The Lord's Day Morning
September 24, 2006
Acts 16:31; Matthew 16:15-16; John 1:29
“What It Means to Be a Member of FPC: The Five Questions of Membership (2)”
2. “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners; and do you receive and trust Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I invite you to turn with me to Acts 16. We’re going to look at four verses by way of elaborating on the biblical truth contained in the second question of membership.
Last week we began a five-part series looking at the five questions of membership. We stressed that these questions themselves contain a summarization of important biblical themes, and last week we looked at the first question, which was:
1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
And two things especially, this week as I thought about that question, strike me. If we really mean it when we say “I do” to that question when we join this church–and everyone who is here today who is a communing member of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson has said “I do” to that question–if we really understand what that question asks us, and if we really mean “I do” when we answer it in that way, then it seems to me that at least two things are going to happen.
The first thing is that we are going to be a humble people, because when you acknowledge that you are “a sinner without hope except in God's sovereign saving mercy”, you cannot but be humble, realizing that God has graciously shown you His favor in forgiving your sins. In other words, a realization of our need and of God's graciousness in supplying that need ought to lead to us being a people characterized by humility.
When I look out at the congregation of First Presbyterian Church I see handsome and beautiful people, intelligent people, energetic and gifted people, people with enormous resources; but it is my hope that in the years to come that more and more people in Jackson – your neighbors, the people in the community around you with whom you work – will say ‘You know, all of those things are true about the people at First Presbyterian, but one thing that stands out is that they are humble. They realize that nothing that they have they did not receive. They realize that everything that they've been given has been a trust, a favor, a grant, a gift from God, and so when they exercise those gifts and when they use those abilities, and when they serve and work in the community they do so with a humble spirit.’ I pray that more and more we would be characterized by that kind of gospel humility, and that the city would literally take notice of that kind of humility taking root in us.
The second thing that struck me as I thought about that question is if we understand it and we answer it sincerely, then we're also going to be a people absolutely caught up in the celebration of God's sovereign mercy. God's sovereign mercy won't be something that we sort of shove off in a corner and ignore. It won't be something that we hide in a back room when people come over to visit us at our house. God's sovereign mercy will be something right up front about which we're always talking, about which we're always glorying, for which we're always thankful. God's sovereign mercy will be a heartbeat for us. It will be something that just flows throughout everything we are and do in the church. It will become a part of us, a conscious, tangible part of us that we're always celebrating that we have been recipients of a sovereign, saving mercy from God.
So both of those things, I think, flow into church life from those first two questions: a growing gospel humility, and a growing gospel celebration of God's sovereign, saving mercy in all aspects of our lives.
This again shows us how really understanding and answering these questions sincerely ought to have life-changing ramifications for us individually and as a congregation. And in light of that, I want you to look at the second question. If you don't have the outline today, you’ll see that question in the worship guide, and it simply goes like this:
2. “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners; and do you receive and trust Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel?”
Now what we're going to do today is we're going to look at four things that we learn that are encapsulated, summarized, in that question…four biblical truths. We’re going to look at four Bible passages: Acts 16:31; Matthew 16:15,16; John 1:29; and then (sorry, folks in the TV department…I'm pulling a fast one on you) one more verse, Acts 4:12, as quick verses to epitomize and characterize the truth that is being set forth in each part of this question. Now, the four parts are these…let me just give you the “heads-up” ahead of time…the four parts are these:
First of all, we want to look at the definition of faith, because the question…isn't it interesting?…says “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…” and then it will come along and use two more words–“Do you receive and trust…?” So we're going to talk a little about the definition of faith.
But secondly, we're going to focus on the person of Christ, because who is the object, the focus of faith in this passage: “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” This is a personal trust that's being spoken about here. “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?”
But it doesn't just speak of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; it also speaks of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We just sang about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in No. 455, And Can It Be?–one of the great, great hymns of the church–but the question itself points us to the work of Christ because it says: “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners?” so it's pointing to His work as our Savior.
