UCC 71 What Do the Doctrines of Grace Teach Us?

Sunday March 21st, 2021

Acts 16:11-15

 

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

 

There is a very popular teaching that is prevalent amongst many Christian denominations and new Christian movements these days. But as we have already learned at the beginning of our series on the Doctrines of Grace it is actually not a new teaching. It has been around for a long time. The teaching is that God and man must both do something before a man can be saved.

          This teaching is based upon the fact that, in the Bible, it is very clearly announced that both God and humans are involved in God’s plan of salvation. Now this does not mean that God does His part by providing salvation freely to everyone and that all we need to do is be willing to accept it. This is not what we have been learning over the past few sermons in our series entitled the Christian’s Compass. And this is not what the Bible teaches. In order to understand what God’s Word says about the very important topic of salvation let’s go over it point by point one more time. As we do this, we will give an answer to some of the objections to this truth.

          No one here, nor any other believer anywhere else, will dispute the fact that a person must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved. You need to be willing to turn from your sin to Christ, in order to be forgiven. That is the only way you can become an adopted child of God. You will not find anywhere in the Bible the teaching that a person can be saved without repentance and faith. In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible always clearly teaches that repentance and faith are fundamental necessities before a person can be saved. When the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Their answer was given in verse 31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,”

Our sermons on the Christian’s Compass, the Doctrines of Grace also taught us what every other Christian believes. That the person who repents and believes the good news will be saved. Every single individual, without exception, who responds to the Gospel’s call to come to the Lord Jesus Christ will receive salvation from God the Father. And not only that, but they will also endure until the end. God’s power will keep them secure. We can be absolutely sure that Christ will always honour His promise to receive everyone who comes to Him. That is the promise He himself made in John 6:37, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.

Ill. The great Christian author John Bunyan, who wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress when talking about Christ’s word to all sinners, said that His word is always, “Come and welcome”. “Njoo na kariboo”.

 

The next point we should make is one that might cause you to be surprised, but only for a moment. It is true that a person by their own mind, heart, and will must repent, and in faith receive Christ. We can all agree that God has never repented and believed for anybody and He never will. Every person must turn from their sin in repentance and then reach out in faith to Christ. The desire of the person to be forgiven needs to be so powerful, that they honestly respond to the Gospel message. We all know that the Bible is very clear that the only way to be forgiven is by repenting and believing.

We also know that no one else, including God, can repent of our sin for us. We are the only ones who can do it. No one else can trust in Christ on our behalf. We alone must knowingly and willingly trust in Him to be saved.

I know some of you will be surprised at that point and your probably thinking, “Isn’t that what you told us the followers of Arminius taught, and that it is wrong?” Well, if we read and study the Bible seriously, we will find that it teaches this very clearly. Anyone who denies what I have just stated, is denying the clear teaching of the Bible. We should never deny what is clearly taught in God’s Word.

In our study group that meets after the service on Sundays, we talked about and then contrasted the teachings of predestination and free will. And those who attended that class are also probably thinking right now, “Pastor Don haven’t you just denied your own teaching on Predestination by saying that a person, by their own action, must repent and believe to be saved?”

Well, no, I have neither proven that free-will is the truth or that predestination is false. All I have said to this point is what we find in the Bible. The Bible tells us what a person must do in order to be saved. The Bible also tells us what we, as sinners, can do and what we are not able to do.

 

The Bible tells us that in order to be saved, a person must repent and believe, correct?  But the Bible also tells us that because we are all sinners by nature, we are completely unable to repent and believe. In our sermons on the Christian’s Compass, we called this point, Total Depravity.  Which does not mean that we are as bad as we can be all the time. But what Total Depravity does teach us is, that if it was left up to us, we would never choose God. We are so influenced by sin that we are unable to understand and receive the truth of the Gospel. Not only don’t we have the ability to receive it, but we don’t even want to receive it. That is how deeply we are polluted by sin.

When I try to remind people what God’s Word says about their behaviour they will reply very quickly “Oh, you are always talking about the Bible.” They say this because they want to dismiss what they know is the truth. Unfortunately, when they say it, that just affirms the truth of God’s Word and proves that what they really want to do is hide from the truth.

The Bible tells us that every part of our nature is unable to come or even want to come to Christ. We are just willfully and actively in rebellion against Him and His truth. When we reject Christ as our Lord and Saviour it is not some passive thing, that we have no control over, but it is our willful choice. We are deliberately saying “no” to Jesus, and “yes” to self and sin.

