Sunday, November 11, 2018
November 11, 2018, Second Reformed Church
Every mere human is born with Original sin – that is, we are spiritually dead, inclined to sin, unable to do any spiritual good. Therefore, the only way anyone can be made right with God – saved – is if God chooses to save him. And God has – in His astounding love – chosen to save a people out of all of humanity throughout time and space. God could have chosen to save everyone, but He was not obliged to, since the grace of God that is salvation is a gift. Everyone deserves eternal punishment, but God chose to make some – in His astounding love – right with Him through Jesus.
Today we consider the third doctrine affirmed at the Synod of Dort in 1619. And we remember that the Canons of Dort are one of the three standards that we hold as accurate summaries of the Bible’s teaching. This third doctrine is called, “Limited Atonement.”
This is what R. C. Sproul says about this doctrine:
“This doctrine is chiefly concerned about the original purpose, plan, or design of God in sending Christ into the world to die on the cross. Was it the Father’s intent to send His Son to die on the cross to make salvation possible for everyone, but with the possibility that His death would be effective for no one? That is, did God simply send Christ to the cross to make salvation possible, or did God, from all eternity, have a plan of salvation by which, according to the riches of His grace and His eternal election, He designed the atonement to ensure the salvation of His people? Was the atonement limited in its original design?
“I prefer not to use the term limited atonement because it is misleading. I rather speak of definite redemption or definite atonement, which communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him” (https://www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-limited-atonement/
The question before us is, did Jesus live and die for the sake of every single human being throughout time and space – making salvation possible for every single one, or, did Jesus live and die to secure the salvation of specific people – the elect of God?
Well, we have verses like this – Peter writes, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9, ESV).
Peter is addressing the issue of scoffers who come in the last days and make fun of the fact that Jesus has not returned. Peter tells his readers not to be upset, but to understand that God, in His great patience, is waiting for everyone to come to faith – for everyone to believe savingly in Jesus. Peter says that God does not wish that “any” should perish, but that “all” should reach repentance.
A quick read of this and we might be tempted to say, “Well, Jesus made salvation possible for everyone, but certain for no one, because God does not want any to perish, but all to reach repentance.”
But we need to look at this more carefully and ask a question: “not wishing that any [of whom?] should perish, but that all [of whom?] should reach repentance.” Who do the “all” and “any” refer to? Don’t just jump to the conclusion that it means “every single human being.”
Hear the whole sentence again: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
“Any” and “all” refer to “you.”
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any [of you] should perish, but that all [of you] should reach repentance.”
So, the question now is, who is “you”?
Peter opens his letter, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” (2 Peter 1:1, ESV).
The “you” that Peter refers to in his letter is the elect – believers – “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:”
So, what is Peter saying in the third chapter in response to those who mock the fact that Jesus has not returned yet?
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward [the elect], not wishing that any [of the elect] should perish, but that all [of the elect] should reach repentance.”
Peter is telling his readers – and us – that Jesus is not slow in returning, but He is waiting until every last member of the elect – those that God chose to give the gift of salvation to out of all of humanity – He is waiting for every last one of them to be born and come to faith in Jesus.
Consider this – if I wrote a letter that read:
“Dear members of Second Reformed Church, I want to make sure that every one of you enjoys Christmas, so I am going to send each of you a check for $1,000. I am not willing that any should not get it, but that all should enjoy the gift.”
Listen again to this example:
“Dear members of Second Reformed Church, I want to make sure that every one of you enjoys Christmas, so I am going to send each of you a check for $1,000. I am not willing that any should not get it, but that all should enjoy the gift.”
When I write, ‘I am not willing that any should not get it, but that all should enjoy the gift” – in this sentence, whom does “any” and “all” refer to?
“You.” “I want to make sure that every one of you enjoys Christmas…”
So, whom does “you” refer to?
“members of Second Reformed Church”
It does not refer to anyone who is not a member of Second Reformed Church. It does not refer to anyone who is a member of another church. It only refers to people who are members of Second Reformed Church.
And so, we understand this example to say:
“Dear members of Second Reformed Church, I want to make sure that every [member of Second Reformed Church] enjoys Christmas, so I am going to send each [member of Second Reformed Church] a check for $1,000. I am not willing that any [member of Second Reformed Church] should not get it, but that all [members of Second Reformed Church] should enjoy the gift.”
Do you understand?
By the way, the Consistory said “no” to sending out the checks – so it’s not going to happen.
Now, having considered one of the major verses that objectors use against the idea that Jesus’ work in life and death is for a definite people – the elect – let us turn to the Scripture to see that Jesus’ work of salvation – His work of reconciliation – His work of atonement – is given to the people that God has unconditionally elected – chosen for His own reasons – out of the mass of humanity that are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to the Gospel.
When the angel comes to Joseph, he says, “She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, ESV).