And then, notice the one word I've left out so far…. “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and trust Him alone…?” So this great question points us to the meaning, the biblical definition of saving faith, it points us to the person of Christ, the work of Christ, and to the uniqueness, the indispensability of Christ to “Christ alone.” I want to look at those four things with you today, so before we read God's word, let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. As we study it together today, we ask that we would not only understand better and respond more wholeheartedly to these questions of membership, all of which those of us who are communing members of this congregation have already said ‘yes’ to, all of which we've already said ‘I do’ to, we pray we would not only grow in our understanding, embrace, and response to them, but we pray as well that You would use this word to clarify the gospel in our hearts and lives so that we live it out more consistently. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word, first in Acts 16:31. Remember the context. Paul is speaking to a jailer in Philippi. Instead of escaping from a jail that the Lord had opened the gates to in order for Paul to walk out of, Paul shares the gospel with the jailer. And in the process of sharing the gospel with the jailer, he says to him in verse 31:
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” So Paul points us to the importance of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then if you turn with me to Matthew 16, verses 15 and 16, you’ll remember that passage. Jesus is talking with His disciples about what people are saying about Him. ‘Men, what are folks saying about Me out there?’ And the disciples share some of the things that people are saying about Christ, and then He says to the disciples in verse 15:
“But who do you say that I am?”
And Peter, as the spokesman for the rest of the disciples, says in verse 16:
“You are the Christ…” [that's just a Greek word, English translation of the Greek word for the Hebrew term messiah]
“You are the Christ [You are the Messiah], the Son of the living God.”
Then in John 1:29, John the Baptist is out preaching and ministering and baptizing, and he says to his disciples one day as he sees Jesus coming towards him (John 1:29):
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And so what does He point His disciples to? He points His disciples to the work of Christ–what He has come to do, to take away the sin of the world.
And then, finally, Acts 4:12. Peter is preaching before the rulers and elders of Israel, and he's giving a testimony to the hope that is in him, and in the course of that, having identified Jesus as the cornerstone that the builders have rejected as the very foundation of the church, he says of Jesus, Acts 4:12:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” And so he affirms that truth of salvation in Christ alone in that passage.
I. All true Christians have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31)
Now I want to look at all four of those passages, and all four of these parts of this second question of membership with you today, and as we do so let me just summarize it in one sentence: Christians have faith in Christ's person and work, alone. That's how I could summarize this second question: Christians have faith in Christ's person and work, alone. Let's look at each part of that statement and each part of this question together, first looking at faith; secondly, looking at Christ's person; third, looking at Christ's work; and fourth, looking at Christ alone.
First, faith. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “What does the Bible mean by faith?” And by faith I'm not just saying faith in general; I'm talking about saving faith. All true Christians have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but what does it mean to have saving faith in Jesus? What is entailed in savingly believing, savingly having faith in Jesus? Well, in our second question of membership there are three beautiful, important words used to describe aspects of, or the acts of, saving faith. Did you notice those words? “Do you believe…and receive…and trust Him?” Let's look at those three words: believe; receive; and, trust.
Now, Paul's already given us a clue about the meaning of believing on Christ:
“Believe in [believe on, believe into] the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” he says in Acts 16:31. Jesus said similar things in the course of His earthly ministry. The Apostle John is particularly interested in this kind of phraseology of believing in Christ.
Now, John means something a little bit different than we do when we use that English construct of believe in. We will use believe in to talk about impersonal things that we believe. Somebody might say, “Do you believe in ghosts?” And we’ll use that construct of believe in to answer that question, but it's an impersonal thing. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it does not imply a personal relationship with them. But when John uses this phrase believe in, when Paul uses this phrase–believe in, believe on, believe into–he has in view an embrace of Jesus in all that He claims to be in all that the Bible says that He is. It's a personal thing. It's an acknowledgement, it's an acceptance, it's a personal embrace of the truth of Jesus: the truth that He claims for Himself, the truth about Him that the Bible teaches.
