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R C Sproul

(96 posts)

Why the God-Man?

Tuesday··2008·09·23 · 3 Comments
In his work Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-man?), Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) sought to answer the question of why the incarnation was necessary. R. C. Sproul writes, At the heart of Anselm’s answer to that question was his understanding of the character of God. Anselm saw that the chief reason a God-man was necessary was the justice of God. That may seem to be a strange answer. Thinking of the cross and of Christ’s atonement, we assume that the thing that most strenuously motivated God to send Christ into the world was His love or His mercy. As a result, we tend to overlook the characteristic of God’s nature that makes the atonement absolutely necessary—His justice. God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is His own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness. Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice. If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 18–19.

Cosmic Treason

Sin, R. C. Sproul writes, “is cosmic treason.” We rarely take the time to think through the ramifications of human sin. We fail to realize that even the slightest sins we commit, such as little white lies or other peccadilloes we are violating the law of the creator of the universe. In the smallest sin we defy God’s right to rule and reign over His creation. Instead, we seek to usurp for ourselves the authority and power that belong properly to God. Even the slightest sin does violence to His holiness, to His glory, and to his righteousness. Every sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is truly an act of treason against a cosmic King. There are two aspects of the one problem we must understand if we are to grasp the necessity of the atonement of Christ. . . . God is just. In other words, He cannot tolerate unrighteousness. He must do what is right. . . . The other aspect of the problem [is that] we have violated God’s justice and earned His displeasure. We are cosmic traitors. We must recognize this problem within ourselves if we are to grasp the necessity of the cross. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 32–33.

Spots and Blemishes

R. C. Sproul, considering the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary, draws three circles. The first represents the character of man. Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If another sin occurs, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sin continues to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. . . . Human character is clearly tainted by sin . . . The sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt. . . . To take it further, when the apostle Paul elaborates on this fallen human condition, he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . There is none who does good; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10b-12). That’s a radical statement. Paul is saying that man never, ever does a good deed, but that flies in the face of our experience. When we look around us, we see numerous people who are not Christians doing things that we would applaud for their virtue. . . . But how can there be these deeds of apparent goodness when the Bible says that no one does good? The reason for this problem is that when the Bible describes goodness or badness, it looks at it from two distinct perspectives. First, there is the measuring rod of the law, which evaluates the external performance of human beings. For example, if the law says you are not allowed to steal, and you go your whole life without stealing, we could say that you have a good record. You’ve kept the law externally. But in addition to the external measuring rod, there is also the consideration of the heart, the internal motivation for our behavior. We’re told that man judges by outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. From a biblical perspective, to do a good deed in the fullest sense requires not only that the deed conform outwardly to the standards of God’s law, but that it proceed from a heart that loves Him and wants to honor Him. You remember the great commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matt. 22:37). Is there anyone reading this book who has loved God with all of his or her heart for the past five minutes? No. Nobody loves God with all of his heart, not to mention his soul or mind. . . . If we consider human performance from this perspective, we can see why the apostle would come to his apparently radical conclusion that there is no one who does good, that there’s no goodness in the full sense of the word found among mankind. Even our finest works have a taint of sin mixed in. I have never done an act of charity, of sacrifice, or of heroism that came from a heart, a soul, and a mind that loved God completely. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 85, 87–89.

Why the God-man? (2)

Friday··2008·09·26 · 6 Comments
R. C. Sproul draws three circles illustrating the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary. The first circle represented the character of man. Sproul continues: Imagine a second circle, just like the one we had for man, to represent the character of God. How many blemishes would we see in this circle? Absolutely none. We are totally depraved, but God is absolutely holy. In fact, He is too holy to even look at iniquity. He is perfectly just. Here, then, is the crux of the problem: how can an unjust person stand in the presence of God? Or, to put the question another way, how can an unjust person be made just, or justified? Can he start all over again? No. Once a person commits one sin, it is impossible for him ever to be perfect, because he’s lost his perfection with his initial sin. Can he pay the penalty for his sin? No—unless he wishes to spend an eternity in hell. Can God simply overlook the sin? No. If God did that, He would sacrifice His justice. Therefore, if man is to be made just, God’s justice must be satisfied. Someone must be able to pay te penalty for man’s sin. It must be a member of the offending party, the human race, but it must be one who has never fallen into the inescapable imperfection of sin. Given these requirements, no man could qualify. However, God Himself could. For this reason, God the Son came into the world and took on humanity. As the author of Hebrews says, “He had to be made like His brethren . . .” (Heb. 2:17a, emphasis added). —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91.

Justification by Imputation

Illustrating the necessity of a substitutionary atonement, R. C. Sproul draws three circles. The first circle represents the character of man. The second represents the character of God. The third represents Christ. Imagine a circle representing Jesus’ character. He lived as a man on earth for decades, subject to the Law of God and subject to all of the temptations known to man. (Heb. 4:15). But we do not see any blemishes in His circle. Not one. This is why . . . John the baptist cried, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). The Passover lambs of the Old Testament were to be lambs without blemish, as physically perfect as possible. But the ultimate lamb, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of His People, was to be perfect in every way. In calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John was affirming that Jesus was untouched by sin. Jesus Himself made this claim. He asked the Pharisees, “‘Which of you convicts me of sin?’” . . . How would you react if somebody said to you: “I am perfect. If you don’t agree with me, prove that I’m not.” That’s what Jesus said. He claimed to have no shadow of turning, no blemish, nom sin. He said that his meat and drink were to do the will of the Father. He was a man Whose passion in life was obedience to the Law of God. We have one unjust party (man) and two just parties. We have a just God, and a just Mediator, Who is altogether holy. The Mediator is the One who came to satisfy the requirements of a just God on behalf of the unjust race of man. He is the One who makes the unjust party just. He is the only One Who could do so. As Protestants, the term we use for this process of making something that is unjust to be something that is just is forensic justification. The term forensics is used in the context of police investigative work or to describe high school debate matches. It has to do with authoritative formal acts of declaration. So forensic justification occurs when a person is declared to be just at the tribunal of God. This justification takes place ultimately when the supreme Judge of heaven and earth says, “You are just.” The grounds for such a declaration are in the concept of imputation. . . . we are talking about imputation when we say that Jesus bore our sins, that He took the sins of the world on Himself. The language there is one of a quantitative act of transfer whereby the weight of guilt is taken from man and given to Christ. . . . In theological language, we say that God imputed those sins to Jesus. If all that happened was a single transfer of our sins to Jesus, we would not be justified. If Jesus took all the sins I’ve ever committed on His back and took the punishment for me, that would not get me into the kingdom of God. It would be good enough to keep me out of hell, but I would still not be just. I would be innocent, if you will, but still not just in the positive sense. I would have no righteousness . . . Thankfully, however, there is not just one transfer, there are two. Not only is the sin of man imputed to Christ, but the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us, to our account. As a result, in God’s sight the human circle is now both clean of all blemishes and adorned with glorious righteousness. Because of that, when God declares me just, He is not lying. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 91–95.

How Can You Know?

Wednesday··2008·10·01 · 3 Comments
After spending some time on the doctrine of limited, or particular, atonement, explaining that Christ’s death did not merely make salvation possible, but actually secured it for a particular people, R. C. Sproul answers the question, “How can you know if you’re one of the elect?” If you are one of the flock of Christ, one of His lambs, then you can know with certainty that an atonement has been made for your sins. You may wonder how you can know you’re numbered among the elect. I cannot read your heart or the secrets of the Lambs Book of Life, but Jesus said: “‘My sheep hear My voice’” (John 10:27a). If you want Christ’s atonement to avail for you, and if you put your trust in that atonement and rely on it to reconcile you to almighty God, in a practical sense, you don’t need to worry about the abstract question of election. If you put your trust in Christ’s death for your redemption and you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then you can be sure that the atonement was made for you. That, more than anything else, will settle for you the mystery of God’s election. Unless you’re elect, you won’t believe on Christ; you won’t embrace the atonement or rest on his shed blood for your salvation. If you want it, you can have it. It is offered to you if you believe and trust. One of the sweetest statements from the lips of Jesus in the New Testament is this: “‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world‘” (Matt. 25:34b). There is a plan of God designed for your salvation. It is not an afterthought or an attempt to correct a mistake. Rather, from all eternity, God determined that He would redeem for Himself a people, and that which He determined to do was, in fact, accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ, His atonement on the cross. Your salvation has been accomplished by a Savior Who is not merely a potential Savior, but an actual Savior, One Who did for you what the Father determined He should do. He is your Surety, your Mediator, your Substitute, your Redeemer. He atoned for your sins on the cross. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 151–153.

Power in the Blood

Thursday··2008·10·02 · 1 Comments
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder working pow’r In the blood of the Lamb; There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder working pow’r In the precious blood of the Lamb. Or is there? The blood of Christ is often given magical, mythical power in the minds of Christians. In the classic 1959 movie Ben-Hur, the blood of Christ drips from the cross. As it begins to rain, the blood merges with the rain water, and as the rain falls on Judah Ben-Hur’s leprous mother and sister, they are healed. Healing power was attributed to the physical blood of Christ. John MacArthur has been branded a heretic by some for denying that the physical blood of Christ possesses any divine character or power. Is there “power in the blood”? If so, what does that mean, biblically? R. C. Sproul answers the question, “What is the significance of the shedding of blood in the atonement?” The idea that there’s some intrinsic or inherent power in the blood of Jesus is a popular concept in the Christian world. It even crops up from time to time in various hymns and praise songs. This idea reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of the blood as it relates to atonement from a biblical perspective. I once heard my dear friend John Guest, who is an Anglican evangelist, preach on the cross and the blood of Christ. He asked this question: “Had Jesus come to earth and scratched his finger on a nail so that a drop or two of blood was spilled, would that have been sufficient to redeem us? That would have constituted the shedding of blood. If we’re saved by the blood of Christ, wouldn’t that have been enough?” Obviously the point John was trying to make is that it’s not the blood of Christ as such that saves us. The significance of the blood in the sacrificial system is that it represents life. The Old Testament repeatedly makes the point that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Therefore, when the blood is poured out, the life is poured out. That’s significant, because under the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden, the penalty that was laid down for disobedience was death. God required that penalty for sin. That is why Jesus had to die to accomplish the atonement. When the blood is shed and the life is poured out, the penalty is paid. Nothing short of that penalty will do. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 155–156.
And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? —Charles Wesley, 1738 Yesterday, I introduced R.C. Sproul’s comments on the blood of Christ with the chorus to the gospel song Power in the Blood. Typical of many of the songs of its time, it is not very deep or clear doctrinally, and requires some supplemental words to make sense of it. Today, we will see that even some truly great hymns can contain some vague language and require some clarification as Dr. Sproul answers the question, “Is it accurate to say that God Died on the Cross?” This kind of expression is popular in hymnody and in grassroots conversation. So although I have this scruple about the hymn, and it bothers me that the expression is there, I think I understand it, and there’s a way to give an indulgence for it. We believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. In fact, two such heresies related to this problem arose in the early centuries of the church: theopassianism and patripassianism. The first of these, theopassianism, teaches that God Himself suffered death on the cross. Patripassianism indicates that the Father suffered vicariously through the suffering of His Son. Both of these heresies were roundly rejected by the church for the very reason that they categorically deny the very character and nature of God, including His immutability. There is no change in the nature or character of God at any time. God not only created the universe, He sustains it by the very power of His being. As Paul said, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If the being of God ceased for one second, the universe would disappear. It would pass out of existence, because nothing can exist apart from the sustaining power of God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross. Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being. We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is only experienced by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 159–161.

Sola Scriptura in the Confessions

In October of 1518, Martin Luther was already in hot water with the pope after having posted his Ninety-Five Theses the previous year. But he made things considerably worse for himself when, in a debate with Dominican Cardinal Cajetan, he asserted that the pope could and had erred. He turned up the heat considerably in the summer of 1519 when he confessed to Johannes von Eck that not only could popes and councils err, they had erred grievously in condemning John Huss. So was born the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. It was not that Luther despised church authority. He merely recognized that Scripture alone was inerrant and infallible, and therefore only Scripture possessed absolute normative authority. This principle is codified in several sixteenth century Reformed confessions which R. C. Sproul excerpts in the first chapter of his book, Scripture Alone. The Theses of Berne (1528): The church of Christ makes no laws or commandments without God’s Word. Hence all human traditions, which are called ecclesiastical commandments, are binding upon us only in so far as they are based and commanded by God’s Word. (Sec. 2) The Geneva Confession (1536): First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as a rule of faith and religion, without mixing it with any other things which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word of God, and without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord. (Sec. 1) The French Confession of Faith (1559): We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives it’s authority from God alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation it is not lawful for men, even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority whether of antiquity, or custom or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated and reformed according to them. (Art. 5) The Belgic Confession (1561): We receive all these books, and these only as holy and confirmation of our faith; believing, without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives, and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnessed in our hearts that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves (Art. 5). Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule (Art. 7). The Second Helvic confession (1566): Therefore, we do not admit any other judge that Christ himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what is to be avoided (chap. 2). —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 18–20.

Sola Scriptura and Limited Inerrancy

Wednesday··2009·03·18 · 3 Comments
You have most likely heard Scripture described as the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.” That statement is an echo of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura, and a foundational doctrine of biblical Christianity. Advocates of “limited inerrancy” have made a subtle shift from that statement to one that allows that Scripture is infallible only when it speaks of faith and practice. R. C. Sproul addresses the seriousness of that error and its implications to biblical faith. Is sola Scriptura compatible with a view of Scripture that limits inerrancy to matters of faith and practice? Theoretically it would seem to be possible if “faith and practice” could be separated from any part of Scripture. So long as biblical teaching regarding faith and practice were held to be normative for the Christian community, there would appear to be no threat to the essence of Christianity. How¬ever, certain problems exist with such a view of Scripture that do seriously threaten the essence of Christianity. The first major problem we encounter with limited Inerrancy is the problem of canon reduction. The canon or “norm” of Scripture is reduced de facto to that content relat¬ing to faith and practice. This immediately raises the hermeneutical question concerning what parts of Scripture deal with faith. . . . The second serious problem, closely related to the first, is the problem of the relationship of faith and history, per¬haps the most serious question of contemporary New Tes¬tament scholarship. If we limit the notion of inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, what becomes of biblical his¬tory? Is the historical substratum of the gospel negotiable? Are only those portions of the biblical narrative that have a clear bearing on faith inerrant? How do we escape dehistoricizing the gospel . . . ? We know that the Bible is not an ordinary history book but a book of redemptive history. But is it not also a book of redemptive history? If we exclude the realm of history from the category of inspiration or inerrancy either in whole or in part, do we not inevitably lose the gospel? The third problem we face with limiting inerrancy to mat¬ters of faith and practice is an apologetic one. To those crit¬ics outside the fellowship of evangelicals, the notion of “limited inerrancy” appears artificial and contrived. Limited inerrancy gets us off the apologetical hook by making us immune to religious-historical criticism. We can eat our cake and have it too. The gospel is preserved; and our faith and practice remains intact while we admit errors in matters of history and cosmology. We cannot believe the Bible con¬cerning earthly things, but we stake our lives on what it says concerning heavenly things.That approach was totally abro¬gated by our Lord (John 3:12). How do we explain and defend the idea that the Bible is divinely superintended in part of its content but not all of It? Which part is inspired? Why only the faith and practice parts? Again, which are the faith and practice parts? Can we not justly be accused of “weaseling” if we adopt such a view? We remove our faith from the arena of historical verification or falsification. This is a fatal blow for apologetics as the reasoned defense of Christianity. Finally, we face the problem of the domino theory. Fre¬quently this concern is dismissed out of hand as being so much alarmism. But our doctrine of Scripture is not a child’s game of dominoes. We know instances in which men have abandoned belief in full inerrancy but have remained substantially orthodox in the rest of their theology. We are also aware of the sad instances in which full inerrancy is affirmed yet the substance of theology is corrupt. Inerrancy is no guarantee of biblical orthodoxy. Yet even a cursory view of church history has shown some pattern of correlation between a weakening of biblical authority and serious defec¬tion regarding the wesen [heart, or essence] of Christianity. The wesen of nine¬teenth-century liberalism is hardly the gospel evangelicals embrace. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 33–35.
The church has historically called Scripture the “norm of norms and without norm.” The phrase “norm of norms” indicates the superiority of Scripture above all other standards, just as the New Testament calls Christ the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords.” With this phrase, we acknowledge that Scripture stands superior to all other authorities. But this does not mean that Scripture is simply a “first among equals.” The additional phrase “without norm” says that it stands alone, with or without the affirmation of other authorities. It is what it is whether it is acknowledged or not. Scripture alone is infallible; Scripture alone cannot err. This is the major point of conflict between Rome and the Reformation, between Roman Catholicism and Christianity. Rome claims infallibility for the church as well as Scripture. In fact, Rome claims to have infallibly created the canon of Scripture. Protestants make no such claims. We know that we are fallible, from the lowest to the highest. We know that the possibility of error exists in everything we do, including—and this is troubling to many—the compiling of the canon of Scripture. On this issue, R. C. Sproul writes: This disagreement . . . points to the larger issue that surrounds the question of canon. How was the canon established? By whose authority? Is the canon closed to further additions? . . . Did the canon come into being by the fiat of the church? Was it already in existence in the primitive Christian community? Was the canon established by a special providence? Is it possible that certain books that made their way into the present canon should not have been included? Is it possible that books that were excluded should have been included? We know that at least for a temporary period Martin Luther raised questions about the inclusion of the Epistle of James in the New Testament canon. That Luther once referred to James as an “Epistle of Straw” or a “right strawy Epistle” is a matter of record. Critics of biblical inspiration have not grown weary of pointing to these comments of Luther to argue their case that Luther did not believe in the inspiration or infallibility of Scripture. This argument not only fails to do justice to Luther’s repeated assertions of the divine authority of Scripture and their freedom from error, but more seriously it fails to make the proper distinction between the question of the nature of Scripture and the extent of Scripture. Luther was unambiguous in his conviction that all of Scripture is inspired and infallible. His question about James was not a question of the inspiration of Scripture but a question pf whether James was in fact Scripture. Though Luther did not challenge the infallibility of Scripture he most emphatically challenged the infallibility of the church. He allowed for the possibility that the church could err, even when the church ruled on the question of what books properly belonged in the canon. To see this issue more clearly we can refer to a distinction often made by Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner distinguishes between the Roman Catholic view of the canon and the Protestant view of the canon in this manner: Roman Catholic view: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books. Protestant view: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books. The distinction in view here refers to the Catholic Church’s conviction that the canon of Scripture was declared infallibly by the church. On the other hand, the Protestant view is that the church’s decision regarding what books make up the canon was a fallible decision. Being fallible means that it is possible that the church erred in its compilation of the books found in the present canon of Scripture. When Gerstner makes this distinction he is neither asserting nor implying that the church indeed did err in its judgment of what properly belongs to the canon. His view is not designed to cast doubt on the canon but simply to guard against the idea of an infallible church. It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err. Gerstner’s formula has often been met with both consternation and sharp criticism in evangelical circles. It seems to indicate that he and those who agree with his assessment are undermining the authority of the Bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Martin Luther and John Calvin before him, Gerstner has been an ardent defender of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. His formula is merely designed to acknowledge that there was a historical selection process by which the church determined what books were really Scripture and what books were not Scripture. The point is that in this sifting or selection process the church sought to identify what books were actually to be regarded as Scripture. It may be said that Rome has a certain “advantage” with respect to infallibility. Rome believes that the church is infallible as well as the Scripture. This infallibility extends not only to the question of canon formation but also to the question of biblical interpretation. To summarize, we can say that according to Rome we have an infallible Bible whose extent is decreed infallibly by the church and whose content is interpreted infallibly by the church. The Christian individual is still left in his own fallibility as he seeks to understand the infallible Bible as interpreted by the infallible church. No one is extending infallibility to the individual believer. For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, it is clearly acknowledged that the individual is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. He has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, but never the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation the responsibility of correct inter-pretation is also given. We never have the right to distort the teaching of Scripture. Both sides agree that the individual is fallible when seeking to understand the Scripture. Historic Protestantism limits the scope of infallibility to the Scriptures themselves. Church tradition and church creeds can err. Individual interpreters of Scripture can err. It is the Scriptures alone that are without error. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 40–43.