Whom will Jesus save? “His people.” Jesus came to save a specific people. Jesus did not come to make salvation possible for everyone – remember – that wouldn’t work – everyone is born spiritually dead – and if we hand the cure for death to a dead person, what will he do? Nothing! He’s dead. He can’t do anything.
What does Jesus say? (John 10:11–8, 22-30, ESV).
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus says that He lays down His life for the sheep and the sheep that make up the flock are all those who “listen” to Him and believe the Gospel. Jesus says He comes to make atonement – to reconcile to God – the elect – all those who will ever believe in Jesus.
“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’”
Unbelieving Jews come to Jesus and ask Him to tell them if He is the Savior – the Promised Messiah, and Jesus tells them that He has told them that He is the Messiah. He has done works that prove He is the Messiah. In fact, Jesus tells them, I am the same God as God the Father.
The problem, Jesus explains, is that He did not come for those who will never believe. His sacrifice was not for those who will never believe.
Jesus does not say, “you are not among my sheep, but you can be if you just believe.” No, Jesus said, “you are not among my sheep. Period.”
Jesus says, “I came for My sheep. I lay down My life for My sheep. My sheep follow Me. I give My sheep eternal life. My sheep will never perish. No one can snatch My sheep out of My hands.”
Jesus’ work of salvation is specifically and definitely applied to and for His sheep – the elect. Jesus work of salvation is the means by which those God unconditionally chose out of all of humanity are eternally saved – reconciled to God – atoned for – and we have eternal life and remain eternally in the hands of our strong Savior.
And here we see one of the benefits of understanding this doctrine: we understand that our salvation is secure. If God chose you to be His and Christ died to pay the debt for your sins and to make you righteous, you are now and forever saved and at peace with God.
Hear what Paul tells us about the Church – the elect of God:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV).
In the context of how husbands and wives ought to love each other, we learn that Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her – not for everyone and no one in particular – but for the Church – the elect of God. And Jesus gave Himself for her so He would perfect her and present her to Himself at the end of the age.
So that is good news for those of us who believe: Jesus did not merely make salvation possible, and we stumbled onto the Gospel and believed – no, Jesus came to die and save and perfect a specific people for Himself throughout history. Jesus came to save Carol. Jesus came to save Sandra. Jesus came to save Sabitree.
Before the foundations of the earth, the Son of God knew He would come to die to save Carol and Sandra and Sabitree and each one that God the Father gave Him as His people – His sheep – the elect of God. He came knowing you and loving you and living and dying for you because you are His forever and ever – and you are with Him forever and ever.
If you believe savingly in Jesus, He knew you before the Creation. He loved you. He received you as His own from His Father. He purposed to specifically and eternally save you. He chose to lay down His life for you specifically.
Jesus knew me from before the Creation. For some reason I do not know, God chose me to be one of His people and Jesus loved me and gave His life for me that I would be eternally His. He truly came for me – great sinner that I am – and He is working in me to perfect me and glorify me on that final day when the Church is presented to Jesus as His Bride.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, when we think about all those who die not believing, we weep. We do not rejoice to see the wicked die – and neither do You. Help us to keep remembering that salvation is a gift. We are born spiritually dead and You have given us a gift we don’t deserve in Jesus. And the gift of salvation in Jesus was not left out for anyone who wanted it, but You specifically and lovingly gave it to me and to everyone who believes. Lord, keep us amazed at Your love for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Friday, November 09, 2018
Last night we looked at the Scriptural requirements for being a deacon, and we saw that a deacon is not a junior elder. The difference between the office of elder and deacon is that the office of elder is a teaching office, whereas the office of deacon is a serving/mercy office. Join us next week, D.V., Thursday at 7 PM as we continue our look at I Timothy.
Sunday, November 04, 2018
November 4, 2018, Second Reformed Church
Last week we looked at the doctrine of Total Depravity – one of the five doctrines ruled on by the Synod of Dort in 1619 – doctrines which we hold as accurate summaries of what the Bible teaches.
Total Depravity says that due to the sin of our first parents – who were our representatives in the Garden – all mere human beings are born with Original Sin – that is, sin has affected every part of our being, and we are inclined to choose sin. We do not naturally do good in God’s eyes, and we are incapable of seeking God and choosing His salvation.
Paul says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV).
Paul says we are born spiritually dead, only able to follow after sin.
Most of us have been to a funeral with an open casket. The person in the casket is physically dead. Now, if we were told that there was a cure for this dead person – that would bring him back to life, and we rush into the room and hand the cure to the dead person and tell him to take it and he will be well – what will he do?
Nothing. He is dead.
The same is true of the unbeliever – of his own free choice – he will never choose life through Jesus.
The second doctrine is known as Unconditional Election. And, it tells us how anyone is saved through Jesus.
The Scripture that we read this morning says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5, ESV).
In this Scripture, we find the two points to this doctrine:
First, God chose – elected – a remnant of humanity to save.
