Faith Alone (Part 1): What is Reformed Theology? with R.C. Sproul

Faith Alone (Part 1): What is Reformed Theology? with R.C. Sproul

As we continue our study on the basic
themes of Reformed theology you recall that in our last session we looked at the
Formal Principle of the Protestant Reformation–the doctrine of Sola
Scriptura. And today we’re going to look at what the historians call the Material
Cause of the Reformation–the central controversy over which the whole debate
raged which was the doctrine of Sola Fide. And the term sola fide contains this sola
again, which means alone, and fide is the word for faith coming from the fidelis; we
remember the Marine Corps motto semper fi of semper fidelis or the hymn Adeste
Fidelis, Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Sola Fide means faith alone, and this was the
central assertion of Martin Luther that provoked the serious controversy of the
16th Century. And he was speaking to the question, “How is a person justified in
the sight of God. ” Now before we give a brief exposition of the doctrine of
justification by faith alone, I want to take a few moments to recap for you the
urgency that the magisterial reformers felt about this issue. They did not think
that the debate over justification was an argument over some fine point of theology
whereby theologians get together and nitpick over secondary issues and so on,
but they were convinced of not only the truth of justification by faith alone but
also believed that it was of critical importance. Luther said that justification
by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. Now we could
view that from the vantage point of the 20th Century perhaps as an exaggeration or
as an overstatement, but I’m just mentioning at this point that it was
clearly Luther’s conviction that this doctrine was so important because it
touched the very heart and soul of the Gospel itself. And again, it is Luther’s
contention that justification is the article upon which the church stands or
falls, and it’s the article upon which we stand or fall, because it is the article
that we understand that reveals to us how we are redeemed. Calvin took a similar
view of the importance of the doctrine. He used a different metaphor. He said that
justification by faith alone is the hinge upon which everything in the Christian
life turns. In our own day J. I. Packer in his preface to Buchanan’s 19th Century
work on justification used another striking metaphor where he likened the
doctrine of justification by faith alone to the mythological figure of Atlas, whose
task it was to bear the world on his shoulders. And what Dr. Packer was saying
with this analogy was just as Atlas is required to hold up the world so the
doctrine of justification by faith alone is that which holds everything else up.
Well the controversy as we know flared and ended in the most serious fragmentation of
Christendom in the history of the church and became the most volatile controversy
of all times. Now, again before I get into an exposition of it I’d like to read a
comment that Martin Luther, a couple of comments from Luther, first of all an
expanded comment of his view of the importance of it, and then second, a
comment that referred in later years of Luther’s life to his profound concern that
the recovery of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone would be
short lived. First his expanded comments on the importance of it: he said, “This doctrine is the head and
the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends
the church of God. And without it, the church of God cannot exist for one hour. ”
And again he said, “The article of justification is the master and prince,
the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines. It preserves and
governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this
article the world is utter death and darkness. No error is so mean, so clumsy,
and so outworn as not to be supremely pleasing to human reason and to seduce us
if we are without the knowledge and the contemplation of this article. ” And then,
as I said, in his later life he made this observation: “There are few who know and
understand this article, and I treat it again and again because I greatly fear
that after we have laid our head to rest, it will soon be forgotten and will again
disappear. And indeed, we cannot grasp or exhaust Christ the eternal righteousness
with one sermon or thought or to learn to appreciate Him is an everlasting lesson,
which we shall not be able to finish either in this or in yonder life. ” Now if
I can add my own personal observation to those of Luther, Calvin, and Packer it
would be this, that I think that the doctrine of justification by faith alone
of all of the doctrines of systematic theology is relatively easy to grasp with
the mind. It’s not that complicated or so arcane or obtuse that only specialized
experts in the field of theology can grasp. But to get the doctrine from our
