Can I Know God’s Will? (Crucial Questions Series Book 4) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 114 pages. 1998
In this short book from R.C. Sproul’s helpful Crucial Questions series, he looks at the will of God for our lives. He begins by looking at the different ways in which the will of God is addressed in the Bible. First, he addresses the decretive will of God. That is the will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. He also talks about the preceptive will of God. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that God delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken, the preceptive will of God. It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us. Another aspect of the will of God is the will of disposition. It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will. This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God.
The author states that there is both a revealed and hidden will of God. The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
The author writes that the top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
He writes that perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. He states that our freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God and that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. We were commanded by the Creator not to sin, but chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced us to. We chose that out of our own heart. The author states that we must never attribute the cause of our sin to God, or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
He looks at the will of God for us in two major areas of our lives: our vocations and our marriages. In discerning our vocational calling, he gives us four important questions to consider:
- What can I do?
- What do I like to do?
- What would I like to be able to do?
- What should I do?
He writes that any vocation that meets the needs of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. Other questions that will be helpful in discerning our vocational calling are:
- What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?
- What would I like to be doing ten years from now?
In looking at the will of God in marriage, he asks us to consider these questions:
- Should I Get Married?
- Do I Want to Get Married?
- What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?
- From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?
- When Am I Ready to Get Married?
He writes that in order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will.
This short book is a helpful introduction to the will of God for our lives in the areas of our vocations and marriage.
The e-book version of all 25 books in the Crucial Questions series are free. To find out more go here.
Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 46 pages. 2015
This is the 22nd and newest entry into the excellent Crucial Questions series from R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust Publishing. These small books/booklets are available free in the Kindle version, and most are available for a small cost in paperback editions. Sproul writes that the key question in this small book is “Can I lose my salvation?” This is the doctrine of eternal security, also known as the perseverance of the saints, or the “P” in the famous Calvinist acronym TULIP. I was glad to see this book as Christians are divided on the issue of whether a true believer can lose their salvation.
Sproul writes that to fall into apostasy means to reach a position, but then to abandon it. To say that someone has become apostate, we are saying that they have fallen from the faith, or at least have fallen from their first profession of faith. Is it possible to become apostate? Sproul states that there are many texts in the New Testament that warn about this possibility.
He writes that Scripture has many examples of true believers who truly fall away, who fall into gross sin and, on some occasions into protracted periods of impenitence. Sproul calls this a serious fall. All Christians are subject to serious falls. But is someone who commits a serious fall eternally lost? Sproul states that church discipline attempts to keep a serious fall from turning into a total fall. Sproul writes that the challenge is to distinguish between a true believer in the midst of a serious fall and a person who has made a false profession of faith.
He addresses the concept of the “unforgiveable sin”, a sin that will in fact not be forgiven by God, not because God can’t do it but because He won’t. He states that the fact that people are wrestling with the fear that they have committed this sin actually gives significant evidence to the reality that they are not in such a state.
He then takes a detailed look at the difficult passage of Hebrews 6:1–6, which many point to as textual proof that a Christian can lose their salvation. After that, he looks at the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, preferring to use the description preservation of the saints, as God preserves His own. At the same time, we are called to work hard to persevere.
Another concept he looks at is that of the carnal Christian. This is a person who is a Christian, but whose life is still dominated by carnality. He writes that there is actually no totally carnal Christians, just as there are no totally spiritual Christians.
He concludes the book by writing about the intercession of Christ, our Great High Priest. This is the foundation for our confidence when it comes to our perseverance.
He writes “We persevere because we are preserved, and we are preserved because of the intercession of our Great High Priest. This is our greatest consolation and our greatest source of confidence that we will persevere in the Christian life.” Amen!
This is an excellent treatment of this important topic, one that many struggle with. The Crucial Questions books/booklets are excellent tools to give to and discuss with unbelievers or new believers. You get the excellent Bible teaching of R.C. Sproul presented in a very easy to understand manner, one of the things I have most enjoyed about Dr. Sproul’s ministry over the years.
Ligonier Ministries has released 20 books thus far in the Crucial Questions series. Last year, they began offering all of the e-book versions free – http://www.ligonier.org/blog/rc-sprouls-crucial-questions-ebooks-now-free/
This book is the 9th in the series. I highlighted a number of passages in this short book and would like to share some of them with you below:
- Sooner or later, however, particularly in discussions with skeptics and people who are philosophically hostile to Christianity, I pause from my attempts to give answers and raise a particularly pointed question of my own. What do you do with your guilt?
- What is guilt? In the first place, we have to say that guilt is not subjective but objective because it corresponds to an objective standard or reality. Guilt is that which a person incurs when he violates a law.
- People have said to me on many occasions that Christianity is not about rules and regulations; it’s about love. That’s simply not true. Christianity is about love, but that is because love is one of the rules—God commands us to love Him and to love one another.
- So if we define guilt as that which a person incurs when he violates a law, we incur supreme guilt when we break the law of God.
- At that point, I stop the discussion to make a careful distinction between guilt and guilt feelings. While these two are closely related, they are not precisely the same thing. The basic distinction is between objectivity and subjectivity. So when we talk about guilt feelings, we’re talking about something that is personal and subjective.
- When people commit terrible crimes without feeling guilty, their feelings are not proportionate to the guilt that they have actually incurred. So, it is possible for people to have guilt without guilt feelings, or at least without proportionate guilt feelings. The lack of guilt feelings does not always indicate a lack of guilt.
- We are told in Scripture that it is possible for people, by repeated sins, to lose the capacity for embarrassment and shame. The Bible frequently speaks of the hardened heart, which causes a person no longer to feel remorse for his or her transgression. It is dangerous for us to rely totally on our guilt feelings to reveal to us the reality of our guilt itself because we can quench the pangs of conscience.
- On the other hand, there are people who are plagued by all sorts of feelings of guilt for things they did not do.
- It is possible for people to feel guilty about things that, considered in and of themselves, are not sinful.
- But the principle is that that which is done without faith is sin, and if you do something that you believe is wrong, then the sin that you have committed is in acting against your conscience. You have done something with the thought of transgressing, and to choose to do something that you believe is wrong, even if it is not wrong, is wrong.
- The presence of guilt feelings does not automatically indicate the presence of objective guilt with respect to a particular action, but it may represent the presence of the guilt of acting against one’s conscience. The bottom line is that any time we experience feelings of guilt, we need to step back and ask ourselves as honestly as we possibly can, “Have I broken the law of God?”
- Manifestly and unambiguously, the Scriptures teach here not only the reality of human guilt but the universality of it. God has declared the whole world and every person in it to be guilty of breaking His law.
- Therefore, I can cut to the chase in normal conversation and say to a person, “What do you do with your guilt?”
- The most frequent response to that question is this: “I don’t really worry about it that much, because it’s God’s job to forgive.”
- If nobody’s perfect, certainly God is going to have to grade us on a curve. He will have to do what we do—adjust the standard lower so He can meet us where we are.
- He will not adjust the law that reflects His perfection to accommodate you and me. As long as He doesn’t adjust that law, we remain guilty before that law.
- One of the things that we do to deal with this guilt is to deny it. That’s the most common response of human beings to the intrusion of the upsetting and disturbing consciousness of having violated God’s law. We try to deny it to other people and we try to deny it to ourselves.
- However, the Scriptures say that God has published His moral law not only on the tablets of stone that were delivered from Mount Sinai by Moses and became part of the inscripturated Bible, He has written His law on the hearts of His creatures.
- When the Bible speaks of the heart in this context, it obviously is referring to the idea of the conscience.
- If denial of our guilt before God doesn’t work, the next step typically is to try to justify our behavior. We engage in rationalization, a spurious attempt to provide a sound, logical rationale for behavior that we know is wrong. Through rationalization, we seek to come up with an excuse for our immoral behavior.
- Like denial, rationalization is designed to stifle or to quench the voice of the conscience. One of the reasons we do that is because guilt feelings are painful.
- So to ask the question, “What do you do with your guilt?” is simply to ask the question, “How do you live with yourself?” How do we live with our innate knowledge of what we have done and of who we are? We are objectively guilty in God’s sight—and we must deal with that guilt.
- The answer to guilt is always forgiveness. The only thing I know of that can cure real guilt is real forgiveness.”