          We also need to understand that no person is indifferent when it comes to God and His authority. Not believing in God is just as much a choice we make with our mind, heart, and will, as believing in Him is also a choice we make with our heart, mind, and will. This is what Jesus said to the religious leaders who were persecuting Him in John 5:40, “yet you refuse (you are deliberately making the choice not) to come to me to have life.” You can see from that one verse alone, that unbelief is a decision that we make. It is also an active faith, except, it is faith in yourself not in the one true God.

 

Now if I was to finish my sermon there. If I only preached that we need to repent and believe, and that Christ promises to save all who come to Him for salvation, and that we each must knowingly and willingly go to Him before we can receive salvation. Then I would be guilty of altering the gospel of God’s grace. I would rightly be accused of giving you a completely false representation of our lostness and our need. Because what I have said so far, even though completely true, only shows half of the issue. I have left out the most important part of our need.

I have not talked about our lack of ability, our powerlessness to defeat our sinful nature and escape the terrible effect it has upon us. The gospel that you hear others preach that is solely based upon what I have said up until now, is not the whole gospel.

If we were to evangelize with this half gospel then we would end up confusing the people, we are reaching out to. They would not know the difference between their responsibility and their ability when it comes to the issue of their salvation. The remainder of their life would be filled with doubts about their salvation. They would be unable to live a life that is acceptable to God.

 Christians like this and their leaders would end up forming weak churches that would be filled with weak Christians. The confusion comes as a result of this half gospel that teaches people that they have, within themselves, the capability to obey all that God has commanded. The parts of God’s Word that clearly teaches what man is not able to do are either ignored or totally twisted by this false gospel.

Please underline in your Bibles a few verses that teach what sinful people cannot do.

 

John 3:3, “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”. We cannot see, until we are first born again.

 

1 Corinthians 2:14, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit”. Sinful people cannot understand until they are given a new nature.

 

John 6:44-45, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me”. We cannot come to God until He first calls us through the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, we do not have the time to look at all the “can nots” that are in the Bible. But I think that the three I have just mentioned are enough to show that a sinner definitely cannot (note that none of the verses I just gave say “will not”). The sinner definitely cannot come to Christ for salvation until something is done first in their life.

That something is called regeneration, or new birth. And people have nothing to do whatsoever in their regeneration becasue it is the sole work of God the Holy Spirit.

          So, what is this thing called ‘regeneration’ or ‘new birth’? What does it represent? It tells us that our ability to repent and believe, that very thing we cannot do because of our bondage to sin, is given to us by God when He gives spiritual life to those who are dead in sin. This term ‘Bondage to sin’ means that, in our entirety, our decisions, our emotions, our will are under the power of, and influenced by, sin.

          It is true that we do need Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. And that, He did just that through His death. Only Christ’s work on the cross provides the complete righteousness and forgiveness we need in order to be saved. But we also really need the Holy Spirit to regenerate us and give us a new nature. It is this regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in us that gives us the ability, through faith, to receive the salvation that Christ’s death has bought for us.

          We can also see throughout the whole process of our coming to experience salvation, the work of the triune Godhead. We are unable to fully understand this great act of salvation until we recognize each person of the Trinity playing their part. It is impossible for me or you to proclaim to our neighbors the true gospel of grace while ignoring God the Father’s Unconditional Election and God the Spirit’s Irresistible Calling and Work of Regeneration.

          That is why I find it really ridiculous when we say that God only provides the forgiveness, but that people are the ones who must be willing to accept it. We make people out to be not only equal partners in the whole process but even the final decision makers. In this type of thinking we are ignoring God’s work in choosing those who are saved and the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration.

          We make it even more meaningless when we sing praises to Jesus Christ for what He did on the cross. But then right after we give credit to sinners instead of God the Father for His work in eternity (election) and for God the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts (regeneration).

          We are in effect saying to the Holy Spirit, “I give you permission to miraculously change my heart”. That would be like standing in the middle of a battlefield and announcing to all the dead soldiers that you will raise them from the dead as soon as they, in faith, ask you to do it. This is nothing more than the denial of our Total Depravity.

 

This reveals to us the foundational error of the gospel of Free Will. That false gospel fails to acknowledge that our part in the whole process of salvation, our repentance and faith, are supplied by God and not by us. It is still true that every person who repents and comes to Christ is willing. However, their willingness is a result of the Father’s choosing and the Holy Spirit’s calling.  If we tell people that, if they believe in God, then He will give them new life, we are misunderstanding our true need and God’s central role in salvation.