heads into our bloodstreams is another matter all together, because it is one
thing to understand a doctrine; it is another thing to have it be the
controlling aspect of the faith by which we live before God. And another thing I
want to say before we proceed to an exposition is that we are not saved by a
doctrine. It’s not faith in the doctrine of justification by faith alone that is
what redeems a person. It is the content to which the doctrine points that is so
central and crucial to our salvation. Well again we ask why? The fundamental question
that the doctrine of justification is trying to answer and succeeds in that
attempt is the question, “How can an unjust person ever survive the final
judgment of a just and holy God?” And as soon as we ask that question, we see
instantly why it is a matter of great importance, not just a question of dotting
I’s and crossing T’s and passing an exam in systematic theology but it is the
question of how are we to stand before God. We remember David’s anguish and
pathos and poignancy in his question, “Oh, Lord, if Thou should mark iniquities, who
would stand?” And it was a rhetorical question, because David understood the
answer to that question. He was experiencing something that we all should
experience the moment our conscience alarms us to the presence of sin in our
lives. He’d say oh, God, if you keep a record, if you keep track, and if you
bring this into the judgment, who can stand? And the answer is obviously what?
No one can stand. I just had a conversation yesterday with a friend of
mine who is Jewish and he was asking me questions about Christianity and wanted to
know what’s the basic difference between the Christian faith and his own religious
background. And I said to him what do you do with your guilt? And he began to fumble around and said
well, I guess I just have to keep trying harder to obey the laws to keep kosher and
to repent when I do wrong and so on. And then I went on beyond that and I said ok,
how is God going to forgive you if no atonement has been made for you other than
the sacrifices of bulls and goats, and that led us into a lengthy discussion of
what the Gospel proclaims at its heart, because the good news is that God,
according to the Apostle Paul, is both just and justifier of sinful people. Now
let’s look at those concepts as they are put together that God is both just and
justifier. Paul says these concepts have to be clear in our minds if we’re going to
understand the Gospel of the New Testament. The Gospel does not say that
God simply unilaterally declares forgiveness to everybody in the world.
Certainly the doctrine of justification includes the doctrine of divine mercy and
of the remission of sins. That’s very important to us, and it sets forth before
our eyes a God who is a forgiving God. And I remember when I was a student in the
Netherlands that I had great difficulty trying to learn a foreign language in
which to do my doctoral studies, and one of the biggest problems I had with the
language is the same kind of problems we all have when we learn other languages,
and it’s the problem of learning the peculiar idioms of a nation or of a
particular language. Somebody was talking to me the other day and he said well I
don’t make any bones about that. And one of the people who was standing nearby was
a guest in this country; he had learned English, and he was just completely
befuddled by that expression–make no bones about it. He said what in the world
does that mean? And we had to explain the nuisances of that strange idiom. Well one
of the idioms that threw me was, when I was in Holland, was an idiom that was used
by one of my professors when he was talking about how God responds to the sin
of human beings, and he said God does not look at sin through His fingers. And that
stopped me in my tracks. I said I have no idea what he’s talking about that God
doesn’t look at our sin through His fingers. It wasn’t until much later when I
was trying to practice learning vocabulary by reading Perry Mason novels in Dutch
that I read a little episode in Perry Mason’s case where a policeman was talking
to a man who was illegally parked but there was an urgent reason for it and the
policeman was talking to the man about another matter and wanted the man to
accompany him somewhere and the man said well, I can’t keep my car here, you’re
going to give me a ticket for parking in this way, and the policeman said oh, don’t
worry about it. I’ll look at it through my fingers. Ah … we use the expression to
wink at it. And the point is is that when God, in His mercy, offers forgiveness to
those of us who are guilty before Him, the whole process of divine forgiveness does
not mean that God simply winks at our sin and therefore and thereby compromises His
own righteous character or His justice. His way of justifying guilty people is
worked out from all eternity in such a manner that God Himself remains just. But