And the Apostle Paul, of course, is very concerned in all his letters to speak about different aspects of the truth claims that God makes about Jesus Christ in order that we would believe in Him, so, Paul is concerned to express, for instance, that Jesus is Lord; and he's concerned to express that Jesus is Messiah, and that He is the Savior of sinners. And he gives us a summary statement about Jesus’ person and work in Galatians 1:3-5, in which he recounts some of those things…we’ll look at that passage later. But believing means personally embracing those things to be true about Him, believing them to be true; not just understanding them, not just saying ‘OK, I understand what Jesus is claiming,’ but saying ‘Yes, I believe that. I accept that. I acknowledge that. I embrace that truth about Him from Him.’
But notice these other two words: receive and trust. Now if you remember your Catechism, the Catechism uses a little bit different terminology here. If you remember your Shorter Catechism, Question 86, which asks “What is faith?” the answer entails these two words: receiving and resting. In fact, sometimes when you hear me ask these questions to new members, you’ll hear me use receive and rest as opposed to receive and trust, but–they mean the same thing! Resting and trusting are parallel here. We’ll come to that later, but what does it mean to receive Christ?
Well, let's go to another passage. Go to John 1, and look at verses 11-13. It's one of the most poignant passages in all of the Bible. After John has described Jesus as the exalted word, the logos who was with God and toward God, and fellowshipping with God from the beginning, and that God has sent Him into the world as a light to the world, he tells us in verse 11 that “He came to His own…” and what happened? “His own received Him not.” It's heartbreaking–that God would give this great gift, and His own would reject that gift–but then he turns around and says in verse 12…what does John say?
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
And so receiving entails accepting Christ as God's saving gift to us, and receiving Him in the sense of accepting Him as our Lord and our King, embracing Him as our Lord and our King, unlike the many Jewish people in the time of Christ who said no, we will not accept Him as Lord and King. Those who have faith, saving faith in Christ, accept Him as Lord and King, and Savior. They receive Him gladly as their King.
There are two pictures here. One is the picture of the gift. God in His mercy is giving the gift of salvation in and through and by His Son, Jesus Christ, and some people (John 1:11) are saying ‘No thank you. I don't care for that gift. I don't need that gift.’ Other people, by God's grace (verse 12) are saying ‘Lord God, thank You for that gift. I receive it gladly, though I do not deserve it.’ So receiving (faith as receiving) is receiving that gift from God, but it's also acknowledging Christ's lordship and kingship over us.
Some of you are J.R. Tolkien fans, and you've read Lord of the Rings, some of you many times, and you know that one of the subplots in that story is that the great city and realm of Gondor is ruled by a steward–not by a king, but by the steward. The king had gone off years ago and never came back, and so the city, the realm, is ruled by a steward–somebody who was appointed in his place to keep things together while the king was away, but the king never came back. And one of the things that happens in Tolkien's book, The Lord of the Rings, is the king comes back. But what happens? The son of the steward does not receive him as the king. He says ‘You’re not the king. Don't you dare claim to be the king. I ought to be the king of Gondor,’ the son of the steward says. And one of the poignant parts of that book is at the end when the king comes back and is finally received by his people.
That's the picture here, receiving Christ, receiving Him as the gift of God, but acknowledging Him as our rightful Lord and King.
But then there's that beautiful word trust. You see, this indicates that this is more than just assent to certain facts, but it is a personal trust in Jesus Christ. It's a handing over of all our hopes and a putting of our confidence in Him.
