In this brief clip from his teaching series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey examines the difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant views of assurance. Watch this entire message for free.
Here is the embodiment and summary of what had generally been taught in the Middle Ages but it had never been officially defined that God loves the lovely. “For God to love you, you need to become a different person. You are not loved because of the external righteousness of Christ imputed to you. You are loved because Christ comes into you and changes you so you're a different person so that you can be loved by God.”
That’s a rather brief summary of a rather long document but that's the very heart of it. Rome defines itself now as committed to this proposition that you are only justified by being changed into a different moral person by the grace of God. And this is so important because it remains the essential difference between Protestantism and Rome. And it relates very much to this matter of assurance that we talked about. If you have to be a morally better person to be accepted by God, how much better do you have to be? How do you have any confidence that you've gotten there? And of course, Rome’s pastoral position is you shouldn’t be confident, you ought to be worried. You’ll try harder if you're doubting. It is not good for you to have assurance. That’s just Protestant arrogance.
One of the great Roman Catholic theologians of the late 16th, early 17th century, Robert Bellarmine said “The essential Protestant heresy is the arrogance of assurance.” You'll get lazy if you are assured. You won’t try hard if you're assured. It's good to be doubting and fearful and uncertain. So you have really two quite different religions at work here. Calvin said, “The assured heart in Christ will live for God out of gratitude.”
Through our union and corporate solidarity with Adam, the punishment for his sin has been passed to the whole human race. From one of our Ask R.C. events, R.C. Sproul articulates the biblical doctrine of original sin.
Do you have another biblical or theological question? Ask Ligonier is your place for answers. Just visit Ask.Ligonier.org.
The gospel is the possession of Jesus, but, even more, Jesus is the heart of the content of the gospel.
We use it so glibly in the church today. Preachers say they preach the gospel, but if we listen to them preach Sunday after Sunday, we hear very little gospel in what they are preaching. The term gospel has become a nickname for preaching anything rather than something with definitive content. The word for "gospel" is the word euangelion. It has that prefix eu-, which comes into English in a variety of words. We talk about euphonics or euphonious music, which refers to something that sounds good. We talk about a eulogy, which is a good word pronounced about someone at his funeral service. The prefix eu- refers to something good or pleasant. The word angelos or angelion is the word for "message." Angels are messengers, and an angelos is one who delivers a message.
This word euangelion, which means "good message" or "good news," has a rich background in the Old Testament. There, the basic meaning of the term gospel was simply an announcement of a good message. If a doctor came to examine a sick person and afterward declared that the problem was nothing serious, that was gospel or good news. In ancient days when soldiers went out to battle, people waited breathlessly for a report from the battlefield about the outcome. Once the outcome was known, marathon runners dashed back to give the report. That is why Isaiah wrote, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news" (Isa. 52:7). The watchman in the watchtower would look as far as the eye could see into the distance. Finally, he would see the dust moving as the runner sped back to the city to give the report of the battle. The watchmen were trained to tell by the way the runner's legs were churning whether the news was good or bad. If the runner was doing the survival shuffle, it indicated a grim report, but if his legs were flying and the dust was kicking up, that meant good news. That is the concept of gospel in its most rudimentary sense.
When we come to the New Testament, we find three distinct ways in which the term gospel is used. First, we have four books in the New Testament that we call Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books are biographical portraits of Jesus. Gospel in this sense describes a particular form of literature. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, the term gospel was linked not particularly with the person of Jesus but with the kingdom of God. John the Baptist is introduced as one who comes preaching the gospel, and his message is "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matt. 3:2).
Jesus did the same in His parables, proclaiming, "the kingdom of God is like . . ." On the lips of Jesus, the gospel was about the dramatic moment in history when, through the long-awaited Messiah, the kingdom of God had broken through in time and space. The good news was the good news of the kingdom. By the time the epistles were written, particularly the Pauline epistles, the term gospel had taken on a new shade of understanding. It had become the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel had a clear content to it. At the heart of this gospel was the announcement of who Jesus was and what He had accomplished in His lifetime.
If we give our testimony to our neighbors, saying, "I became a Christian last year. I gave my heart to Jesus," we are bearing witness about Jesus, but we are not telling them the gospel, because the gospel is not about us. The gospel is about Jesus—what He did, His life of perfect obedience, His atoning death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and His outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. We call those crucial elements the objective aspects of the New Testament gospel of Christ.
In addition to the person and work of Jesus, there is also in the New Testament use of the term gospel the question of how the benefits accomplished by the objective work of Jesus are subjectively appropriated to the believer. First, there is the question of who Jesus was and what He did. Second is the question of how that benefits you and me. That is why Paul conjoins the objective account of the person and work of Jesus (particularly to the Galatians) with the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is essential to the gospel. In preaching the gospel we preach about Jesus, and we preach about how we are brought into a saving relationship with him.
The gospel is under attack in the church today. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get the gospel right and to understand both the objective aspect of the person and work of Jesus and the subjective dimension of how we benefit from that by faith alone.
Recently, a Protestant seminary professor, supposedly evangelical, was quoted to me as having said that the doctrine of imputation—by which our sins are transferred to Christ on the cross and His righteousness is transferred to us by faith—is of human invention and has nothing to do with the gospel. I wanted to weep when I heard that. It just underscored how delicate the preservation of the gospel is in our day and how careful the church has to be in every age to guard that precious good news that comes to us from God.