again that brings us back to the original question. If God is just and I am not
just, and I have to face His just judgment, how can I possibly stand? What I
am in need of, most desperately for all eternity is to be justified. Now what the
Bible says is that God is both just and the justifier, so that however He works
out His justification He does it without compromising His own justice. And the second point here that is so
crucial is that it is God who does the justifying. Now that’s not difficult to
understand that the implications are clear, aren’t they? If it is God who is
the one who justifies, what does that say about my ability to justify myself? I
can’t do anything to justify myself, nor can anyone else justify me in this world,
nor can the church justify me. It is God, and God alone who can pronounce the final
verdict of my justification or my lack of it. So in the first instance the Reformers
of the 16th Century insisted that justification is forensic, and so they
were teaching what is called forensic justification. Now this term is a term
that is not commonly used in the church. The most frequent place where we hear
references to forensic is in criminal trials, on Perry Mason, or the O. J.
Simpson trial or something where we hear about forensic pathology or forensic
evidence. Or we have state forensics that involve competition in debates and public
speaking and so on, because the term forensic here has to do with some kind of
announcement or pronouncement in the arena of law. So when we talk about
justification being forensic we mean by that that in the final analysis God
justifies us when He declares, pronounces, that in His sight we are considered,
deemed, or regarded as just. So forensic justification involves God’s declaration
of a person’s being just in His sight. And as I say, it is a legal declaration by
which God declares a person just. Now I used a string of words a moment ago that I
want to elaborate on. I said He judges us, declares us, or deems us, or reckons us,
or counts us as just. Now to get a hold of that we have to do a little foray now into
some simple Latin that we’ve explained in other courses but we’ll take the time to
do it again. It is Luther’s summation of the sum and substance of the doctrine of
justification by faith alone in his famous slogan, simul iustus et peccator. Simul,
the word from which we get the English simultaneous; iustus is the word for just;
et is the word for and; peccator–we get the word from the word impeccable or
peccadillo, and so on–is the word for sinner. So what Luther is saying is that
in the doctrine of justification by faith alone what is happening here is that those
who are justified are at the same time just and sinners. Now Luther’s not
engaging in contradiction here. He doesn’t mean that we are just and sinner at the
same time and in the same relationship. In other words, it’s a different sense that
we are just from the sense in which we are sinners. Now the good news of the Gospel,
according to Luther, is precisely at this point that what Luther is saying is that
the glory of the Gospel is that God pronounces people just while they are
still sinners, that He declares a person to be righteous in His sight and before
His law when under analysis they are still sinners. Now it is that judgment of declaring
somebody just who in and of themselves is not just that creates so much of the
controversy over the doctrine and has led some critics of the Reformation to say
that the Reformers postulated a legal fiction that has God guilty of lying
saying that somebody is righteous when, in fact, they are not. But the Biblical
concept of justification rests upon God’s reckoning or counting people to be
something that in and of themselves they are not. It reaches all the way back to
the book of Genesis, the 15th chapter of Genesis, when God made certain promises to
the Patriarch Abraham. And the author of Genesis tells us that Abraham believed
God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. ” And what Paul speaks of
in the New Testament is this same concept by which God accounts or reckons people
who put their trust in Christ as being just not because their faith atones for
all of their sins or because their faith is such a supreme form of righteousness
that it covers all of our unrighteousness but rather the reason why God counts us
righteous is because of the work of Christ in our behalf. And so I conclude this
introduction to the doctrine of justification, which we we’ll continue in
our next session, by saying that really the expression of justification by faith
alone is theological shorthand for justification by Christ alone, because the
fundamental issue is this: On the basis of whose righteousness does God declare
anyone just? And the Reformation answered that clearly that the only grounds by
which God will ever view me as being righteous is the ground of Somebody else’s
righteousness–the righteousness of Christ.

