Herman Bavinck on the Mirror of God’s Holy Law and the Subsequent Need for Grace

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)


Herman Bavinck,

To correctly assess the benefit of justification, people must lift up their minds to the judgment seat of God and put themselves in his presence. When they compare themselves with others or measure themselves by the standard they apply to themselves or among each other, they have some reason perhaps to pride themselves in something and to put their trust in it. But when they put themselves before the face of God and examine themselves in the mirror of his holy law, all their conceit collapses, all self-confidence melts, and there is room left only for the prayer: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Job 4:17-19; 9:2; 15:14-16; Ps. 143:2; cf.130:3), and there only comfort is that “there is forgiveness before you, so that you may be revered” (Ps. 130:4). If for insignificant, guilty, and impure persons there is to be a possibility of true religion, that is, of genuine fellowship with God, of salvation and eternal life, then God on his part must reestablish the broken bond, again take them into fellowship with him and share his grace with them, regardless of their guilt and corruption. He, then, must descend from the height of his majesty, seek us out and come to us, take away our guilt and again open the way to his fatherly heart. If God were to wait until we – by our faith, our virtues, and good works…- had made ourselves worthy, in part or in whole, to receive his favor, the restoration of communion between him and ourselves would never happen, and salvation would forever be out of reach for us.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 204-205

Used by permission of Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

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God’s Mercy to Outcasts — Charles Spurgeon

“God chose what is low and despised in the world.” — 1 Corinthians 1:28a (ESV)

Walk the streets by moonlight, if you dare, and you will see sinners then. Watch when the night is dark, and the wind is howling, and the picklock is grating in the door, and you will see sinners then. Go to yon jail, and walk through the wards, and mark the men with heavy over-hanging brows, men whom you would not like to meet at night, and there are sinners there. Go to the Reformatories, and note those who have betrayed a rampant juvenile depravity, and you will see sinners there. Go across the seas to the place where a man will gnaw a bone upon which is reeking human flesh, and there is a sinner there. Go where you will, you need not ransack earth to find sinners, for they are common enough; you may find them in every lane and street of every city, and town, and village, and hamlet. It is for such that Jesus died. If you will select me the grossest specimen of humanity, if he be but born of woman, I will have hope of him yet, because Jesus Christ is come to seek and to save sinners. Electing love has selected some of the worst to be made the best. Pebbles of the brook grace turns into jewels for the crown-royal. Worthless dross he transforms into pure gold. Redeeming love has set apart many of the worst of mankind to be the reward of the Saviour’s passion. Effectual grace calls forth many of the vilest of the vile to sit at the table of mercy, and therefore let none despair.

Reader, by that love looking out of Jesus’ tearful eyes, by that love streaming from those bleeding wounds, by that faithful love, that strong love, that pure, disinterested, and abiding love; by the heart and by the bowels of the Saviour’s compassion, we conjure you turn not away as though it were nothing to you; but believe on him and you shall be saved. Trust your soul with him and he will bring you to his Father’s right hand in glory everlasting. — Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Morning devotion for December 7 in Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon

“Substitute Anything for Christ, and the Gospel is Totally Spoiled!” — J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)


J.C. Ryle,

You may spoil the Gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith,—Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place,—the Church, the Ministry, the Confessional, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, and the mischief is done. Substitute anything for Christ, and the Gospel is totally
spoiled! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done. Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by interposition. You have only to push something between Christ and the eye of the soul, to draw away the sinner’s attention from the Saviour, and the mischief is done. Interpose anything between man and Christ, and man will neglect Christ for the thing interposed! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical.

You may spoil the Gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done. Once alter the proportion of the parts of truth, and truth soon becomes downright error! Do this, either directly or indirectly, and your religion ceases to be Evangelical. (from: Evangelical Religion, J.C. Ryle)

The Role of Faith in Salvation — John M. Frame


John Frame,

We say that we are “saved by faith” or “justified by faith.” What does that mean? Faith, after all, is something we do. We are the ones who believe, not God. But isn’t salvation entirely of God? Isn’t it entirely by God’s grace? Or is faith the one thing we do in order to merit God’s forgiveness? Certainly not. It’s important to be precise about this, to see what faith does and what it doesn’t do for us.