Let me give you an illustration. In II Corinthians 1:9, the Apostle Paul is describing himself to the Corinthians, and in describing himself he's wanting them to understand how they really ought to be looking at themselves, because what he is saying about himself in this passage is true of all Christians. And he says this in the second half of II Corinthians 1:9. He says:
“We would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul's point is: ‘My hope, my confidence, my security is not in me. It's not in anything that I do. It's in God, who is able to raise the dead. Not in us, but in God.’ The Apostle Paul is saying ‘My hope, my security, my confidence, my trust is not in me; it's in God.’ That's exactly what is being spoken of here in our question: “Do you believe and receive and trust in Christ?” Your hope, your confidence for eternal salvation is found in Him alone.
Those of you who have taken Evangelism Explosion before know the illustration of the chair. You know, a person can say ‘Yes, I see that chair. That's a chair. I acknowledge that's a chair. I believe that's a chair. And I think that chair could hold me up if I sat in it.’ But until you’re sitting in the chair, you are not actually personally trusting in the chair to hold you up. You may theoretically believe that the chair will hold you up, but until you are putting your whole weight onto that chair, you are not personally, actively, practically trusting in that chair to hold you up. And so when we put our trust in Jesus Christ, to borrow the language of the hymn writer, we “wholly lean on Jesus' name.” That's why the Catechism uses that beautiful word…we rest, as a synonym for trust. We rest in Christ. We cease our own strivings. We cease to trust in ourselves, in our deserving, in our good works, and we rest in Him alone.
All of these things are entailed…these are the acts of saving faith. IN fact, turn with me in your hymnals to page 856. There you will find the fourteenth chapter of The Westminster Confession of Faith. Look in Section II, and look at the end of Section II…it's on the right panel of page 856. Notice what it says are the principle acts of saving faith:
“The principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”
That's exactly what the second question of membership is getting at (in fact, that's where the second question of membership came from!): that the principle acts of saving faith are believing, and receiving, and trusting…or accepting, receiving, and resting…on Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel.
Ah! That's one last phrase that I need to say something about before we're done with point one: “As He is offered in the gospel.” This means that the Jesus that we believe and receive and trust is not the Jesus of our own imagination, not a Jesus that we pick the bits of that we like and reject the bits of that we don't like, and sort of come up with our own composite image. This is not a “do-it-yourself” Jesus; this is the Jesus who is offered in the gospel. That's the only Jesus that saves, and there are all sorts of people around you today who are busily remaking Jesus in their own image. Of course, that's not God's plan. God's plan is to remake you in Jesus’ image, not for you to remake Jesus in your image, and so it's so important for us to recognize that the Jesus that you trust in for salvation, for justification, for sanctification, and eternal life–don't you love that phrase? That pretty much sums it all up. I mean, is there anything else to trust in God for? Justification, sanctification, eternal life…it's the whole kit and caboodle. The Jesus that we trust in for that is the Jesus who is offered in the gospel; it's the Jesus of the gospels; it's the Jesus of the Bible. It's not the Jesus of our own imaginations. And so it's so important for us to understand that the Bible tells us who Jesus is and what He has done, and that is the Jesus who is the object of our hope, of our trust, of our faith.
II. All true Christians embrace the Bible's teaching about Christ's person (Matthew 16:16)
Well, there's point one. We learn something in this question about saving faith, but we also learn something in this question about the person of Christ. All true Christians embrace the Bible's teaching about Christ's person, but what does it mean to embrace the Bible's teaching about the person of Christ?
Well, it means at least three things, and each of these three things is found in our question. It means receiving Jesus as Lord, Messiah, and divine. Look again at the question: “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God?” Do you see those three parts? Lord, Christ, Messiah; Son of God, divine. So trusting in Christ as He is offered in the gospel means believing in Him as Lord, Messiah, and divine.
You remember Matthew recording Peter's response to Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” “You are the Christ [You are the Messiah], the Son of the living God.” And there's an affirmation of two of those aspects that are listed here in this question. Jesus is Messiah, and He's the Son of God. You see the same thing in John 20:31,32, when he's telling you why he wrote the Gospel of John. I wrote it–why?–“so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” He's the Messiah, and He's the Son of God.
