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Questions & Answers: What We Believe

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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March 1, 2024 12:01 am

Questions & Answers: What We Believe

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 1, 2024 12:01 am

How can we be sure we're saved? How does Jesus minister to His people today? Today, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, and John Tweeddale answer theological questions about the historic Christian faith.

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Your despair-inducing lack of assurance, all that worry, can actually be turned to a joy and confidence that right now seems a dream you hardly dare hope for, because the Gospel can provide such confidence and joy. We all have questions about the Christian faith.

It's why R.C. Sproul always sought to help Christians know what they believe and why they believe it. And today, on Renewing Your Mind, you'll hear some of those questions and their answers from January's Winter Conference held on Ligonier's Central Florida campus. Many of the questions that we have are answered in the Catechisms of the Church. So I want to remind you that today is the final day that we're offering a new compilation of some of those catechisms along with creeds and confessions in a single hardcover volume for your gift of any amount at Moderated by Chris Larsen, here's Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, and John Tweedale answering questions on assurance, sanctification, and Christ's intercession for His people.

Well, thank you for submitting your questions this afternoon, and we'll jump right in. The question is, what is the Gospel? Romans 1, verse 1, Paul writes that he is a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets and the holy Scriptures concerning his Son, who is descended from David according to the flesh, and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. So there Paul is walking through his Gospel in a way that gives some key points that he echoes elsewhere, so it's not just a one-off. And I think there are some key points here that help us to see key elements to the Gospel. First of all, this is the Gospel of God. This is a God-centered message. It is a scriptural message.

It is promised through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. When we say Gospel of God, of course this is a Trinitarian message, because this is the Gospel of God concerning his Son, who is declared to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness. So this is a Trinitarian scriptural message. It is, verse 3, a Christ-centered message concerning his Son, and it is a Spirit-empowered message, verse 4. And I think what you see through the book of Romans is really an unpacking of precisely that. That Romans 1-4 really walks you through the salvation of the Son, that all have sinned, Romans 3, and fall short of the glory of God, and the only hope for salvation is to be found in the atonement of Jesus Christ, the promised Son. Then from chapters 5-8 of Romans we see the work of the Spirit, that it is necessary for sinners to be saved, to be born again of the Spirit, and to walk according to the Spirit.

And so we see the work of the Son and the Spirit in chapters 1-4 and 5-8. And then I think in many ways you could see the argument of chapters 9-11 of Romans come back to this scriptural question. It's really dealing with that question that Paul asks in Romans 9, has God's Word failed?

No. So it is a scriptural message, a Trinitarian, God-centered message concerning Christ and empowered by the Spirit. And if you depart from one of those things, this is not a fully biblical, apostolic gospel. Just to add one thing from sort of my own perspective and maybe shared perspective of some view, I think sometimes, especially in American evangelical circles, when we hear the gospel, it tends to start with, you're a sinner and Christ is the Savior. And that's true, but I think we need to start with God is holy. And I think this is something that, again, Dr. Sproul is very helpful in just succinctly stating, God is holy, we are not, we need a substitute. And to go right to Jesus as a Savior may not help us understand what exactly Jesus is saving us from. And that's why to start with the holiness of God, which of course leads us to see the wrath of God. And now we can talk about sin and now we can talk about how Jesus is our Savior. Almost tying these two together, oftentimes in evangelicalism, when we think about the gospel, we confuse it with the implications of the gospel.

So it's what we do. It's witnessing and pointing people to Jesus. It's apologetics. It's defending the faith.

It's arguing theology. That's the gospel. Now, those things are good and true and right, but they're the implication of the gospel. The gospel ultimately is not what we do for God. This is the gospel of God who is holy. And we are sinners, so he's done something for us in Jesus Christ. So the gospel is not what we do for God. It's what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.

And the focal point then of the gospel is Christ in him crucified, risen and ascended, and coming again in glory. If I could just add one thing that I think I wish I'd said, but it ties very much with what Dr. Nichols had said on the holiness of God. John Calvin brilliantly said that the knowledge of God, the knowledge of self are intertwined.

You simply don't know yourself unless you know God. And this is something that really comes out in Paul's argument in Romans, that it is only when you see the holiness of God, do you really know the depth of what it means to say we are helpless sinners. And that then itself makes sense of what Paul pushes on in Romans 4 when he's made that argument so relentlessly, that we have to, given our plight as sinners, having rebelled against this superlatively holy God, we have to have and can only rely on a gospel in which sinners are justified by faith alone. And that justification by faith alone I think is the proving ground of whether you really say this is good news concerning the Son. And if you don't have justification by faith alone, as Paul does in Romans 4, if you don't have that right at the center of the gospel that's being proclaimed, you're actually presenting a deficient Savior and a God who is less holy and a problem for sinners which is less radical. How can I know that I am truly saved?