13 Replies to “Faith Alone (Part 1): What is Reformed Theology? with R.C. Sproul”

  1. I know Im not perfect, but I know Im forgiven. There is a knowing that occurs when God  calls you. When you know you have just been saved, God opens your eyes and ears, and gives you understanding. I am always being judged by the Baptists over my smoking habit. I think I keep smoking just to spite them. I may smoke, but I never saw how that could affect my salvation. Is it better to ostracize someone because they smoke? To look down upon someone or exclude them from the group because they smoke. At our church picnics it wasn't enough to walk away to have a smoke even though we were outdoors, but it was very much a division brought on by the judgement of men. At least the smokers did not mind to be the last one served at lunch, and it wasn't just because of the smoking, but we were busy having real conversations about life. Sometimes about what was said in church, or about who is ill, or who is having problems, and who could use some help. So if someone joined by us and asked for a smoke, someone always gave one or more, and we joined in conversation with that person. Introductions and smiles and laughs and that person was included in our conversation. Our little group of smokers took the time to communicate. I value this over being the first one to overfill my plate at the buffet only to throw out most of it after meals end. I see my smoking as a way to point out their hypocracy. I asked the pastor why he bought these platter sized plates when there is so much wasted food being thrown out. I asked him if I could be in charge of putting in a community garden on part of the land that he had to mow weekly, since they had a emergency food pantry, and fresh vegatables would surely be a good thing to be able to offer. It could also be used for preparing the luncheon. People could come tend a little patch if they felt like it…a good excuse to get out and talk with others. So many live alone and would love to have a reason to get out of the house for a little bit.
    Everyone knows smoking isn't heathy, and I don't advise anyone to start, but how many times will a non-smoker point out that fact? Not once, not twice, but every time you see them…..and that is the extent of their conversation. I think there is more hypocracy in the church today than in most bars. At least the folks at the bar know they're sinners, while most in church think they are holier than thou.  🙂 lol   I don't go to bars anymore so stop that thought right there….besides everything in moderation right?

  2. 2Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, in accordance with the things which he did, whether good or bad. Mat 7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Mat 7:24 "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house upon the rock: Jas 2:17 Thus also that faith, if it does not have works, is dead, being by itself
    Jas 2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by means of my works.
    Jas 2:19 You believe God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe–and they shudder!
    Jas 2:20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

  3. Frankly, I think a lot of our Calvinist heavyweights, and I include Sproul, MacArthur, and Lawson, may be missing the point on what James was speaking of when he said "Faith without Works is Dead." I believe James gave us valuable insight into HOW to apply Christ's command of "love each other." These are not Catholic, or Mosaic works, these are acts of love, as were commanded by Christ. Sure we are saved, but James is saying, 'Okay, now it's time to get off your butts and minister to those in need.

    "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:12.

    "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.

    "So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead." James 2:17.

    "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:26.

    "And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet the pressing needs of others, so that they will not be unfruitful." Titus 3:14.

    "Share with the saints who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:13

    "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2.

    "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities and continue to grow in them, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
    2 Peter 1:5-8.

    "Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:44-46.

  4. Would we be "justified" to God if we chose to continue in sin rather than turn from sin? Jesus said "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5). Faith alone is not enough. It is through faith that we realize we must make a decision: to obey God and seek to do His will, or else to remain separate from God and continue on our own path. It is faith that makes the choice real to us, then we must choose. The verses below feature obedience, not "faith alone":

    "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17)

    "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:8)

    Abraham's example illustrates the difference between "faith alone" and faith followed by obedience. Abraham was promised blessings if he would leave home and journey to the promised land. Without any faith, he would have shrugged off the promises as unreal and that would have been the end of the story.

    But even with faith Abraham could have said to himself, "Well, even though I trust God's promises I'd really rather stay home, in my comfort zone, so I'm not leaving." Would he have received the promised blessings? Of course not.

    Abraham obeyed. He acted on his faith. He left home, journeyed to the promised land and received the blessings:

    "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8).

    By or through faith he realized he had a real choice to make, and he chose to obey. The Lord explained to Abraham's son Isaac that Abraham received the promised blessings because of his obedience:

    "Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Genesis 26:5).