First, faith is not the ground of our salvation. The ground is what entitles us to eternal life. The sacrifice of Christ is the only ground of our salvation. His righteousness, not ours, entitles us to fellowship with God. Nothing we do is good enough to gain God’s forgiveness and fellowship. Not even our faith is worthy of him.

For the same reason, our faith is never the cause of our salvation. The cause is the power that brings us into relation with Christ. As we’ve seen, this power does not come from ourselves; it comes from the power of the Spirit, making us believe the Word and trust in Christ. We cannot do anything to save ourselves, to bring about our own salvation.

So, what is the role of faith? Theologians struggle for words here, but the word that Reformed theology has settled on is instrument. By this we mean to say that faith, even though imperfect and unworthy, is the means (“instrument” = “means”) by which we reach out and receive God’s grace. Some have compared it to an empty hand reaching out to be filled. As the hymn “Rock of Ages” puts it, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

Rather than tying yourself in knots trying to understand these technical expressions, it is better just to remember that faith is trust. Jesus has died for you; that is your only hope, the only means by which you can be saved. Your faith is simply trust in him. Your trust is not going to earn you anything, but it connects you with Christ, who has earned everything for you.

Taken from “Salvation Belongs to the Lord” by John Frame ISBN 978-1-59638-018-9 pages pp. 192-193. Used with permission from P&R Publishing Co., P.O. Box 817, Phillipsburg N.J. 08865 www.prpbooks.com (Click here to purchase book)

Dr. John M. Frame serves as J.D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.

“What Doctrines Are Essential? – Part 3” by John MacArthur

“What Doctrines Are Essential? – Part 3”

by John MacArthur

1 Corinthians 3:11; John 3:18; 2 John 11; John 5:22

John MacArthur

V. The Fundamental Doctrines Are All Summed up in the Person and Work of Christ

Paul wrote, “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ Himself embodied or established every doctrine that is essential to genuine Christianity. Those who reject any of the cardinal doctrines of the faith worship a “christ” who is not the Christ of Scripture.

How are the fundamentals of the faith personified in Christ?

With regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, He is the incarnate Word (John 1:1, 14). He upheld the written Word’s absolute authority (Matthew 5:18). Christ Himself established sola Scriptura as a fundamental doctrine when He upbraided the Pharisees for nullifying Scripture with their own traditions: “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.… You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9). Our Lord had much to say about the authority and infallibility of the Word of God.

In the doctrine of justification by faith, it is Christ’s own perfect righteousness, imputed to the believer, that makes the pivotal difference between true biblical justification and the corrupted doctrine of Roman Catholicism and the cults. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). It is also why Paul wrote that Christ is become to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), and it is why Jeremiah called Him “The Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). The Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, is our righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16). That is the very essence of justification by faith alone, sola fide.

Of course, all the fundamental doctrines related to the incarnation — the Virgin Birth of Christ, His deity, His humanity, and His sinlessness — are part and parcel of who He is. To deny any of those doctrines is to attack Christ Himself.

The essential doctrines related to His work — His atoning death, His resurrection, and the reality of His miracles — are the very basis of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Hebrews 2:3-4). Reject them and you nullify the heart of the Christian message.

The fundamentals of the faith are so closely identified with Christ that the apostle John used the expression “the teaching of Christ” as a kind of shorthand for the set of doctrines he regarded as fundamental. To him, these doctrines represented the difference between true Christianity and false religion.

That is why he wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Far from encouraging union with those who denied the fundamental truths of the faith, John forbade any form of spiritual fellowship with or encouragement of such false religion (vv. 10-11).

So What?

It has not been my purpose here to attempt to give an exhaustive list of fundamental doctrines. Such a task is beyond the scope of this article. Furthermore, the attempt to precisely identify and number such a list of doctrines would be an extremely difficult thing to do. However, a reasonable list of fundamentals would necessarily begin with these doctrines explicitly identified in Scripture as non-negotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity.

But what are we to do with this understanding? First of all, we should resist any temptation to wield these doctrines like a judge’s gavel that consigns multitudes to eternal doom. We must not set ourselves up as judges of other people’s eternal fate.