Canon Addition

On hearing the words “canon addition,” we are likely to think of the addition of books, such as the apocrypha, to the Bible. We might think of the canonization of tradition by Roman Catholicism. R. C. Sproul writes of the claims of characters like Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts of receiving “words of knowledge,” alleged supernatural revelation from God, and laments the credulity of people who swallow these claims apparently without thought. We might look critically on such people, wondering how they can be so foolish. But many of those who ridicule such gullibility fall for a subtler form of the same kind of canon addition. Sproul writes: But it gets more subtle. We hear respected Christian leaders claiming that God has “spoken to them” and given special guidance and instructions upon which they are duty bound and to act and obey. They are careful to note that that this divine speech was not in audible form and there is a disclaimer that this is not a new “revelation.” yet the message which is “laid on the heart” is so clear and powerful that to disobey is to disobey the voice of God. I am not speaking here of the work of the Holy Spirit by which he illuminates the text of scripture in such a sharp manner as to bring us under conviction or direct our paths. But here the Spirit works in the Word and through the Word. I am speaking of the speaking of the Spirit that men claim is working apart from the Word and in addition to the Word. Through such claims are more often that not attended by the disclaimer that they are not revelation, the way they function is as revelation so that the distinction between them and bona fide revelation is, in actuality, a distinction without a difference. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 60.

The Biblical View

Monday··2010·06·07 · 10 Comments
A couple of weeks ago, Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind radio program broadcast a couple of old lectures—not really sermons, and not really a “debate” (as they were billed), either—on baptism. R. C. Sproul presented the traditional view of infant baptism, and John MacArthur presented the biblical doctrine of the baptism of believers alone. Now, if I was one of the Truly Reformed, I’d be annoyed by that last sentence, particularly by the adjectives. Of course, this is my blog, and I’m not pretending any kind of impartiality. I am also not introducing two speakers presenting opposing views, so I am under no burden to appear fair and unbiased. However, if that was the situation, describing the opposing views as I did above—even though that is exactly how I see it—would be prejudicial, and inappropriate for the moment. Consider, then, how the two messages were described on the Ligonier website: Baptism Debate With R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur The church’s practice of infant baptism came under attack in the sixteenth century. Since that time, many Christian churches have rallied against the practice, administering baptism only to believing adults. From Ligonier Ministries” 1998 National Conference, Drs. John MacArthur Jr. and R.C. Sproul discuss their views on the Biblical meaning and mode of Christian baptism. Dr. MacArthur presents the credo-baptist position and Dr. Sproul presents the historic paedo(infant)-baptist position. That’s “the credo-baptist position” vs. the “historic paedo(infant)-baptist position.” That really didn’t bother me at first, but after a comment about it was made on another blog, I began to think more about what the word “historic” means: Main Entry: his·tor·ic Pronunciation: \hi-’stȯr-ik, -’stär-\ Function: adjective Date: 1594 : historical: as a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields> b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion> c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates> d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts> So which view is more “historic”? I’ll grant that paedobaptism is an historic practice, but, by Dr. Sproul’s own admission, we don’t find it documented until the third century. Credobaptism, we all know, is explicitly documented in the New Testament. Paedobaptism is clearly not the historic position. To Ligonier’s credit, the original Renewing Your Mind introductions did not use quite so prejudicial a term. The original audience heard the following descriptions: the Protestant views of infant baptism the traditional doctrine of infant baptism the traditional Protestant case for infant baptism the classical Protestant view of infant baptism the classical Protestant case for infant baptism the Protestant case for infant baptism the traditional view of believer’s baptism Those descriptions still indicate some bias—there is a “case for” infant baptism, but only a “view of” believer’s baptism—but I don’t find them quite so irksome. After all, the earliest Protestants were paedobaptists. Somewhat humorous to me, though, is the reference to the “classical Protestant view.” [ahem] Excuse me, Mr. Ligonier-Announcer, but wouldn’t that be the Lutheran view? Well, be that as it may, I’ve rambled on for some five hundred words without getting to the issue that is really on my mind. We could go back and forth indefinitely on which is the historic view, or the (historical, classical, or what-you-will) Protestant view. Those discussions are not entirely irrelevant, but neither are they decisive. What we really want to know is which view is biblical. Luther famously declared that popes and councils can err. He also proved that reformers can err. Reformed churchmen would point to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration as proof of that. Among his other errors, also recognized by the Reformed, were his insistence on the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (transconsubstantiation), and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Calvin also either believed in or considered it unnecessary to deny the perpetual virginity. The Church Fathers present a wide variety of oddities (consider where Matthew 18:7–9 took Origen!). The Fathers and Reformers, valuable as they are, must be left in their places. So I think it’s unfortunate that those terms (historic, classical, traditional, Protestant) were used at all. Being Protestant is of great importance to me. That the Reformation was and remains necessary and right is a presupposition in any of my discussions. Yet the bottom line is not being Protestant, or (mostly) Reformed. The bottom line is being biblical. I’m sure Drs. Sproul and MacArthur would agree.

The Good News: Faith Alone

Tuesday··2010·08·10 · 3 Comments
Summarizing the difference between the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and the Roman doctrine of justification by faith plus merit, R. C. Sproul writes: [T]he Roman view of justification starts with baptism. The benefits that accrue from baptism can be lost by committing mortal sin, but they can be recovered by penance. The regained justification lasts until another mortal son is committed, and the cycle repeats. According to the Roman view, a believers destiny is determined by the purity of his heart at the time of death. Even if the believer does not die in a state of impenitent mortal son, there may be impurities on the soul, necessitating purgatory until the impurities are cleansed. All of this is presented in the most recent Roman Catholic catechism. It states that if a believer has any impurities on his or her soul at the time of death, the believer will go to purgatory the soul of the believer may be in purgatory for only a week of he or she is near to sainthood, but more likely the believer will remain there for several hundred years, perhaps ever two million, three million, or four million yearsuntil, in that place of purging, the believer is so cleansed from impurities that finally, when God looks at him or her, he sees an inherent righteousness. Is that good news? It is actually the worst possible news we can hear. If someone told me that the only way I could get into the kingdom of heaven and be adopted into the family of God is to get rid of all impurities in my soul, I would despair. So let me tell you what the good news is. I despair of my righteousness; I acknowledge my sin. I put my trust in Christ and Christ alone. And the good news is that at the very instant I do, all that Jesus is, and all that Jesus has, is mine, and for the rest of my days he has me covered. The Father looks beyond my impurities and all my sin, and he sees the cloak of righteousness of Jesus. For that reason, I am justified not for today, not for this week, not until I commit another sin, but for eternity. Is there any better news than that in the whole world? R. C. Sproul, (Crossway, 2007), 100101. is a collection of messages from the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference. You can download the entire message from which todays quotation was taken here.

Without a Magician

Thursday··2012·02·23 · 1 Comments
Some modern theorists believe that the world was created by nothing. Note the difference between saying that the world was created from nothing and saying that the universe was created by nothing. In this modern view the rabbit comes out of the hat without a rabbit, a hat, or even a magician. The modern view is far more miraculous than the biblical view. It suggests that nothing created something. More than that, it holds that nothing created everythingquite a feat indeed! R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 21.

Jesus Priorities

If I were to ask a group of Christians what the top priority of the church is, I am sure I would get a wide variety of answers. Some would say evangelism, others social action, and still others spiritual nurture. But I have yet to hear anyone talk about what Jesus priorities were. What is the first petition of the Lords Prayer? Jesus said, This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven . . . (Matt. 6:9). The first line of the prayer is not a petition. It is a form of personal address. The prayer continues: hallowed be your name, your kingdom come (Matt. 6:910). We often confuse the words hallowed be your name with part of the address, as if the words were hallowed is your name. In that case the words would merely be an ascription of praise to God. But that is not how Jesus said it. He uttered it as a petition, as the first petition. We should be praying that Gods name be hallowed, that God be regarded as holy. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 2425.

Holiness and Unclean Hands

In a chapter of The Holiness of God titled Holy Justice, R. C. Sproul reviews a few instances from the Old Testament of God meeting out his justice in dramatic ways. Among them is the story of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6). As you likely remember, the ark of God was being transported on an ox-cartalready in violation of Gods specific instructionswhen the ride got rough. 6 But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. 7 And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. Sproul writes: Uzzah was a Kohathite. He knew exactly what his duties were. He had been trained thoroughly in the discipline of his calling. He understood that God had declared that the touching of the ark of the covenant was a capital offence. No Kohathite, under any circumstances, was ever permitted to touch the ark. No emergency was grounds for breaking that inviolate command. The elaborate construction of the ark, complete with golden rings through which long poles were inserted, was so fashioned as to make it clear that the ark itself was not to be touched. Only the poles could be touched by man and inserted into the rings for purposes of transport. Then it was the task of the Kohathites to carry the ark by these long poles. No provision was made for hurrying the procedure by transporting the ark via an oxcart. We must ask the question, what was the ark doing on an oxcart in the first place? God was so strict about the holy things of the temple that the Kohathites were not even allowed to gaze upon the ark. This, too, was a capital crime. God had decreed that if a Kohathite merely glanced at the ark in the Holy of Holies for an instant that he would die. Not only was Uzzah forbidden to touch the ark, he was forbidden even to look at it. He touched it anyway. He stretched out his hand and put it squarely on the ark, steadying it in place lest it fall to the ground. An act of holy heroism? No! It was an act of arrogance, a sin of presumption. Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasnt the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is an obedient creature. It does what God tells it to do. It brings forth its yield in its season. It obeys the laws of nature which God has established. When the temperature falls to a certain point, the ground freezes. When water is added to dust, it becomes mud, just as God decided. The ground doesnt commit cosmic treason. There is nothing polluted about the ground. God did not want his holy throne to be touched by that which was contaminated by evil, that which was in rebellion to him, that which by its ungodly revolt had brought the whole of creation to ruin and caused the ground and the sky and the waters of the sea to groan together in travail waiting for the day of redemption. Man. It was mans touch that was forbidden. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 140141.

Divine Nonjustice

God does not always act with justice. Sometimes He acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 145.

Jacob’s Ladder

Genesis 28 tells the story of Jacob’s encounter with God at the place he would call Bethel. This is where we read of Jacob’s ladder, and from whence comes that theologically stupid song you learned in Sunday school. At Bethel, Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder upon which angels ascended and descended. Whatever happened to Jacobs ladder? The image virtually disappears in Old Testament history. Centuries pass with no mention of it. Then suddenly, it appears again in the New Testament: Philip found Nathanael and told him, We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? Nathanael asked. Come and see, said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false. How do you know me? Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Then Nathanael declared, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. Jesus said, You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. He then added, I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. John 1:4551 NIV Jesus words to Nathanael were radical. In this conversation He declared that He is the ladder of Jacob; He is the bridge between heaven and earth; He is the one who spans the chasm between the Transcendent One and mere humans. The angels of God ascend and descend on Him. He makes the absent God present among us. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 173174.

Silenced by Holiness

If a man ever was justified in remonstrating against God, Job certainly was. Described by no less than God himself as blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil, to be so afflicted was an insult not to be borneor so it would seem from our perspective. Job lost everything, and was left with nothing but a wife and friends who only poured salt in the wound. His was an exquisite misery . . . Yet Job did not blaspheme. He cried out, Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13:15). Even his wife tried to get him to find ultimate relief. Her advice was simple and to the point: Curse God and die! (Job 2:9). Job refused to take the easy way out. He suffered the counsel of fools by listening to the advice of his friends. Finally he rose up to challenge God on the matter. He faced God alone, wrestling and struggling for answers to his misery. Gods reply was hardly comforting: Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earths foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt? Job 38:111, niv This was a difficult oral examination. Job demanded answers from God. Instead of answers he received a bundle of questions in return. God rebuked Job for casting a dark shadow over divine wisdom by his own ignorance. It was as if God said, OK, Job, you want to interrogate me? Fine, Ill answer your questions, but first I have a few for you. Like bullets from a rapid-fire machine gun, God shot out questions, each one more intimidating than the last. Finally Job spoke: Then Job answered the Lord: I am unworthyhow can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answertwice, but I will say no more. Job 40:35, niv Consider the image Job used. He said that he would place his hand over his mouth. He gagged himself. He covered his lips with his hand lest any more foolish words escape his mouth. He was sorry that he ever challenged God. He recognized that his words had been presumptuous. He had said all he wanted to say. But the interrogation continued. God was not yet finished with the examination. He asked a series of questions that overwhelmed Job: Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Job 40:8 niv Here the issue is plain. Jobs challenge flies into the teeth of divine justice. His charges are an insult to a holy God. Gods question rings in Jobs ears: Will you condemn me to justify yourself? There is no doubt that Job longed to be justified. He was sick of the accusations of his friends. He did not understand why he was so miserable. He prayed for vindication. But his desire had gone out of control. He was on the verge of trading Gods justification for his own. He had crossed a line in the debate, suggesting that perhaps God had done evil. God asked him straight out, Do you want to condemn me so that you can be exonerated? The full weight of Gods questions fell hard on Job. He was almost crushed by them. Finally he took his hand away from his mouth and spoke again. This time there were no accusations in his words. He broke his vow of silence only to voice his contrition: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:26 niv When we read this section of the book of Job, we may get the idea that God was bullying Job. He cried out for answers, anc. God said that He would answer Jobs questions. But the answers never came forth. To be sure, there was a condition attached to the promise of answers: Job was required to answer first. But Job flunked his exam. God then gave no answers. Yet Job was satisfied. Even though God gave no answers, Jobs questions were put to rest. He received a higher answer than any direct reply could have provided. God answered Jobs questions not with words but with Himself. As soon as Job saw who God is, Job was satisfied. Seeing the manifestation of God was all that he needed. He was able to leave the details in Gods hands. Once God Himself was no longer shrouded in mystery, Job was able to live comfortably with a few unanswered questions. When God appeared, Job was so busy repenting that he did not have time for further challenges. His rage was redirected to himself: I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 178182.

Justice Never Prevails!

Along with R. C. Sproul, weve looked at two Old Testament saints who struggled with God, Jacob, and Job. Habakkuk was another: We point now to one more Old Testament man who challenged God. The prophet Habakkuk took God to task for doing things that offended his sense of justice. The prophet was appalled that Gods people should suffer at the hands of a nation that was more wicked than they were themselves. On the surface it looked as if God had abandoned his promises to the Jews and had become a turncoat, giving His divine allegiance to the wicked Babylonians. For Habakkuk this was comparable to a modern-day Jew wondering if God was on Hitlers side during the Holocaust. Habakkuks complaint was registered with a loud protest: How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, Violence! but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. Habakkuk 1:24, niv Habakkuk was flaming angry. His complaint was so heated that he overdid it a bit. He said, Justice never prevails. Surely in this world there is injustice that awaits final rectification, but to say that justice never prevails is going overboard. Like Job, Habakkuk demanded some answers. He went to the mat with God and was prepared to wrestle it out. He stood in his watchtower, waiting for a reply from the Almighty. When God finally spoke, Habakkuks reaction was like Jobs: I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Habakkuk 3:16, niv The response of the prophet was like that of a small child who is scolded by a parent. His heart palpitated, and his lips began to quiver. We have all seen small children on the verge of tears. They try to hold back the flood, but the tremor in the lower lip gives them away. Here was a grown man whose lips quivered in the presence of God. He felt a kind of internal rottenness, a decay entering his very bones. The skeletal structure of the man felt as if it were collapsing. The trembling of the mysterium tremendum attacked his legs; his knees began to knock. He walked away from his wrestling match with God, but he walked on wobbly legs. With the appearance of God, all of Habakkuks angry protests ceased. Suddenly the tone of his speech changed from one of bitter despair to one of unwavering confidence and hope: Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17, 18, niv Habakkuk was now as fierce in his joy as he had been in his despair. He was able to rest absolutely in Gods sovereignty. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 182184.

At the End of the Struggle

Thursday··2012·03·08 · 1 Comments
Final thoughts on Jacob, Job, and Habakkuk: Jacob, Job, and Habakkuk all declared war on God. They all stormed the battlements of heaven. They were all defeated, yet they all came away from the struggle with uplifted souls. They paid a price in pain. God allowed the debate, but the battle was fierce before peace was established. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985),184.

