Election, Justification, Sanctification and Sacraments

URCNA LogoIn its battle against the errors of the Federal Vision scheme—”in by grace, stay in by faith and works”—the just-concluded Synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America clarified its doctrines regarding election, justification, sanctification and sacraments in publishing the 15 points below. The references are from the Belgic Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort.

1. In God’s unchangeable purpose, He elects His chosen ones to salvation and effectively draws them into fellowship with Christ through His Word and Spirit, granting them true faith in Christ, justifying, sanctifying and preserving them in Christ’s fellowship until He glorifies them (Canons of Dort, 1.7).

2. The election of God is of one kind only, and is to everlasting life, and not to a mutable relationship dependent on the good work of man, which can be forfeited (Canons of Dort, 1.8). Those who finally fall away have not forfeited their election, but demonstrate they never were elect, though members of the covenant community (Canons of Dort, 5.7).

3. Some members of the church or covenant community “are not of the Church, though externally in it” (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

4. Those who are truly “of the Church” may be known by the “marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof” (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

5. Adam was obligated to obey “the commandment of life” in order to live in fellowship with God and enjoy His favor eternally (Belgic Confession, Article 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3).

6. All human beings have fallen in Adam, are subject to condemnation and death, and are wholly incapable of finding favor with God on the basis of obedience to the law of God (Belgic Confession, Article 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 3, 24).

URC Synod 20107. The work of Christ as Mediator of the covenant of grace fully accords with God’s truth and justice, satisfies all the demands of God’s holy law, and thereby properly “merits” the believer’s righteousness and eternal life (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 5-7, 15, 23-24; Belgic Confession, Article 22; Canons of Dort, Rejection of Errors, 2:3).

8. The entire obedience of Christ “under the law,” both active and passive, constitutes the righteousness that is granted and imputed to believers for their justification (Belgic Confession, Article 22; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 23).

9. Faith is the sole instrument of the believer’s justification, so that believers may be said to be justified “even before [they] do good works” (Belgic Confession, Article 24).

10. The good works of believers, though necessary fruits of thankfulness, contribute nothing to their justification before God since they proceed from true faith, are themselves the fruits of the renewing work of Christ’s Spirit, are imperfect and corrupted by sin, and are performed out of gratitude for God’s grace in Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 3, 24, 32, 33; Belgic Confession, Article 24).

11. The justification of true believers is a definitive and irrevocable blessing of Christ’s saving work, and therefore cannot be increased by the good works that proceed from true faith or be lost through apostasy. (Canons of Dort, 1:9; Rejection of Errors 1:2, 2:8, 5:7; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 20, 21)

12. The sacrament of baptism does not effect the believer’s union with Christ or justification but is a confirmation and assurance of the benefits of Christ’s saving work to those who respond to the sacrament in the way of faith (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 25, 27).

13. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a means to strengthen and nourish the believer in Christ when it is received by the “mouth of faith” and therefore the children of believing parents shall make public profession of are obligated to attest the presence of such faith before receiving the sacrament (Belgic Confession, Article 35; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 28-30).

14. The assurance of salvation is an ordinary fruit of true faith, which looks primarily to the gospel promise and the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the basis for confidence before God. Though good works may confirm the genuineness of faith, they are not the primary basis for such assurance of salvation. (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord‘s Days 7, 23, 32; Belgic Confession, Article 22-23; Canons of Dort, 5:8-13)

15. According to God’s electing purpose and grace revealed in the gospel, true believers may be confident that God will preserve them in the way of salvation and keep them from losing their salvation through apostasy (Canons of Dort, 1:12, 5:8-10)

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