By looking to Jesus Christ. So the gospel gives assurance not by encouraging us to look within, because when we look within we're reminded of our sin and how we have fallen short of the glory of God. The gospel brings assurance by reminding us of our sin and then forcing us to look outward to Christ and Him crucified and seeing the sufficiency of His work on our behalf. So assurance comes when we take our eyes off ourselves and fix them on Christ. So assurance begins by looking outward in faith to Christ. This conference is on Creed's catechisms and confessions. I would heartily recommend sitting down with the Westminster Confession chapter on assurance and working through the proof texts and just slowly meditating upon that rich theological expression of assurance that's found in the Westminster Confession.

You can correct me on this in history, maybe both of you. I think that's the first time in creedal confessional history that we have a chapter summarizing the Bible's teaching on assurance. So it's not just a rigidly theological document, but Westminster is concerned with a pastoral question of assurance. If I may press on that, personally my experience was as a young man I struggled with assurance greatly.

And I praise God that I did because it was an opportunity for me as it was an opportunity for Martin Luther. I think the reason Martin Luther had such clarity on the gospel was precisely because he was driven to investigate the gospel because of his own wrestle with assurance. And so if that is you and you are struggling with assurance, I really want to echo this bit of advice and say the answer to your problems of assurance is found in a deeper knowledge of how the gospel works.

So for me, I'd add to some reading. For me a book that was immensely helpful was Dr. Sproul's book Faith Alone. Going through justification by faith alone. If you're struggling with assurance, I think that would be a great place to go. And get yourself clearer on the doctrine of justification by faith alone and our union with Christ. And if you can get greater clarity on that, what you will find is your despair inducing lack of assurance. All that worry can actually be turned to a joy and confidence that right now seems a dream you hardly dare hope for.

Because the gospel can provide such confidence and joy. You just need to dig in to know what it provides. So I'd urge you to do that. Not come across this question before. How do you respond to a non-believer who thinks that being saved by grace alone is unfair or unjust? I have come across that as an issue. And I think it was in the context where I came across it, there was an absolute disgust in the person.

Because it seemed to trample on any contribution and make any contribution we make pointless. And so therefore, when I heard that as an objection, it was really responded to with anger. So we need to try to unpack that word unjust. Yes, in His grace, God is not dealing with us, is not justly giving us what we deserve.

But that is actually great good news. We need to understand what would be just. What would be the just response of a holy God to us as sinners? If we understand what it is to be sinners, we would realize this must mean punishment, damnation for us, being cut off from God as the source of life. And so grace is not God dealing with us unjustly. It is God justly satisfying His justice on the cross and offering us a salvation that we could not ever hope for on the basis of what justice alone would give us. Grace offers us something so much beyond. But to accept grace means we have to say, I did not earn that. And that is why to become a Christian is a humbling experience. You have to recognize Christ is the great Savior here and I am the recipient. Going back to Romans, in many ways the central question, the central problem of the Bible is how can God be just and the justifier of the ungodly?

In many ways you've got to live in the tension of that question. And the answer that the Bible provides is a remarkable one. So when you begin to reckon with the holiness of God and you see that when you sin against an infinite God it incurs an infinite punishment and you begin to ask the question, how can we deal with this sin against an infinite God?

And there are really only two possibilities. One is that you can go to God with your sin without a mediator and you can face his unmediated, unmitigated, but fully just wrath against your sin. Or you can stand before God with a mediator who took within himself the punishment of your sin and gave you his righteousness that now with a mediator you may enjoy God's unending mercies in Jesus Christ. And in that way God is both just in punishing sin and the justifier of the ungodly who trust in Jesus Christ.

In many ways I would zero in on that question, how can God be just in the justifier of the ungodly? As I'm understanding the question, there is a sense here in which the gospel is an affront. And it seems endemic to human nature to be self-righteous.

And even to say if somehow God has chosen me, there must have been something in there that made that worthy of his choice. I think one of Luther's most beautiful lines is the Heidelberg Theses number 28. And Luther says, God does not find that which is lovely, but he creates it. And on the one hand we love that, but that's on the other side of being regenerated by the Holy Spirit and our eyes opened in seeing the beauty and truth of it. On the other side of it, we hate it because it says we are not lovely.

And that's an affront. And belief is hard because it forces us to see the end of ourselves. And that is hard for us in our human nature, which is why we need the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Can a believer stop, delay, or slow sanctification?

When we talk about sanctification, there are actually a few different things we're talking about. On the one hand, the apostles can write to churches and Paul, for example, can write to the saints in Corinth, which always seems a slightly comic thing. Seeing how they're behaving in Corinth, they are saints. They are holy ones. Because their behavior doesn't seem very holy a lot of the time. But the point is that they are holy positionally in Christ.

And that is not a spectrum. You are either a saint in Jesus Christ or you are not. But when we talk about sanctification, we normally mean this process of growth in Christ-likeness.

And yes, that is absolutely something that can be quicker or slower. We can keep in step with the Spirit. We can grieve the Spirit. And so there is a constant call by Paul in his letters for believers to press forward in their sanctification. Let us then bring or perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord.