A Living Sacrifice: Cheap Morality vs. Genuine Righteousness

Monday··2012·03·12 · 3 Comments
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:13 What does the living sacrifice look like? Paul first describes it in terms of nonconformity. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. Here is the point at which many Christians have gone astray. It is clear that we are to be nonconformists. But it is difficult to understand precisely what kind of nonconformity is called for. Nonconformity is a tricky matter and can easily be reduced to superficiality. It is a tragedy that the matter of nonconformity has been treated by Christians at a shallow level. The simplistic way of not conforming is to see what is in style in our culture and then do the opposite. If short hair is in vogue, the nonconformist wears long hair. If going to movies is popular, then Christians avoid movies as worldly. The extreme case of this may be seen in groups that refuse to wear buttons or use electricity because such things too are worldly. A superficial style of nonconformity is the classical pharisaical trap. The kingdom of God is not about buttons, movies, or dancing. The concern of God is not focused on what we eat or what we drink. The call of nonconformity is a call to a deeper level of righteousness that goes beyond externals. When piety is defined exclusively in terms of externals, the whole point of the apostles teaching has been lost. Somehow we have failed to hear Jesus words that it is not what goes into a mans mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of his mouth. We still want to make the kingdom a matter of eating and drinking. Why are such distortions rampant in Christian circles? The only answer I can give is sin. Our marks of piety can actually be evidences of impiety. When we major in minors and blow insignificant trifles out of proportion, we imitate the Pharisees. When we make dancing and movies the test of spirituality, we are guilty of substituting a cheap morality for a genuine one. We do these things to obscure the deeper issues of righteousness. Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These require no great effort of moral courage. What is difficult is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, to reveal the fruit of the Spirit. I have never heard a sermon on coveting. I have heard plenty of sermons about the evils of whiskey, but none on the evils of covetousness. Strange. To be sure, the Bible declares that drunkenness is sin, but drunkenness never made the top ten. A true nonconformist is a person who stops coveting; he stops gossiping; he stops slandering; he stops hating and feeling bitter; he starts to practice the fruit of the Spirit. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 207208.

Unholy people have much to fear

Pastor, do you love your flock enough to preach all the implications and consequences of Gods holiness? Christian, do you love God enough to hear these things, and receive them humbly, gratefully, as the loving warning they are? Do we love our neighbors enough to invite them to hear this kind of preaching without thinking first of how un-seeker-sensitive it is, and how it might affect church growth? Jonathan Edwards did. Edwards preached what is probably the most famous sermon ever preached in America, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In it, he paints a vivid picture of sin and its consequences before a holy God. The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell. Jonathan Edwards, quoted in The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 224225. R. C. Sproul writes: Edwards sermon is filled with graphic images of the fury of divine wrath and the horror of the relentless punishment of the wicked in hell. Such sermons are out of vogue in our age and generally considered in poor taste and based on a pre-enlightened theology. Sermons stressing the fierce wrath of a holy God aimed at impenitent human hearts do not fit with the civic meeting hall atmosphere of the local church. Gone are the Gothic arches; gone are the stained-glass windows; gone are the sermons that stir the soul to moral anguish. Ours is an upbeat generation with the accent on self-improvement and a broadminded view of sin. Our thinking goes like this: If there is a God at all, He is certainly not holy. If He is perchance holy, He is not just. Even if He is both holy and just, we need not fear because His love and mercy override His holy justice. If we can stomach His holy and just character, we can rest in one thing: He cannot possess wrath. If we think soberly for five seconds, we must see our error. If God is holy at all, if God has an ounce of justice in His character, indeed if God exists as God, how could He possibly be anything else but angry with us? We violate His holiness; we insult His justice; we make light of His grace. These things can hardly please Him. Edwards understood the nature of Gods holiness. He perceived that unholy people have much to fear from such a God. Edwards had little need to justify a scare theology. His consuming need was to preach it, to preach it vividly, emphatically, convincingly, and powerfully. He did this not out of a sadistic delight in frightening people but out of compassion. He loved his congregation enough to warn them of the dreadful consequences of facing the wrath of God. He was not concerned with laying a guilt trip on his people but with awakening them to the peril they faced if they remained unconverted. R. C. Sproul, Ibid., 223224.

Grace: The Center of Sound Theology

It has been said that historically there have been only three generic types of theology competing for acceptance within the Christian church. These three are called Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Pelagianism is a naturalistic religion giving no credence to supernatural things. Its present manifestation is called liberalism. Semi-Pelagianism lives today in the form of Arminianism. Augustinianism is presently called Calvinism or Reformed Theology. Both Semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism are positions argued and debated among believing Christians. Pelagianism is not Christian. It is not merely sub-Christian but positively anti-Christian. It is basically a theology of unbelief. That it has a stranglehold on many churches is testimony to the power of mans natural enmity toward God. To the Pelagian or liberal there is no supernatural activity. There is no miracle in Scripture, no deity to Christ, no atonement, resurrection, or return of Jesus. In a word, there is no biblical Christianity to it. It is sheer paganism masquerading as piety. What of Semi-Pelagianism? It is clearly Christian with its passionate confession of the deity of Christ and its confidence in the atonement, the resurrection, and the rest. Semi-Pelagianism is the majority report among evangelical Christians and probably represents the theology of the vast majority of people who read this book. But I am convinced that with all of its virtues Semi-Pelagianism still represents a theology of compromise with our natural inclinations. It has a glaring defect in its understanding of God. Though it salutes the holiness of God and protests loudly that it believes in Gods sovereignty, it still entertains delusions about mans ability to incline himself to God, to make decisions to be born again. It declares that fallen man who is at enmity with God can be persuaded to be reconciled even before his sinful heart is changed. It has people who are not born again seeing a kingdom Christ declared could not be seen and entering a kingdom that cannot be entered without rebirth. Evangelicals today have unconverted sinners who are dead in trespasses and sin bringing themselves to life by choosing to be born again. Christ made it clear that dead people cannot choose anything, that the flesh profits nothing, and that a person must be born of the Spirit before he can even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. If that one point were grasped, there would be no more talk of mortal enemies of Christ coming to Jesus by their own power. A sound theology must be a theology where grace is central to it. When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness. Helpless sinners can only survive by grace. Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. We may dislike giving our attention to Gods wrath and justice, but until we incline ourselves to these aspects of Gods nature, we will never appreciate what has been wrought for us by grace. Even Edwards sermon on sinners in Gods hands was not designed to stress the flames of hell. The resounding accent falls not on the fiery pit but on the hands of God who holds us and rescues us form it. The hands of God are gracious hands. They alone have the power to rescue us from certain destruction. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 231233.
This is one of my favorite Sproul excerpts, if only for the “cat with nine tails” syllogism. What Is Chance? We begin by asking the simple but critically important question, What is chance? Because this question is so critical, however, I think it important first to explain why the definition of chance is so crucial. Words are capable of more than one meaning in their usage. Such words are highly susceptible to the unconscious or unintentional commission of the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation occurs when a word changes its meaning (usually subtly) in the course of an argument. We illustrate via the classic “cat with nine tails” argument. Premise A. No cat has eight tails. Premise B. One cat has one more tail than no cat. Conclusion: One cat has nine tails. We see in this “syllogism” that the word cat subtly changes its meaning. In Premise A “no cat” signifies a negation about cats. It is a universal negative. In Premise B “no cat” is suddenly given a positive status as if it represented a group of comparative realities. Premise B assumes already that cats have one tail per cat. If we had two boxes, with one box empty and the second containing a single cat, we would expect to find one more cat in that box than in the empty one. If cats normally have one tail, we would expect one more cat’s tail in one box than in the other. The conclusion of this syllogism rests on the shift from negative to positive in the phrase no cat. The conclusion rests upon equivocation in the first premise. “No cat” is understood to mean a class of cats (positively) that actually possesses eight tails. Such equivocation frequently occurs with the use of the word chance. We find this in the writings of philosophers, theologians, scientists’indeed pervasively. Here’s how it works. On the one hand the word chance refers to mathematical possibilities. Here chance is merely a formal word with no material content. It is a pure abstraction. [For example, if we calculate the odds of a coin-flip, we speak of the chances of the coin’s being turned up heads or tails. Given that the coin doesn’t stand on its edge, what are the chances that it will turn up heads or tails? The answer, of course, is 100%. There are only two options: heads and tails. It is 100% certain that one of the two will prevail. This is a bona fide either/or situation, with no tertium quid possible. If we state the question in a different manner, we get different odds or chances. If we ask, “What are the chances that the coin will turn up heads?” then our answer will be “Fifty-fifty.” Suppose we complicate the matter by including a series of circumstances and ask, “What are the odds that the coin will turn up heads ten times in a row?” The mathematicians and odds-makers can figure that out. In the unlikely event that the coin turns up heads nine consecutive times, what are the odds that it will turn up heads the tenth time? In terms of the series, I don’t know. In terms of the single event, however, the odds are still fifty-fifty. Our next question is crucial. How much influence or effect does chance have on the coin’s turning up heads? My answer is categorically, “None whatsoever.” I say that emphatically because there is no possibility, real or imagined, that chance can have any influence on the outcome of the coin-toss. Why not? Because chance has no power to do anything. It is cosmically, totally, consummately impotent. Again, I must justify my dogmatism on this point. I say that chance has no power to do anything because it simply is not anything. It has no power because it has no being. I’ve just ventured into the realm of ontology, into metaphysics, if you please. Chance is not an entity. It is not a thing that has power to affect other things. It is no thing. To be more precise, it is nothing. Nothing cannot do something. Nothing is not. It has no “isness.” Chance has no isness. I was technically incorrect even to say that chance is nothing. Better to say that chance is not. What are the chances that chance can do anything? Not a chance. It has no more chance to do something than nothing has to do something. It is precisely at this point that equivocation creeps (or rushes) into the use of the word chance. The shift from a formal probability concept to a real force is usually slipped in by the addition of another seemingly harmless word, by. When we say things happen “by chance,” the term by can be heard as a dative of means. Suddenly chance is given instrumental power. It is the means by which things come to pass. This “means” now assumes a certain power to effect change. Something that in reality is nothing now has the ability or power to do something. —R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Baker Books, 1994), 4–7.

Saved By Works

This might be the most shocking statement you read all day: The death of Christ was not enough to save us. Now, before you write me off as a heretic, read what RC Sproul has to say about it. If Jesus had only paid for our sins, He would have succeeded only in taking us back to square one. We would no longer be guilty, but we still would have absolutely no righteousness to bring before God. So, our Redeemer needed not only to die, but also to live a life of perfect obedience. The righteousness that He manifested could then be transferred to all who put their trust in Him. Just as my sin is transferred to Him on the cross when I trust in Him, His righteousness is transferred to my account in the sight of God. So, when I stand before God on the judgment day, God is going to see Jesus and His righteousness, which will be my cover. By His obedience, He redeemed His people for eternity. It is important, then, that we not minimize the work of Christ throughout His life by focusing too narrowly on the work of Christ in His death. RC Sproul, The Work of Christ (David C. Cook, 2012), 8.

Above All Names

Faith in Christ requires an understanding of who he is. Jesus is Savior, and Jesus is Lord (Acts 2:36). Therefore, faith in Christ is infallibly marked not only by trust in his saving work, but also by submission to his Lordship. The New Testament’s names and titles for Jesus make for a rich and inspiring study. But what is the name that God has given Jesus, the name that is above every name? It often happens that Christians who read this passage assume that the name that is above every name is the name Jesus. But Paul had a different name in mind. He went on to say that God has exalted Christ and given Him the name above every name, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). The name that is above every name is the title that belongs only to God, Adonai (“Lord”), which refers to God as the sovereign one. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience in the role of a slave, God moved heaven and earth to exalt His Son, and He gave Him the name that is above every name, so that when we hear the name of Jesus, our impulse should be to fall on our knees and confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. When we do so, when we exalt Christ in this way, we also exalt the Father. —R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ (David C. Cook, 2012), 16–17.

Tempted in All Things

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. —Hebrews 4:15 Matthew, chapter 4, tells us of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In Hebrews, quoted above, we are assured that his temptation was as complete as ours, so that there is no temptation we will face with which he cannot sympathize. R. C. Sproul, comparing the temptation of the first Adam to that of Christ, the second Adam, demonstrates that Jesus was tempted under the most severe circumstances possible, circumstances far more severe than most of us will ever experience. The two tests were of the same kind in some degrees, but in other ways, the terms of the temptation of Jesus differed radically from those that were imposed on Adam. Think first about the places where the two temptations took place. In the case of the first Adam, the temptation came while he and Eve were enjoying the pleasures of the garden of Eden, which we often refer to as Paradise. However, the place where the Spirit drove Jesus to be tempted could hardly be called Paradise. It was the desolate Judean wilderness, one of the most ominous and foreboding deserts anywhere in this world. It is said that the only inhabitants of the Judean wilderness are snakes and scorpions—even wildlife refuses to live in this place of desolation. When Adam was exposed to the temptation of the Serpent, he was in the company of his wife, whom God had given to him by special creation to be his helpmate [sic]. Jesus, however, went into the wilderness in absolute solitude. It was the state of loneliness that received God’s first malediction at creation. After He created everything, He pronounced it good with a benediction (Gen. 1:31). The first thing He said was not good was Adam’s solitude. He said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (2:18). When we want to punish criminals or prisoners of war harshly, we send them into the state of solitary confinement, where they are cut off from ordinary human interaction and friendship. So it was with Jesus; He was driven into the wilderness to face temptation completely alone. Furthermore, Adam was tempted in what could be described as a gourmet restaurant. In the lush environs of Eden, there were trees bearing all kinds of fruit that were wonderful to eat, and Adam and Eve were given the freedom to choose from any of those fruit-bearing trees to satisfy their hunger, with the single exception of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jesus’ test came in the context of a forty-day fast in a harsh wilderness. So, while the first Adam was tested when his belly was full, the new Adam was tested when He was literally starving. There is one more difference that I think needs to be mentioned. When Adam was tempted, there was no customary practice of sin. Sin was unknown before Adam and Eve committed it. But when Jesus was tested, there was nothing more commonplace in His world than the presence of sin. Why is that significant? One of the major factors that undermine our resolve to be righteous is that everyone around us sins. Therefore, we think it is no problem if we sin as well. Jesus had to act against the commonplace practice of human beings while He was undergoing these tests. —R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ (David C. Cook, 2012), 82–84.

The Final Passover

This is what we should be thinking of when we celebrate the Lords Supper: [T]he first purpose of the Passover was to celebrate something that had taken place in the past, the deliverance from Egypt. However, not only did this celebration direct the Israelites thoughts backward in time, but it pointed forward to the final Passover, when the perfect Lamb would be sacrificed, ending the sacrificial system once and for all. It was understood that by the blood of that Lamb, the people would experience not merely an exodus out of the bondage of Pharaoh, but an exodus from the bondage of death itself, an exodus that would take them into the Promised Land of heaven. R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ (David C. Cook, 2012), 132.
A good priest makes all the difference: The author of Hebrews wrote, Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (9:1112). We have a great High Priest who offered a sacrifice for us on the cross once and for allHis own blood. That portion of His priestly ministry is finished. But His priestly work for us goes on as He intercedes for us. On the night before He died, Jesus prayed: I have manifested Your name to the men whom you have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. (John 17: 6 11) We have a doctrine called the perseverance of the saints. I do not like that name for it; while saints do persevere, it is not because they have the power of perseverance within themselves. If it were left to me to persevere in my Christian walk, I would fall and stumble in a moment. The One who really perseveres is God. He perseveres with His children and thereby preserves them. One of the chief ways in which God preserves His people is through the priestly intercession of Jesus. We see an example of this from the night when Jesus was betrayed. When Jesus and His disciples gathered in the upper room, He announced to them that one of them was going to betray Him, speaking of Judas. The disciples were perplexed, wondering which of them it might be. Finally, Jesus identified Judas by handing him a piece of bread and saying, What you do, do quickly (John 13:2127). After that, Jesus dismissed Judas to carry out his treachery. However, there was another disciple at the table who was going to deny Jesus that night. So Jesus said to him: Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:3132). What was the difference between Judas and Peter? Jesus did not pray for Judas. He said, While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition (John 17:12). Peter was one whom the Father had given to Jesus. His denial was a ghastly and heinous crime, but Jesus had prayed for him, and He commanded Peter to strengthen his brothers when he returned. Not if he returned, but when. So, the prayer of Jesus for Peter was effective. Today, Jesus is in heaven, interceding for you and me, if indeed we belong to Him, and His prayers for us are equally effective. We should rejoice that He has taken up this priestly ministry on our behalf in the heavenly tabernacle. R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ (David C. Cook, 2012), 188190.

The Ecumenical Gospel

One of the ironies of ECT was that, among other things, the framers wanted to overcome relativism in the culture. However, they ended up relativizing the most important truth of allthe gospel. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 6. In 1994, a group of leading evangelicals and Roman Catholics met in an attempt to unite against the moral decay that they were observing. Of major concern were the issues of abortion and family values. These certainly are issues on which people of all faiths can find common ground. However, the resulting document, known as Evangelicals & Catholics Together (ECT), included the declaration that evangelicals and Roman Catholics have a unity of faith in the gospel. In 1997, ECT was followed by ECT II, which attempted o address the objections of more reasonable evangelicals against ECT, particularly those regarding justification. The great failure of ECT II, according to R. C. Sproul, is that it left out the language of imputation. Christians believe, as Scripture plainly teaches, that the only righteousness believers possess is an imputed righteousness, without which no one can be justified. This is irreconcilable with the teaching of Rome, which is that, in addition to faith, one must become inherently righteous. Sproul explains: Trent said that God does not justify anyone until real righteousness inheres within the person. In other words, God does not declare a person righteous unless he or she is righteous. So, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification depends on a persons sanctification. By contrast, the Reformers said justification is based on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus. The only ground by which a person can be saved is Jesus righteousness, which is reckoned to him when he believes. . . . The doctrine of imputation is, for me, the nonnegotiable. In 1541, at the Colloquy of Regensburg, there were serious efforts by the magisterial Reformers to reconcile with Rome. They came close, but ultimately they could not reconcile their competing views on imputation. Luther stressed that the only righteousness believers have in the sight of God is an alien righteousness, that is, the righteousness of Christ that God imputes, or reckons, to them. They have no hope of becoming so inherently righteous that God will accept them. If I had to become inherently righteous before God would accept me, I would despair of Christianity tomorrow. Ibid., 23. In case the waters werent muddy enough, 2009 brought us The Manhattan Declaration which, without providing a clear definition of the gospel, called for Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians to unite in the gospel, implicitly declaring that there really is no substantive divide over what the gospel really is. Which makes The Manhattan Declaration just more of the same confused, gospel-denying ecumenism as ECT and ECT II.