The Bible also clearly shows that our faith and repentance are the results of our new birth and not the cause. Imagine as you were walking in the streets of Maganjeni one day, you meet a relative who has been dead for quite some time. After you got over the initial shock of thinking that a zombie apocalypse had come. The first thing you would ask them is, who brought you back to life? I mean you could see with your own eyes that they are now alive, walking and breathing.

Your only conclusion would be that a miracle had been done to them because they certainly were not alive by their own power. It is the same when a spiritually dead person starts to repent and have faith. The “fruits of repentance” are the evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work and that a new birth has taken place.

Let’s return to Acts 16:14, from the passage we read at the beginning of this sermon. We will see a clear Biblical example that is proof of what I just said. “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. I don’t think this phrase “opened the heart” occurs anywhere else in the New Testament.

Who does the opening? By whose power is it accomplished? The answer to both questions is God and not Lydia. But when you think about how Christians evangelize to people these days the credit for opening the heart is mostly given to the power of a person’s free decision.

          Now that does not mean that I am saying that a person must not be willing to open their heart. We already discussed that earlier and I hope we are all agreed that it is true, a person must be willing to open their heart to the truth of the Gospel. What we are talking about now is where the power comes from that enables people to make that spiritual decision to open their hearts to the gospel message and act upon it.

          The half gospel that depends upon the free will decision of people teaches us that people themselves must provide the power and the willingness. Whereas the true gospel states that the Holy Spirit gives the power necessary, as well as the ability to open the heart and act upon the call of the good news. And this is all accomplished through the new birth, the regeneration.

When we look at Acts 16:14 more closely we will see that it agrees with what I have just said. Let’s remind ourselves again of what Acts 16:14 says, “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

The first thing we should note of course is that Lydia was there, and she was listening to Paul. The verse then tells us that she “responded” to the message that Paul gave. We can only assume that the message was the Good News. We have already established that a person has to respond to the Gospel in order to benefit from it and be saved.

This verse shows us that we need to repent and believe, and that Christ promises to save all who come to Him for salvation, and that each person must knowingly and willingly go to Him before they can receive salvation. Therefore, we should not think that those God chooses will come to faith whether they hear and believe the gospel or not. I have heard the Doctrines of Grace explained that way in order to deny the need for evangelism and missions.

This passage also shows us that Lydia not only believed but that she gladly responded and with an open heart. She didn’t come to belief against her will, she wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to God. No, she willingly responded, and it was her own decision.

We should also make note of what God did in Lydia’s life in order for her to be saved. First, God provided the Good News that was the content of Paul’s message, that salvation was by Grace through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, God sent a preacher to tell Lydia about this great salvation. God’s provision of all these things was nothing short of miraculous. He sent His only begotten Son to Die for our sin so that we could be reconciled back to Him. He raised Him from the dead and proved that it was accomplished. And when we read Acts 22, we see how God prepared the preacher, Paul.

The third thing we should see from this passage is that God needed to open Lydia’s heart in order for her to be able to believe. Our teaching on Total Depravity tells us that Lydia in her natural state, like each one of us, is blind and even hostile to God. She is held under the power of sin and death and only God has the power to free her. And that is what He does.

Of course, this verse also shows us that the Bible gives all the credit of opening Lydia’s heart to the work of God alone. We should not corrupt the very Words of God by suggesting, through our teaching, that Lydia’s believing was anything other than the result of God opening her heart. God is the source of our salvation from start to finish. As Philippians 2:13 reminds us, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”.

So, today we have been shown that faith, trust in the work of Christ, is the action of a person and being born again is the work of the Holy Spirit and that it is all under the control of God. If we ignore these differences, then we will become confused and easily bothered. And we can quickly become convinced that people are able to do what the Bible clearly teaches, through the Doctrines of Grace, what we are powerless and unable to do.

Let’s Pray:

Father, thank you again for reminding us through Your Holy, infallible Word of just what part we play in the salvation that you have so freely given by your grace. We are amazed by the fact that it is all clearly the work of Your hands from beginning to end. You have provided everything, and we praise You alone for that.

We ask that you send the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of those here today who have listened to Your Word. They can only respond to it in a way that brings glory to You if you work in them. Father we pray that through your Word you will bring many sons and daughters from Tanzania into Your kingdom and that you will use the faithful here in UCC to accomplish your will.

We pray everything through the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, Amen.