- Just as there are objective and subjective aspects of guilt, so there are objective and subjective aspects of forgiveness.
- Ultimately, the only source of real forgiveness is God. Thankfully, God is quick to forgive. In fact, one of the few absolute promises that God makes to us is that, if we confess our sins to Him, He will most seriously and surely forgive those sins (1 John 1:9).
- You don’t believe that you’re forgiven because you don’t feel forgiven. What, then, are you trusting—your feelings or the truth of God?”
- If God says, ‘I forgive you,’ you are forgiven no matter how you feel, and to refuse that forgiveness is an act of arrogance.”
- But we need to understand that while Satan does indeed tempt Christians, his primary work in the lives of believers is accusation. That’s his favorite pastime. His very name means “slanderer.”
- Why would Satan invest so much time and energy in accusing people who have been forgiven of their sins? As the archenemy of God and His church, Satan wants to paralyze us, to rob us of our freedom, to take away from us our joy and our delight in the free grace of God.
- The difficulty lies in the fact that God the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, whereas Satan accuses us of sin. The same sin may produce both conviction and accusation. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, He does so to bring us to repentance and, ultimately, to bring us to reconciliation with God, to forgiveness, to healing, and to cleansing. In other words, when the Spirit of God convicts us of sin, His entire purpose and entire motive is redemptive. When Satan accuses us, perhaps of the same sin, his purpose is to destroy us.
- So, the way to silence the Accuser is to confess our sins before God and believe the Word of God, even as Jesus did in His temptation experience.
- The simple truth is that if God forgives us, we are forgiven. That’s an objective state of affairs. Maybe our friends will not forgive us. Maybe our spouses will not forgive us. Maybe society will not forgive us. Maybe the government will not forgive us. But if God forgives us, we are forgiven. That doesn’t mean that we were never guilty. We cannot have forgiveness without real guilt. But forgiveness releases us from the punishment that we justly deserve because of our guilt. Through it, we can be restored to a healthy and loving relationship with God.
This is book 17 (of 20) booklets/eBooks in the Ligonier Ministries Crucial Questions Series. The eBooks are free. See this article for more information: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/rc-sprouls-crucial-questions-ebooks-now-free/
I found a lot of excellent information about the church in this short book. Below are the passages that I highlighted:
- One of the central themes of that prayer is Christ’s request to the Father that His people might be one. It was a prayer for Christian unity. Yet here we are, in the twenty-first century, and the church is probably more fragmented than at any time in church history.
- Historically, via the ancient church council of Nicea, the church has been defined by four key words. It is: 1) one, 2) holy, 3) catholic, and 4) apostolic. As we study the nature of the church, I want to look at these four descriptive categories as they define the nature of the church.
- The whole goal of the ecumenical movement was to restore unity to the visible church.
- Pluralism is a philosophy that allows for a wide diversity of viewpoints and doctrines to co-exist within a single body.
- When the church was called to unity in the New Testament, however, we must remember that the Apostle Paul spoke of unity in these terms: one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. This unity is not something that is merely superficial in terms of being a unified organization or a unified methodology, but first and foremost, it is a unified confession of faith in the person and work of Christ. And second, the content of that confession is to be agreed upon. Sadly, the church’s unity has been broken precisely where unity is supposed to be found, namely, unity in the Apostolic gospel.
- The church is always plagued with errors or at least some members who are in error in their thinking and in their beliefs. But when an error becomes so serious that it threatens the very life of the church and affects the essentials of the Christian faith, then the church has to stand up and say, “This is not what we believe. This false belief is heresy and cannot be tolerated within the visible church.” Historically, that’s what has happened with conflicts over theology.
- With respect to sin in general, the Bible speaks of a love that covers a multitude of sins. Yet there are also particular sins that are so heinous that they require discipline in the life of the church. In many cases, there are formal trials that can lead to a person’s removal from church membership.
- My great fear in this generation is that what we’re seeing take place is a kind of ecumenical movement that seeks to neutralize and relativize doctrine. It begins by negotiating a central truth like the deity of Christ or the atonement of Christ—all in the name of visible unity.
- But again, the unity of which the New Testament speaks is a unity of faith, a unity where people come together because of a common commitment to truth and to the gospel.
- But creeds do matter to believers because believers are concerned about the content of their faith.
- The most volatile controversy in the history of theology was the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. This controversy centered around two main questions: what is the gospel? and what must I do to be saved?
- Probably no human being has engendered as much controversy as Jesus Christ did. People were galvanized either for Him or against Him.
- The record of the Apostolic church in the book of Acts is the record of ongoing and unabated controversy. The controversy focused on the preaching of the gospel. So controversial was the preaching of the gospel that the religious establishment of the Jewish community forbade the Apostles from preaching the gospel at all because it was controversial and because it divided people.
- In our generation we’ve been told that the highest virtue is peace. But I’m afraid the danger is that we value it so much that we’re willing to obscure the gospel itself.
- Historically, though the Evangelicals of the sixteenth century started different denominations, there were still foundational principles of unity that bound them all together. The two major points of unity in historic and classical Evangelicalism were two key solas of the Reformation—sola scriptura and sola fide. Sola scriptura reflects the fact that all the different Protestant parties believed that the Bible was the final authority for matters of faith and practice. They all believed in the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. And second, they agreed on the cardinal issue of the sixteenth century, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that is, sola fide. Wherever else they differed (such as over the sacraments and other doctrines), at least they had the cement of what they did hold in common that bound Protestants together. That unity endured for several centuries. It’s only in our time that we’ve seen this group of people who call themselves Evangelicals break ranks over these two doctrines.
- Up until the latter part of the twentieth century, one could almost guarantee that a person who called himself an Evangelical believed that the Bible was the Word of God, that it was infallible, that it was inspired, and that it was inerrant. You can’t make that assumption anymore. That unity has been dismantled. In fact, one historian argues that the term Evangelical has been almost entirely emptied of its meaning.
- The idea of the invisible church was first developed in depth by Saint Augustine. He made a distinction between the invisible church and the visible church. This distinction by Augustine has often been misunderstood. What he meant by the visible church was the church as an institution that we see visibly in the world. It has a list of members on its rolls and we can identify them.
- If a person is in Christ, he is called to participate in koinonia—the fellowship of other Christians and the worship of God according to the precepts of Christ. If a person knows all these things and persistently and willfully refuses to join in them, would that not raise serious questions about the reality of that person’s conversion?
- Augustine said that the invisible church is found substantially within the visible church. Imagine two circles. The first circle has “the visible church” written on it. That’s the outward, humanly perceivable, institutional church as we know it. The invisible church, as another circle, exists substantially within the circle of the visible church.
- Within the physical confines of the institutional church there are people who are true believers, but there are also unbelievers inside the visible, institutional church.
- Who is in the invisible church? According to Augustine, all those who are true believers. The invisible church is a church that always enjoys unity because we are truly one with Christ. The point of unification of the invisible church, the thing that unifies and transcends church boundaries and denominational lines, is our being in-grafted into Christ. All who are in Christ and all in whom Christ is are members of His invisible church. That unity is already there and nothing can destroy it.
- The reason the church is called the ekklesia is that the church is the company of people who have been called out of the world by God.
- The first thing that we have to understand when we look at the statement the church is holy is that the church has a holy vocation, a holy calling. The church has been set apart from every other institution and the people of God have been set apart from the world for a specific mission. They are to mirror and reflect the character of God.
- In addition to this, there’s another sense in which the church is called holy. The church is called holy because its members are to be people who have been indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. Everyone who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit is considered holy or set apart in the eyes of God.
- The term catholic means universal, or for all time and in all places. The idea is that the church of Jesus Christ is not a parochial body that is found only in a particular city or only among a unique people that are huddled together in some geographical location. It’s not even something that’s bound by national borders. Rather, the church of Christ is something that is found all across the world, made up of people from every language, tongue, and nation.
- The New Testament says that when we enter into worship together, we’re not just worshiping in an assembly of a hundred and fifty people, but our worship is taking place in heaven. Paul warns us of our behavior during the assembly because the angels are watching and participating. Also, the author of Hebrews tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses—the saints who have gone before us. It’s not just the saints who have gone before us into heaven—the church triumphant—but the saints who are still here in the church militant: the saints from the Czech Republic, the saints from Hungary, from Romania, from China, from Brazil, from Kenya, from England, and all across the globe. We’re joined together in a communion of the church catholic. How can that be? It’s very simple. It’s the mystical union of Christ and His bride. Everybody who’s a part of the bride of Christ is in Christ Jesus. Wherever Christ is, there is His church.