Has Rome Reformed?

If I had a nickel for every time someone, often a pastor, told me how thankful he was for the changes that have occurred in Roman Catholicism, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could probably buy you lunch at a pretty nice place. R. C. Sproul, acknowledging that there have indeed been real changes, is neither thankful nor optimistic. ECT and similar efforts to make common cause with Roman Catholics are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of where the Roman Catholic Church is theologically and what it actually teaches. There is no question that the Roman Catholic Church has changed since the sixteenth century. But the changes have not closed the gap between Rome and Protestantism. Indeed, the differences are greater now. For instance, the formally defined proclamation of the infallibility of the pope and all of the Mariology statements have come since the Reformation. Neither has Rome backed down from any of the positions it took in the sixteenth-century debate. In the updated Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in the mid-1990s, the treasury of merit, purgatory, indulgences, justification through the sacraments, and other doctrines were reaffirmed. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 6. The Reformation is not irrelevant, nor is it over.

The Roman Sola

Roman Catholic theology has always held a solid view of Scriptural inerrancy and infallibility. Our conflict is over the principle of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, which is that the Bible only is the Word of God and holds ultimate authority. As The Westminster Confession states, The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. In contrast, Rome claims that Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Furthermore, Scripture is only to be understood according to the tradition of the church. R. C. Sproul writes: Thus, the disagreement over Scripture in the sixteenth century persists today, forming an insurmountable barrier to union between Protestantism and Rome. If Protestants and Roman Catholics could agree that there is but one source of revelation, the Scriptures (minus the apocryphal books in the Roman Catholic Bible), we could then sit down and discuss the meaning of the biblical texts. But ever since Trent, all the efforts to have biblical discussions between Protestants and Roman Catholics have come to dead ends when they encountered a papal encyclical or a conciliar statement. For instance, involved in the controversy over Scripture and authority was the conflict over the Protestant doctrine of the private interpretation of Scripture, which teaches that every Christian has the right to interpret the Bible for himself or herself. However, this right does not include the freedom to misinterpret Scripture. Before God, we do not have the right to be wrong. With the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility to interpret the Bible correctly, not turning the Bible into a lump of clay that can be twisted, shaped, and distorted to fit our own biases. In response to the Protestant claim of private interpretation, Rome declared at the Fourth Session of Trent: Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, [the council] decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,hath held and doth hold. In other words, Trent declared that Romes interpretation of Scripture is the only correct interpretation. When a Protestant presents a biblical interpretation, if it differs from Romes official interpretation, further talk is pointless, because the Roman Catholics simply say the Protestant is wrong. The tradition of the church is sacrosanct at that point. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 2728. As others before me have observed, Rome rejects sola Scriptura, but she has a sola of her own: sola ecclesia, the church alone as ultimate authority.

No Second Plank

Rome teaches that justification is a sacerdotal (priestly) function of the church, which means that it is received through the sacraments. Through baptism, justifying grace is infused, as they say, ex opere operato, through the working of the work. Protestants have interpreted this to mean automatically, but that is not quite accurate. Rome does teach that faith is required for the sacrament to be efficacious. According to the Council of Trent, one must cooperate with and assent to (cooperare et assentare) the working of the sacrament, or at least, as would be the case with infants, receive it without resistance. In contrast to the biblical doctrine of imputation, in which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believerthat is, credited to him though he actually is not righteousthe righteousness of Christ is, through the sacrament received in faith, infused into the subject, actually making him righteous. This is necessary, becausesays RomeGod will not declare righteous anyone who is not actually righteous. So, in baptism, one is made truly righteous, and therefore justified. The justification of Rome, however, can be lost. Through sin, infused grace can be diminished and even killed entirely. Those whose infused grace has only been diminished by venial sin must go through purification in purgatory before entering heaven. A person who dies with unconfessed mortal sin goes to hell. This is where penance, the second plank of justification, comes in. Through the sacrament of penance, which includes contrition, confession, and then acts of satisfaction, justifying grace can be restored. So, while it is truecontrary to what many Protestants have understoodthat Rome teaches the necessity of faith, she denies the sufficiency of faith alone. Believers must be inherently righteous, and perfectly so, to enter heaven. This is what the Reformation was all about, and it is as important and relevant today as it was five hundred hears ago. R. C. Sproul writes: Much is at stake here. One of the most significant theological issues we can ever discuss is on the table. It is the question of what we must do to be saved. If I thought that I had to arrive at a state, no matter how much grace the church has for me, of pure righteousness without any imperfections in order to reach heaven, I would completely despair of ever having salvation. If my church taught this concept of justification, that would be horrible news, not good news. Thankfully, the Reformation affirmed the biblical gospel, the truth that the moment a person possesses saving faith, he is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, his sins are taken away, he is declared to be just on the basis of the righteousness of Christ, and he is adopted into the family of God. There is no need for inherent righteousness, for purgatory, or for a second plank of justification. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 39.

The Justification Gap

Lest any should believe that the gap between Rome and the Reformation has narrowed since Trent, consider these statements from the current Catechism of the Catholic Church: Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. (Section 1992) The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification. (1999) Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy. (2020) We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven. (1821) —Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 48–49. In contrast, the Westminster Confession of Faith says: Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (11.1) Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (11.2) —Ibid., 49. Rome tells us to hope in infused righteousness resulting in good works for which we will be rewarded. But if we examine ourselves and compare our best works to the perfection required by God, we are left with no greater hope than a long stay in purgatory. Biblical faith, on the other hand, hopes in nothing but the perfect righteousness of Christ, in which we can find no flaw.

The “True Church” Gap

The early church father Cyprian (d. 258) developed a formula that is the seed of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the relationship between the church and salvation: “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” which means “outside of the church, no salvation.” It’s a statement with which, on its face, I agree without reservation. The Roman meaning, however, stipulates the Roman Catholic institution as the true church. Therefore, outside of Roman Catholicism, there is no salvation. Over the years, Rome has attempted to soften this doctrine through loopholes that should make any lawyer proud. The latest iteration comes in the 1995 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which Rome states, regarding the affirmation that “outside the church there is no salvation”: How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 14). (Section 846) But this affirmation is followed immediately by a softening clause: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience’those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16). (847) —Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 64–65. That’s all very generous, I suppose, but the promise, as I read it, is that even I, outside of the mother church, can, by my own sincere intentions and efforts, achieve salvation—which does nothing to close the gap between Rome and the Reformation.
As previously discussed, Rome calls the sacrament of penance a “second plank of justification” for those who have made shipwreck of their faith by committing “mortal sin.” The sacrament of penance consists of three dimensions: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Contrition is genuine sorrow over having offended God (in contrast to attrition, which is sorrow over the consequences to self). Confession, obviously, is the act of confessing to sin. Christians agree with the necessity of contrition, as well as confession per se. The dimension of penance that separates Christians from Roman Catholics is satisfaction. In order to satisfy God’s justice, the penitent must perform works of satisfaction. These works may be as small as reciting a number of “Hail Marys,” or as great as making a pilgrimage or giving alms. This is whence the idea of indulgences comes. By performing certain acts, or giving alms, a truly penitent sinner earns a measure of merit, shortening his stay in purgatory. But where does Rome get the merit it dispenses? Is there a bank in which loose merit is stored up for a rainy day? Well, conveniently, yes! Rome calls it the treasury of merit, in which is deposited all the excess merit of supersaints (“works of supererogation”) who died with more merit than they needed in order to skip purgatory and go straight to heaven—and Rome holds the checkbook. This is no small error, but a repudiation of the gospel at its core. As Sproul writes: I believe that there is no concept within the Roman Catholic Church that is more basely repugnant to Protestants than the concept of the treasury of merit. A person who believes in justification by faith alone weeps at this notion. This is because Protestants also believe in a treasury of merit, one that is infinite and inexhaustible, but we believe that treasury is filled with the merit of the Son of God alone. The issue in the indulgences controversy is the sufficiency of Christ alone to redeem a person. According to Protestantism, justification happens on the basis of Christ’s merit credited to His people. For Rome, we are never finally saved until we have sufficient merit of our own. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 76.

Massive Heresy

Thursday··2013·03·07 · 1 Comments
Christians have two major objections to the Roman Catholic Mass. The first is the presumed repetition of the sacrifice of Christ. The celebration of the Mass is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the Holy Sacrifice. That has prompted Protestants to argue that if the bread is really the body of Christ and the priest breaks it, the church is ripping and tearing the body of Christ again when the Scriptures tell us that He was broken for us once and for all, that He was the final, full, sufficient sacrifice for the sin of His people (Heb. 7:27; 10:1214). Is not Christs body being mutilated again in the Mass? Are we not inflicting torment on the One who has finished His work of sacrifice? Rome nuances its teaching on the sacrificial aspect of the Mass, saying that it is an unbloody sacrifice and that it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ. However, the whole idea of any kind of sacrifice happening in new-covenant worship is repugnant to Protestants, who hold that the value, the significance, and the merit of Christs suffering on the cross was so great that to repeat it is to denigrate it. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012),79. The second is the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which the substance of bread and wine are literally transformed into the real, physical body and blood of Christ, without altering its outward appearance. On the surface, this is a revolting doctrine, but the theological implications are not so obvious. Sproul continues: Protestants also struggle with the question of how the human nature of Christ can be in more than one place at the same time. The Roman Catholic view essentially attributes the quality of omnipresence to the physical body of Jesus. If the Mass is being celebrated simultaneously in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, then, according to Roman Catholic teaching, His physical body and blood, which are part of His human nature, not part of His divine nature, are present in more than one place at the same time. Rome says this happens because there is a communication of power from the divine nature, which can be omnipresent, to the human nature. But once the human nature assumes the attributes of the divine nature, Rome has a problem with her own Christology. The Council of Chalcedon (451) defined the relationship of the two natures of Christ, saying that He is vera homo vera dues, that is, truly man and truly God, and that the two natures are in perfect unity but without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, so that each nature retains its own attributes. So, Rome needs to explain how attributing omnipresence to the body of Christ does not involve a deification of the flesh of Jesus, giving it a divine attribute. How does that not confuse the two natures of Christ?* Ibid., 7879. * For a fuller explanation, see Kingdom Feast, also by R. C. Sproul.


R C. Sproul on Roman Catholic Mariology, what they say vs. what they do, and what they say vs. the gospel: The basic question is whether the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Mary’the veneration of Mary, devotion to Mary, and so forth—adds up to Mariology or Mariolotry. To worship a human being, no matter how exemplary, faithful, and righteous he or she may be, is to engage in idolatry. Officially, the Roman Catholic Church does not sanction worship of Mary—but it comes very close. Rome sees a difference between what it calls latria and dulia. latria is the Greek word for worship, while dulia is the Greek word for service. Giving latria to something other than God would be to worship an idol. Giving dulia is simply to give service, obeisance, or veneration, which can be given to things other than God. Rome made this same distinction with regard to statues during the iconoclastic controversy in the Reformation era; it said that when people bowed down and prayed before images, they were not worshiping them, they were merely doing service, using them as means to stimulate their own worship. Rome insists that Mary is given dulia, not latria; she is venerated but not worshiped. However, for all practical purposes, I believe I can say without fear of ever being proven wrong that millions of Roman Catholic people today worship Mary. In doing so, they believe they are doing what the church is calling them to do. I grant that there is a legitimate technical distinction between latria and dulia, between worship and veneration, but it can be very hard to spot the line of separation. When people are bowing down before statues, that is of the essence of worship. The biggest issue in the whole Mariology debate is the sufficiency of Christ. In truth, this is the issue with Roman Catholic theology from beginning to end. It is the issue with Rome’s doctrine of Scripture, its doctrine of justification, and even here, with its doctrine of Mary. Is Christ alone our perfect sacrifice? Does He offer Himself for the sins of His people or is He offered by His mother? Does He alone achieve our redemption or does He have to depend upon the cooperation of His mother? Protestants believe that Christ alone is our justification. The Bible knows nothing of a parallel between Eve and Mary. It puts the emphasis on the parallel between Adam and Christ, who alone was the perfect sacrifice to undo what Adam caused once and for all. Finally, there is the eschatological issue. The doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary holds that God, in His grace, took Mary to heaven, where she now participates in all of the benefits that Christ has promised His people. Rome has said that this doctrine assures us of our participation in the resurrection of Christ. But the New Testament roots and grounds our assurance in Jesus’ resurrection. We do not need another example; we simply need to believe the promises of Christ. By making this claim, Rome is adding to the New Testament witness that is the basis of our assurance of salvation and final redemption in Christ. This is an invention of men, not a result of the exegesis of the Word of God. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 114–116.
At the conclusion of Are We Together?, R. C. Sproul asks the important question, How then should we proceed? We know that Roman Catholicism is outside of biblical Christianity. What should we do with this knowledge? How shall we live with the millions around us who are caught in this false religion, as fellow citizens of our earthly kingdoms, and as fellow bearers of the imago Dei? I am happy to make common cause with Roman Catholics on social issues, but we have no common cause in the gospel. Rome has compromised the gospel with her unbiblical doctrines. I firmly believe that she is teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9). How then should we proceed? How should we relate to Roman Catholics? I believe that as individuals, we should reach out to Roman Catholics. We should love our neighbors who are in the Church of Rome. We should befriend them and spend time with them. By doing so, we earn the right to lovingly critique their views. As churches, we must stand for the biblical gospeland nothing more. It is our calling to hold high the truth and expose falsehood. To this end, it is essential that we know and understand what Rome is teaching, so distinctions can be made. It is important that the people in the pews be educated about what Protestants believe over against what Roman Catholics teach. Pastors should preach the gospel and point out ways in which it is twisted by men, including the Roman Catholic Church. I am not saying that every sermon must attack Rome, but given the attraction that Roman Catholicism is exerting on some Protestants, it is essential that its errors be exposed. By faithfully preaching the gospel, pastors will defend the Reformation. When our involvement in social issues brings us into contact and camaraderie with Roman Catholics, we need not draw back. But we must not assume that we are brothers and sisters with them in the gospel. They are members of a church that has anathematized the gospel, so we ought to pray for them and seek to reach them for Christ. . . . The Reformation is not over. It cannot be over and must not be over until all who call themselves Christians have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. The cause of sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria remains the cause of and for biblical truth. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 121122.

Lordship Defines the Church

The Lordship of Christ is so central to Christianity that it literally defines the church. R. C. Sproul writes: The title Lord is so central to the life of the New Testament Christian community that the English word church derives from it. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which is brought over into English in the word ecclesiastical. The English word church is similar in sound and form to other languages’ word for church: kirk in Scotland, kerk in Holland, and kirche in Germany all derive from the same root. That source is the Greek word kuriache, which means “those who belong to the kurios.” Thus, church in its literal origin means “the people who belong to the Lord.” —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 38–39.

Temptation: A Test of Faith

Sproul describes the contrasts between the temptations of Adam and Jesus; in short, the temptation of Jesus was much more severe. Yet the two tests were the same in the one way that matters. The respective locations of the tests provide a study in contrasts. Jesus’ temptation took place in a desolate section of the remote hills of the Judean wilderness, a dreadful piece of real estate. The only creatures indigenous to the area were spiders, snakes, scorpions, and a few wild birds. It was rocky, barren, and hot, fit for neither man nor beast. Adam’s test took place in a garden of paradise adorned with lush and glorious surroundings. Where Adam beheld a landscape of floral luxury, Jesus stared at a rock pile. Jesus endured temptation in isolation, in what Soren Kierkegaard called the worst situation of human anxiety, existential solitude. Jesus was utterly alone. Adam was tested while enjoying the help and encouragement of a companion whom God had created for him. Adam was tested in the midst of human fellowship, indeed intimacy. However, Jesus was tested in the agony of deprivation of human communion. Adam was tested in the midst of a feast. His locale was a gourmet’s dream. He faced Satan on a full stomach and with a satiated appetite. Yet he succumbed to the temptation to indulge himself with one more morsel of food. Jesus was tested after a forty-day fast, when every fiber of His body was screaming for food. His hunger had reached a crescendo, and it was at the moment of consuming physical desire that Satan came with the temptation to break the fast. It is the similarity, however, between the tests that is most important for us to grasp. The central issue, the point of attack, was the same. In neither case was the ultimate issue a matter of food; the issue was the question of believing God. It was not an issue of believing in God, but believing God. There was no doubt in Adam’s mind that God existed; he had spent time in face-to-face communication with Him. Jesus was equally certain of God’s existence. The trial centered on believing God when it counted. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 71–72. Likewise, each and every one of our temptations presents that same test.

The Camera Cannot Capture the Curse

With the coming of the Son of God movie it has been observed that, like The Passion of the Christ, Son of God will show crucifixion, not the cross. This will always be the problem with dramas and sermons that focus on the physical brutality of the execution of Jesus. R. C. Sproul writes: There is a sense in which Christ on the cross was the most filthy and grotesque person in the history of the world. In and of Himself, He was a lamb without blemish—sinless, perfect, and majestic. But by imputation, all of the ugliness of human violence was concentrated on His person. Once sin was concentrated on Jesus, God cursed Him. When the curse of the law was poured out on Jesus, He experienced pain that had never been suffered in the annals of history. I have heard graphic sermons about the excruciating pain of the nails in the hands, of hanging on a cross, and of the torturous dimensions of crucifixion. I am sure that they are all accurate and that it was a dreadful way to be executed, but thousands of people in world history have undergone the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Only one man has ever felt the pain of the fullness of the unmitigated curse of God on Him. When He felt it, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . God certainly did forsake Him. That is the whole point of the atonement. Without forsakenness, there is no curse. God, at that moment in space and time, turned His back on His Son. The intimacy of the pros relationship that Jesus experienced with the Father was ruptured (in His human nature). At that moment God turned out the lights. The Bible tells us that the world was encompassed with darkness, God Himself bearing witness to the trauma of the hour. Jesus was forsaken, He was cursed, and He felt it. The word passion means “feeling.” In the midst of His forsakenness, I doubt He was even aware of the nails in His hands or the thorns in His brow. He was cut off from the Father. It was obscene, yet it was beautiful, because by it we can someday experience the fullness of the benediction of Israel. We will look unveiled into the light of the countenance of God. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 88–89.