This excerpt is adapted from Romans: An Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul.
It’s time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week’s resources include such topics as assurance, salvation, sanctification, evangelism, the atonement, Moses, and more.
Sale runs through 12:01 a.m. — 11:59 p.m. Friday ET.
“God allows us to participate in the greatest work in human history, the work of redemption.”
You may have heard Dr. Sproul say that. He frequently reminded us of this great work, namely, the honor and privilege of carrying out the evangelization and discipleship of the nations under the authority of Jesus Christ and in the power of His Word and Spirit. It’s breathtaking if you stop and think about it.
You and I carry out this great work as we serve the Great Commission’s purpose to go and make disciples of all nations. And here on the cusp of a new decade, one way you can assist in carrying out this work is by supporting the urgent and needed outreach of Ligonier Ministries.
Your support today is critical for extending our outreach into the next decade and beyond. Standing with us now by giving a donation of any amount to Ligonier’s work will help us meet our year-end need and start 2020 strong.
No doubt, 2020 will be a landmark year. While much of the world’s attention will be given to upcoming elections, you and I know that Jesus Christ is King, actively working to build His church. Out of a love for God and for those who are lost, we must uphold the cause of truth and the clear proclamation of the gospel. People inside and outside the church need to know who God is. We need you to step with Ligonier into this new year of ministry opportunity.
We know that both the root of humanity’s turmoil and the answer to it are primarily theological, not political. All around us, we see the fruit of lives lived without sound doctrine directing them, including the deterioration of human dignity and the loss of compassion for the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn. Because Jesus is the light of the world, Christians will shine as a light in the world, and the church will be a refuge for the weary, humble, and contrite in spirit—but only if we understand God’s Word rightly and trust in Him for solutions to our problems.
At times like this, it can be easy for the people of God to lose confidence and grow anxious. I’m sure that you, like me, have wondered what the years ahead will mean for the next generation in the church. But we need not lose hope. We must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
Scripture reveals to us a God of towering majesty who is working out His perfect will, a sovereign God whose purposes can never be thwarted. Our confidence and comfort will only be as great as our view of the Lord and His plan. We need an immense theology—a grand view of God—in order to not be shaken and to hold out hope to our neighbors.
Ligonier Ministries has proclaimed this big theology of the sovereign, holy, and gracious God in 2019, and, by His grace, we’ll do the same in 2020 and in the years to come to even more people.
Just look at some of the ways your support of Ligonier’s gospel outreach has enabled expansion:
- You have helped us activate ministry projects in forty languages now. In fact, the growth of the dedicated Arabic outreach we launched in the spring and the launch of a dedicated outreach in Farsi just a couple weeks ago is remarkable. This secures a strategic foothold to equip Christians in the Arab world and in Iran with key discipleship resources. The response is overwhelming. Iran is said to have “the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world.” Many new converts from Islam listen to Dr. Sproul regularly.
- You advanced the colossal translation project of a Spanish edition of the Reformation Study Bible. With this translation recently completed, we’re preparing to launch this key resource in one of the world’s most spoken languages in summer 2020.
- You enabled us to hold conferences and pastor training events not only in the United States but also in London and Toronto, bringing needed reinforcements to Christians in areas where many believers are under siege by aggressive secularism.
- You played a significant role in Reformation Bible College’s welcoming its largest incoming class of freshmen and opening its new building, including more classrooms and a large library, debt free. Dr. Sproul’s vision for the college continues to flourish as we raise up a generation of knowledgeable and articulate Christians.
- Your visionary support gave us the confidence to meet the recent explosive interest in podcasts by strategically expanding our team and resources. This year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Renewing Your Mind, an outreach used by God to reach millions of people with life-transforming truth. We also launched the Simply Put podcast to help Christians understand key theological terms and apply them to daily life, and we’re preparing to launch additional podcasts in the months and years to come.
- You bolstered the production of several new teaching series and the publication of many new books, including the new single-volume edition of Dr. Sproul’s Truths We Confess. Ligonier’s rich library of trusted teaching deepens every week, all thanks to your support.
That barely scratches the surface. I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of coffee and talk about all the doors that the Lord is opening for Ligonier around the world. We give thanks to God for you and for the way you enable this unique ministry to equip growing Christians with His answers to the most important questions people ask and to help churches continue to advance the Great Commission.
We need your support now to make the most of these opportunities to reach a dying world and to ground Christians in a view of God that is as massive as the Bible presents. Something else R.C. often said is that if someone donates $100, we can do $100 worth of ministry—but what we cannot do is $101 worth of ministry.
We will grow and expand as the Lord allows through the support of His people. We rely on His faithfulness to sustain us. All of us at Ligonier count on ministry supporters such as you who understand the value and eternal impact of this critical work. Unless people like you stand with us, we cannot do what we do.
We believe that God has great things in store for Ligonier Ministries in 2020 and beyond. Your supportwill send trusted teaching to millions of people near and far. Never underestimate the reach of your gift, no matter the size. The Lord is mighty, and He does mighty things with the generosity of His people.
Thank you for your support now for this vital outreach.
The official blog of Ligonier Ministries, founded by theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul in 1971 to help Christians know what they believe, why the believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.