- The greatest thing about the church in worship is that the church is in the presence of Christ. Christ comes to his bride, and every time the bride assembles, the bridegroom is there. That’s why you don’t ever want to miss it. That’s why you never want to forsake the assembling together of the saints.
- What is the foundation of the church? The foundation, according to the New Testament, is the Apostles and the prophets. I think the attribute of the church that is most seriously under attack in our day is its Apostolicity, because there has been a wholesale rejection within the church of the authority of sacred Scripture. This is rebellion against the church’s own foundation.
- The concept of Apostolic tradition is of vital importance to the Bible. It is the Apostolic tradition that the church has not invented, but rather, has received. It received it from the Apostles, who received it from Christ and from His Holy Spirit, who received it from God. That’s why a rejection of the teaching of the Apostles is a rejection of the very authority of God.
- Now if I have a mystical union with Christ and you have a mystical union with Christ that means we have a particular communion, a co-fellowship in Christ. This has all kinds of practical ramifications in the New Testament. For example, Paul tells us that the spirit by which we are to relate to one another in the church is the spirit of charity that covers a multitude of sins. Furthermore, we are called to respect one another’s Christian liberty in the Lord. We are to refrain from harsh judgments of each other. We are always to remember that we are relating to people who have been purchased by Christ.
- The Protestant Reformers took a different view of the matter. They sought to isolate and delineate the marks of a valid church and they settled on three distinctive characteristics. First, they said a church is a true church when the gospel is preached faithfully. Second, a true church is one where the sacraments are rightly administered. Third, they said a true church practices authentic discipline of its people. A corollary of the third point is ecclesiastical government, which exists for the nurture and the discipline of the people. Of all the different elements that make up a church, these are the three non-negotiables that the Reformers pinpointed as essential marks of a true church.
1) Where the gospel is proclaimed faithfully. What the Reformers meant by this was not simply the announcement of the good news of Jesus’ death and the atonement, but rather the faithful proclamation of the essential truths of Christianity. If a church denied an essential aspect of the Christian faith, that institution would no longer be considered a church.
2) Where the sacraments are administered. According to the Reformers, if there are no sacraments—the Lord’s Supper and baptism—it’s not a church. That becomes significant today because we have parachurch groups like Young Life, Campus Crusade, and InterVarsity that are engaged on a daily basis in various elements of Christian outreach and ministry. Their calling is to work alongside the church.
3) Church discipline. Today, we seem to have an attitude that we don’t need to discipline people at all because it doesn’t matter. That may be because many people don’t believe in the threat of divine judgment. If a church fails in a significant way to discipline its members with respect to gross, heinous, and egregious sins, is that institution still a church?
- When does the church become apostate? When should one leave a church and go to another? First, I would say that this is not a decision anyone should make lightly. It’s a serious matter. Almost always, when we join a church, we do it with a solemn vow before God. To remove oneself from a group before whom one has made a sacred vow requires serious reasons. This must be justified on solid grounds.
- We should not leave when there’s no just reason. We ought to honor our commitment to a church to the best of our ability as long as we possibly can unless we are not able to be nurtured and nourished as a Christian there. When the church is apostate, a Christian must leave. You may think you should stay within the church and try to work for its change and recovery, but if the church is in fact apostate, you’re not allowed to be there.
- No matter what, we should always look carefully at the marks of the church. Is the gospel preached? Are the sacraments duly administered? Is there a biblical form of church government and discipline? If those three things are present, you ought not to leave. You ought to work to be an edifying part of that section of the body of Christ.
How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience? (Crucial Questions Series No. 15) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 57 pages. 2013
This is number 15 in R.C. Sproul’s excellent Crucial Questions series, which are free in the e-book format. These are short, but meaty, booklets. I highlighted a number of passages in the book on how to develop a Christian conscience, and want to share some of them with you below:
• The famous philosopher Immanuel Kant offered what he called a moral argument for the existence of God that was based on what he called a universal sense of oughtness implanted in the heart of every human being.
• This is indeed the age of relativism, where values and principles are considered to be mere expressions of the desires and interests of a given group of people at a given time in history. We repeatedly hear that there are no absolutes in our world today.
• The Hebrew term translated into the English as “conscience” occurs in the Old Testament, but very sparsely. However in the New Testament, there seems to be a fuller awareness of the importance of the function of conscience in the Christian life.
• It involves the idea of accusing as well as the idea of excusing. When we sin, the conscience is troubled. It accuses us. The conscience is the tool that God the Holy Spirit uses to convict us, bring us to repentance, and to receive the healing of forgiveness that flows from the gospel.
• But there is also the sense in which this moral voice in our minds and hearts also tells us what is right.
• Whereas God’s principles don’t change, our consciences vacillate and develop.
• It’s interesting that we can always find someone who will give an articulate and persuasive defense for the ethical legitimacy of some of the activities that God has judged to be an outrage to Him. As humans, our ability to defend ourselves from moral culpability is quite developed and nuanced. We become a culture in trouble when we begin to call evil good and good evil. To do that, we must distort the conscience, and, in essence, make man the final authority in life. All one has to do is to adjust his conscience to suit his ethic. Then we can live life with peace of mind, thinking that we are living in a state of righteousness.
• The conscience can excuse when it ought to be accusing, and it also can accuse when it should be excusing.
• We must remember that acting against conscience is sin.
• If we do something that we think is sin, even if we are misinformed, we are guilty of sin. We are guilty of doing something we believe to be wrong. We act against our consciences. That is a very important principle.
• On the other hand, we have to remember that acting according to conscience may sometimes be sin as well.
• For the Christian, the conscience is not the ultimate authority in life. We are called to have the mind of Christ, to know the good, and to have our minds and hearts trained by God’s truth so that when the moment of pressure comes, we will be able to stand with integrity.
• In its simplest terms, a covenant is an agreement or contract between two or more persons. Every covenant contains within it certain benefits and promises, and every covenant includes legal requirements or laws.
• As a Christian, I am a member of a covenant community, which we call the church.
• All men, everywhere, are participants in a covenant relationship with God even if they never join the Christian church or the Jewish commonwealth.
• The first covenant that God made with mankind was with Adam, who represented the entire human race. In that covenant, the covenant of creation, God entered into a contractual relationship with all human beings. By nature, every descendant of Adam belongs to the covenant of creation.
• What kind of ordinances are included in the covenant of creation? We’ll look at a few of the precepts and principles that God built into human relationships in the very beginning. In the Garden of Eden, God established the sanctity of life.
• Another principle is the sanctity of marriage.
• The church is called to be the prophetic voice of God in a given society and call attention to the fact that all men are under the authority of the creation mandates.
• So, Christians are called upon to be voices in favor of maintaining and preserving the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of labor, and yes, even the sanctity of the Sabbath day. These are laws that apply to all men in every age, place, and culture.
• What would happen in a society if no moral legislation was allowed to be passed?
• Historically, even within our own history, we see three levels of law. There is what we call the eternal law; there is natural law; and finally, there is what we call positive law.
• A positive law is a particular law that appears on the books.
• Natural law states that in nature there are certain principles that we should never violate.
• Finally, there are particular, positive laws enacted in this world which are to reflect the natural law.
• This, in turn, reflects the eternal law, so that a law is considered good or just if it corresponds ultimately to God’s standards of righteousness.
• We need to open our mouths and say “no” when we see our legislators legislating on the basis of expediency rather than on the basis of principle.
• We are called to be a people of principle. Reformation starts when we begin to live by principle and not by expediency.
• In our vocabulary, you’ll find that most people use the words, ethics and morality interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. But historically, that’s not been the case.
• Ethics are concerned with the imperative and morality is concerned with the indicative. What do we mean by that? It means that ethics is concerned with “ought-ness,” and morality is concerned with “is-ness.”
• Ethics, or ethos, is normative and imperative. It deals with what someone ought to do. Morality describes what someone is actually doing.
• That’s a significant difference, particularly as we understand it in light of our Christian faith, and also in light of the fact that the two concepts are confused, merged, and blended in our contemporary understanding.