The Cross Is Not Enough

It’s good to be “cross-centered,” I suppose, but I prefer to think of being Christ-centered. The cross is certainly a central landmark of the gospel (a colossal understatement, to be sure), but by itself, it is of no use. Nor is it enough to add the resurrection. R. C. Sproul writes: What could be more important than the cross? Without it we have no atonement, no redemption. Paul resolved to preach Christ and Him crucified. Yet without the resurrection, we would be left with a dead Savior. Crucifixion and resurrection go together, each borrowing some of its value from the other. However, the story does not end with the empty tomb. To write finis there is to miss a climactic moment of redemptive history, a moment toward which both Old and New Testaments move with inexorable determination. The ascension is the apex of Christ’s exaltation, the acme of redemptive history to this point. It is the pregnant moment of Christ’s coronation as King. Without it, the resurrection ends in disappointment and Pentecost would not be possible. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 99–100.

Saved from What?

Anyone who can read a bumper sticker knows that Jesus saves, but few could answer the question, from what? The question has several answers. Jesus saves from hell; he saves from the guilt of sin; and he saves from the power of sin. All those answers are correct. Ultimately, however, there is one answer, one ultimate catastrophe from which we need to be saved: the wrath of God. In the Old Testament the fundamental difference between the true prophet and the false prophet was that the true prophet proclaimed the day of the Lord as a day of consuming wrath. The people didn’t want to hear that, so the false prophet received applause by promising the people that the day of the Lord was a day of brightness and light and joy, that there was nothing to worry about. “God loves you.” “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” But the reality is that God does not have a wonderful plan for the impenitent. To such people, God’s plan won’t look good at all on the day of judgment. God will speak then in His fury. That was the message of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, of Ezekiel, of Daniel, of Micah, of Amos, indeed of every prophet of God. Amos came to the people and declared: Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18–20). Christians get excited about the return of Jesus. Oh, happy day! Yes, it is a happy day for the saved, but for the unsaved the return of Jesus is the worst of all conceivable calamities. It is a day of desolation, as the prophet Zephaniah foretold. Near is the great day of the Lord. Near, coming very quickly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble, of distress, destruction, desolation, darkness, gloom. And on the day of the Lord’s wrath all of the earth will be devoured, for He will make a terrifying end to the inhabitants of this world (see Zephaniah 1:14–18). Saved from what? As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he understood that a savior is one who rescues us from a great, indeed, the greatest, calamity (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10). Jesus is the Savior who saves us from the wrath that is to come. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What (Crossway, 2002), 23–24.

The Best Self-Image

In his book Saved from What? R. C. Sproul tells of a publisher to whom he submitted a manuscript for a childrens book who wanted all references to sin changed to “making poor choices.” “We don’t want to give children a poor self-image,” he explained. But that is a deadly error. Sproul writes, The best self-image we can ever have is one that is accurate and true. The Bible makes it clear that we have value as creatures made in the image of God. We affirm the sanctity of human life because every person is made in God’s image. But that image has been tarnished. It has been desecrated by sin. As long as we discount the severity of our sin, we sense no fear of God. We are content with our performance as it is, deluding ourselves into believing it is good enough to satisfy a holy God. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What? (Crossway, 2002), 29–30.

The Cross Is Not Enough

The doctrine of double imputation demands that we have more than a cross-centered theology. R. C. Sproul explains: Justification: Our Sin Transferred to Christ In our justification a double transfer takes place. First, the weight of our guilt is transferred to Christ. Christ willingly takes upon Himself all of our sin. Once our sin is imputed to Christ, God sees Him as a mass of corruption. He sees a mass of sinfulness. Because the sin now has been transferred to Jesus’ account, He is counted or reckoned guilty in our place. But if this transfer were all that happened, if the imputation were a one-dimensional transaction, we would never be justified. If Jesus were to take on His back all of the sins that I have ever committed and bear the punishment for me, that would not get me into the kingdom of God. All that would do is keep me out of hell. I would still not be just. I would be innocent but still not just in a positive sense. I would have no righteousness of which to speak. Remember, it is not simply innocence that gets us into the kingdom of God. It is righteousness. Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never get into the kingdom of God (see Matthew 5:20). If the only thing that occurred in salvation were the removal of my guilt, I would still have no merit. Justification: Christ’s Righteousness Transferred to Us So there is a double transfer. Not only is the sin of mankind imputed to Christ, but His righteousness is transferred to our account. In God’s sight [we are] now clean. When God declares me just, He is not lying. This is no mere legal fiction. If the imputation were fictional, then God’s declaration would be a legal fiction. It would be a lie and blemish on the character of God. But the point of the gospel is that the imputation is real. God really did lay my sins on Christ, and God really did transfer Christ’s righteousness to me. There is a genuine union for those who are in Christ. We truly possess the righteousness of Jesus Christ by imputation. Christ is our righteousness. That’s why He is our Savior: not merely because He died but because He lived. Without His meritorious life the atonement would have no value. Without His obedience, His suffering on the cross would be merely a tragedy. We must have the double transfer, by which God declares us just. When we consider this double imputation, we see the essence of our salvation in a phrase made famous by Martin Luther: simul justus et peccator. Simul is the Latin word from which we get the English word simultaneous. It means “at the same time.” Justus is the word for “just” or “righteous.” Et means “and.” Peccator is the Latin word for sinner. So simul justus et peccator means “at the same time just and sinner.” This is the glory of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The person who is in Christ is at the very same instant both just and a sinner. That’s good news, for if I had to wait until there was no sin in me to get into the kingdom of God, I would surely never make it. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What? (Crossway, 2002), 96–98.

Kinship by Adoption

Adoption has been called “the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” If we are to go by the attention given to the doctrine of adoption, that is hardly a majority opinion. It was with amazement that the Apostle John exclaimed, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 John 3:1), yet most seem to think that we are all natural children of God, that he is universally father of all. Sproul responds, By no means! The Bible asserts that by nature we are children of wrath. There is no universal fatherhood of God or universal brotherhood of man. The Bible speaks of a universal neighborhood. All people are my neighbors, and I am to treat them with Christian love. But not all people are my brothers and sisters. That kinship comes only by adoption. Jesus is God’s only natural Son. All others enter His family through adoption in Christ. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What? (Crossway, 2002), 110.

Foreknowledge in Brief

A very basic explanation of the foreknowledge of God from R. C. Sproul: Throughout church history one of the most popular views of election or predestination has been the prescient view. Prescience means “pre-science” or “foreknowledge.” According to this view, since Paul in Romans speaks first of foreknowledge and then of predestination, obviously God’s action of election or predestination must somehow be constructed upon His foreknowledge. The prescient view says that God looks down the corridor of time and knows that some people will say yes to the offer of the gospel and some will say no; in other words, some will cooperate with the grace God makes available while others will reject it. On the basis of this prior knowledge, God then chooses or elects unto salvation those whom He knows in advance will respond to the gospel. That view cannot possibly be squared with Romans 8, not to mention Romans 9, nor can it explain the doctrine of election. It basically denies it or tries to get around it. The doctrine of sovereign election is odious to us by nature. The word “foreknowledge” comes before the words “election” and “predestination” in Romans 8 because God never elects nameless, faceless ciphers—He elects people. Therefore, those whom God elects, He knows. Predestination must be related to that divine foreknowledge as the basis upon which God knows what He intends to do. How does God, even in His transcendent majesty, have the ability to know the end from the beginning? How is it possible for God to have knowledge of future things? God does not have a crystal ball into which He gazes so that He can know in advance what decisions we will make; rather, God knows the future because He ordains it. He knows His own plan in advance, and He knows it certainly, because He has decreed it. Those decrees are not based on any human condition that God foreknows. Indeed, if God did look into the future to examine the responses that people will one day make, the only response of fallen human beings to His grace would be that of unbelief. People are not elect because they have faith, but they are elected to have faith. Faith itself is the result of God’s electing grace. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 26–27.

Our Adoptive Father

The adoption of believers as children of God is no small matter. Indeed, J. I Packer called it the highest privilege that the gospel offers. This is a privilege that, as Sproul explains, we ought to hold very dear. The New Testament concept of Christ’s being the Son of God is central to biblical theology. Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but also He is what the Apostle John described as the monogenes, the only Son of God. We have a tendency to miss the significance of that today, [when] we hear repeatedly that we are all God’s children. People today believe in the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. In biblical categories God, naturally speaking, is the Father of One. He is the Father of the Son, the only begotten Son. Christ is the Son of God by nature. Scripture tells us that by nature we are children of wrath, children of Satan, so we must never take for granted the privilege of speaking of God as “Father.” In the first instance He is the Father only of Christ and, by extension, of us only when we are adopted into His family. We are not by nature the children of God. Jesus is by nature the child of God; we are by super nature the children of God. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 27–28.

A Living Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. —1 Peter 1:3–5 Our hope in Christ is more than wishful thinking. In biblical categories, the word hope means something different from its common usage in our secular culture. In our culture hope reflects our subjective desire. I hope that something will take place in the future, but I don’t know for sure that it will. In biblical categories, this hope is the certainty and the fullness of assurance that God will do in the future everything that He says He will do. We have been born again to a hope, a living and lasting hope. This hope is inseparably related to the resurrection, because it is grounded in the reality that when God raised His Son from the dead, He raised Him as the firstborn of many brethren, and that all who are in Him will share in that resurrection life. We have been born again not just to have a better quality of life in this world, not simply to be given a second chance, but to live a life that goes on forever, sustained by the power of the resurrected Christ. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 30.

When Were You Saved?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. —1 Peter 1:3–5 Many Christians point to a date on which they were saved. Others couldn’t name a date, but have believed the gospel and know they have a living faith in Christ and are saved. In truth, if you are alive and reading this, you are not yet saved—not finally, that is. Yet, if you have received genuine saving faith in Christ, you can be sure that you have an inheritance in heaven, because God has promised to finish what he has begun (Philippians 1:6). As R. C. Sproul explains, [T]he Bible uses the verb to save in every tense of the Greek language. There is a sense in which we were saved from the foundation of the world. We were being saved, we are saved, and we are being saved, but ultimately we shall be saved when we enter into the fullness of the inheritance that is being reserved. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 32.

The Testing of Our Faith

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. —1 Peter 1:6–12 Unlike the vast majority of those reading this blog, and certainly unlike this writer, the Christians to whom Peter wrote did not have it easy. They suffered levels of persecution like we have seen in China, and are now seeing in Muslim nations. Yet, Peter writes, “In this [1 Peter 1:3–5] you greatly rejoice . . .” Sproul comments, In a real sense, their sufferings and afflictions were unjust—they were victims of persecution—but we have to see beyond the human dimension, the proximate cause of the suffering, and look to the remote or ultimate cause. These afflictions were sent upon the believers by God. God uses the iniquitous afflictions wrought by human hostility for the ultimate well-being of His children. In this text here we see a marvelous reaffirmation of the doctrine of the providence of God. The classic teaching of divine providence is found at the end of the book of Genesis. Joseph, who had been viciously betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, was held in prison for many years and separated from his family and homeland. . . . When Joseph was reunited with his brothers years later . . . [he] said, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Their intentions were wicked, and they were responsible for that, but over and above their actions, God intended good. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” Paul wrote (Rom. 8:28). God’s hand is in earthly trials that are unjustly foisted upon us by wicked people. The hand of God trumps the evil intent of those who wound us, and He uses, in His gracious providence, those various experiences of affliction and pain for His glory and for our ultimate edification. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 35. Christians often try to exonerate God of responsibility for the bad things that happen to “good” people by saying they are the work of Satan, that God has nothing to do with them. However, this is not only an inadequate excuse for a sovereign God, it robs us of the hope we should find in suffering. [I]f God has nothing to do with death or our afflictions, we of all people are the most to be pitied. The comfort we receive from the Word of God is that God is involved with our sufferings even to the extent that He ordains them, but the purpose of that ordination is always good and righteous. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid. More often, Christians acknowledge God’s involvement in our suffering, but only to the extent that he “permits” it. Sproul replies, [W]hatever God permits, He must choose to permit, and what He chooses to permit, He thereby ordains. That should not discourage us but encourage us, so that when we are falsely accused, slandered, or have our reputation injured, we can get on our knees and say, “God, please, vindicate me against these wicked people.” We can ask for vindication. At the same time, we have to ask Him, “What did you have in mind in this trouble?” Even though we suffer unjustly at the hands of men, we never suffer unjustly at the hands of God. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid, 36. And this is the purpose: So, Peter says, we are grieved by the trials that come upon us, but in the midst of them we can rejoice exceedingly, not only because of the inheritance laid up for us but also because we can be sure that through these trials, the genuineness of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid.

An Anti-Intellectual Period of Christian History

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, . . . —1 Peter 1:13–14 We are living in a period of church history that may be classified as mindless. It is an anti-intellectual period of Christian history . . . While teaching in a seminary classroom I would sometimes ask a student what he thought about a particular proposition. The student would sometimes respond, “I feel that the statement is incorrect.” I would stop him and say, “I didn’t ask you how you felt. I wasn’t inquiring into your emotional response. I was asking you what you think about it.” Thinking is done by the mind, and Christians are called repeatedly in sacred Scripture not to leave their minds in the parking lot when they enter into church but to awaken their minds so that they may think clearly and deeply about the things of God. Some people say that God does not care about the mind but only the heart and that an emphasis on the mind leads to rationalism, and from there to modernism, postmodernism, and all else that stands in antithesis to biblical Christianity. It is true that what you think in your mind will never get you into the kingdom of God until it reaches your heart, but we have been created by God in such a way that the pathway to the heart is through the mind. We cannot love with passion that which we know nothing about. The book that contains the sacred revelation of Almighty God, His Word, is addressed in the first instance to our minds. Therefore, the more we understand the truth of God, the more we will be gripped by it in our hearts and changed by it. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 42.

Against Morality

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” —1 Peter 1:13–16 Belay that outrage—the title is deceptive. I’m not against morality as you understand it. I am against morality as it is properly defined. R. C. Sproul explains: The common theme in Romans 12, Ephesians 2, and 1 Peter is that of nonconformity to the patterns and the customs of fallen humanity. We are to be nonconformists. Such nonconformity can be achieved in a superficial way. There are religious sects that want to do everything in their power to avoid any indication of worldliness. . . . The nonconformity we are called to practice is an ethical nonconformity. We are to practice the ethic of God rather than the ethic of this world. I used to teach ethics in the seminary, and one of the lectures I gave was on statistical morality. The distinction between ethics and morals has been obscured in our day so that people use the terms morals and ethics interchangeably. Historically those two words were not understood as synonyms; they had a vastly different meaning. The term morals comes from the concept of mores. Sociologists and historians examine the behavioral patterns of a given culture and describe how people act, which are the mores of a given society. The study of ethics, however, is the study of normative principles of behavior that tell us how people should behave. Yet we all know—and the Bible says—that there is a great chasm between how we ought to behave and how we, in fact, do behave. Psychologists observe human behavior and discover that 90 percent of young people are involved in premarital sex. Since such a high percentage do this, we call it normal human behavior, which is only a short step from saying that it is normative. People say it is good to be normal . . . On the other hand, the Bible says we are not to let fornication even once be named among us, as befits saints (Eph. 5:3). The oldest argument in the world for defending behavior is that everybody else is doing it, but God does not care what everybody else is doing. God knows what everybody else is doing; He is concerned about what we are doing, and He tells us not to be conformed to those patterns. Before God raised us from the dead spiritually, we walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who even now works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). Here in his epistle, Peter is making a sharp contrast between the sons of disobedience and the children of God. A recent poll that measured the sexual behavior of Americans indicated that premarital sex is more prevalent among young people who claim to be born again than among young people who do not.* How is that possible? It is possible because Christians confuse ethics and morality. They assume that what the group is doing (mores) is what they ought to be doing (ethics). . . . . . . If you are a Christian, you have been born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit, which means that your constituent nature as a human being has been changed by God. Once we have been changed, God expects our behavior to manifest that change. We ought no longer to be conformed to this world. Instead, from the day of our rebirth to the end of our pilgrimage in this world, we are called to go through the process of ongoing sanctification by which we gain the mind of Christ and show our love for Him by keeping His commandments. . . . When Justin Martyr addressed his apologia, his defense of Christianity, to Emperor Antoninus Pius, he sought to defend the truth claims of Christianity. Not only did he give the normal arguments for the truth claims of Christianity, but he also challenged the emperor to examine the lives of Christians and to observe their purity. No apologist would use that as an argument for Christianity in our culture today. We cannot. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 44–46. * I don’t believe that poll is anywhere near accurate. Nevertheless, the number, whatever it is, is much higher than it ought to be.
It is nearly impossible to eradicate all fear of man. We might say we don’t care what people think, but unless we are total narcissists, that is seldom entirely true. That could be a good thing, as long as we keep the opinions of others in their proper place. R. C. Sproul shares a story of his fear of man: The first time I had to preach in the presence of my mentor John Gerstner, I was quite intimidated. I was exceedingly nervous about his presence among the congregation. I told him so, and when he asked why, I said, “I’m afraid I’m going to make a theological blunder or an exegetical error and bring shame and embarrassment to myself and to the church.” He replied, “Why should you find it daunting to preach in the presence of men, when God listens to every word you say?” —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 50. What others will think should be far from our greatest concern.

Through the Mind

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. —1 Peter 1:22–25 How are we to reach the lost in our modern day? The same way as always. Human nature has not changed, Jesus never changes (Hebrews 13:8), nor does his gospel (Jude 3). We are living in strange times in terms of how the church functions. We have been caught up with a fierce desire to find a way to relate to a culture that has been immunized to Christianity. We try to find new methods to reach the lost. The motivation is righteous, because we should have compassion for the lost. The danger comes when we ask the lost how they want to come into the kingdom of God, how they want to worship God, and how they want to hear God’s Word, and then tailor our method to their tastes and preferences. That is fatal. Sooner or later the church must come back to confidence in God’s way of doing God’s work, because the Bible does give us a blueprint for evangelism. It gives us a blueprint for reaching the lost and for generating spiritual growth among the people of God. The blueprint is not a matter of rocket science or Madison Avenue technology; it is a blueprint that God guarantees will not be fruitless. It is accomplished by the method of proclaiming the Word of God, which, as Peter says here, changes lives and purifies souls through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has established a church, a fellowship and communion of believers, to gather for mutual support, edification, and encouragement. The church is to be a group which, when assembled, experiences an extraordinary kind of love. The grace that comes through the preaching of the Word is confirmed by the sacraments that Christ has given to His church and strengthened by the discipline of prayer, both personal and corporate. Whatever we try to do to make the message attractive to a fallen world, we must never negotiate those fundamental, biblical methods of worship, preaching, evangelism, and spiritual growth. The constituent nature of human beings did not change with Generation X, nor did it change with the Baby Boomers. Television changes culture, and technology changes the way we do things, but the fundamental nature of our humanity remains the same as when God created Adam and Eve. The way to the heart is through the mind, so mindless Christianity never really produces purification of the soul. The purification of the soul comes through obeying the truth of the Word of God through the Spirit of God. There are no substitutes or shortcuts for that. There is no such thing as sanctification in three easy lessons. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 51—52.