But the Apostle Paul makes it clear, as does Luke in the Book of Acts, as does Jesus in His preaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, that in addition to being Christ the Messiah, in addition to being the divine Son of God, He is also Lord. The basic baptismal vow of the Christian church is recorded for us in Acts 8 and in Romans 10:9. What does Paul say in Romans 10:9?
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So Jesus as Lord is not something that we accept sometime later on after we have accepted Him as our Savior; accepting Jesus as Lord is the very first profession of faith of a Christian: Jesus is Lord. And this is what we're affirming when we say “I do” to that second question of membership: “I believe and trust and receive in Jesus, who is Lord, Messiah, and the divine Son of God.”
III. All true Christians embrace the Bible's teaching about Christ's saving work (John 1:29)
And then thirdly, we know that all true Christians embrace Jesus’ teaching…the Bible's teaching…about Jesus’ saving work, but what does it mean to believe in Jesus’ saving work? What does it mean to accept Jesus as Savior? Well, John 1:29 illustrates the truth. We've already read it from John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” That is, we recognize that Jesus is not only Lord, Messiah, and the divine Son of God, He is also a Savior who has come to take away our sins.
I mentioned Galatians a few minutes ago. If you turn with me to Galatians 1 and look at Paul's benediction in verses 3-5, look especially at what he says about Jesus Christ in verse 4:
“The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”
What a wonderful one-verse summary of the gospel! It goes right along with John 3:16 and Romans 5:8,10. It's a great one-verse summary of the gospel. If somebody says ‘Quick! One sentence! Give me the gospel!’ just read out Galatians 1:4. Beautiful summarization of Jesus’ saving gospel work. And when we say “I do” to the second question, we are saying that we embrace this Jesus who is the Savior.
IV. All true Christians recognize that Christ is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12)
And then finally, notice that important word alone in the second question of membership:
“Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone for salvation?”
What's meant by this? Well, it's an acknowledgement that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and all true Christians acknowledge and recognize and embrace the truth that Christ is the only way of salvation. But what does that mean? It means that we affirm Christ's uniqueness: there is no other Savior; He's unique; He's the only Savior; and we embrace His indispensableness. He is unique and indispensable. That's what Peter is saying in Acts 4:12:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
That's a very unpopular teaching today. It's a politically incorrect thing to say. We live in a pluralistic culture, a relativistic culture. When you stand up and say there's only one way of salvation, you already have half the crowd against you; when you say that that one way of salvation is Christ alone, you have the rest of the crowd against you! But that is what the Christian church has been proclaiming from the beginning, and let me tell you what: the first place this was proclaimed was a pluralistic, relativistic culture; and guess what? They didn't like it! And three centuries later the whole culture had been transformed by the message of the gospel…so, I've got time…how about you? Just keep on ringing the bells, folks, how ever long it takes. God will do His work. But this is a central Christian affirmation, and we affirm it when we answer that question. We believe in Christ alone.
And, folks, we sing this all the time. Go ahead and open your hymnals to 521. I know the choir doesn't have it, but you know it by heart; 521…is Moak's great hymn, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, and look at how he expresses this:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” [Now here's where he stresses the alone.]
“I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.” [He is the only hope of my salvation. All my hope, all my confidence is there.]
“On Christ, the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”
Let me challenge you to go through the hymnal in the section on Faith in Christ and on Justification and see just how often the truth of faith in Christ alone is sung. And then sing it with a little extra intensity the next time you come to it, because you've stood up before God's people and said “I do” to this word. And it's something to be celebrated when all your hope, all your confidence for salvation in this age and the age to come, is in Christ alone. Let's pray.
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Thank You for the gospel. Help us by Your grace to really mean it when we say “I do” to this great question. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Take your hymnals out and turn with me to 521. Let's just sing the first stanza of My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less. [Congregation sings]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.