(Author’s note: the following is the text of a sermon I preached on Sunday, June 15, 2014, at which five Sunday School students were confirmed. As every communicant member of the RCUS has taken the same vows, a reminder of the duties we have voluntarily promised to God is always timely.)
As I look out over our five confirmation students this morning, I do so with mixed emotions. Of course, I am thankful to God that they studied hard and passed their exam last Thursday evening. Here’s what concerns me. I confirmed my first confirmation class twenty five years ago this month. I do not know how many I’ve confirmed since then, but the number is rather large.
What makes me concerned is the fact that, as I think back over all those I’ve confirmed, so many of them have left the church, and some have left the Christian faith as a whole. There is no way to tell, looking at confirmation students, who will stay and who will go. What I want to do this morning is to encourage our confirmands to be faithful to the vows they are about to make to God.
As my text, I have chosen Romans 9:1-6. In this passage, Paul speaks of his grief that his fellow Jews have rejected Christ. You will know that the Jews were God’s special covenant people in the Old Testament. This fact, however, did not mean that each and every one of them truly belonged to God. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 9:1-3, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.”
Here Paul says he would be willing to go to hell for eternity if it meant that his fellow Jews would trust in Christ. This shows that Paul’s deep love and concern for his fellow Jews was deep indeed.
Paul then goes on to describe how tragic was the rejection of Christ by the Jews. We read of all the advantages which the Jews, as God’s covenant people, enjoyed. We read in Romans 9:4-5 that the Jews were “Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. Of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
Look at all the blessings possessed by God’s Old Testament people: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law of God, the privilege of worshiping the one true God, and the promises of eternal blessing to those who trust in him. Also, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would be born as one of the Jews. What great blessings they possess. Still, most of them rejected Christ and did not keep the covenant which God made with his people.
Then Paul says something even more striking. We read in Romans 9:6, “But it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” What do you think this means? “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” The meaning is that there were some who were Israelites by birth, and therefore members of God’s covenant people. However, they were not true Israelites in the sense that they did not truly have faith in God. They were Israelites in name only but not in reality.
The same lesson is taught in Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Simply being born a Jew did not make a man a true Jew. Taking part in the sacraments (in this case, circumcision) did not make a man a Jew. Being a true Jew, one who genuinely belongs to God, was a matter of the heart.
The same is true of every church member present here today. You might be born into a Christian home, which makes you part of God’s covenant people. You might be baptized, you might be confirmed, you might take the Lord’s Supper, you might attend church every week—but these outward things do not make you a Christian. Only those who have repented of their sins and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ are true Christians.
Now this brings us to the confirmation vows which you will make in a few minutes. These vows are as solemn as marriage vows or anything else you promised before God. I have to warn you that, if you do not intend to keep your promises, please do not make these vows. I say this for your own good. We are warned in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed, better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” God is angry when someone makes a vow and does not keep it. We may later regret making a vow. We may say that we have made a mistake by what we have promised. According to what we have just read, this makes no difference. If you make a vow to God, it must be kept. God commands us in Deuteronomy 23:23 “That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.” This warning is repeated in Numbers 30:2, “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word: he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
Now, of course, we do not know in every situation what, if anything, God will do when we break a promise to him. However, we should not forget the case of Ananias. This man, a church member, sold a piece of property and gave part of the money to the church. The problem was that he said that he would give the entire price of the property to the church. When he came into the church to give what he said was the price for his property, we read in Acts 5:3-5, “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.”
Now this does not mean that everyone who breaks his vows with God will die. If this were the case, there would be a lot of dead people in the church. However, God could very well send severe chastening, perhaps even death, to those who break their word. Do you want to take that risk? Of course, even if God does not call us to account for breaking our word in this life, the day will come when we stand before God. Then, for certain, He will deal with us for what we have done.
There is one other matter that needs mentioning. Sometimes there are good reasons to leave the church. Before I joined the Reformed Church, I was a member of a different denomination. The time came when God opened my eyes and showed me that I no longer believed what that church taught. For this reason, I left that denomination and joined the Reformed Church. This was an honorable thing to do.
However, in my experience, younger members of our church have different reasons for leaving the church. Perhaps they go off to school, are distracted by their new way of life, and simply decide that church is no longer a priority for them. On other occasions, a Christian may become involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend who does not share their religious beliefs. Faced with the choice between their church and their boyfriend or girlfriend, they abandon their faith. Sometimes, a person chooses to “live with”/ “sleep with” their boyfriend or girlfriend. When they are rebuked by the Spiritual Council [the Elders and Minister], they do not want to stop what they are doing. So they choose to leave the church.
This is very serious. In fact, it can be an indication that such a person is not even a Christian. Such people are described in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
While church membership can never ever save us, there is little hope for those who think they can keep themselves apart from the church and still be saved. After all, it is the church for whom Christ died. We read in Ephesians 5:25 that “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This is also taught in the creeds of our church. In Article 28 of the Belgic Confession, our church declares, “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.” This is very clear. This means that there is no such thing as a true Christian who prefers to remain independent and refuses to identify with a local congregation.
So be very careful that you mean what you say when I ask you in a few minutes, “Fourth: Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church, and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?” This is a vow. Be sure you mean it.
You really needed to be warned about the seriousness of the vows you are about to make.
Now for one last comment. You really needed to hear one more time about the duties you assume with your membership vows. However, it is also true that those who truly love the Lord will find that the fellowship of the church is a matter of pure joy.
For one thing, as members of the church of Christ, the Lord promises us His love and care. We learned in Ephesians 5:29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” There is no spiritual blessing that God refuses to give His church. We are promised in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” One of the blessings of the church is that we are a family, the family of God. As such, similar to other families, we are to care for each other. That is why we read in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” We feel each other’s joy and pain. We love and care for each other.
I want to leave you with one final thought. You might think that because you are the newest and youngest members of our church, you are not very important. You are “just along for the ride,” so to speak. This is not true. In the church, all Christians are equally loved by Christ. Each one of us has been given different gifts and abilities. We must not look down on any church member as unimportant. Neither should we consider ourselves as unimportant with nothing to contribute to the life of the church. We all have gifts and abilities. We all have our place and part to play. Let me read to you I Corinthians 12:13-22, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”
You may think your little toe is very unimportant. But take it from me, if you sprain or break it, you will soon learn it cannot be ignored. The same is true of each of us. Now it may well be you do not know what gifts and abilities God has given you. You may have no idea what you can do for the church. If you feel this way, you can always ask your parents for advice or you can have a little talk with your pastor.
It is a blessing to belong to Christ’s church. If you love the Lord, the duties that have been drummed into your head will become the greatest joy and delight. May you be able to say with the psalmist of old in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Amen.
Rev David A. Dawn
Aberdeen, SD

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