Back to the Word

“All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” —1 Peter 1:24–25 (cf. Isaiah 40:6–8) In which R. C. Sproul gives permission to burn his books: Nothing is more worthless than yesterday’s newspaper. A candy bar machine deposits only one candy bar with the insertion of a coin, but when you put a coin into a newspaper dispenser and open the slot, there are ten or fifteen newspapers available for the taking. Newspaper publishers are not concerned about theft because they understand the economic rule of marginal utility. Who needs yesterday’s newspaper? Yesterday’s candy bar may still be succulent, but not yesterday’s newspaper. Books have a longer shelf life than magazines, but even books come and go. One of the hardest things to do is to get people to read the classics of the giants that God has given to the church. If people would read Luther and Calvin they could take my books and burn them, because all I try to do is direct people back to the giants. All Luther and all Calvin wanted to do was direct people back to the Word of God, because that Word is not only living but also abiding—forever. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 54—55.

Regeneration and Carnal Christians

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. —1 Peter 2:1–3 Salvation is not just a ticket out of hell. It is a miraculous transformation wherein, one moment, we were enemies of God, and the next, we became new creatures, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In order to embrace the things of God—spiritual things—a new birth is required, a birth wrought in our souls by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of this experience as being quickened, or made alive, by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:1). . . . Whereas before we had no inclination or desire for the things of God, God has quickened our souls and created in us a desire for Him and for His Son. Peter makes mention of our having been born again and then goes into chapter 2 with the consequences and implications of that. Some hold to the doctrine of the carnal Christian. It has permeated the evangelical Christian world today. The doctrine teaches that regeneration does not necessarily change the disposition of the believer’s will or soul. Someone can be a believer in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit yet remain completely unchanged. However, that doctrine is on a collision course with orthodox Christianity and certainly with the biblical understanding of regeneration. No one can be brought to spiritual life without also being fundamentally changed. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 58—59.

The Church’s One Foundation?

If I’m going to criticize erroneous hymnody, I suppose I should be fair and include hymns I like. This doesn’t constitute any grave error—I’m sure I’ll continue singing the song—but the distinction is still important. The hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” contains the lyrics, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.” I do not like the language used in that line of the hymn because, in the New Testament, the primary sense of the role of Jesus in the building is not that of the foundation. The New Testament says that no foundation can be laid except that which is laid in Christ Jesus, but He is not the foundation. When the New Testament speaks of the building, it speaks of the foundation as being the Prophets and the Apostles. They gave us the Word of God, which is established as the foundation of the whole edifice. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 64. Now I’ll wait for some over-caffeinated zealot to call me a papist.

The People of God

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers . . . —1 Peter 2:9–11 For disciples of Christ, this text is especially comforting at this time when, in my view, my earthy country is at an all-time low, and the coming elections offer little hope of arresting, let alone reversing, our descent. We are chosen citizens of another kingdom, and we have been chosen for a purpose. We belong to a better place, and a purpose that transcends politics. We as Christians are a people without a country. There is never an equation in the Bible between the people of God and a peculiar nationalism. The kingdom of God is not limited to the borders of the United States of America. It transcends every human border. The kingdom of God is spread throughout the whole world, and the reason is that citizens in that kingdom belong to a different kind of country, a holy nation—as the Scriptures define it, a heavenly nation. Our citizenship really cannot be defined by our passports, because in this world we remain pilgrims. In the words of the old gospel hymn, “This world is not my own; I’m only passing through,” but that does not mean that we are a people without a country.* We are citizens of a holy nation created by God, His own special people. The reason that we are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood and that God has conferred upon us citizenship in a heavenly, holy country is, according to Peter, this: that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (v. 9). We have received our citizenship for the purpose of proclaiming God’s praises. To worship God is to offer Him not an animal sacrifice or a cereal offering but the sacrifice of praise. The praise of God should be on our lips every moment because citizens of this heavenly kingdom spend eternity praising the King of that heavenly nation, singing with the angels, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 69. * I know. It’s funny that he should use that exact phrase when the paragraph’s first sentence said exactly that. Try not to miss the point.

Called to Suffer

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. —1 Peter 2:18–25 It is just a fact of life that hard times will come. Every adult knows this, and has probably learned it at an early age. Often, our suffering will be consequential to our own choices and actions. At other times, we will suffer for doing right. When that happens, we need to remember that it is not just something that is happening to us, just a circumstance through which we must persevere, but is actually—if we are Christians—a reason for our existence. We were born for this. Why does God give His smile of approval on those who suffer patiently when they are victims of unjust treatment? Peter gives us the answer: For to this you were called (v. 21). It is our vocation. When God calls us to a task, it is our duty to obey it. It is commendable when we suffer unjustly and bear the pain in patience because God has called us to that. Many television preachers today say that God always wills healing and prosperity for His people and, therefore, any pain we suffer comes from Satan and never from the hand of God. This is a pernicious distortion of biblical truth. Just the opposite is the case; our vocation is a call to suffer. . . . Suffering becomes bearable when we understand that we are in that state by the providence of God, and therefore, at that time, it is our vocation. The word vocation means “calling,” from the Latin root voco. If we fall ill with a terminal disease, we can curse the fates that have brought us to that stage, or we can see it as the providence of God. There is nothing worse than to suffer pain or grief for no reason, which is why those without Christ are without hope. For them, ultimately, life is an experience of futility, but if their souls become captured by the truth of the gospel, they will know that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), so there is purpose even in our suffering. That is perhaps the hardest biblical truth to embrace. When Job’s great suffering came upon him, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). In time his pain grew so intense that his wife told him, “Curse God and die!” (2:9), but Job responded, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (2:10). As his suffering endured Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15); and “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth” (19:25). That is the message Peter is giving. It is commendable to accept suffering with patience because, in the first place, we have been called to that very thing. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 83–84.

Quitting the Quid Pro Quo

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. —1 Peter 3:1–7 One of the difficulties of human relationships is the quid pro quo that we often expect. We may tend to think that we are relieved of our responsibilities to others when they neglect their responsibilities to us. For example, in marriage, The Bible does not tell husbands to love their wife* if and when the wife submits to him, nor does it tell wives to submit to their husband when that husband loves them as Christ loves the church. Husbands are called to love their wife whether she submits to him or not. He is to be prepared to give his life for his wife even if she never displays a quiet and gentle spirit. His obligation remains his obligation. She cannot keep it for him, as he cannot keep hers for her. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 95. This is hard to accept. In conflict, it is difficult to escape an opponent mindset. But that is what we are called to do, for a purpose that encompasses the marriage bond, but also reaches far beyond, to our relationship to God. Peter calls on husbands to give honor to the wife because they are heirs together of the grace of life. Husbands and wives are in it together, and if both are Christians, they share an inheritance. They are joint heirs with Christ of the kingdom of God. Husbands are to give honor so that their prayers may not be hindered. Again we find an ellipsis. The implication of this text is that if husbands fail to love, honor, and respect their wives, that behavior will hinder their prayers. Likewise, wives, if you resist submitting to your husband, that posture will hinder your prayers. In a sense, it means that God does not want to hear our prayers until we come to Him as humbly submissive people. —Ibid., 96. * I just can’t let the paragraph pass without commenting on the number confusion that plagues this book (husbands/their wife, wives/their husband). I understand, Sproul is a theologian, not an English teacher. But was there no editor?

Love for Life

Death should be a welcome event for the disciples of Christ. We who have been born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) look forward with anticipation to the day we will go to be with the Lord. But that doesn’t mean this life is some sort of a purgatory. This life, also, is a gift. The Bible teaches that we are not to cling to the things of the world but to set our hope on eternity; we are to look beyond the borders of the world into that heavenly inheritance that has been preserved for us. At the same time, we are not to despise the life we have in this world. When the Apostle Paul was torn between two straits to depart and be with the Lord or to remain on earth and minister he wrote, “I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23–24). The tension with which the Apostle wrestled was not a tug between good and bad; it was between good and better. He was not contrasting that which is far better with that which is bad. We are to love life. Our Lord said of His own mission, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We would think it unnecessary to have to tell people that they ought to love life, because by nature we do everything we can to preserve our existence. However, that is only part of the story. Henry David Thoreau said somewhat cynically that the vast majority of men live lives of quiet desperation. A cloud of despair hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles, and that weight is exceedingly heavy and burdensome for those who go through life without Christ and without hope. We are not without Christ or without hope, so we are to cultivate within our souls a love for life. Some people seem to have an ongoing love affair with life. Their excitement and optimism about each day are contagious because they communicate a passion for living life to the fullest. That is the way we are supposed to be as Christians. We have a tendency to define our pilgrimage in this world in terms of good days and bad days “I had a good day at the office” or “I had a bad hair day” but we should enjoy a multitude of good days, because we are in touch with the Author of good days. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 106.
The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. —1 Peter 3:10–12 If you want to love life, if you want to see good days, then refrain your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. The Bible is very much concerned about the evil that comes from our mouth. When Isaiah saw the transcendent majesty of God, he saw himself in stark contrast and pronounced an oracle of doom on himself: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah’s first sense of guilt upon seeing the holiness of God concerned what was coming out of his mouth, and he recognized that he was not alone in this corruptive mouthing of deceit. The nation was a people with dirty mouths. With our lips, we are called to bear witness to the truth of God and to speak praise, honor, and glory to Him. Instead, we slander and blaspheme. With our mouths we put the dagger into the back of our friends. James devotes much space in his epistle to this “little member,” saying, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5). Paul quotes the Old Testament: There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (Rom. 3:12–14) . . . Satan himself is called the father of lies (John 8:44). There is no truth in him. He makes his living through deception and falsehood. By use of the lie, he does everything he can to undermine the sanctity of the truth of God. When Pilate asked Jesus whether He was a king, Jesus said, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). A Christian is defined by Christ as someone of the truth, and we should guard with our lives the sanctity of that truth. Our yes should be yes, and our no should be no (James 5:12), which simply means that people ought to be able to trust what we say. As we put restraints on our tongues, deceit treads less across our lips. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 109–110.

No Heavenly Bellhop

For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. —1 Peter 3:12 (cf. Psalm 34:15–16) What kind of prayers does God answer? This couplet . . . says, in the first place, that the eyes of the Lord are watching His people. His eye is upon us—not a jaundiced eye but a tender one. This is not the stare that destroys but the gaze that lifts up. He keeps an eye on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. When children do not want to hear what someone is telling them, they put their hands over their ears. We have almost the same image here. God puts His fingers in His ears when the wicked speak, but He gives an attentive ear to the prayers of His people. James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). It avails much because God turns His ear to the prayers of His people. It is fitting that this particular section of the text ends with a politically incorrect statement. Some years ago in the course of a debate at the Southern Baptist Convention, the head of the convention was asked if God hears the prayers of unbelievers. He said no—a volatile response indeed. It is radical to say that we ought not to encourage godless people to pray because the prayers of the godless are an insult to God. Such prayers do not come from contrite hearts but from those that have a vested self-interest. They make their appeal to a heavenly bellhop, putting in their order. God shuts His ears to that kind of prayer, and He turns His face away from the unrighteous. When Israel fell into apostasy, God said, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings” (Amos 5:21–22). God is not mocked, and He is not interested in listening to the petitions of those who are insincere when they address Him. However, if you pray to Him with a penitent heart in a spirit of worship, He cannot wait to hear everything that you say, because the prayers of His people are a sheer delight, and their offerings are to Him a sweet aroma and a fragrance of beauty. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 111–112.

The Only Leap of Faith

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; —1 Peter 3:15 A while ago, as I was working (or, possibly, napping) in my study, I overheard this line from a movie that was playing in the next room: “Sometimes you just have to make a leap of faith. The trust part comes later.” That is, without a doubt, one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard. Faith, as theologians define it, consists of three elements: notitia, assensus, and fiducia, or knowledge, agreement, and trust, with trust being the most defining element. There is no faith without trust. But that is the kind of ignorant philosophy one expects to find in movies. More troubling is the philosophy often encountered in the church. While few there would divorce faith from trust, many separate faith from knowledge. Faith is not only thought to be a nonintellectual exercise, it is often set in opposition to the intellect. Biblical Christianity rejects that notion. Some Christians tell those who inquire that we simply take a leap of faith with no bother about the credibility or the rational character of the truth claims of the Bible, but that response goes against the teaching of this text. The only leap of faith we are to take is out of the darkness and into the light. When we become Christians, we do not leave our mind in the parking lot. We are called to think according to the Word of God, to seek the mind of Christ and an understanding of the things set forth in sacred Scripture. The Bible is a big book, and every bit of it, I believe, has been inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the author of this Book is God. He gave it to us to be understood, and we cannot understand it if we close our mind to the careful study of it. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 115.

A Rational Faith

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; —1 Peter 3:15 Peter says that after we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, we are to be ready to give an apologia, a defense, to everyone who asks us a reason for our hope—not a feeling, but a reason. . . .A while ago I was involved in a serious controversy involving a professor who had been teaching that biblical truth cannot be understood by reason but through some kind of mystical intuition. That is the position that was taken by the heretical Gnostics in the second and third centuries. They believed that their mystical apprehension of truth was superior to the Apostles’ because the Apostles relied on the mind. Relying on the mind is criticized by some who say that if you rely on the mind to understand the content of the Christian faith, you have submitted to the heresy of rationalism. I asked this particular professor, “When you talk about rationalism, what do you mean? Are you talking about the Cartesian rationalism of the seventeenth century? Are you talking about the Enlightenment rationalism of the eighteenth century? Are you speaking about the Hegelian rationalism of the nineteenth century that deified reason itself?” He was completely unaware of those radically different types of rationalism. To say that you are a rationalist because Christianity is rational simply does not follow. One can be rational without being a rationalist, just as one can be human without being a humanist, or can exist without being an existentialist, or be feminine without being a feminist. On the basis of Scripture, we must never negotiate the principle that the truth we receive from God is rational. It is not irrational or illogical. To say that the Word of God is irrational, contradictory, or absurd is to accuse the Holy Spirit of speaking with a forked tongue. As Peter said, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). What they had witnessed was the sober truth of the Word of God, which is intelligible and reasonable for any reasonable person to embrace. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 120–121.

Called to Think

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. —1 Peter 4:1–2 Whenever we talk about spiritual warfare, it seems we always come back to the same thing: immersion in the Word of God. In light of Jesus’ suffering unto death, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (v. 1). . . . The Apostle Paul enjoined the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God, and he listed each piece of armor that was worn by soldiers in the ancient world (Eph. 6:13–17). Here Peter uses the same language of preparing for warfare. The reason that Paul called us to put on the armor of God is that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Likewise with Peter, who, just a few verses earlier, wrote that angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Christ (3:22). The powers and principalities against which we wrestle have been put in subjection to Christ; nevertheless, the war goes on for us, and in order to succeed in the battle of the Christian life, we need to be armed. The armor for warfare that Paul gives includes helmet, breastplate, and shield. For Peter, the principal item of armor is the mind of Christ. We are called to arm ourselves by seeking the mind of Christ. . . . I know no other way to gain the mind of Christ than to immerse ourselves in His Word. Studying the Scriptures is the way by which we learn the mind of Christ, because the Scriptures reveal Christ. We are living in the most anti-intellectual period in the history of the Christian church. The application of the mind to the search for understanding of the things of God is dismissed in some quarters and actually despised in others. Feeling is substituted for thinking. Christians, we are called to think, to seek understanding of the Word of God; there is no other way to get the mind of Christ. . . . We have to search the Scriptures, and this is a serious matter. We simply cannot find the mind of Christ in fifteen minutes a day. We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God if we really want to progress in this battle. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 140–141.
For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. —1 Peter 4:1 Sproul writes, “When we come to Christ, we come by repentance. There is no other way. One does not cling to Christ as Savior until he first acknowledges that he is a sinner who needs a Savior.” Knowledge of sin is the very first step in conversion. Without that knowledge, there is no reason for turning to Christ, and no one ever will. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries (v. 3). Augustine spent the early years of his life following the pattern that Peter describes here. Then one day . . . he picked up the Bible and his eyes fell upon this passage: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:13–14). At that moment, Augustine’ s heart was stricken because he recognized himself in the text he was reading. He said in essense, “I have made every provision I could to fulfill the lusts of my flesh. I need to change my clothes. God grant that He would dress me in the clothes of Christ that I may no longer make provision for the lusts of the flesh.” Peter says the same thing. We know the bankruptcy of our former way of life. We ought to spend our time for the will of God. We have spent enough time doing the will of pagans, when we walked like they walk—lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 143. I have often said, if you have never been overwhelmed by the guilt of your sin, you have never been born again. The objections I hear in response are many, but I stand by it. There is no salvation without repentance, and no repentance without conviction.