On the other hand, we must recognize that those who have turned away from sound doctrine in matters essential to salvation are condemning themselves. “He who does not believe has been judged already” (John 3:18). Our passion ought to be to proclaim the fundamentals with clarity and precision, in order to turn people away from the darkness of error. We must confront head-on the blindness and unbelief that will be the reason multitudes will one day hear the Lord say, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23). Again, it must be stressed that those who act as if crucial doctrines were of no consequence only heap the false teacher’s guilt on themselves (2 John 11).

We have no right to pronounce a sentence of eternal doom against anyone (John 5:22). But by the same token, we have no business receiving just anyone into the communion and fellowship of the church. We should no more forge spiritual bonds with people whose religion is fundamentally in error than we would seek fellowship with those guilty of heinous sin. To do so is tantamount to the arrogance shown by the Corinthians, who refused to dismiss from their fellowship a man living in the grossest kind of sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-3).

We must also remember that serious error can be extremely subtle. False teachers don’t wear a sign proclaiming who they are. They disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (vv. 14-15). In view of the current hunger for ecumenical compromise, nothing is more desperately needed in the church right now than a new movement to reemphasize the fundamental articles of the faith.

See also:

“What Doctrines Are Essential? – Part 1”
by John MacArthur
“What Doctrines Are Essential? – Part 2” by John MacArthur

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This article originally appeared here at Grace To You © 1969-2011. Grace to You. All rights reserved.
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Faith Alone Justifies, But Faith Alone Does Not Sanctify — J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Very helpful distinction by J.C. Ryle,

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness—that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ—that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness—that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy—that the life that we live in the flesh we must live by the faith of the Son of God—that faith purifies the heart—that faith is the victory that overcomes the world—that by faith the elders obtained a good report—all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, “The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,” says in another place, “I fight—I run—I keep under my body;” and in other places, “Let us cleanse ourselves—let us labor, let us lay aside every weight.” (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 9:26; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 4:11; Heb. 12:1.) Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “works not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ. (Romans 4:5) Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “works by love,” and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Galatians 5:6) After all, the precise phrase “sanctified by faith” is only found once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul, “I send thee, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” Yet even there I agree with Alford that “by faith” belongs to the whole sentence, and must not be tied to the word “sanctified.” The true sense is, “that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified.” (compare Acts 26:18 with Acts 20:32.)

As to the phrase “holiness by faith,” I find it nowhere in the New Testament. Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed “to him that works not but believes.” (Romans 4:5) It is thoroughly Scriptural and right to say “faith alone justifies.” But it is not equally Scriptural and right to say “faith alone sanctifies.” The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith without the works of the law,” by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.” On the contrary, we are expressly told by St. James that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man, is a faith which “if it has not works is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17) I may be told, in reply, that no one of course means to disparage “works” as an essential part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more plain than many seem to make it in these days. (excerpted from: Introduction to Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, J.C. Ryle, )

“What Is the Gospel?” By R.C. Sproul

“What Is the Gospel?”

by R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul

There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the Gospel. But as important as that is, it is often given to massive distortions or over simplifications. People think they’re preaching the Gospel to you when they tell you, ‘you can have a purpose to your life’, or that ‘you can have meaning to your life’, or that ‘you can have a personal relationship with Jesus.’ All of those things are true, and they’re all important, but they don’t get to the heart of the Gospel.

The Gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.

The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own integrity. He’s a kind of wishy-washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.

We Recommend

God’s Hyper-Plentiful Grace Devotional
The Gospel-Driven Life Article by Harry Reeder
The Gospel of the Gospels Article by Daniel Hyde
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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

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“How Good Do I Have To Be To Go To Heaven?” – John MacArthur

“How good do I have to be to go to heaven?”

Matthew 19:25; Matthew 5:20

Most people understand that doing evil can keep us out of heaven. But few realize the Bible also teaches that doing good cannot get us in. None of us could ever gain enough merit to deserve heaven. We are sinful, and God’s standard is utter perfection. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). He added, “you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Then who can be saved?
The disciples asked Jesus this same question (Matthew 19:25). His answer? “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). In other words, our salvation is not something we can accomplish. It is something God must do for us.

