In the 1980’s as a new believer there were three books by R.C. Sproul, my spiritual mentor, that were foundational to me – Holiness of God, Chosen by God and Pleasing God. Dr. Sproul died on December 14, 2017. Since then I have gone back and re-read these three books and wanted to share my reviews of each book with you.
The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2nd Revised, Expanded Edition. 240 pages. 2000
The Holiness of God was the first book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s. I have since gone back and read it multiple times, and prior to his recent death heard him speak about this material several times. This book, and Sproul’s ministry, has had a profound impact on my spiritual growth. Here’s some of the most significant parts of the book.
He tells us that the one concept, the central idea he kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. He states that how we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives.
The author tells us that only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree, and mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy.
He uses Isaiah’s experience in Isaiah 6 to show that for the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.
He waits awhile before defining what he means by the word holy. He tells us that when the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. God is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way. He tells us that when we call things holy when they are not holy, we commit the sin of idolatry. To worship an idol involves calling something holy when it is not holy. What God does is always consistent with who God is. He always acts according to His holy character.
A famous quote of Sproul’s is that sin is cosmic treason. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.
Many believe that there is an inconsistency between a harsh God in the Old Testament and a loving Jesus in the New Testament. But Sproul disagrees, indicating that far from being a history of a harsh God, the Old Testament is the record of a God who is extremely patient. He tells us that the most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is actually seen in the New Testament, in the Cross.
The author writes that one of our basic problems is the confusion of justice and mercy. He states that it is impossible for anyone, anywhere, anytime to deserve grace. Grace by definition is undeserved. We will receive only justice or mercy from God. We never receive injustice from His hand. He tells us that the struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He states that God is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.
He writes that to be a saint means to be separated, but more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. Saints are people who are at one and the same time just, yet sinful. He tells us that God counts the believer as righteous even when in and of ourselves we are not righteous, and that this is the gospel.
He writes about the wrath of God, stating that a loving God who has no wrath is no God. Instead, he is an idol of our own making as much as if we carved Him out of stone.
He states that the failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. We can love Him only because He first loved us.
Throughout, Sproul explains theological concepts in a way that is easy to understand. He also utilizes his gifts of story-telling and humor. This edition of the book includes helpful questions at the end of each chapter to help you reflect on what you have just learned.
Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul. Tyndale House Publishing. 196 pages. 2001 edition.
Chosen by God was the second book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s, following his classic The Holiness of God. This book has been used to convince many that the Reformed view of election is indeed the biblical view. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon famously stated that Reformed theology is just a nickname for biblical Christianity.
John Calvin did not invent the doctrine of predestination. The author states that predestination is a doctrine that is plainly set forth in the Bible (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-11), and that virtually all Christian churches have some formal doctrine of predestination. The question is which view of predestination to embrace. This book asserts that the Reformed view of predestination is the biblical view.
The author writes “The Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice.”
When we speak of divine sovereignty we are speaking about God’s authority and about God’s power. Human freedom and evil are under God’s sovereignty.
Grace is undeserved. God always reserves the right to have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. God may owe people justice, but never mercy. The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.
The author states that in the Reformed view of predestination God’s choice precedes man’s choice. We choose him only because he has first chosen us. He encourages us to not merely assume that you are not elect, but to make your election a matter of certainty.
He states that no true believer ever loses his salvation. To be sure, Christians fall at times seriously and radically, but never fully and finally. We persevere, not because of our strength but because of God’s grace that preserves us.
The author covers such weighty topics as man’s free will, sin, evil, grace, original sin, the Fall, double predestination and TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints), all in his characteristic easy to understand manner.
The final chapter of the book is comprised of questions about predestination. Each chapter ends with a concise summary of the main points from the chapter as well as scripture verses for further study.
Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification by R. C. Sproul. David C. Cook, 210 pages. 2012 edition
Pleasing God was the third book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read as a new believer back in the 1980’s, following his classic books The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. Pleasing God is intended as a practical guide for Christian living, an attempt to provide help for the struggle in which we are involved.
While regeneration, the act of grace by which our eyes are opened to the things of God is an act that only God can perform and is instantaneous, our sanctification is takes place in stages. Regeneration is the beginning of our Christian journey. Sanctification is a process, a gradual process. Rebirth is instantaneous. Justification is instantaneous. But sanctification is a lifelong process. This growth in pleasing God is called sanctification, and that is what this wonderful book is about.
The author states that for Christians to make progress in sanctification, in learning to please God, they must have a clear idea of their goal. The goal, as Jesus stated it is “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Seeking the kingdom and righteousness are the priorities of the Christian life. To be righteous is to do everything that God calls us to do.
The author covers a number of topics in this book. He first looks at Martin Luther’s threefold battle in the Christian life – the Christian’s battle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Other topics covered in this volume include forgiveness, guilt, assurance, repentance, fruit bearing, a discussion on “carnal Christians”, pride, dishonesty, slothfulness, the importance of sound doctrine, and the role of the Holy Spirit.
The author writes that regeneration is the beginning of a journey. That journey is filled with successes and failures, with growth amid stumbling. He tells us that at times, the progress seems painfully slow, but progress is there. All Christians make progress that is made by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who refuses to allow us to stand still.
I always appreciated how Dr. Sproul could take difficult theological topics and communicate them in a very clear and easy to understand manner. This is a very readable book about the doctrine of sanctification.
If you are not familiar with Dr. Sproul’s ministry, I would recommend starting with these three books that were foundational for me.