Two Conditions in which to Die

For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. —1 Peter 4:6 I care how I die. You probably do, as well. I would rather die quietly in my sleep than in a violent accident. I would rather die suddenly in an accident than be mauled by a bear. I would rather be fatally mauled by a bear than suffer a prolonged death of a terminal illness. I don’t think there is anything unusual about those preferences (except, possibly, the fact that I’ve obviously thought a bit about it). But in the end, the mode of my death is entirely trivial in comparison to what really matters, that is, the condition in which I die. [Peter] is not talking about Jesus’ preaching to dead spirits; rather, he is indicating the reason that Christ came. Jesus preached the gospel, and many of those who had heard Him and believed had died, so their battle was over and their victory won. When we get unexpected news of the death of someone we know, we wonder immediately how he or she died. Was she killed in an automobile accident? Did he have a heart attack? When the Bible speaks of people’s dying, it is somewhat reductionistic. From a biblical standpoint, there are only two conditions in which someone dies: in the faith or out of the faith. We die in faith, or we die in sin. Peter understood the urgency of the gospel, so he called people to think about that time of accountability when they would stand before Christ, not in their sins but in faith. Every day we are judged by people, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, sometimes graciously and sometimes without grace. Yet any judgment made about us in this world—good or bad—ultimately does not count, because it is a judgment made in the flesh. The only judgment that counts is the judgment of God, so we are to live not according to the judgment of people but according to God in the Spirit. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 144–145. If that doesn’t motivate you to share the gospel, you may not have received it yet yourself.
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. —1 Peter 4:8 In this paraphrase of Proverbs 10:12, Peter prioritizes the importance of mutual love as “the end of all things” draws near. “Above all,” he writes, having just exhorted his readers to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit.” this in no way is to diminish the necessity of those qualities, but only accentuates what is written in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3, that without love, nothing else we may do has any value. Without a love that allows us to overlook the petty faults of others, we would constantly be picking away at one another. The metaphor of covering is of central importance to our understanding of salvation. The image of covering is found in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement, blood from a sacrificed animal was taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the mercy seat, which was the covering of the ark of the covenant, the most holy vessel in the sanctus sanctorum. The blood of the sacrifice was poured over the throne of God to cover the sins of the people. The practice began even earlier than on the Day of Atonement, way back at the fall. After Adam and Eve sinned, they felt ashamed. They became aware of their nakedness, and in their shame they tried to hide; they desired covering. When God came into the garden and found His trembling creatures cowering in shame, weighed down by the burden of their guilt, He made clothing from animal skins and covered their shame. This was the first act of redeeming grace, and throughout the rest of Scripture, the idea of redemption is understood in terms of God’s covering His naked, guilty people. Supremely, we see this metaphor in the doctrine of justification. Our own righteousness is nothing but filthy rags and lacks the capacity to cover our sin, but we have been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. God takes the righteousness of His Son and uses it as a cloak to cover His sinful creatures. The only way we can stand before God is if we wear the covering of the righteousness of Jesus. Here in Peter’s epistle, there is talk of another covering—not the covering that God provides to His naked creatures, or the covering of our sin in the Holy of Holies, or even the cloak of Jesus’ righteousness, but of a special love that covers a multitude of sins. It is our love for each other. . . . Nothing will destroy a church faster than pettiness, people picking at each other over trivial things. In the New Testament we are told that when Christians commit gross and heinous sins, they must be disciplined as part of the spiritual nurture of the church. However, our Lord was very careful to specify the sins that require discipline, understanding that no one in the church of Christ is finished with sanctification. We all bring different baggage into the Christian life; we are each at a different point in our progression. We can destroy one another by nitpicking. If one of your brothers or sisters has an annoying habit, it may irritate you, but it has been covered by Jesus. We all have to endure people who criticize us over insignificant, petty things. Let the world be petty, but let it not be said of Christians. Let us love one another with such a fervency that we have the love that covers a multitude of sins. Covering love is how families survive. Family members know each other’s foibles, weaknesses, and failures, and the bond of a family will not last long if there is constant, petty complaining in the home. The church is a family too. . . . If something is a small matter, it is to be covered. That is what it means to love. When we think of what God has covered for us, can we not cover for our brothers and sisters in the Lord? “Love will cover a multitude of sins.” Some people interpret this verse to mean that if we love enough, it will serve almost as an atonement for our sins; but that is not what it means. The meaning is that love does not seek to expose our neighbor for every petty weakness but to cover him or her from the attacks of the world. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 157–158.

Clothed with Humility

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. —1 Peter 5:5–6 Here Peter admonishes his readers not only to wear the garment of the righteousness of Christ but also to be clothed in humility: Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (v. 5). Our entire being is to be covered with the virtue of humility because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” There is an antithetical parallelism in that quotation. The humble are given grace, which stands in stark contrast to the proud, who meet with the fierce resistance of God. Who can stand against that resistance? Yet when we approach God in a spirit of humility, He does not resist us but adds grace upon grace. Peter goes on to say, Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (v. 6). Another metaphor, so rich throughout Scripture, is the hand or arm of the Lord, which signifies His strength. Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. . . . He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (Luke 1:46–52). In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were tired of eating manna, Moses interceded for the people. They cried, “Who will give us meat to eat?” (Num. 11:4). Moses wept before the Lord and begged Him to provide meat for the people to eat, and God said, “You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you” (vv. 19–20). Moses was scared and said, “The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to provide enough for them?” (vv. 21–22). God said to Moses, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (v. 23). “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”—in that simple phrase we have a microcosm of the entire Christian life. Obedience means submitting to the arm of the Lord, acknowledging Him as Lord and acknowledging His eternal and everlasting authority to require of us whatsoever is pleasing to Him. When we do so, He will exalt us in due time. The exaltation will come at the hour that God has appointed. We are told repeatedly in Scripture that God indeed has appointed a time when He will judge the world by His Son, a time when He will vindicate His people, a time when He will share the glory of His Son with those who have embraced His Son. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 186–187.

Exaltation in Lowliness, Freedom in Bondage

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ . . . —2 Peter 1:1 In the salutation of this letter, Peter introduces himself in both the highest and lowest of terms. He occupied the highest possible position under Christ, yet recognized himself as no more than a slave. So we also should see ourselves. Regardless of our various positions we are called to be slaves—and in that bondage, to find our freedom. As the Apostle Paul frequently identified himself in his letters, so Peter identifies himself here with a twin appellation; namely, that he is a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ (v. 1). In the Christian community, the lowest possible layer or stratification of society was that of a slave, and the most elevated office, save for the office of Jesus Himself, was that of Apostle. To the Apostles was given the authority of Jesus to such a degree that He announced, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40). In our day and age, there are multitudes who say, “I believe in Jesus and follow His teachings, but I cannot follow the Apostles. That chauvinistic, Jewish theologian Paul, I can hardly tolerate.” However, we do not know anything about Jesus except from the apostolic testimony that comes to us through the Scriptures, so to distinguish between Jesus and the Apostles is foreign to Scripture itself. In the early church Irenaeus had to contend with cynics who said that they appreciated Jesus but would not submit to the authority of the Apostles. Irenaeus said that one cannot have Jesus yet reject the ones whom Jesus appointed to speak in His name, just as one cannot have God yet reject His supreme Apostle, Jesus Himself. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees made a similar type of distinction. They claimed to believe in God, yet they rejected Jesus. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). That is simple logic. So the highest authority operating in the early church, apart from Jesus, was that of the Apostles. Here Peter claims the highest authority that anyone could claim in the early church—that of being an Apostle. At the same time, like the Apostle Paul, he identifies himself as a slave. He is simultaneously the highest and the lowest of Christian society. The word Peter uses here, doulos, is the same word that Paul uses in Romans; it refers to a purchased slave. There is a close connection in the Scriptures between the word doulos and the word kyrios. A kyrios was the lord or master; one could not be a kyrios unless he owned slaves. Carrying the metaphor even further, the Apostle Paul wrote, “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). Peter and Paul saw themselves as slaves of Christ, and that idea extends to everyone purchased by Jesus. We are all bondservants of Christ. The supreme irony is that Jesus comes to set us free from slavery, and He tells us, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Those who are delivered from the slavery of sin take on a new kind of slavery; they become slaves to Christ. If you think you are free outside of bondage to Christ, your freedom is so much slavery. We have to lose our lives to find them; we have to give them away to get them back. All of that and more is found simply in Peter’s self-designation. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 203–204.

A Received Faith

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ —2 Peter 1:1 Although it is easy to miss, this passage repeats a vital truth that we have been given elsewhere, that faith is not something we naturally possess, but rather is something we are given supernaturally. Just like the Apostle Paul, so the Apostle Peter defines faith not as something that originates and is exercised by an unregenerate human heart but as something the believer receives passively. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you did not conjure it up. When you first heard the gospel and responded favorably to it, perhaps you thought that you decided to believe in Jesus, but saving faith is not the result of a human decision. It is a divine gift. Paul wrote: You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Eph. 2:1–5) That God has made us alive is the biblical language for regeneration. God made us born again, not after we left the pigsty of the prodigal son and came home but while we were dead in sin and trespasses, while we were still following the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and obeying the lusts of our flesh. While we were in that spiritually dead condition, God, in His unspeakable grace and mercy, brought us to spiritual life. When the physical corpse of Jesus was placed in the tomb, the power of God raised Him from death and brought Him to life once more. That is the same power that raises us from spiritual death, if indeed we have faith in Christ. Paul continues: (By grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:5–9) This is the wonderful benefit of the sovereign election of God, that He gives the gift that we do not deserve. Nobody believes by his own power but only as the result of God’s action. That is exactly what Peter is saying. In our vocabulary something called “precious” has an exceedingly high value. Gems we call precious stones because they are so much more valuable than gravel. Just so, Peter describes the faith by which we are saved as a precious faith. Is there any possession you have more precious than the faith that links you to Christ and delivers to you His entire inheritance? The wisest people divest themselves of all they have in order to possess this precious reality, this pearl of great price. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 204–205.

Grace in Knowledge

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. —2 Peter 1:2–4 Peter links the multiplication of grace and peace to the knowledge of God, which is the central thesis of this epistle. As we noted earlier, one of the obvious threats to the early Christian church was brought by the Gnostic heretics, who claimed to have a superior knowledge. These heretics believed that they had a higher knowledge than that conveyed by the Apostles. Over against the heretical view of knowledge, Peter talks about true knowledge, the knowledge that comes from God, which is, perhaps, one of the most important—if not the most important—grace that He disposes upon His people. God gives us knowledge that comes to us from Himself. The one excuse that will never stand before the bar of God’s judgment is that we have not been given enough clear knowledge of God. In fact, it is tragic that we find people with advanced degrees, who, in one sense, have been educated beyond their intelligence. Although they have been exposed to many dimensions of human education, they live their lives as if they were ignorant of the things of God. The fact that God has not kept us in the dark but has been pleased to manifest His being clearly through the things that are made is grace. God did not owe His creatures His self-revelation. He could have made us and walked away and remained in shadow, obscurity, and darkness, giving us no knowledge of Himself. However, He has given us not only knowledge of Himself in creation, which we call “general revelation,” but He has also given us His Word. Our God is not silent. Though we may not see Him, we hear from Him in His Word. I never cease to be amazed at why so few professing Christians have a passion to know God in His Word. . . . We are to be always learning more deeply, more carefully, and hopefully more accurately the things that are contained in this Word. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 211–212.

A Penurious Epistemology

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. —2 Peter 1:8–11 For those of us who love to learn, and especially love to learn from Scripture, being surrounded by Christians who don’t care to dig deep and are satisfied with the basics is frustrating. Those who only aim to understand the basics will never fully understand and appreciate the most profound truths, some of which are very basic. Among those profound, yet basic, truths is the depth of sin from which we have been delivered. True knowledge of the things of God is not satisfied with mere abstract proposition but is equipped for virtue. We are to be diligent to seek the knowledge of God—not to get a degree in theology, not to receive the accolades of men, not to be known for our intelligence, but to learn from God and gain the mind of Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins (v. 9). I once heard a professor say, “The problem with our culture today is that we have a penurious epistemology that tends to be myopic.” A penurious epistemology is a poverty-stricken view of knowledge. It is bankrupt, and it tends to be myopic, which is a more technical term for “nearsighted.” It is precisely the problem of myopia that Peter is addressing here. He who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness. The image of blindness is used repeatedly in the Word of God to describe the natural tendency of those who live in darkness and will not have God in their thoughts. Proclaiming to be wise, such people become fools because their minds are darkened (Rom. 1:21–22). Many people with 20/20 vision are blind to the things of God. We know they are blind because their lives are barren of the fruit of the Spirit and of the virtues that Peter lists here. However, Peter directs this critique not to pagans but to Christians, who can become shortsighted because they forget that they were cleansed from their sins. David understood the tendency to forget when he wrote, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Ps. 103:2). —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 218–219.

A Joyfully Sad Day

By now, you likely have heard that R. C. Sproul passed away yesterday. You can read the official announcement from Ligonier Ministries here. Count me as one of the vast multitude whose thought, faith, and life have been profoundly influenced by the ministry of this great man of God. When I had wandered far off the biblical trail, influenced by men unworthy to be named on the same page as Dr. Sproul, he was one of the voices that turned my thinking around. He helped me learn to think logically and biblically, and to quit imposing my preconceived notions on Scripture. Dr. Sproul had a style that was irresistible. Good-humored but never silly, sober and dignified but never dull, he made the lecture a delight. I remember the only time I saw him in person, at the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference. He had recently suffered a stroke, and had to be wheeled onto the stage. From the wheelchair, he rose only to take a chair behind the podium. I was sad to see him so diminished. There would be no pacing the stage, scrawling notes on the chalkboard, stepping forward and leaning into the audience and, with lowered voice, driving his point home. I prepared to be disappointed. How wrong I was. I soon learned that all he needed was his mind and his mouth, animated by his passion for the gospel. He clearly loved what he was doing, and made me love it, too. It was the gospel that moved him, and no physical impairment could hold that back. In that conference message, Dr. Sproul anticipated his death: R. C. Sproul1939–2017It has now been over fifty years, over a half of a century, that I have contemplated, studied, and read a host of tomes written about the meaning of the cross of Christ. And yet I still believe that I have not been able to do anything more than to touch the surface of the depths and the riches that are contained in that moment of redemptive history. I suspect that when my eyes open in heaven, in the first five minutes of my beginning of my eternity there, I will be absolutely staggered by the sudden increase of understanding that will come to me when I behold the lamb who was slain . . . We all have notions about what heaven will be like. Most are entirely wrong. I suspect Sproul's is not. The mountains of knowledge and the vast understand of God and his Word that he acquired in his first seventy-eight years have already been rendered miniscule compared to that which he now knows and understands. And that knowledge and understanding will continue to grow for all eternity. “R.I.P.” is most often a fatuous sentiment, trite, meaningless, and tragically wrong. Yesterday, for R. C. Sproul, it became a blessed reality. He was—no, is—a giant, not only of his generation, but of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is one of the great ones, the likes of whom I doubt we shall see again very soon. I am eternally grateful for his life, profoundly saddened by his departure, but overjoyed in the knowledge that he is at home in the presence of his savior. Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones. —Psalm 116:15

What We Celebrate at Christmas

A Hebrews 11:4 moment with R. C. Sproul.
As I’ve been writing on the five points as presented in The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, and referred to the TULIP acrostic/acronym, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually listed them. I suppose it’s safe to assume that most of my readers are familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, here is a brief summary (for longer explanations, click the links at the end of each): Total Depravity: When Adam fell, all mankind fell with him, and inherited his sin (Romans 5:12). This sin has so corrupted all men that, without regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are unable to respond in faith to the gospel. The word “total” does not mean that we are as depraved as we could be. All people do not descend to the most extreme depths of evil (we are not all Hitler, Stalin, or abortion rights activists). “Total” means that sin has corrupted the totality of our beings—there is no part of us that is not touched by sin. In the Arminian versus Calvinist context, applying this truth to the notion of free will, we realize that though our will may be free, it is a corrupt, sinful will, “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:7). The late R. C. Sproul preferred to call it Radical Corruption. Unconditional Election: God has chosen a people for himself, not based on any quality they possess or any good they may do (Romans 9:11), but “according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Sproul preferred Sovereign Election. Limited Atonement: Christ died specifically to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Who are “his people”? See above. Because of the misleading nature of this term, Sproul preferred Definite Atonement. Irresistible Grace: Those who the Father has chosen will infallibly respond in faith to the gospel call (John 6:37). This is not intended to mean that the Holy Spirit forces people against their wills to come to Christ, but that, in regeneration, he changes their wills so that they come gladly. For this reason, Sproul preferred Effectual Grace. Perseverance of the Saints: All who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit will be infallibly kept in the faith (John 6:39–40). Again, because “perseverance” sounds like something we do (contra Philippians 2:13), Sproul made his own improvement: Preservation of the Saints. Thus far, you’ve only seen the doctrine and its history presented, with very little support. Stay tuned . . .

A Cat O’ Nine Tails

Explaining the fallacy of equivocation, R. C. Sproul demonstrates one big reason I love him. Words are capable of more than one meaning in their usage. Such words are highly susceptible to the unconscious or unintentional commission of the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation occurs when a word changes its meaning (usually subtly) in the course of an argument. We illustrate via the classic “cat with nine tails” argument. Premise A. No cat has eight tails. Premise B. One cat has one more tail than no cat. Conclusion: One cat has nine tails. We see in this “syllogism” that the word cat subtly changes its meaning. In Premise A “no cat” signifies a negation about cats. It is a universal negative. In Premise B “no cat” is suddenly given a positive status as if it represented a group of comparative realities. Premise B assumes already that cats have one tail per cat. If we had two boxes, with one box empty and the second containing a single cat, we would expect to find one more cat in that box than in the empty one. If cats normally have one tail, we would expect one more cat’s tail in one box than in the other. The conclusion of this syllogism rests on the shift from negative to positive in the phrase no cat. The conclusion rests upon equivocation in the first premise. “No cat” is understood to mean a class of cats (positively) that actually possesses eight tails. —R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Baker Books, 1994), 4–5.

God’s Glory, Our Benefit

Augustine said that nothing happens in this universe apart from the will of God and that, in a certain sense, God ordains everything that happens. Augustine was not attempting to absolve men of responsibility for their actions, but his teaching raises a question: If God is sovereign over the actions and intents of men, why pray at all? A secondary concern revolves around the question, “Does prayer really change anything?” Let me answer the first question by stating that the sovereign God commands by His holy Word that we pray. Prayer is not optional for the Christian; it is required. We might ask, “What if it doesn’t do anything?” That is not the issue. Regardless of whether prayer does any good, if God commands us to pray, we must pray. It is reason enough that the Lord God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, commands it. Yet He not only commands us to pray, but also invites us to make our requests known. James says that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). He also tells us that the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16). Time and again the Bible says that prayer is an effective tool. It is useful; it works. John Calvin, in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, makes some profound observations regarding prayer: But, someone will say, does God not know, even without being reminded, both in what respect we are troubled and what is expedient for us, so that it may seem in a sense superfluous that he should be stirred up by our prayers—as if he were drowsily blinking or even sleeping until he is aroused by our voice? But they who thus reason do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours. Now he wills—as is right—that his due be rendered to him, in the recognition that everything men desire and account conducive to their own profit comes from him, and in the attestation of this by prayers. But the profit of this sacrifice also, by which he is worshiped, returns to us. Accordingly, the holy fathers, the more confidently they extolled God’s benefits among themselves and others, were the more keenly aroused to pray . . . Still it is very important for us to call upon him: First, that our hearts may be fired with a zealous and burning desire ever to seek, love, and serve him, while we become accustomed in every need to flee to him as to a sacred anchor. Secondly, that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our wishes before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts. Thirdly, that we be prepared to receive his benefits with true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, benefits that our prayer reminds us come from his hand. (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960], Book 3, chapter 20, section 3.) Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God’s glory and for our benefit, in that order. Everything that God does, everything that God allows and ordains, is in the supreme sense for His glory. It is also true that while God seeks His own glory supremely, man benefits when God is glorified. We pray to glorify God, but we also pray in order to receive the benefits of prayer from His hand. Prayer is for our benefit, even in light of the fact that God knows the end from the beginning. It is our privilege to bring the whole of our finite existence into the glory of His infinite presence. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 7–9.