• What has come out of the confusion of ethics and morality is the emergence of what I call “statistical morality.” This is where the normal or regular becomes the normative.
• Ultimately, the science of ethics is concerned with what is right, and morality is concerned with what is accepted.
• In most societies, when something is accepted, it is judged to be right.
• When the normal becomes the normative, when what is determines what ought to be, we may as Christians find ourselves swimming hard against the cultural current.
• When it comes to every Christian’s duty to pursue righteousness—to pursue right ethics—there are two significant issues. The first issue is to know what the good is, to understand with the mind what God requires and what pleases Him.
• The second issue we face as Christians is to have the ethical courage to do what we know to be right.
• Everything that I do of an ethical character either pleases God or it does not. But God has not specified His black and-white will for every conceivable circumstance. There are many ethical problems that we face every day that are not easy to pigeonhole.
• Christians are tempted to fall prey to one of two common distortions when it comes to the law of God and ethics. These disasters that may trap the Christian who seeks to live a godly life are legalism and antinomianism.
• Basically, legalism involves abstracting the law of God from its original context.
• That’s one form of legalism, where one is concerned merely with the keeping of God’s law as an end in itself.
• The legalist isolates the law from the God who gave the law. He is not so much seeking to obey God or honor Christ as he is to obey rules that are devoid of any personal relationship. There’s no love, joy, life, or passion.
• It’s a rote, mechanical form of law-keeping that we call externalism. The legalist focuses only on obeying bare rules, destroying the broader context of God’s love and redemption in which He gave His law in the first place.
• The second form of legalism divorces the letter of the law from the spirit of the law. It obeys the letter but violates the spirit.
• This second kind of legalism obeys the externals while the heart is far removed from any desire to honor God, the intent of His law, or His Christ.
• The third type of legalism adds our own rules to God’s law and treats them as divine. It is the most common and deadly form of legalism.
• We have no right to heap up restrictions on people where He has no stated restriction.
• Where God has given liberty, we should never enslave people with man-made rules.
• The gospel calls men to repentance, holiness, and godliness. Because of this, the world finds the gospel offensive. But woe to us if we add unnecessarily to that offense by distorting the true nature of Christianity by combining it with legalism.
• Just consider this question: Is it easier to be known for your honor, trustworthiness, justness, and mercy, or to conform to externals.
• One final type of legalism is what I like to call “loophole-ism.” The Pharisees were masters of interpreting the law and creating loopholes so as to get around it.
• What is antinomianism? Anti is the Greek prefix that means “against,” and nomian comes from the Greek word nomos, which means “law;” thus, antinomianism means “anti-lawism.”
• The first type of antinomianism is called libertinism.
• Since our justification is by faith alone and not by the works of the law, a libertine Christian might think he is under grace and totally free from having to obey God’s commandments.
• A second type of antinomianism is what I call gnostic spiritualism.
• In fact, the Gnostic spirit of ethics is epidemic in Evangelical Christianity.
• Just consider how often you have heard people say, “The Spirit led me to do this or to do that.” We have to be very cautious here. God the Holy Spirit does lead us, but the primary meaning of the leading of the Holy Spirit is not to lead us to marry this person or that person or to lead us to Cincinnati or Chicago. The primary place to which the Spirit leads us is to holiness and obedience. Sadly, many Christians put a cloak of spirituality around their ethical decisions so as to effectively stop voices of criticism before they’re even heard.
• What becomes devastating is doing things that are clearly violating the revealed principles and precepts of the Word of God and then having the audacity to defend our actions by saying the Holy Spirit led us into it.
• I call the third type of antinomianism situationalism. Maybe you’ve heard the familiar phrase situational ethics. This philosophy was developed by Joseph Fletcher. He sought to make love the highest norm above all others.
• He was searching for a middle road between the two dangers of legalism and antinomianism, and he declared that the only absolute was the absolute law to love. All other laws, he declared, are subject to the law of love and should be broken if a better and more loving course of action can be found.
• We must never say that Scripture’s other laws are negotiable or reducible to one ill-designed view of love.
• Situational ethics is clearly antinomian. By its own testimony, it reduces the law of God to one law, the law of love.
• Historically speaking, both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have understood that there are degrees of sin.
• Calvin and every one of the Reformers strenuously maintained that there is a difference between lesser sins and what they called gross and heinous sins.
• It’s clear that we have different degrees of sin when we consider the warnings of Scripture.
• The idea of gradation of sin and reward is based upon God’s justice. If I commit twice as many sins as another person, justice demands that the punishment fits the crime. If I’ve been twice as virtuous as another person, justice demands that I get more of a reward. God tells us that entrance into heaven will be only on the basis of the merit of Christ, but once we get to heaven, rewards will be dispensed according to works. Those who have been abundant in good works will receive an abundant reward. Those who have been derelict and negligent in good works will have a small reward in heaven. By the same token, those who have been grievous enemies of God will have severe torments in hell. Those who have been less hostile will have a lesser punishment at the hands of God. He is perfectly just, and when He judges, He will take into account all of the extenuating circumstances.
Recently, I have been going through things that I have kept and collected over the years (sports and concert programs, newspapers, golf scorecards, etc.). It’s really funny what I kept, including what may be our first book review written for a church newsletter 29 years ago!
The below review was written in a September, 1985 Evangelical Free Church newsletter, the first church Tammy and I attended after I became a believer in the early 1980’s. We would later edit a church newsletter at our current church from 1998 – 2013, before transitioning to the current blog format. We thought it would be fun to rerun that original book review:
New to our library is The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Sproul begins the book by stating that the only time an attribute of God is elevated to the third degree in Scripture is in Isaiah 6:3, when the seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the earth is full of His glory”. The use of repetition in the Hebrew language was a way in which to show emphasis. Sproul finds it significant that the holiness of God was emphasized in this way.
Sproul writes that it is not until we realize the holiness of God, that we see how really small we really are. Isaiah, when confronted with a holy God, cried, “Woe is Me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen The King, The Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5).
Similarly, Simon Peter, when he realized that he was in the presence of the Holy Incarnate, stated, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:18)
Sproul’s discussion of the mercy of God versus the justice of God makes for fascinating reading. He indicates that many people confuse the justice of God as a lack of God’s mercy; or injustice. In reality, however, we never receive injustice from God’s hand, only His mercy or His justice.
The Holiness of God is an important new book, which we found to be an excellent expository on this attribute of God. The book will, as Chuck Colson writes, “challenge you to a life of changing awareness of the majesty of God.”
Review by Bill and Tammy Pence
Ligonier Ministries has made all of the ebooks in their Crucial Questions series free. Here is a list of all of the books in the series: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/rc-sprouls-crucial-questions-ebooks-now-free/
As I read this booklet I highlighted a number of passages and wanted to share some of them with you below:
- Based on the biblical teaching, I would go so far as to say that it is the Christian’s duty, his moral obligation, to be joyful. That means that the failure of a Christian to be joyful is a sin, that unhappiness and a lack of joy are, in a certain way, manifestations of the flesh.
- The heart of the New Testament concept is this: a person can have biblical joy even when he is mourning, suffering, or undergoing difficult circumstances.
- How is it possible to remain joyful all the time? Paul gives us the key: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (emphasis added). The key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and the Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy. Even if the Christian cannot rejoice in his circumstances, if he finds himself passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, he still can rejoice in Christ. We rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.
- Christians should be the most joyous people in the world because we have so much to be joyous about. That is why Paul does not hesitate to command his readers to rejoice.
- The New Testament is filled with teaching on how to be joyful. The most basic method is to focus our attention on the ground of our joy, the source of our joy.
- When we find ourselves depressed, down, irritated, annoyed, or otherwise unhappy, we need to return to the source of our joy, and then we will see those circumstances that are sapping our joy in perspective. The circumstances of this life will pale into insignificance when compared to that which we have received from God.
- What is the great enemy of joy? In the New Testament, it seems to be not so much sorrow or grief as anxiety.
- It is anxiety that robs us of our joy. And what is anxiety but fear? Fear is the enemy of joy. It is hard to be joyful when we are afraid.
- The prohibition that Jesus gave more than any other in all of His teaching was “Fear not.”
- One of the hardest lessons we have to learn as Christians is to how to be joyful in the midst of pain and suffering. But joy in those circumstances is not optional. James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (1:2).
