A Good Theologian or a Bad One? (Sproul)

Knowing Scripture These are some helpful words from R. C. Sproul in his 1977 publication, Knowing Scripture. It was true 40 years ago; it’s still true today:

“Countless times I have heard Christians say, ‘Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?’  My immediate reply is this: ‘Who is Jesus?’  As soon as we begin to answer that question, we are involved in doctrine and theology.  No Christian can avoid theology.  Every Christian is a theologian.  Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless.  The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.  A good theologian is one who is instructed by God.”

R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP, 1977), 22.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


A Truth Worth Dividing The Church (Sproul)

Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Hardcover) At the heart of historic, confessional Reformed teaching and preaching is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  An essential part of justification sola fide is the truth of imputation.  R. C. Sproul’s words on this doctrine are outstanding and edifying.

“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”

“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  ‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  ‘Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  ‘Et’ simply means ‘and.’  ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”

“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”

“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”

“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.”

When you hear this glorious truth preached on Sunday rejoice and be thankful for the gospel of grace!  If you don’t hear it preached, lovingly talk to your pastor and elders and discuss it.  It’s not a side issue, nor is it a dry doctrine that is impractical for our daily living.  The doctrine of justification sola fide gives us firm comfort, peace, and a grateful heart of obedience to the Lord.

The above Sproul quote is found in Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.

(This is a reblog from April 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Far from Rome, Near to God

 Here’s a book that shows the darkness of the Roman Catholic Church: Far from Rome, Near to God.  In it, you’ll find fifty stories about modern day Roman Catholic priests who came out of Rome because of her unbiblical and gospel-distorting teachings.  Here are a few excerpts.  The first has to do with Rome’s doctrine of justification.

“I performed all my monastic duties to the last rule.  I whipped myself every Wednesday and Friday evening till at times my back bled; in penance I often kissed the floor; often I ate my meager meal kneeling down on the floor, or completely deprived myself of food.  I did many forms of penances, for I was truly seeking salvation.  I was taught that I could eventually merit heaven.  I did not know that the Word of God says, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9)” (p. 70).

Here’s another quote that has to do with Rome’s view that tradition and Scripture are equal.

“From childhood to age forty-four, seventeen years as a Roman priest (1955-1972), the Roman Catholic Church had been the pillar of truth to me, and my infallible guide to God.  This pillar of truth was not constructed solely of the infallible Scriptures, but also constructed of man’s traditions apart from Scripture, which were held to be revelations from God, but which in fact contradicted, and were in opposition to the plain teachings of Scripture.  [Later] the Scriptures became very real to me.  …The Roman Catholic church lost credibility for me, as it had taught as truth what was clearly contrary to the Scriptures.  I then chose the Scriptures as my standard of truth, no longer accepting the magisterium, or teaching authority of the Catholic Church as my standard. …the Holy Spirit led me to judge Roman Catholic theology by the standard of the Bible.  Before, I had always judged the Bible by Catholic doctrine and theology.  It was a reversal of authority in my life” (taken from chapter 8).

I could go on!  This book is a great “real-life” resource on what the solas of the Reformation mean – specifically sola gratia, solo Christo, sola fide, and sola Scriptura.  It is amazing how often these priests came to reject the Mass because of the teaching of Hebrews, reject Rome’s authority and tradition because they contradicted Scripture, and reject Rome’s semi-pelagian salvation “system” because of texts like Ephesians 2:8-9.  Again, this is pretty much a story-like study of the solas.

If I had to recommend three books for studies on Roman Catholicism, along with Rome’s own catechism I would recommend Sproul’s Are We Together?, and this one quoted above: Far from Rome, Near to God ed. Richard Bennett and Martin Buckingham (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009). 

shane lems

Go to Hell, Death!

  There are few things I hate worse than death.  Though the thought of it doesn’t fill me with terror, I hate it with every fiber of my Christian being.  Death is just not right; it is not the way things should be.  I can’t wait for the day when Jesus comes back to destroy death once-and-for-all (1 Cor. 15.54-57).  I’ll sing that death-taunting hymn with all my might: “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?!”  On this topic of death, I trust you’ll appreciate these words by R. C. Sproul as he comments on Rev. 1.17-18.

“Yes, there is a Devil.  He is our archenemy.  He will do anything in his power to bring misery into our lives.  But Satan is not sovereign.  Satan does not hold the keys of death.” … Jesus holds the keys to death, and Satan cannot snatch those keys out of his hand.  Christ’s grip is firm.  He holds the keys because he owns the keys.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.  That includes all authority over life and death.  The angel of death is at his beck and call.”

