Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
Last time we began our discussion of the second question asked of those who make ‘public confession of faith: “Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto and to lead a new, godly life?” We considered the antithetical nature of confession of faith, that confession of faith is not only acknowledging positively the truth of God’s Word, but also “rejecting all heresies repugnant thereto.” We also considered the “new, godly life” to which those who make confession of faith are called.
In this article we want to focus especially on the fact that those who make confession of faith resolve “by the grace of God” to maintain the true doctrine and to lead a new, godly life.
The grace of God is necessary for anyone to confess his faith. As faith itself is a gift of the grace of God, so is the ability to confess this faith. The Apostle brings this out in I Corinthians 12:3 when he says that”. . . no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”
The grace of God opens our mouths and loosens our tongues so that we are able to give a testimony concerning our faith in Jesus Christ. The grace of God gives us the courage to do this when such a testimony entails reproach, rejection, and even bodily persecution. It was the grace of God that enabled the three friends of Daniel to confess their faith, even when such a confession meant the burning, fiery furnace. It was the grace of God that enabled Paul to give a good confession before the mighty of this earth, the Agrippas and the Caesars, even when that confession meant for him in the end martyrdom. It was the grace of God that enabled the early Christians steadfastly to confess their faith even when that confession meant death by burning.
That we resolve to remain faithful to the confession we make, by the grace of God, teaches us our weakness. It is important that the Christian recognizes his weakness, for only when we are weak can we be strong. It is only by the grace of God that we will ever “adhere to this doctrine.” It is only by the grace of God that we will be able “to reject all heresies repugnant” to the true doctrine. It is only by the grace of God that we will be able “to lead a new, godly life.” The grace of God underlies the entire Christian life.
That means that the Christian life is one of conscious dependence upon God. Do we know this? Really know this? Does it live in our consciousness that the only possibility of our living the life of one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ is the grace of God? Do we think about this very often?
We can be sure that if we forget our need of the grace of God there are going to be serious problems in our Christian life. Our Christian life is going to degenerate drastically. At best we are going to become apathetic in our Christian life, with the resultant loss of joy in the Christian life. At worst, we are going to faI1 into serious sin.
Those who make confession of faith must be asked whether they are consciously depending upon the grace of God to live the life to which they are called. Are they living in daily dependence upon God for the strength to live this life? Do they recognize their own weakness and inability in this regard?
Our dependence on the grace of God to live the Christian life brings up the subject of the means of grace. We depend on the grace of God: But God gives us His grace through means, the means of grace. One who is living in dependence on the grace of God is one who is making use of the means of that grace.
Of importance here are, first of all, what we might call the “private means of grace.” I refer here especially to prayer and Bible reading. Personal prayer and reading of the Scriptures are absolutely indispensable in the Christian life. There simply can be no Christian life apart from them.
Does the young person making confession of faith have a place in his daily life for prayer and Bible reading? Does he make a point every day of engaging in these necessary activities? It cannot be questioned that God blesses these activities. It cannot be questioned that God uses these activities to strengthen the faith of His child. It cannot be questioned that through these activities God gives grace to His child to live a godly life in the midst of this world.
A young person who has no time for daily, private prayer is in no condition to make public confession of faith. A young person who cannot take the time to read the Scriptures cannot be resolved by the grace of God to adhere to the true doctrine and lead a new, godly life.
Besides the private reading of God’s Word and prayer, the second question for public confession of faith implies the importance of the use of the public means of grace. By the public means of grace we refer to the official means of grace established by Christ in His church, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.
It is especially through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments that God bestows on us the grace to live the life which we resolve to live at the time we make confession of faith. Apart from the official means of grace, the Christian life is impossible.
The Christian life is not “een hoekje met een boekje,” that is, going off into some little corner by ourselves with our own little book and privately cultivating Christianity. The Christian life is not some individual endeavor, altogether divorced from the rest of the people of God and from the church institute. The vitality and very existence of the Christian life depends on the official means of grace in the church.
A resolution, therefore, to live a new, godly life “by the grace of God,” is a resolution to be diligent in our use of the means of grace. Has the young person making confession of faith been diligent in using the means of grace in the past, including attending catechism classes? Is he resolved to be diligent in the future? Is it important to him to attend both Sunday worship services? Is his attendance more than merely habit?
This is a serious matter, a terribly serious matter. Let no young person take this matter lightly! Before God and His church you resolve, promise faithfully to make use of the means of grace. That is involved in your confession of faith.
To resolve to lead a new, holy life by God’s grace, and then to neglect the means of grace is to give the lie to your confession. To promise to live a life under the grace of God, and then to be unfaithful in attending the worship services of the church is to go back on the promise that is involved in your confession of faith.
It is also for this reason that young people who confess their faith and declare publicly their agreement with and commitment to the doctrine of the Scriptures as “taught here in this Christian Church,” and then who leave that Christian church commit serious sin. How is it possible to “adhere to this doctrine and reject all heresies repugnant thereto” in a church that does not faithfully preach that doctrine? How is it possible to lead a “new, godly life” in a church where the sacraments are corrupted and the Word of God is distorted? In the end, it is not possible.
The diligent use of the means of grace is crucial with respect to the godly walk the confessing member of Christ’s church is called to live. The importance of our attendance at the worship services of the church is certainly, first of all, the glory of God. God is glorified by the worship of His church. But there is also practical benefit here for ourselves. In the second question for public confession of faith a promise is made to make good use of the means of grace. The carrying out of this promise is absolutely necessary if we are going to carry out the additional promise to lead a holy life.
The Scriptures emphasize the importance of the Word of God and the preaching of that Word for the holiness of the Christian. In John 17:17 Jesus prays, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” In Acts 26:18 the Apostle Paul gives as the purpose of his ministry that he might turn men “. . . . from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
One outstanding purpose of the preaching of the gospel is to equip God’s people to live a holy Christian life. The gospel does, this, first of all, by giving us the proper motive—thanksgiving for gracious salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ, according to the electing grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the gospel does this, in the second place, by setting before us the standard of such a holy life—the law and will of God contained in Holy Scripture.
May our young people take seriously their vow of confession of faith. May they be diligent in their use of the means of grace, privately and publicly. Just in this way may they receive God’s grace to live a new, holy life.