- Only if we believe God can we maintain joy in the midst of hardship.
- The Bible tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). That is one of the key principles of joy. It teaches us that our joy is not to be restricted to our own circumstances or our own achievements, but that we ought to be able to feel joy for other people, for their achievements, for their successes, and for their bounty.
- We are called to enter other people’s sorrow. This is what we call empathy, which involves feeling what others feel.
- It certainly takes grace to able to find joy in our hearts when people are experiencing joy over a gain that is, in some way, our loss. This involves more than just baseball games. It involves countless things that touch our daily lives. But God enables us as Christians to look at things not just from our own selfish perspectives but from the perspectives of others.
- In the first year I was a Christian, I learned a simple acrostic with respect to the word joy. It taught that the letters that make up the word joy stand for “Jesus,” “others,” and “yourself,” and the lesson was that the secret to joy is to put Jesus first, others second, and yourself third. Obviously that is a very easy idea, so simple that a young child can learn it and understand it, but it is far more difficult to get it into one’s bloodstream.
- But this illustration contains a profound truth. Joy is often elusive because we put ourselves first and Jesus last.
- Our joy is to come from the assurance that we have redemption in Christ. The greatest joy that a person can have is to know that his name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he is saved and will live forever with Christ.
- Guilt is fundamentally a depressant. It squelches any feeling of well-being. It robs us of peace. It torments our souls. It is probably the most significant barrier to real joy. Thus, when our guilt is removed, joy floods our souls.
- We sin because it is pleasurable. The enticement of sin is that we think it will make us happy. We think it will give us joy and personal fulfillment. But it merely gives us guilt, which undermines and destroys authentic joy.
- Those who have experienced the forgiveness of God and the initial joy of it always need to have that joy restored, to have the guilt of their continuing sin removed so joy may return. As we seek forgiveness from God on a day-to-day basis, we return to the beginning of our joy—the day we discovered that our names are written in heaven.
- It was only in the final verse of this passage that Jesus explained why He had taught the disciples these things: “that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” Notice three things in this important teaching. First, the joy that Jesus wants to see in us is His joy. Second, He wants His joy to remain in us. Third, He distinguishes between His joy and our joy, and expresses the desire that our joy should be full: “And that your joy may be full.”
In this book Dr. Sproul looks at what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Sproul, is the Chairman of Ligonier Ministries and Senior Pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel in Sandford (Orlando), Florida. You can listen to Dr. Sproul’s radio program “Renewing Your Mind” on www.ligonier.org or via the podcast at iTunes.
In looking at the Lord’s Prayer, Sproul writes that Jesus condemns certain types of prayer. They are:
- Hypocritical prayer
- Pagan prayer
In regards to “rules” about prayer, how we should approach God and the right way to pray, Sproul indicates that there are really only three rules to keep in mind:
- Remember who is being addressed
- Remember who is doing the speaking
- The Lord’s Prayer was intended as a model, not an actual prayer intended to be prayed.
“The first thing you are to remember in prayer is who it is you’re talking to, because nothing will condition your prayer life more deeply than remembering that you’re in conversation with God, the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe. Second, you are to remember who you are. You are not God. You are a creature. So prayer is not a conversation between peers; it is not a fireside chat among equals. This is the creature speaking to his sovereign Creator.
He did not say, “Pray this.” Rather, He said, “In this manner, therefore, pray”. Jesus did not give His disciples a prayer they should slavishly repeat, though repeating the prayer can be good and useful if it is handled correctly. Jesus’ intent was to give His disciples a model prayer, an example to follow, one that would teach them transferrable principles for conversation with God”.
Sproul uses short chapters to look at each section of the prayer. For example, in the chapter entitled “Hallowed be Thy Name”, he writes: “I can’t emphasize too much how important it is that we grasp that this line of the Lord’s Prayer is not just a part of the address but a petition. We must see this if we are to understand what Jesus is teaching us about prayer. Jesus is not saying, “Father, Your name is holy,” but, “Father, may Your name be hallowed.” That is, He is teaching us to ask that God’s name would be regarded as sacred, that it would be treated with reverence, and that it would be seen as holy. We must see this if we are to pray according to the pattern Jesus set for us”.
In the chapter entitled “Forgive Us Our Debts”, he writes: “Notice, however, that Jesus attaches a condition to this petition. He doesn’t simply tell us to pray, “Forgive us our debts.” Rather, we are to ask God to forgive us “as we forgive our debtors.” In my opinion, this is one of the most frightening lines in the Lord’s Prayer. If this condition is to be taken literally, we are finished. Manifestly, if God forgave me in exact proportion to the manner in which I distribute forgiveness to other people, I would perish. I just cannot be as forgiving as God; none of us can”.
Later he adds: “There is a warning I want to give. I think there’s a serious misunderstanding in the Christian world about forgiveness. So often I hear people say that if anyone sins against you, you are required by God to forgive him or her unilaterally and immediately, whether the person repents or not. I don’t find that in the Scriptures, though I do see Jesus doing that, when He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners even though they had not repented”.
Sproul concludes the book with a chapter of questions and answers consisting of other issues surrounding the practice of prayer in general, and the Lord’s Prayer specifically, and an appendix entitled “If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?”
This book is a brief, but helpful look at the topic of prayer. It can easily be read in just a few hours.
R.C. Sproul has written many significant books over the years. At 75 years of age, this new overview of Systematic Theology could be his most important and longest lasting. Comprised of 60 short chapters, this is an excellent resource that would not necessarily need to be read in order. It is also an excellent companion to his Foundations overview series on Systematic Theology, if you prefer to learn via video or audio teaching. You can find out more about that series at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/foundations/. The book was released in March at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, and sold out the first day of the conference. Don’t be frightened by a “theology book”. Sproul writes in his characteristic easy to understand manner, which is what attracted me to his teaching back in the mid-1980’s as a new believer. This book is my top book so far for 2014.
I highlighted many passages in this book. Below are a few that I though you would find helpful:
- In this volume, we are concerned with theology, specifically with systematic theology, which is an orderly, coherent study of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith.
- Systematic theology is rapidly becoming a forgotten discipline, not only because of the impact of existential thought and of relativism and pluralism, but also because some people misunderstand systematic theology as an attempt to force the Bible into a philosophical system.
- However, systematic theology does not attempt to force Scripture into a philosophy or system, but instead it seeks to draw out the teachings of Scripture and understand them in an orderly, topical way.
- Theology is a science.
- When it comes to understanding the Bible, the approach is different. Theological scholars have been working with the same information for two thousand years, which is why a dramatic paradigm shift is unlikely.
- Sadly, many are quite willing to pursue novelty. In academia, there is always pressure to come up with something new and creative.
- The principal source for the systematic theologian is the Bible.
- In fact, the Bible is the primary source for all three theological disciplines: biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology.
- The task of biblical theology is to consider the data of Scripture as it unfolds over time,
- Historical theologians look at how doctrine has developed in the life of the church historically, primarily at crisis points—when heresies emerged and the church responded.
- The systematician’s job is to look at the source of biblical data; the sources of the historical developments that come through controversies and church councils and their subsequent creeds and confessions; and the insights of the great minds with which the church has been blessed over the centuries.
- The systematician studies not only the Bible and the creeds and the confessions of the church, but also the insights of the master teachers that God has given throughout history. The systematician looks at all the data—biblical, historical, and systematic—and brings it together.
- So it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound.
- The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.
- A revelation is a making plain or an unfolding of that which is hidden. In theology, we make a distinction between kinds of revelation. An important distinction is that between general revelation and special revelation.
- God’s unveiling of Himself in all truth is called “general” for two reasons. First, this revelation is general because it is knowledge that is given to everyone.
- The second reason the term general is applied to this type of revelation is that the content of it is of a general sort; that is, it does not give us the details of God’s work in redemptive history, such as the atonement or the resurrection of Christ.
- General revelation is given to everyone and supplies us with a general knowledge of God. It is different from the revelation of Scripture. The Bible is special revelation, and only those who have access to the Bible or its content receive it. Special revelation gives much more detailed information about the work and the plans of God.
- The revelation of God that comes through nature is what we call natural revelation. The term natural revelation, simply stated, refers to the work or actions by which God reveals Himself in and through nature.