What if I stopped sinning now and never sinned again?
We are hopelessly in bondage to sin and could not cease sinning no matter how hard we tried. Scripture says even our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, we are sinful to the core. Furthermore, a single sin would be enough to destroy us forever: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). But even if we never sinned from now on, we still bear the guilt of our past sins. And “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Is there any way to be free from the guilt of sin?
The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

How can Jesus’ blood cleanse our sins?
When God forgives, He doesn’t merely overlook sin. Atonement must be made. Christ’s death made full atonement for those who trust Him. His dying counts in our stead if we believe. However, that only erases the guilt of our sin. Remember, we still need perfect righteousness in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

Where do we get that perfect righteousness?
The full merit of Jesus’ righteousness is imputed, or credited, to those who trust Him alone for salvation. Scripture teaches that God “justifies the ungodly” by reckoning Christ’s righteousness to them (Romans 4:5). They are clothed in His righteousness, and God accepts believers solely and exclusively on that basis. That’s why Paul was willing to discard all his own efforts to earn God’s favor, preferring instead to stand before God robed in a righteousness that was not his own (Philippians 3:8-9).

If you are not a Christian, you need to lay hold of this truth by faith: the sin that will keep you out of heaven has no cure but the blood of Christ. If you are weary of your sin and exhausted from the load of your guilt, He tenderly holds forth the offer of life and forgiveness and eternal rest to you: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

How can I be sure Christ will save me?
No one will be turned away: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). All are invited: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

For further help on how you can have the assurance of an eternal home in heaven, click here.
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For a more thorough treatment of the subject, see John’s book or audio series called The Gospel According to Jesus.
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This article here originally appeared at Grace To You. – © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved. www.gty.org

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Tom Ascol: On Paul’s Deafening Silence In His Greeting To The Galatians

“Getting the Gospel Right”

from Tom Ascol

Sometimes, what is not said speaks more loudly than actual words. The silence, as we say, is deafening. In the opening verses of his letter to the churches of Galatia, the apostle Paul employs this communication technique to underscore the seriousness of the subject at hand. As he does in all of his letters, Paul begins by identifying himself as the author, naming the intended recipients, and pronouncing a blessing on them (1:1–5).It is what comes next that is so uncharacteristic for him. Immediately after his introductory comments, and before launching into the body of the letter, Paul writes…nothing. He offers no expression of gratitude to God for them or words of encouragement about their spiritual vitality.

When compared to his other warm greetings (for example, Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:1–5; Eph. 1:15–23; Phil. 1:3–11), what Paul does not say to the Galatians speaks volumes.

He leaves no doubt about the seriousness and urgency of the topic of his letter. His burden is to explain and defend the true gospel of God’s grace. He launches into the subject early and writes with a fiery tone, employing sarcasm, threats, warnings, and rebukes to get his points across.

Like a soldier rushing into battle with guns blazing, Paul immediately begins contending for the truth of the gospel. His purpose is not simply to win a theological argument. Rather, he is determined to fight for the spiritual lives of the Galatian believers.

Getting the gospel right is crucial. It is a matter of spiritual life and death. If you miss this, it does not matter what you get because you will miss God.

Paul understands this and therefore strongly refutes the false teaching of those who have begun to undermine the Galatians’ confidence in the simple gospel that he had preached to them.

That message is all about the finished work of Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). The gospel that Paul preached to them proclaimed salvation by grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

This message is great news for sinners because it reveals that salvation, from first to last, is God’s work and not dependent on anything in us. It eliminates any basis for pride as well as any cause to despair. Those whom God saves are made right with Him not because of anything they have done or not done, but because they have been “called…in the grace of Christ” (v. 6).

On the one hand, the worst of people are genuine candidates for salvation because the only way that God saves is by grace. On the other hand, if the most respectable people are to be saved, it will not be because of any goodness in them but, again, only by the grace of God.

No wonder Paul was “astonished” to learn that the Galatians were so quickly and easily being led away from the gospel of God’s grace (v. 6). The false teachers insisted that trusting Christ was not enough — to be right with God, a person must also keep certain Old Testament ceremonies. But adding to the gospel is just as disastrous as subtracting from it. Both “distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 7).