Jesus says, “And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from”’” (Luke 13:23-25, ESV).
The author of Hebrews tells us, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28, ESV).
Jesus says, “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:22, ESV).
In these Scriptures, we see that God chose – elected – some people out of humanity to be saved – to be made right with God – to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus.
God does not chose to save everyone; God chooses some, and the work of Christ is applied to them for salvation.
And the objection cries out, “That’s not fair!” – for two reasons:
“Our representatives in the Garden sinned and cast us into this condition of spiritual death and total depravity – it’s not fair that You punish humanity for their actions.”
Paul discusses this objection and answers it, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24, ESV).
Paul answers, “God is the Sovereign Creator of all of Creation and He wisely chose to work through a representative system. Who are you to tell your Creator that He made you wrong? Doesn’t God the Creator have the right to do whatever He wants with His creation?”
The second part of the objection is, “It’s not fair that God chose some – He should have chosen all.”
When we go to the polls on Tuesday, will you vote for every candidate? Do you desire that every candidate be elected? Have you chosen to support every candidate?
This morning’s Scripture says that the elect were “chosen by grace.”
What is “grace”?
“Grace,” generally speaking, is a gift.
So, in this morning’s Scripture, Paul is saying that the remnant – the elect – the chosen out of all of humanity throughout time and space, were chosen – elected – as a gift from God.
When I had my birthday last month, a few of you gave me gifts. Was it wrong – was it a sin – that most of you did not give me a gift? Is there any way I could say that you have to give me a gift – every single one of you?
Of course not. If we give someone a gift, it should be because of the joy we have in giving the gift. You can’t “owe” someone a gift – then it’s not a gift – it’s a payment – a wage. Gifts are undeserved.
So, God could have given the Gift of salvation to every person throughout time and space, but He did not chose to do so, and He has every right to give the Gift to whomever He wants, and to leave the rest in their sin.
God chose a specific people to save – to choose – to elect – out of all of humanity.
Second, God’s choice is based on something completely outside of us.
Paul writes, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).
Paul says, God did not choose you because you are wise, or powerful, or of high standing in the world. Rather, God tends to choose people who are foolish, weak, low, and despised by the world – so no one would ever boast in themselves. No Christian has the right to boast in himself or herself. Whomever you and I are, God has made us that and given us gifts with it, so we understand that everything and everyone is His, including all of the glory.
And some hear this and say, “Ok, we may not be the greatest most gifted people in the world, but God says that He ‘foreknew’ us. That means God looked down the corridor of time and elected us based on our choice of Him and/or all the good things God saw we would be and do.”
Paul says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30, ESV).
What does the word “foreknew” tell us?
We get a hint when we read, “Adam knew Eve and she bore a son.” Did Adam and Eve exchange resumes and she bore a son, is that what happened?
We have an expression – “carnal knowledge.” Get it?
When Adam and Eve “knew” each other, they expressed passionate physical love together.
When God says He “foreknew” us, it means He loves us with a passionate love.
God “foreknew” us, or as Paul says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV).
And, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“ (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV).
Paul is talking about God’s astounding love for the elect – the people He chose – not “looking down the corridor of time to see what we would do.”
Another problem with this, is that if God’s election is based on His finding out what we will do in the future, then God is not Sovereign – in fact, God is not God. If God elects us based on what we do, we save ourselves – we are sovereign.
Also, Paul explains that it cannot be that we merit our election through anything that we have done or would do, as he considers the history of Jacob and Esau:
“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Romans 9:8-13, ESV).
Again, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue.”
God’s election of His people has nothing to do with who we are or will be or what we have or will do. God’s election of His people is based on something outside of us.
So, what does it mean for us that God elects a people for Himself and His election is unconditional – it is not based on us in any way?
Much like last week, as we understand these things:
We are humbled and thankful that God saves us. We direct praise and thanks to Him because we understand our salvation is totally of and through and for God. We have nothing to boast in except Jesus, our God and Savior.
We do not become discouraged as we tell others the Gospel, because we know it is not in us to convert anyone. It is God’s choice in God’s time. We are to proclaim the Gospel. God’s is the Gift of salvation.
It makes us desire and strive to be obedient and holy in all that we do. Not that we can ever become worthy or pay God back, but to show that we understand – at least to some degree – and are thankful and seek our joy in obedience to Him.
John Calvin writes: “We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God’s free mercy until we come to know his eternal election, which illumines God’s grace by this contrast; that he does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others. How much the ignorance of this principle detracts from God’s glory, how much it takes away from true humility, is well known…. If—to make it clear that our salvation comes about solely from God’s mere generosity—we must be called back to the course of election” [https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/schwerley_election.html]
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for choosing us and all of the elect to be Your people. Help us to be humble and thankful, to strive for obedience and holiness – and may we rejoice to give You all the glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.