Five Questions for Church Membership: What It Means to Be a Member of FPC – The Five Questions of Membership (2)

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 24, 2006

Acts 16:31; Matthew 16:15-16; John 1:29

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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 faithpersonworkalone.

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.

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