If God Knows Everything

There is something erroneous in the question, “If God knows everything, why pray?” The question assumes that prayer is one-dimensional and is defined simply as supplication or intercession. On the contrary, prayer is multidimensional. God’s sovereignty casts no shadow over the prayer of adoration. God’s foreknowledge or determinate counsel does not negate the prayer of praise. The only thing it should do is give us greater reason for expressing our adoration for who God is. If God knows what I’m going to say before I say it, His knowledge, rather than limiting my prayer, enhances the beauty of my praise. . . . In what way could God’s sovereignty negatively affect the prayer of contrition, of confession? Perhaps we could draw the conclusion that our sin is ultimately God’s responsibility and that our confession is an accusation of guilt against God Himself. Every true Christian knows that he cannot blame God for his sin. I may not understand the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but I do realize that what stems from the wickedness of my own heart may not be assigned to the will of God. So we must pray because we are guilty, pleading the pardon of the Holy One whom we have offended. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 9,&nnbsp;10.

When God Repents

You might ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say from time to time that God repents?” Yes, the Old Testament certainly says so. The book of Jonah tells us that God “repented of” the judgment He had planned for the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10, KJV). In using the concept of repentance here, the Bible is describing God, who is Spirit, in what theologians call “anthropomorphic” language. Obviously the Bible does not mean that God repented in the way we would repent; otherwise, we could rightly assume that God had sinned and therefore would need a savior Himself. What it clearly means is that God removed the threat of judgment from the people. The Hebrew word nacham, translated “repent” in the King James Version, means “comforted” or “eased” in this case. God was comforted and felt at ease that the people had turned from their sin, and therefore He revoked the sentence of judgment He had imposed. When God hangs His sword of judgment over people’s heads, and they repent and He then withholds His judgment, has He really changed His mind? —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 11.
Is God your father? [T]oday we live in a world that assumes God is the Father of everyone, that all men are brothers. We hear this in the cliches “the fatherhood of God” and “the brotherhood of man.” But nowhere does Scripture say that all men are our brothers. It does say, however, that all men are our neighbors. There is a restricted sense in which God is the Father of all men as the Giver and Sustainer of life, the progenitor par excellence of the human race. But nothing in the Bible indicates that an individual may approach God in a familiar sense. The only exception is when that person has been adopted into God’s family, having expressed saving faith in the atonement of Christ and having submitted to His lordship. Then and only then is one afforded the privilege of calling God his Father. To those who received Him, God “gave the right [authority, privilege] to become children of God” (John 1:12). Only then does God call men “sons.” The Greek word exousia, translated “right to become,” denotes the freedom to act and the authority for that action. Calling God “Father” without the proper credential of sonship is an act of extreme presumption and arrogance. . . . If we go through the New Testament, making inquiry as to who are the sons of God, the answer is clear. The New Testament is neither vague nor enigmatic on this point. Romans 8:14–17a says this: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father.” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. In verse 14 of this passage, the word all (autoi in the Greek) is in what is called the emphatic form to indicate an exclusiveness. The verse is best translated, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these alone are the sons of God” or “these only are the sons of God.” Paul teaches that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can call God our Father. The significance of this in the New Testament is that we are sons, not illegitimate children, because we are in union with Christ. Our sonship is not automatic; it is not inherited and it is not a genetic necessity, but rather it is derived. The New Testament word for this transaction is adoption. Because of our adoptive relationship with God through Christ, we become joint heirs with Christ. It is only because we are in Christ and Christ is in us that we have the privilege of addressing God as our Father and of approaching Him in a filial relationship. Martin Luther once said that if he could just understand the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, he would never be the same again. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 15, 16–17.
God is not the father of all, but everyone has a father. We don’t find the idea of universal fatherhood and brotherhood in the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. This cultural tacit assumption causes us to miss what Jesus is saying. In the first place, the fatherhood of God cannot be taken for granted by anyone in the world. Jesus is the one person with the ultimate right to address God in this way, for Jesus alone is the monogenes, “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14, KJV), having existed from all eternity in a unique filial relationship with the Father. If there is a universal fatherhood and brotherhood in any sense whatsoever, it would have to be in the context of Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees in John 8. The Pharisees were claiming to be children of Abraham, offspring of God by ancestral association. Jesus challenged them on this point, saying, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:39–40, 44). There is a clear distinction between the children of God and the children of the Devil. God’s children hear His voice and obey Him. The children of the Devil do not listen to God’s voice; they disobey Him by doing the will of their father, Satan. There are only two families, and everyone belongs to one or the other. Both groups have one thing in common, however. The members of each family do the will of their respective fathers, whether God or Satan. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 15–16.

“I will be treated as holy.”

The first petition of the “Lord’s Prayer” says, “hallowed be your name.” God is holy, and though we are invited to come to him boldly (Hebrews 4:16) and intimately (Romans 8:15; cf. Galatians 4:6), [T]his filial relationship does not allow us to have the type of familiarity that breeds contempt. We are to come with boldness, yes, but never with arrogance or presumption. “Our Father” speaks of the nearness of God, but “in heaven” points to His otherness, His being set apart. The point is this: When we pray, we must remember who we are and whom we are addressing. Hallowed Be Your Name No matter how close God invites us to come, there is still an infinite gulf between our sinfulness and His majesty. He is the heavenly one; we are of the earth. He is perfect; we are imperfect. He is infinite; we are finite. He is holy; we are unholy. We must never forget that God is wholly “other” than we. The sacred “otherness” of God is a fact the sons of Aaron forgot, but they forgot it only once. In Leviticus 10:1–3 we read: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” God demands to be treated as holy, for He is holy. He is jealous for His honor. He does not plead for respect in this passage. Rather, it is a statement of fact: “I will be treated as holy.” We must never make the fatal mistake of Nadab and Abihu and approach the sovereign God in a flippantly casual attitude. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 26–28.

A Holy Monarchy

The second petition of the “Lord’s Prayer” says “Your kingdom come,” reminding us that the kingdom of God is not a democracy. The kingdom concept is difficult for American Christians to understand. Ours is a democracy, where the mere idea of a monarchy is repugnant. We are heirs of the revolutionaries who proclaimed, “We will serve no sovereign here!” Our nation is built on a resistance to sovereignty. Americans have fought battles and entire wars to be delivered from monarchy. How are we to understand the minds of New Testament people who were praying for the Son of David to restore a monarchy and the throne of Israel? . . . Rebellion against God’s authority is nothing new or unique to our day or to Western culture. In Psalm 2:2–3, we read: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” What is God’s response to this uprising? “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Ps. 2:4). But God is not amused for long, for we read in verses 5–6, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” The Lord speaks to those who have rebelled against Him—those involved in this cosmic Declaration of Independence—and declares, “I have installed my King, I have anointed my Christ, and you had better submit to Him.” Reading further in verse 10, we learn something else: Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, . . . lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Christians are to pray for the manifestation of the reign of Christ and the emergence of His kingdom. If that is our prayer, it is our responsibility to show our allegiance to the King. People won’t have to guess about whom we are exalting. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 30–32.

As We Forgive

In the “Lord’s Prayer,” we read, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Matthew 18:23–35, Jesus describes two men who each owed a debt. One owed a small sum to the other who, in turn, owed an enormous sum to his master that he could never hope to repay. The master forgave the huge debt of the one, who then refused to remit the small debt of the other. R. C. Sproul values the two debts at roughly $10 million and $18. Interestingly enough, both men asked for the same thing—more time, not a total release from the debt. It was comical for the man with the exorbitantly large debt to ask for more time, since even by today’s wage standards the amount owed was an astronomical figure. The daily wage at that time was approximately eighteen cents. The man with the small debt could have paid his debt in three months. His request for more time was not unreasonable, but his creditor, rather than expressing the forgiveness he had received, began to harass him. The point should be clear. Our offenses to each other and the offenses people do to us are like an $18 debt, while the innumerable offenses we have committed against the Lord God are like the $10 million debt. Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” said that any sin is more or less heinous, depending on the honor and majesty of the one whom we have offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. Such seemingly trivial sins are nothing less than “cosmic treason” when viewed in light of the great King against whom we have sinned. We are debtors who cannot pay, yet we have been released from the threat of debtors’ prison. It is an insult to God for us to withhold forgiveness and grace from those who ask us, while claiming to be forgiven and saved by grace ourselves. There is another important point to consider here. Even in our act of forgiveness there is no merit. We cannot commend ourselves to God and claim forgiveness merely because we have shown forgiveness to someone else. Our forgiveness in no way obligates God toward us. Luke 17:10 clearly points out that there is no merit even in the best of our good works: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We deserve nothing for our obedience, because obedience—even to the point of perfection—is the minimal requirement of a citizen of God’s kingdom. Having done that duty, the only thing we could claim would be a lack of punishment, but certainly no reward, because we would have done only what was expected. Obedience never qualifies as service “above and beyond the call of duty.” However, we have not obeyed; we have sinned grievously. Therefore, we are merely in a position to prostrate ourselves before God and beg for His forgiveness. But if we do, we must be prepared to show that forgiveness ourselves; otherwise our position in Christ dangles precariously. The bottom line of what Jesus is saying is this: “Forgiven people forgive other people.” We dare not claim to be possessors of His life and nature and at the same time fail to exhibit that life and nature. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 36–38.

Why Seek Forgiveness?

Christians sometimes ask, “If God has already forgiven us, why should we ask for forgiveness? Isn’t it wrong to ask for something he has already given us?” R. C. Sproul replies, The ultimate answer to questions like this is always the same. We do it because God commands it. First John 1:9 points out that one mark of a Christian is his continual asking for forgiveness. The verb tense in the Greek indicates an ongoing process. The desire for forgiveness sets the Christian apart. The unbeliever rationalizes his sinfulness, but the Christian is sensitive to his unworthiness. Confession takes up a significant portion of his prayer time. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 38–39.

Word-Centered Prayer

Many people in the charismatic movement have declared that one of the chief reasons for their pursuit of the gift of tongues is a keen desire to overcome or bypass the deficiency of an impoverished vocabulary by way of a special prayer language. People often feel their own language is inadequate to express adoration. This sense of inadequacy from having to use the same tired, haggard words yields frustration. A similar view is expressed by Charles Wesley in his hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The hymn complains that the restriction to one tongue is a lamentable hindrance to praise, to be relieved only by the addition of nine hundred and ninety-nine other tongues. The Psalms were written in simple but powerful vocabulary through which the hearts of several writers expressed reverence for God without bypassing the mind. Opening their mouths, the psalmists uttered praise. That praise was given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be sure, but by men whose minds were steeped in the things of God. . . . How does one pen love letters to an unknown God? How do the lips form words of praise to a nebulous, unnamed Supreme Being? God is a person, with an unending personal history. He has revealed Himself to us not only in the glorious theater of nature, but also in the pages of sacred Scripture. If we fill our minds with His Word, our inarticulate stammers will change to accomplished patterns of meaningful praise. By immersing ourselves in the Psalms, we will not only gain insight into the how of praise, but also enlarge our understanding of the One whom we are praising. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 47–49.

Going to Confession

Confession is not a frivolous matter to be engaged in only at appointed times and dates throughout the year. Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. The principal reason why confession must be on a daily basis is because our sins against divine law are committed on a daily basis. We do things we ought not to do and leave undone those things God commands us to do. We run up a daily indebtedness before God. Consequently, our daily prayers must include genuine acts of confession. It is no accident that the Roman Catholic Church elevated the rite of penance to the level of a sacrament. Because the sacrament of penance was at the eye of the tornado of the Protestant Reformation, a backlash of negativism toward penitence set in among Protestants. It was a classic case of overreaction . . . The Reformers sought not the elimination of repentance and confession, but the reformation of the church’s practice of these things. . . . In the controversy over penance, the Protestant Reformers did not repudiate the importance of confession, and they acknowledged that confessing one’s sins to another human being is biblical. However, they did challenge the requirement of confession to a priest. . . . The apostle John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, KJV). Here we find the promise of God to forgive our confessed sins. To ignore or to neglect this promise is to steer a perilous course. God commands us to confess our sins and promises to forgive our sins. That we should confess our sins daily is clear. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 52–53, 54–55.

A Contrite Heart

True repentance reflects contrition, a godly remorse for offending God. Here the sinner mourns his sin, not for the loss of reward or for the threat of judgment, but because he has done injury to the honor of God. . . . Contrition has lost much of its meaning in our culture. It is not difficult to convince people that they are sinners, for not one in a thousand is going to say that he is perfect. The common response is: “Sure, I’m a sinner. Isn’t everyone? Nobody’s perfect.” There are few, if any, who claim they are blameless, that they have lived lives of ethical consistency, keeping the Golden Rule in every situation. The rub is in acknowledging the intensity of our sin, the extreme godlessness of our actions. Because we are all sinners and know that we share a common guilt, our confession tends to be superficial, often not characterized by earnestness or a sense of moral urgency. Psalm 51, a contrite sinner’s prayer for pardon, was composed by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. David did not approach God with excuses. He did not ask God to consider the circumstances that produced his sin or the loneliness of his government position. David did not seek to minimize the gravity of his sin in God’s presence. There were no rationalizations and no attempts at self-justification, which are so characteristic of guilty people. David said, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (vv. 3–4). In other words, David believed that God was absolutely justified if He gave him nothing but absolute punishment. David exhibited what God has said He will not despise: a broken and contrite heart. David then pleaded for restoration to God’s favor: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (vv. 10–12). He understood the most crucial element of confession: total dependence on God’s mercy. David could not atone for his sins. There was nothing he could do and nothing he could say to undo what he had done. There was no way for him to “make it up to God.” David understood what Jesus later made clear—that we are debtors who cannot pay our debts. Confession is like a declaration of bankruptcy. God requires perfection. The slightest sin blemishes a perfect record. All the “good deeds” in the world cannot erase the blemish and move us from imperfection to perfection. Once the sin has been committed, we are morally bankrupt. Our only hope is to have that sin forgiven and covered through the atonement of the One who is altogether perfect. When we sin, our only option is repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. We must come before God in contrition. David put it this way: “You will not delight in sacrifice . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17). Here, David’s profound thoughts reveal his understanding of what many Old Testament figures failed to grasp—that the offering of sacrifices in the temple did not gain merit for the sinner. Sacrifices pointed beyond themselves to the perfect Sacrifice. The perfect atonement was offered by the perfect Lamb without blemish. The blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin. The blood of Jesus does. To avail ourselves of the atonement of Christ, to gain that covering, requires that we come before God in brokenness and contrition. The true sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 55, 56–59.

We Must Give Thanks

Ingratitude is a serious matter. The Scriptures have much to say about it. The failure to be grateful is the mark both of the pagan and the apostate. In Romans 1:21, Paul calls attention to two primary sins of the pagan. He says, “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” Honor and thanksgiving may be distinguished, but not separated. God is honored by thanksgiving and dishonored by the lack of it. All that we have and all that we are we owe ultimately to the benevolence of our Creator. To slight Him by withholding appropriate gratitude is to exalt ourselves and debase Him. . . . Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers illustrates the importance of thanksgiving. Countless sermons have been preached about the healing of the ten lepers, focusing attention on the theme of gratitude. The thrust of many of these sermons has been that Jesus healed ten lepers, but that only one of them was grateful. The only polite response to such preaching is to call it what it is—nonsense. It is inconceivable that a leper enduring the abject misery he faced daily in the ancient world would not be grateful for receiving instant healing from the dreadful disease. . . . The issue in the story is not one of gratitude but of thanksgiving. It is one thing to feel grateful; it is another thing to express it. Lepers were cut off from family and friends. Instant cleansing meant release from exile. We can imagine them deliriously happy, rushing home to embrace their wives and children, to announce their healing. Who would not be grateful? But only one of them postponed his return home and took time to give thanks. The account in Luke 17 reads: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (vv. 15–16, emphasis added). All of our prayers are to include thanksgiving. Like the leper, we must pause, turn back, and give thanks. We are so indebted to God that we can never exhaust our opportunities for expressing gratitude. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 60–62.

Payers God Will Not Hear

Very few prohibitions regarding prayer are found in the Scriptures. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist David penned these divinely inspired words: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” The Hebrew verse could also be translated, “If I had iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have heard.” In either case, David is laying down a condition under which his prayer not only would be ineffective but unheard. The Hebrew word translated “cherished” is raah, meaning merely “to see.” In other words, if I look at my life and see sin and nurture it, my prayers are an exercise in futility. Does this mean that if sin is present in our lives, God refuses to hear our prayers? No. If this were so, all prayer would be futile. However, if our hearts are hardened in a spirit of impenitence, our prayers are not only futile but a mockery of God. In Psalm 66, David reminds himself that there is a time when prayer is a presumptuous, arrogant, detestable, and obnoxious deed perpetrated upon the Almighty. This psalm opens with seventeen verses of joy and praise to God for His mighty deeds. Then, suddenly, there appears in verse 18 the grim reminder of how the entire story could have been drastically different. We are alerted to the importance of properly approaching God in prayer. If there is anything worse than not praying, it is praying in an unworthy manner. Other Scripture references reflect this attitude. Psalm 109:7 suggests that the prayers of wicked men should be counted as sin. John 9:31 specifically states that the Lord does not hear sinners. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” Proverbs 28:9 says that the prayer of the disobedient or rebellious is an “abomination” to the Lord. It is disgusting or loathsome to Him. James, however, tells us that the prayers of righteous men accomplish much (5:16). But we are not righteous in our daily lives. Yes, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, so that as far as our position before God is concerned, we are righteous. But the practical manifestation of what we are in Christ is sadly inconsistent and woefully inadequate. Theologians sometimes define a concept by saying what something does not say as well as by what it does say. What the psalmist is not saying is that if he had been guilty of sin, the Lord would not have heard him. The psalmist is not saying that if he had sin in his heart, God would not have heard him. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 67–69.


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