Sproul moves on by talking about dualism – the teaching that there is an eternal battle between good (or God) and evil (or Satan).  He then explains that,

“Dualism is on a collision course with Christianity.  The Christian faith has no stock in dualism.  Satan may be opposed to God, but he is by no means equal to God.  Satan is a creature; God is the Creator.  Satan is potent; God is omnipotent.  Satan is knowledgeable and crafty; God is omniscient.  Satan is localized in his presence, God is omnipresent.  Satan is finite; God is infinite.  The list could go on.  But it is clear in Scripture that Satan is not an ultimate force in any sense.”

“We are not doomed to an ultimate conflict with no hope of resolution.  The message of Scripture is one of victory – full, final, and ultimate victory.  It is not our doom that is certain, but Satan’s.  His head has been crushed by the heel of Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega.”

“Above all suffering and death stands the crucified and risen Lord.  He has defeated the ultimate enemy of life.  He has vanquished the power of death.  He calls us to die, a call to obedience in the final transition of life.  Because of Christ, death is not final.  It is a passage from one world to the next.”

Well said, Amen, and maranatha! 

FYI, Sproul’s quote can be found on pages 50-51 of Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life.

shane lems

Suffering, Affliction, Trials

  A few months back, I found the revised and expanded version of R. C. Sproul’s excellent book on suffering, Surprised by Suffering (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009).  It’s a handsome hardcover complete with a topical index, a Scripture index, and a short Q/A at the end.  The book itself covers topics like suffering, pain, death, and heaven – all in a gospel centered manner.  I’m pretty sure this book would be helpful for mature high school students all the way to older saints contemplating death.  I highly recommend it – and it’s only around $10 new.  I’ll end the post with a few of my favorite quotes – so you can see for yourself why I appreciate Surprised by Suffering.

“This passage [1 Peter 1.6-9] shows how it is possible to be perplexed but not in despair.  Our suffering has a purpose – it helps us toward the end of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls.  Suffering is a crucible.  As gold is refined in the fire, purged of its dross and impurities, so our faith is tested by fire.  Gold perishes.  Our souls do not.  We experience pain and grief for a season.  It is while we are in the fire that perplexity assails us.  But there is another side to the fire.  As the dross burns away, the genuineness of faith is purified unto the salvation of our souls” (p. 7).

“If I hope in anything or anyone less than One who has power over suffering, and, ultimately death, I am doomed to final disappointment.  Suffering will drive me to hopelessness.  What character I have will disintegrate.  It is the hope of Christ that makes it possible for us to persevere in times of tribulation and distress.  We have an anchor for our souls that rests in the One who has gone before us and conquered” (p. 35).

“Sometimes it seems that earlier generations of Christians had a higher view of God than we do.  The reason for that may very well lie in the fact that they were much more familiar with pain, with suffering, with persecution, and with death than we are.  Because of all they endured, they were forced to consider the hand of God in the midst of their difficulties” (p. 44).

“The bottom line is that God’s hand is in affliction.  His sovereignty is manifest in the dark side of life.  This is said so frequently in Scripture that it is amazing that it is so hard for us to get it.  I believe that the reason for this is that we shut our minds from thinking about these things.  Why do we go to the house of mirth in the first place?  For many of us, a party is not simply an opportunity to have a good time but a chance to get away from thinking, to get away from considering our ‘life situation.’  We look for an escape, an avenue of pleasure that will somehow dull the fears and the aches that we carry about.  But the wise person looks for the finger of God in the house of mirth as well as in the house of mourning, in all things that take place” (ibid.).”

shane lems

God Is Not Obligated…

 “Suppose ten people sin and sin equally.  Suppose God punishes five of them and is merciful to the other five.  Is this injustice?  No!  In this situation five people get justice and five people get mercy.  No one gets injustice.  What we tend to assume is this: if God is merciful to five he must be equally merciful to the other five.  Why?  He is never obligated to be merciful.  If he is merciful to nine of the ten, the tenth cannot complain that he is a victim of injustice.  God never owes mercy.  God is not obliged to treat all men equally.  Maybe I’d better say that again.  God is never obliged to treat all men equally.  If he were ever unjust to us, we would have reason to complain.  But simply because he grants mercy to my neighbor gives me no claim on his mercy.  Again we must remember that mercy is always voluntary.  “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19). 

There are only two things I ever receive from God – justice or mercy.  I never receive injustice from his hand.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, chapter 6.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Sproul and Justification According to Western Culture

The Truth of the Cross

This is a great little book on the atonement.   I’ll probably post more quotes from it later, but for now I thought this one stuck out:

“The prevailing doctrine of justification today is not justification by faith alone.  It’s not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works.  The prevailing notion of justification in Western culture today is justification by death.  It’s assumed that all one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die” (R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross [Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007], 10).

shane lems

sunnyside wa