistic to think that someone unfamiliar with the Word can be brought to faith by just hearing one gospel message. One message may lay the seed, and stir up interest, but to say that faith is complete, that is like saying that a plant is mature in one instant. There are cases in some circles where someone has been "converted", and in just a manner of months he is a teacher of others. That sounds good, and it is true, of course, that faith is not simply measured in amount of knowledge. But, for true faith there must be sufficient knowledge, and clear acceptance of all what is told.
As was suggested already, faith is not simply a matter of knowledge. It is also a matter of firm confidence, of conviction, of personal appropriation of the gospel message. We think of Abraham, the father of all believers, and an example to all believers, who hoped against hope. Anyone can say that Jesus Christ died for sinners, but only the true believer can say: Jesus Christ died for me too! I have the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation. True faith can confidently read Rom. 6 and say: I have died with Christ, and I have been made alive with Him. True faith speaks very personally. In true faith, there is humility but also confidence to draw near to the throne of God, fully expecting that He will hear us for Christ's sake.
Notice these two elements well, congregation: sure knowledge and firm confidence. Sure knowledge: that's why we need the worship services. That's why the Church is so important as our "mother", giving spiritual birth to its children. That's why Bible reading and study is so important. That's why Christian education is so important. Firm confidence: Yes, not just a matter of head knowledge. Anyone can learn the facts from the Bible. But, also heart knowledge, a burning love and zeal for the Lord for His marvelous gift of salvation.
Earlier we remarked about those who seem so zealous for the Lord, even enthusiastic, but who had no knowledge. That was not true faith. But, neither is it true faith when there is knowledge but no zeal. It does no good to be able to put all the dots on the doctrinal i's while the heart is really cold. Let us watch out for either extreme, for faith is a balance, a combination, of being able to dot the doctrinal i's while the heart is burning with love and zeal for the LORD and the heart is dancing for joy about the personal involvement in salvation. Neither dead orthodoxy nor shallow emotionalism, but deep orthodoxy as the basis for deep joy and certainty. As a matter of fact, without deep orthodoxy there will be no solid ground for confidence, for what can you then be confident about? Indeed, true faith is a marriage of the intellect and the emotion. The more you know what God has done, the firmer your confidence can be! Is that not what we confessed back in L.D. 1, that in order to live in the joy of our only comfort we needed to know a number of things?
Brs. and srs., I remind you of our theme: Christ's benefits as mediator are only for those who have faith--TRUE faith! Watch out for false faith! Scripture warns against false faith, against those who look so faithful, even casting out demons in Christ's name. I know that sometimes we stand with our hands in our pockets and don’t know what to say when others are so bubbly with enthusiasm and we look like spiritual lumps on a log. Then remember your confession. No, not as an excuse for your own lumpness, lukewarmness. Rather, as an incentive to stop being a lump on a log. We are by no means in a position to boast about these things. But, also remember your confession, and be not too easily intimidated. As reformed confessors we know: True faith is sure knowledge and firm confidence. Let us dare to draw the consequences and admit that faith which is lacking in either is not true faith, but false, counterfeit faith. That may say something about others we meet.
And even more specifically: it may say something about ourselves! Let us examine ourselves if we indeed live what we confess. Let's not fool ourselves, for, we confess: without true faith we cannot be saved. Now all this talk about true faith leads us to the question about the contents of faith. That is our last point.
3. This leads to the question about the contents of faith
3. When it comes to faith, not only do we have to concern ourselves with the ACT of faith, but also with the FACTS. You may be aware of the various attempts to build unity among all faith groups. How is this done? By avoiding the FACTS of faith. Unity is sought in the activity of faith, like worship and prayer. FACTS, and interpretation of facts is seen as divisive.
Already when we spoke about true faith we touched on the FACTS of faith. True faith concerns itself with the Word of God, the gospel of good news in Jesus Christ. And faith concerns itself not just with part of that Word, but all of it! Faith is not concerned with just a few statements about Jesus. Nor may it concern itself only with the N.T. It is noteworthy that our confession says that we must believe all that is promised in the gospel. Yes, ALL!
It is popular to say: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. But, this phrase is so easily misused in a very superficial manner. For example, sport stars "have accepted Christ", yet, they continue to play their sport on Sunday. Not only do they themselves not attend church, but they also prevent many others from doing so, drawing them instead to the sport stadium! Thus, they act as if you can believe in Jesus Christ but you don’t have to keep His commandments, whereas Jesus said that we show our love for Him by keeping His commandments.
When Scripture calls us to believe, then it refers to believing all the preaching and teaching about Christ and His kingdom., including how we should live before the Lord. We can thus indeed say: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, as long as you realize that Jesus Christ is found in all the Scripture, and you cannot deny any part of the Scripture without denying Jesus Christ.
In order to be delivered from God's wrath, in order to receive the benefits of Christ as mediator, we thus must believe all the promises of the gospel. Now the gospel is large, and may appear unwieldy. That's why the Church has summed up the main teachings in the twelve articles of the Christian faith. But again, it must be emphasized that these articles are not meant to reduce the contents of our faith to some bare minimum, but to give some guidance and direction.
A summary is not to be a reduction, but a way of compacting all the truths, so that when you say Amen to the summary, you say Amen to the whole Word! Let us not fool ourselves, nor seek a lowest common denominator for the faith. Unless you believe all that is promised in the gospel, your faith is false faith. And since the articles of the Christian faith are a summary of that word, a denial of any part of those articles amounts to a rejection of the gospel, which has the result that you have no share in Christ's benefits! We should dare to speak out loud the words we find so boldly in the Athanasian Creed, that except one believe the catholic faith, as summed up also in that creed, one cannot be saved. Remember then, that Jesus Christ is the only mediator, given by God, to reconcile you to Himself. But, we can receive His benefits by faith only. Yes, by TRUE faith only, believing the full gospel. Don’t be fooled by imitation faith. Don’t fool yourself by having false faith. But cling to the gospel promises in true faith, and you have eternal life.