    The apostle James wrote "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Abraham's obedience was his "works." He believed in the true, complete sense of the word believe: he committed himself, he acted on his faith. In the source New Testament Greek texts, "faith" and "believe" are different words; "faith" (pistis) is a noun, "believe" (pisteuō) is a verb.

    "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26). Faith without commitment, without action, is useless. Nothing changes. If Abraham had stayed home, his faith would have been dead, useless. Abraham acted on his faith; his works, his obedience brought life and completion to his faith, making him a believer. James wrote:

    "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God." (James 2:22,23)

    So what does God want us to do today? How do we believe, how do we "act" on our faith? God "now commands all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). This is how we can receive mercy:

    "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)

    With the ransom Jesus made available on the cross, we can be redeemed from the death penalty (Romans 6:23) we have earned for our past sins. That redemption is mercy and is available by grace IF we'll choose to turn from sin, turn from sin that earned us the death penalty to begin with.

    If we choose not to turn from sin, we'll remain unredeemed from the death penalty earned for our past sins and will surely perish in death for those sins. That's why Jesus warned, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).

    At first glance "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" appears to contradict John 3:16 which says we have to believe in Him: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

    If "believeth" means no more than "have faith," or think something is true, then there certainly is a contradiction with "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." But "believeth" goes beyond just "have faith." It is through faith that we realize we have a real choice to make: whether or not to believe, to commit ourselves and act and obey. We must truly "believe," we must act on our faith, obey and repent to avoid perishing.

  5. From the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, Christianity has spread allover the world. This could not happen without the works of the apostles, their successors, and those who followed Jesus. Their works of spreading the Good News were surely not by faith alone but by faith shown through their works. So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:17. And if this is not enough, then “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” James 2:18

  6. Only reason anyone goes to Hell forever is for Unbelief in Jesus Christ. He didn't come to condemn but to Save that which is lost. One must be Born Again of God. It's Not You and Jesus. It's You OR Jesus. If you have the love of this world in you then the Love of the Father isn't in you. A person is just not in the world….they are the WORLD! And the world doesn't go to heaven.It's not You and Jesus. It's You OR Jesus. If you have ears to hear then hear…
    To Trust in, Believe on Jesus is to go THROUGH HIM. The eye of the needle. The narrow way. Nothing will fit through but your Trusting in Him…all else stays behind. Eveything else is dung when it comes to Salvation. If you have something in your heart that you are holding dear to…world's wisdom, favorite memories, family, your proud identity("born in the USA"),etc. it won't fit through the eye of the needle. Just trusting Jesus fits the eye of the needle. That's it. Nothing else. The death of yourself and world. It's not I used to smoke and now I don't. It's a death of even that! It's Christ within.

  7. Faith alone is unbiblical.

    "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." -James 2:24
    "For by grace you have been saved….not of works…." -Ephesians 2:8-9

  8. Act 16:30  And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
    Act 16:31  So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

  9. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    FAITH ALONE doctrine has more to do with "SALVATION WITHOUT WORKS" than the word "ALONE". 

    Act 16:30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
    Act 16:31 So they said, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

    Sola Fide means salvation by grace through faith without earning through any works

    Bible is clear about salvation by grace through faith apart from works

    John 3:16
    Romans 4 and 5
    Eph 2:8-10
    Gal 3:1-5
    Romans 10: 9-10
    Titus 3:5
    2 Tim 1:9

    Bible is clear we are not saved by works. Not by works of law, not by works of righteousness, not good works.

    If it's works, it's no longer grace.

    2Ti 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
    Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
    Eph 2:9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

    Tit 3:5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

    Gal 2:16 knowing that a man is not [i]justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

    Rom 4:6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

    Rom 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

    Rom 4:4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
    Rom 4:5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

  10. Sending my deep gratitude to Dr.sproul from South Korea.
    whom i met by the book of his. May you rest in peace.

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