- We must also note the distinction between mediate and immediate general revelation. These terms mediate and immediate have to do with the function or use of something that stands between two points. God is transcendent and we are on earth. That which mediates God’s revelation is nature;
- Immediate general revelation is the term used to describe another way God reveals Himself to us. In Romans 2:15, Paul says that the law of God has been written on our hearts, something John Calvin called the sensus divinitatis, or the sense of the divine. It is an awareness of God that He has planted in man’s soul, and this awareness is manifested in our conscience and in our knowledge of God’s law. We do not glean that knowledge through a medium; rather, it comes directly from God to us, which is why such revelation is called “immediate.”
- Special revelation discloses God’s plan of redemption. It tells us of the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection—things that cannot be learned through a study of the natural realm. It is found primarily (though not exclusively) in sacred Scripture.
- The material cause of the sixteenth-century Reformation was the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but lurking behind the scenes was another important issue—authority.
- Given the long history of the doctrine of inspiration, we must make a distinction between the meaning of 2 Timothy 3:16 and the way that the term inspiration has been understood throughout the history of the church.
- So technically we ought to translate this phrase as saying that all Scripture is given by “expiration of God” rather than by “inspiration.” The point is that when Paul insists that all Scripture has been breathed out by God, he is saying that its ultimate origin is God. God is the source of these writings.
- Conversely, orthodox Christianity claims that Scripture not only bears witness to the truth but is the truth. It is the actual embodiment of divine revelation. It does not simply point beyond itself; it gives us nothing less than the veritable Word of God.
- The word infallible may be defined as “that which cannot fail”; it means something is incapable of making a mistake.
- This is a view called “limited inerrancy,” and this way of viewing Scripture has become popular in our day. The terms faith and practice capture the whole of the Christian life, but in this second statement, “faith and practice” are reduced to a portion of the teaching of Scripture, leaving out what the Bible says about history, science, and cultural matters. In other words, the Bible is authoritative only when it speaks of religious faith; its teachings on anything else are considered fallible.
- Most of the controversy over the canon in the earlier centuries concerned not what was excluded but what was actually included. Debate went on for some time about whether to include Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
- In order to determine canonical authenticity, the church applied a threefold test.
- The first mark or test used to verify a book’s authority was its Apostolic origin, a criterion that had two dimensions. To be of Apostolic origin, a document had to have been written either by an Apostle or under the direct and immediate sanction of an Apostle.
- The second mark for acceptance into the canon was reception by the primitive church.
- One of the issues concerned the compatibility of the doctrine and teaching of these books with the core books.
- The church is always subordinate to the authority of the Bible.
- God’s incommunicable attributes, those not shared by creatures, include His infinity, eternality, omnipresence, and omniscience. There are other attributes, however, that can be reflected in created beings, as the Apostle Paul makes clear: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2).
- As I said earlier, many people ask me how they can know the will of God for their lives, but rarely does anyone ask me how he can know the law of God. People do not ask because they know how to understand the law of God—they find it in the Bible. They can study the law of God in order to know it. The more difficult question is how we can do the law of God. Some are concerned about that, but not too many.
- One of the oldest sayings of the ancient church summarizes the essence of the relationship between God and His people: Deus pro nobis. It means “God for us.” That is what the doctrine of providence is all about. It is God’s being for His people.
- Perhaps the most wicked concept that has captured the minds of modern people is the belief that the universe operates by chance. That is the nadir of foolishness.
- But the truth, as the Bible makes clear, is that nothing happens by chance and that all things are under the sovereign government of God, which is exceedingly comforting to the Christian who understands it.
- Perhaps the most difficult aspect of providence is the doctrine of concurrence, which, in one sense, is the fact that everything that happens, even our sin, is the will of God.
- That is the great comfort of the doctrine of providence, that God stands over all things and works them together for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28), and He is the ultimate source of our comfort.
- This conception of humans’ moral inability is called the Augustinian view, and not everyone throughout Christian history has agreed with it. Many in the church today claim that although we are fallen, we have a modicum of righteousness left in our souls by which we can take the first step toward our reconciliation with God by reaching out to Him. Conversely, the Augustinian view says that we are so corrupt as to be dead—not just sick but dead. We are in such bondage to sin that we can do nothing apart from God’s rescuing grace, which initiates the process of our redemption.
- The basic structure or framework for the unfolding of the plan of redemption in Scripture is expressed through covenant. Basically, a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties based principally on a promise.
- Theologians speak in general terms of three major covenants in Scripture: the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.
- The primary difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is that the former concerns the relationship God had with Adam and Eve before the fall, while the latter concerns the relationship God has with the descendants of Adam after the fall.
- The concept of purchase is central to the biblical understanding of the atonement.
- That is the crux of the matter—Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
- The cross has always been part of the eternal plan of God’s redemption, and its design is intended for the elect. It is comforting to know that Christ did not die in vain, and that His accomplished redemption will certainly be applied to those whom He purposed to save.
- The image of the Comforter is not of One who comes to dry our tears after the battle but of One who comes to give us strength and courage for the battle.
- Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 14–17) is an extremely important portion of the New Testament. It is the final teaching session Jesus had with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed, the eve of His execution. In these four chapters of John’s gospel, we are given more information about the person and work of the Holy Spirit than we get in all the rest of the New Testament.
- More books have been written on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the last fifty years than in all of the previous Christian history combined. This tremendous outpouring of literature is due in large part to the so-called charismatic movement, which began in the nineteenth century and then crossed over into mainline denominations in the middle of the twentieth century.
- He was strong against the strong, firm against the powerful, but tender with the weak. We have a tendency to think we must treat everyone in the same manner, but this is not the case. We must learn how to monitor and moderate our strength. That is how we manifest the spiritual fruit of gentleness.
- The central concern among Reformed theologians who study salvation is the concept of grace. G.C. Berkhouwer once observed that the very essence of theology is grace. From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord, and it is not something we earn or deserve. It is given freely from the mercy and love of God.
- John Calvin, who is often considered the chief of the predestinarians, said that the doctrine of predestination is so mysterious that it must be treated with great care and humility because it can easily be distorted so as to cast a shadow on the integrity of God. If handled wrongly, the doctrine can make God look like a tyrant who plays with His creatures, who rolls the dice, as it were, with respect to our salvation.
- Predestination and election are not synonyms, although they are closely related. Predestination has to do with God’s decrees concerning anything. A specific type of predestination is election, which has to do with God’s choosing certain people in Christ to be adopted into the family of God, or, in simple terms, to be saved. From a biblical standpoint, God has a plan of salvation in which, from all eternity, He has chosen people to be adopted into His family.
- Historically, the Calvinist or Augustinian school says that election is purely the sovereign activity of God, whereas the Arminian or semi-Pelagian school sees a cooperative venture between man and God. Both sides—Calvinism and Arminianism—agree that grace is an absolute necessity for salvation.
- However, they differ over the degree to which grace is necessary. When
- The basic difference between Reformed theology and non-Reformed theology is the order of salvation with respect to faith and regeneration. The vast majority of professing evangelical Christians believe that faith comes before regeneration. In other words, in order to be born again, one has to believe. One has to choose Christ before rebirth can occur. If that were the case, we would have absolutely no hope of salvation, because a spiritually dead person at enmity with God cannot choose Christ. We cannot change others’ hearts through evangelism, either. We can present the gospel; we can argue for it and try to be convincing. Yet only God can change the heart. Since only God has the power to change the nature of a human soul, we must say that regeneration precedes faith. That is the essence of Reformed theology. The Holy Spirit changes the disposition of the soul before someone comes to faith.
- Those who believe that man cooperates in regeneration hold to a form of works righteousness. How could it be otherwise, if some can enter in by making the “right” response? This is a denial of the gospel. There is no human righteousness in man’s regeneration.
- There is a chain there, a sequence that begins with foreknowledge. Then follows predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. This is an elliptical statement—something is assumed but not spelled out. It is the word all. All whom God has foreknown He has predestined, all whom He has predestined He has also called, all whom He has called He has also justified, and all whom He has justified are glorified.
- If we applied Arminian categories to this golden chain, we would have to say that some who are foreknown are predestined; some who are predestined are called; some who are called are justified; and some who are justified are glorified. In that case, the whole text would mean nothing.
- (Rom. 8:28–30) Theologians refer to this as “the golden chain” of salvation.
