At the very heart of the controversy in the sixteenth century was the question of the ground by which God declares anyone righteous in His sight. The psalmist asked, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). In other words, if we have to stand before God and face His perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to pass review. We all would fall, because as Paul reiterates, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). So, the pressing question of justification is how can an unjust person ever be justified in the presence of a righteous and holy God?
The Roman Catholic view is known as analytical justification. This means that God will declare a person just only when, under His perfect analysis, He finds that he is just, that righteousness is inherent in him. The person cannot have that righteousness without faith, without grace, and without the assistance of Christ. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, true righteousness must be present in the soul of a person before God will ever declare him just.
Soli Deo gloria is the motto that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and was used on every composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. He affixed the initials SDG at the bottom of each manuscript to communicate the idea that it is God and God alone who is to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption. At the heart of the sixteenth-century controversy over salvation was the issue of grace.
It was not a question of man’s need for grace. It was a question as to the extent of that need. The church had already condemned Pelagius, who had taught that grace facilitates salvation but is not absolutely necessary for it. Semi-Pelagianism since that time has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain.
Obeying authority is hard. We bristle anytime we hear someone say: “You must do this. You ought to do that.” We want to be able to say: “Don’t tell me what to do. I want to do what I want to do.” We want people to empower and entitle us. We hate receiving mandates. That’s our nature. In light of this, I like to talk about a Christian worldview and how it differs from a pagan worldview. One way to differentiate the two would be to consider each worldview’s understanding of responsibility toward authority. If I were not a Christian, I certainly wouldn’t embrace submission to authority. But being a Christian makes me hesitate before I live in active disobedience to those whom God has put in authority over me. To understand why, we must look at the New Testament’s explanation of the origin and function of government under God. This issue is clearly dealt with by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.
How is sin to be understood? Is it accidental or essential to our humanity? The term accidental refers to those properties of an object that are not part of its essence; they may exist or not exist without changing what that object truly is. For instance, a moustache is an accidental property. If a man shaves off his moustache, he does not cease to be a man.
On the other hand, essential properties are those that are part of the essence of a thing. Remove that property, and it ceases to be that thing. Sin is not essential to humanity, unless someone believes that God made humanity sinful at the beginning. If sin is essential to humanity, then that would mean Jesus was either sinful or not human. So, sin is not essential. Adam had no sin when he was created, yet he was still human. Jesus has no sin, but He is still human. Believers will have no sin when they get to heaven, and they will still be human.
Sin is not essential, but neither is it merely tangential or on the surface of our humanity. Rather, the portrait that we get in the Scriptures of man in his fallen condition is that he is utterly and thoroughly infected by sin in his whole person. In other words, sin is not an external blemish, but something that goes to the very core of our being.
This excerpt is taken from R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions booklet How Can I Be Blessed? Download more free ebooks in the Crucial Questions series here.
What does the Bible say about God’s leading? It says that if we acknowledge God in all our ways, He will direct our paths (Prov. 3:5–6). We are encouraged by Scripture to learn the will of God for our lives, and we do so by focusing our attention not on the decretive will of God but on the preceptive will of God. If you want to know God’s will for your life, the Bible tells you: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). So when people wonder whether to take a job in Cleveland or in San Francisco, or whether to marry Jane or Martha, they should study closely the preceptive will of God. They should study the law of God to learn the principles by which they are to live their lives from day to day.