Any change in the message of Jesus Christ turns it into “a different gospel” (v. 6) that keeps people from knowing God. This is why Paul writes with such passion, warning the Galatians never to tolerate anyone — not even an apostle or an angel — who would dare to preach as the gospel any other message than salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, plus nothing.

Twice Paul says that any creature who distorts the gospel should be “accursed.” He literally pronounces “anathema” on such a person (v. 9). Those who spread false gospels are worthy of God’s damnation.

Paul intends that his use of such strong language should have a sobering affect on us. Misrepresenting the gospel is serious business. Those who believe false gospels will wind up in hell. Those who teach false gospels deserve nothing less.

The churches of Galatia were very young when Paul sent them this letter. Yet, he expected that they — all of the members and not just the leaders — would be doctrinally alert enough to discern the true gospel from counterfeits.

This is the responsibility of every Christian. Like sheep who will follow only the voice of their shepherd, we must learn to recognize the simplicity and fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and refuse to tolerate any teaching that deviates from it.

Our very lives depend on it.

We Recommend
What Is the Gospel? Article
God’s Hyper-Plentiful Grace Devotional
The Gospel-Driven Life Article by Harry Reeder

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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org
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“Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?” By John MacArthur

John MacArthur

In today’s spirit of ecumenism, many evangelicals have called for the Protestant Church to lay aside its differences with Rome and pursue unity with the Catholic Church. Is that possible? Is Roman Catholicism simply another facet of the body of Christ that should be brought into union with its Protestant counterpart? Is Roman Catholicism simply another Christian denomination?

While there are many errors in the teaching of the Catholic Church (for example its belief in the transubstantiation of the communion wafer and its view of Mary), two rise to the forefront and call for special attention: its denial of the doctrine of sola Scriptura and its denial of the biblical teaching on justification. To put it simply, because the Roman Catholic Church has refused to submit itself to the authority of God’s Word and to embrace the gospel of justification taught in Scripture, it has set itself apart from the true body of Christ. It is a false and deceptive form of Christianity.

The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

In the words of reformer Martin Luther, the doctrine of sola Scriptura means that “what is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.” Roman Catholicism flatly rejects this principle, adding a host of traditions and Church teachings and declaring them binding on all true believers–with the threat of eternal damnation to those who hold contradictory opinions.

In Roman Catholicism, “the Word of God” encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church’s authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope’s ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.

Creeds and doctrinal statements are certainly important. However, creeds, decisions of church councils, all doctrine, and even the church itself must be judged by Scripture–not vice versa. Scripture is to be accurately interpreted in its context by comparing it to Scripture–certainly not according to anyone’s personal whims. Scripture itself is thus the sole binding rule of faith and practice for all Christians. Protestant creeds and doctrinal statements simply express the churches’ collective understanding of the proper interpretation of Scripture. In no sense could the creeds and pronouncements of the churches ever constitute an authority equal to or higher than Scripture. Scripture always takes priority over the church in the rank of authority.

Roman Catholics, on the other hand, believe the infallible touchstone of truth is the Church itself. The Church not only infallibly determines the proper interpretation of Scripture, but also supplements Scripture with additional traditions and teaching. That combination of Church tradition plus the Church’s interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes the binding rule of faith and practice for Catholics. The fact is, the Church sets itself above Holy Scripture in rank of authority.

The Doctrine of Justification

According to Roman Catholicism, justification is a process in which God’s grace is poured forth into the sinner’s heart, making that person progressively more righteous. During this process, it is the sinner’s responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. The means by which justification is initially obtained is not faith, but the sacrament of baptism. Furthermore, justification is forfeited whenever the believer commits a mortal sin, such as hatred or adultery. In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then, works are necessary both to begin and to continue the process of justification.

The error in the Catholic Church’s position on justification may be summed up in four biblical arguments. First, Scripture presents justification as instantaneous, not gradual. Contrasting the proud Pharisee with the broken, repentant tax-gatherer who smote his breast and prayed humbly for divine mercy, Jesus said that the tax-gatherer “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14). His justification was instantaneous, complete before he performed any work, based solely on his repentant faith. Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Eternal life is the present possession of all who believe–and by definition eternal life cannot be lost. The one who believes immediately passes from spiritual death to eternal life, because that person is instantaneously justified (see Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1).