- The doctrine of justification has caused tremendous controversy in the history of Christianity. It provoked the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, as the Reformers took their stand for sola fide, or justification by faith alone. Martin Luther maintained that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls, and John Calvin agreed with him. They felt so strongly about this doctrine because they saw from Scripture that nothing less than the gospel itself is at stake when justification is debated.
- So Rome actually has two instrumental causes of justification: baptism and penance. Over against that view, the Protestant Reformers argued that the only instrumental cause of justification is faith.
- As soon as people take hold of Christ by faith, the merit of Christ is transferred to them.
- Whereas Rome holds to justification by infusion, Protestants hold to justification by imputation.
- The Roman Catholic Church says that God declares someone just only by virtue of his cooperation with the infused grace of Christ. For Protestants, the ground of justification remains exclusively the righteousness of Christ—not the righteousness of Christ in us but the righteousness of Christ for us, the righteousness that Christ achieved in His perfect obedience to the law of God.
- This means we are saved not only by the death of Jesus but also by His life. A double transfer takes place, a double imputation.
- As the Lamb of God, Christ went to the cross and suffered the wrath of God, but not for any sin God found in Him. He voluntarily took upon Himself our sins. He became the sin bearer when God the Father transferred or reckoned our sins to Him. That is what imputation is—a legal transfer. Christ assumed our guilt in His own person; our guilt was imputed to Him. The other transfer occurs when God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.
- So when Luther said that justification is by faith alone, he meant that justification is by Christ alone, by what He accomplished to satisfy the demands of God’s righteousness. Imputation involves a transfer of someone else’s righteousness. Infusion involves an implantation of righteousness that inheres or exists within.
- So the instrumental causes of justification, according to Rome, are the sacraments of baptism and penance, and for Protestants the instrumental cause of justification is faith alone. Additionally, the Roman Catholic view of justification rests upon infusion, but the Protestant view rests upon imputation.
- We are justified not by a profession of faith but by the possession of faith.
- Theologians use the term invisible church to refer to those who make up the true church of Jesus Christ; that is, those who are truly regenerate. By contrast, the visible church is the body of all who claim to be in a state of grace and who identify with the church.
- The Reformers then identified three essential marks of a true church. The first is that the church professes the gospel.
- The second mark is that the sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are duly administered.
- The third mark of a true church is discipline, which requires some form of church government.
- The sacraments are seen as signs and seals. In a sense, the sign character of the sacrament is the Word dramatized, something we see God doing frequently in the Old Testament.
- Baptism is a sign of our regeneration, that we have been raised from spiritual death and made new creatures. The sign itself does not accomplish that; it simply points to what does—the Holy Spirit.
- Baptism signifies our participation in Christ’s death, His resurrection, His suffering, His humiliation, and His exaltation.
- As close as John Calvin and Martin Luther were in terms of their theology, they held different views on critical aspects of the Supper.
- The central debate then and now has to do with the mode of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. The major views on the nature of the Lord’s Supper include those of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists.
- The Roman Catholic view is called “transubstantiation.” In simple terms, the Roman church believes that a miracle takes place when the priest blesses the bread and wine during the Mass. The ordinary elements of bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
- Luther objected to this theory, saying that the presence of Christ does not take the place of the elements but instead is added to the bread and wine, albeit invisibly. In other words, Christ is physically present in, with, and under the elements. This view is called the “sacramental union,” and is sometimes called “consubstantiation.”
- Calvin stressed that a physical body, such as the one Jesus has, can be in only one place at a time, and since Jesus’ body is in heaven, He cannot be physically present in the sacraments. However, the divine nature of Jesus can be everywhere at once; therefore, He is truly present at the Lord’s Supper, albeit spiritually. In sum, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all agree that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper; the debate concerns how He is present, whether physically or spiritually.
- Theologians refer to “the intermediate state,” by which they mean the time between our deaths and the final resurrection. When we die, our bodies will go into the grave, but our souls will go directly to heaven and be immediately in the presence of Jesus Christ.
- Upon death, we do not, as some heretics have taught, enter into some kind of soul sleep, existing in a state of personal unconsciousness and separated from Christ. The biblical view is that we experience an unbroken continuity of personal, conscious existence such that immediately upon death we are actively in the presence of Christ and of God.
- The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.
The book concludes with an Appendix including the texts of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Creed of Chalcedon.
The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 2007. 167 pages. Audiobook read by Lawrence F. Pritchett.
Reformation Trust Publishing is offering the audiobook version of this book free during the month of April – http://www.ligonier.org/blog/truth-cross-free-audiobook/. This is an excellent book to listen to as we approach the celebration of Easter
In this book, Sproul writes that he doubts: “…there has been a period in the two thousand years of Christian history when the significance, the centrality, and even the necessity of the cross have been more controversial than now. And that: “…never before in Christian history has the need for an atonement been as widely challenged as it is today”
He indicates that there are three basic views of the atonement with respect to its necessity historically:
1. Those who believe that the atonement was absolutely unnecessary.
2. Those who believe that an atonement is only hypothetically necessary.
3. Those who believe that atonement was absolutely necessary for man’s redemption. Sproul indicates that this is the view that he holds.
Sproul writes that Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross: “The hard reality is this: if Jesus was not forsaken on the cross, we are still in our sins. We have no redemption, no salvation. The whole point of the cross was for Jesus to bear our sins and bear the sanctions of the covenant. In order to do that, He had to be forsaken.
Jesus submitted Himself to His Father’s will and endured the curse, that we, His people, might experience the ultimate blessedness”. In addressing the question “For whom did Christ die?” Sproul addresses the controversial doctrine known as “limited atonement”: “Historic Reformed theology takes the biblical doctrine of divine election seriously. Because of it, Calvinists believe that God had a plan from all eternity to redeem a people for Himself. That plan encompassed only a portion of the human race; it was never God’s intention to save everybody. Remember, given our sin and His justice, God was under no obligation to save anyone. Indeed, He would have been perfectly just if He had consigned all people to eternal damnation, but in His mercy, He chose to save some. If it had been God’s intention to save everybody, then everybody would be saved, but God’s purpose in redemption was to save a remnant of the human race from the wrath they had earned for themselves and justly deserved
These people will receive God’s mercy; all others will receive His justice”.
The book concludes with a final chapter with questions and answers that touch briefly on various other issues surrounding the atonement. This small book on a very important subject can be read in one sitting and understood and enjoyed by both new and mature Christians.
Does Prayer Change Things? (Crucial Questions Series No. 3) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 120 pages. 2009
In this third book in the Crucial Questions Series (all 16 are free in the eBook version), Dr. R.C. Sproul looks at the important subject of prayer. He takes us through the petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer” and the helpful acrostic ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I highlighted a number of passages as I read this book, and wanted to share some of them with you below:
• Prayer prompts and nurtures obedience, putting the heart into the proper “frame of mind” to desire obedience.
• Simply put, prayer has a vital place in the life of the Christian.
• One might pray and not be a Christian, but one cannot be a Christian and not pray.
• Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected.
• The neglect of prayer is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life. Consider the example of Peter in Luke 22:39-62. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray, as was His custom, and told His disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
• What is true of Peter is true of all of us: we fall in private before we ever fall in public.
• 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.
• Time and again the Bible says that prayer is an effective tool. It is useful; it works.
• Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God’s glory and for our benefit, in that order.
• Prayer is for our benefit, even in light of the fact that God knows the end from the beginning.
• So we come in order to know Him and to be known by Him.
• 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.
• Someone once asked me that question, only in a slightly different manner: “Does prayer change God’s mind?” My answer brought storms of protest. I said simply, “No.” Now, if the person had asked me, “Does prayer change things?” I would have answered, “Of course!”
• The mind of God does not change for God does not change. Things change, and they change according to His sovereign will, which He exercises through secondary means and secondary activities. The prayer of His people is one of the means He uses to bring things to pass in this world. So if you ask me whether prayer changes things, I answer with an unhesitating “Yes!”
• The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, because we believe that God has it within His power to order things according to His purpose. That is what sovereignty is all about ordering things according to God’s purpose. So then, does prayer change God’s mind? No. Does prayer change things? Yes, of course.
• What prayer most often changes is the wickedness and the hardness of our own hearts. That alone would be reason enough to pray, even if none of the other reasons were valid or true.
• Jonathan Edwards gave two reasons why God requires prayer: With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgement of our dependence on him to his glory.
• With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us
• All that God does is for His glory first and for our benefit second. We pray because God commands us to pray, because it glorifies Him, and because it benefits us.
• I have always been amazed that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to walk on water, how to still the tempest, or how to do any of His other miracles. They did, however, ask Jesus to teach them about prayer.
• Yet Jesus was not so much giving us a prayer to recite as a pattern to show us the way in which to pray. Jesus was providing us with an outline of priorities or those things that ought to be priorities in our prayer lives. Let’s look at the sections of the Lord’s Prayer one at a time.
• 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.
• “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
• The top priority for the Christian is to see that God’s name is kept holy, for it is holy. If that were the only prayer request the Christian community ever made, and if believers made it earnestly and regularly, I suspect the revival we pray for and the reformation we so earnestly desire would be accomplished in no time. Everything-our work, our ministry, and all aspects of our daily lives-would be affected.
• Martin Luther once remarked that those around him spoke to God “as if He were a shoe clerk’s apprentice.” If that was true in Luther’s day, how much more so today?
• Yet the top priority that Jesus established is that the name of God should be hallowed, honored, and exalted.
Your Kingdom Come
• 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.
Your Will Be Done
• This phrase is not asking that God’s determinate counsel come to pass or that God usher in those things that He has foreordained from eternity. Rather, we are praying for obedience to the revealed preceptive will of God-what He has made plain to us by way of His commandments.
• This third petition is a prayer for obedience on the part of God’s people, that those who are the people of God will obey the mandates of God.
On Earth As It Is in Heaven
• The angels in God’s court do as He says and desires. His people on earth do not. God is the Covenant Maker; we are the covenant breakers, frequently on a collision course with the will of the Father.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
• We must remember that God gives us all we have in the ultimate sense.
Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors
• This is an extremely dangerous prayer to pray, but it contains a principle that the New Testament takes very seriously. The supreme warning from Jesus is that God will judge us according to how we have judged other people.
• Since man is saved by grace, what better evidence could there be of a man’s salvation than that he offers to others the grace he himself has received? If such grace is not conspicuous in our lives, we may validly question the genuineness of our own alleged conversion.
• The bottom line of what Jesus is saying is this: “Forgiven people forgive other people.”
• To carry the thought further, if God has forgiven someone, can we do any less? It would be incredible to think that we, who are so guilty, would refuse to forgive someone who has been forgiven by God, who is completely guiltless.
• Forgiveness is not a private matter but a corporate one. The body of Christ is a group of people who live daily in the context of forgiveness. What distinguishes us is the fact that we are forgiven sinners.
• 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.
• The mandate to forgive others as we have been forgiven applies also to the matter of self-forgiveness.
• When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.
Lead Us Not into Temptation, But Deliver Us from Evil
• The plea to avoid temptation and the petition for deliverance from evil are one and the same.
• Jesus was telling us to ask the Father to build a hedge around us. The petition is not designed to avoid the trials of this world, but to protect us from naked exposure to the attacks of Satan.
• The acrostic “A-C-T-S” is useful as a pattern for prayer. Each letter in the acrostic represents a vital element of effective prayer: A – ADORATION C – CONFESSION T – THANKSGIVING S – SUPPLICATION
• As in the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, the most appropriate way to begin prayer is with adoration.
• Sadly, we are most often moved to prayer by our desires and needs. We go to God when we want something from Him. We are in such a hurry to mention our requests and articulate our needs (which God already knows) that we omit adoration altogether or skip over it quickly in a perfunctory manner.
• To omit adoration is to cut the heart out of prayer.
• I’m I’m surprised Jesus didn’t refer the disciples to the Psalms. There we find not only the heart of David exposed, but also a divinely inspired treasury of adoration filled with models for us to follow.
• When we begin our prayers with adoration, we are setting the tone for coming to God in confession, in thanksgiving, and in supplication.
• In our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we considered some of the important elements of confession. As the model prayer indicates, confession is to be a normal part of our conversation with God.
• The Reformers sought not the elimination of repentance and confession, but the reformation of the church’s practice of these things.
• We can distinguish between two kinds of repentance: attrition and contrition. Attrition is counterfeit repentance, which never qualifies us for forgiveness.
• Attrition is repentance motivated strictly by a fear of punishment.
• 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.
• 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.
• Thanksgiving must be an integral part of prayer. It should be inseparably related to our petitions of supplication. The Scriptures tell us to come to God and make all of our requests known with thanksgiving.
• Nothing is too big or too small to bring before God in prayer, as long as it is not something we know to be contrary to the expressed will of God as made clear in His Word.
• There are several reasons why we are sometimes frustrated in prayer. I will review some of the more important ones:
• 1. We pray in vague generalities. When all our prayers are either vague or universal in scope, it is difficult for us to experience the exhilaration that goes with clear and obvious answers to prayer.
• 2. We are at war with God. If we are out of harmony with God or in open rebellion toward Him, we can hardly expect Him to turn a benevolent ear toward our prayers.
• 3. We tend to be impatient. When I pray for patience, I tend to ask for it “right now!” It is not uncommon for us to wait years, indeed decades, for our most sincere petitions to be answered. God is rarely in a hurry.
• 4. We have short memories. It is easy for us to forget the benefits and gifts given by the hand of God.
• Very few prohibitions regarding prayer are found in the Scriptures.
• 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.
• If there is anything worse than not praying, it is praying in an unworthy manner.
• The very idea of a person trying to pray while cherishing some sin, while holding on to a sin he is not willing to relinquish to the lordship of Christ, casts a dark shadow of doubt on the validity of his sonship.
• The idea that God “always wills healing” has been a destructive distortion in the Christian community. The pastoral problems emanating from this are enormous.
• Prayer is not magic. God is not a celestial bellhop ready at our beck and call to satisfy our every whim.
• There is more to receiving what we desire from God than the mere asking. Trust in God is not enough. There must be proper reverence for God, obedience to His will, and an ongoing communion with Christ. The request must be made in accordance with the revealed will of God, and in accordance with His nature and character.
• We have seen that there are certain prerequisites we must follow as we pray. If we ask anything, we must trust in God, knowing that our request is in accordance with the will of the Father and the nature and purpose of Christ. We must have a proper reverence for God as well as the assurance that we are being obedient to what He has revealed to us. We must maintain continuous (albeit imperfect) communion with Christ. After all prerequisites have been met, we may have confidence that our prayers will be answered.
• Prayer is the priestly function of carrying a petition to God.
• At this very moment Christ is acting as our high priest, interceding for us.
• Why do we pray? We pray because God has commanded it and because He is glorified when we pray.
• We pray because it prepares our hearts for what we will receive from Him. We pray because much is accomplished by prayer. We pray to adore God, to praise Him, to express our wonder at His majesty, His sovereignty, and His mighty acts. We pray to confess to God our sins, numerous as they are, and to experience grace, mercy, and forgiveness at His hand. We pray to thank Him for all that He is and all that He has done.
• We pray to make our supplication known to Him, to fulfill the invitation He has left us.
The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word by R. C. Sproul. David C. Cook. 272 pages. 2013
In his latest book, R. C. Sproul writes that he hopes that this book on God’s biblical covenants will help the reader to trust in all of God’s promises. He writes:
“We exist as the people of God because He has made and kept promises to His people. We can be part of the family of God only because our God makes and keeps covenants.”
In this book, Sproul takes the reader through the basics of Covenant Theology in a very readable and understandable manner. As such, this serves as a very good introduction to Covenant Theology. He covers the following covenants:
• The Creation Covenant
• The Noahic Covenant
• The Abrahamic Covenant
• The Mosaic Covenant
• The Davidic Covenant
• The New Covenant
He finishes with the Christ of the Covenant. The format of the book is similar to another of Sproul’s recent books with David C. Cook The Work of Christ, in which the Study Guide materials comprise about half of the book. The helpful Study Guide includes:
• An Introduction
• Scripture Readings
• A Learning Objective
• A Quotation
• An Outline of the material covered in the chapter
• Study Questions
• Bible Study and Discussion Questions
• Suggested Reading for Further Study
The Study Guide materials make this book good not only personal study, but perhaps even more so for a small group study.
I’d highly recommend this for anyone who would like to better understand the basics of Covenant Theology.