Second, justification means the sinner is declared righteous, not actually made righteous. This goes hand in hand with the fact that justification is instantaneous. There is no process to be performed–justification is purely a forensic reality, a declaration God makes about the sinner. Justification takes place in the court of God, not in the soul of the sinner. It is an objective fact, not a subjective phenomenon, and it changes the sinner’s status, not his nature. Justification is an immediate decree, a divine “not guilty” verdict on behalf of the believing sinner in which God declares him to be righteous in His sight.

Third, the Bible teaches that justification means righteousness is imputed, not infused. Righteousness is “reckoned,” or credited to the account of those who believe (Rom. 4:3-25). They stand justified before God not because of their own righteousness (Rom. 3:10), but because of a perfect righteousness outside themselves that is reckoned to them by faith (Phil. 3:9). Where does that perfect righteousness come from? It is God’s own righteousness (Rom. 10:3), and it is the believer’s in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ’s own perfect righteousness is credited to the believer’s personal account (Rom. 5:17, 19), just as the full guilt of the believer’s sin was imputed to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). The only merit God accepts for salvation is that of Jesus Christ; nothing man can ever do could earn God’s favor or add anything to the merit of Christ.

Fourth and finally, Scripture clearly teaches that man is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works. According to the Apostle Paul, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Elsewhere Paul testifies, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, emphasis added; see Acts 16:31 and Rom. 4:3-6). In fact, it is clearly taught throughout Scripture that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; see Gal. 2:16; Rom. 9:31-32; 10:3).

In contrast, Roman Catholicism places an undue stress on human works. Catholic doctrine denies that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) without first making them godly. Good works therefore become the ground of justification. As thousands of former Catholics will testify, Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy obscure the essential truth that the believer is saved by grace through faith and not by his own works (Eph. 2:8-9). In a simple sense, Catholics genuinely believe they are saved by doing good, confessing sin, and observing ceremonies.

Adding works to faith as the grounds of justification is precisely the teaching that Paul condemned as “a different gospel” (see 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6). It nullifies the grace of God, for if meritorious righteousness can be earned through the sacraments, “then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21). Any system that mingles works with grace, then, is “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), a distorted message that is anathematized (Gal. 1:9), not by a council of medieval bishops, but by the very Word of God that cannot be broken. In fact, it does not overstate the case to say that the Roman Catholic view on justification sets it apart as a wholly different religion than the true Christian faith, for it is antithetical to the simple gospel of grace.

As long as the Roman Catholic Church continues to assert its own authority and bind its people to “another gospel,” it is the spiritual duty of all true Christians to oppose Roman Catholic doctrine with biblical truth and to call all Catholics to true salvation. Meanwhile, evangelicals must not capitulate to the pressures for artificial unity. They cannot allow the gospel to be obscured, and they cannot make friends with false religion, lest they become partakers in their evil deeds (2 John 11).

This article here originally appeared at Grace To You. – © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved.
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Adapted from John MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994).
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R.C. Sproul: On Prideful Humility…..And True Humility

“Relying on God’s Grace”

R.C. Sproul

The irony of the theology of meritorious suffering is that it tends to produce the very opposite effect from its original intention. What began as a call to humble willingness to suffer became an insidious tool for self-righteousness. Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people—for beggars. We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there.

All the suffering I could possibly endure could not earn me a place in heaven. Nor can I merit the merit of Christ through suffering. I am altogether an unprofitable servant who must rely on someone else’s merit to be saved.

With Paul we can rejoice in our sufferings if they enhance the glory of Christ. We can rejoice in our persecutions and look forward to the promised blessing of Christ. But the blessing Christ promised, the blessing of great reward, is a reward of grace. The blessing is promised even though it is not earned.

Augustine said it this way: “Our rewards in heaven are a result of God’s crowning His own gifts. Sola gratia.”

Coram Deo: Give thanks to God for your heavenly rewards, which are the result of God’s crowning His own gifts.

Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343
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“Standing In Grace” – John MacArthur – Morning Devotion

Link to devotion —> Grace to You.