There's a call there for that. There is an urgency, a requirement that believers fight the battle of sanctification in the power of the Spirit. But it is an active battle against the desires of the flesh.

And yet that battle is not just about self-effort. It is a battle to once again, depending on the Spirit, find myself looking to Christ, finding my perspective shaped by Him which isn't natural to me, and therefore finding myself changed by that look. So that battle for sanctification is not just trying to do holy things or have holy righteous habits. It is about that, first of all, that 2 Corinthians 3.18, primarily keeping step with the Spirit by knowing what the ministry of the Spirit is, fixing our eyes on Christ so that we are transformed into His image from glory to glory.

I don't have much to add here. Just one sense of a bit of encouragement. Sometimes when we think of progressive sanctification, so if we understand that positionally we are holy in Christ and then experientially we're growing, and these are three of my favorite words in the Catechism and Confession, we are growing more and more into the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. If we were to chart progressive sanctification, many of us think it's just a straight line up to glory.

But in reality, if you look at most of our lives, that line is going to be doing this a lot of the time. We're going to be making strides as we keep up in the Spirit, and then we are going to struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. We're going to struggle to see Christ in all of His glory, and that gets back to that question of assurance. As we look at Christ, one of the things that the Spirit reminds us is those words in Philippians chapter 1 that He who began a good work in you is faithful and just to complete it. You are reminded that you belong to God, and He will make you what He has declared you to be in Jesus holy. So be encouraged, dear friends, that the Christian walk is one of progress, and there's a lot of ups and downs in the Christian life. I love that you came back to assurance because I actually wanted to come back to that as well there because I think misunderstanding the relationship between assurance and sanctification is a problem many Christians have. And so, especially for those lacking in assurance, what they can often feel is if I am more progressively sanctified, that will mean I should have a greater status and therefore a greater assurance. Whereas the Gospel works the other way around, that it is when we understand the security that believers can have in Christ, that's the place from which we can boldly pray our Father, lovingly walk with Him, and so find ourselves growing in sanctification. But if we make our assurance entirely dependent on how we feel we're performing, we'll always be unsure. Is God always fatherly and loving if He prepared some in advance for destruction?

Yes, absolutely. God is a Father and is never unfatherly. I think I'd like to just add a little point, which is not directly on this question here. When we call God Father, this is not a projection of our own experience of human fatherhood onto heaven. And I flag that up because, for some, their experience of a human father makes the idea of a divine father difficult or painful. But God the Father is not called Father because He is an amplified version of your human father.

And all human fathers fail, some catastrophically. Rather, human fathers are called Father because they are supposed to reflect God the Father. And we see what it means for God to be Father in how He so lovingly and purely deals with His Son. Now, eternally God is a Father that is never switched off. Now, especially unbelievers do not appreciate this, but a good deal of Book 1 of Calvin's Institutes is given to precisely this issue, where he says that unbelievers don't understand that in all God's providential care of creation, He rules as Father. This is a fatherly steering of creation.

In all that He does, He is fatherly and kind. And that is helpful for when we look at God's justice and wrath. God's justice and wrath directed at the unrighteous therefore means God is not switching off His love. It is not as if God has a mood of love and a mood of wrath, and when He's wrathful, He's no longer actually being loving. No, wrath is how an ever-loving God reacts to evil. That a father, any father here with children will know, the thought of some evil befalling your children, it arouses wrath in you.

You want to destroy that evil, you don't want evil to happen to your children. And so, God in His wrath is not switching off His fatherliness or His love, it is an expression of it. Matthew 27, 46, why did Jesus say, my God, my God, why have you abandoned me, forsaken? If Jesus is God, how can He be separated from Himself? So we're talking about the dereliction, and Christ is the incarnate Son of God.

A little unpacking of Christology, perhaps some of you were in Dr. Matheson's session. When we say that Christ is the incarnate Son of God, we are saying that He has two natures. He has a divine nature and a human nature. He is truly divine and truly human. And those two natures are united in the one divine person. In His humanity, as the incarnate Christ, He is our mediator.

He is our representative. He is the one who suffers the punishment we deserve on the cross. All the while still in His divine nature remaining truly the divine Son. And so when we're talking about the dereliction, the God-forsakenness on the cross, what we are talking about is how Christ endures the punishment of His people on the cross. And so we're talking about His humanity. We're talking about the incarnate Christ. We're not suggesting that something changed in the divine Son or the divine person. So we want to maintain the integrity of the Godhead, and yet we want to emphasize that Christ in His humanity, Christ in His incarnation, fully took in Himself the wrath of God for us. Oh yeah, you don't say that, do you?

How do you say it? But wrath is far more terrifying and inappropriate than wrath. Wrath. Wrath. It doesn't quite have the gravitas.

Interesting word. Can we just think about the forsaken piece though for a moment? Because I think when we talk about keeping the natures intact and not mixing them and confusing them, which Chalcedon guards us against, is the right answer so we don't understand somehow some division in the eternal triune Godhead. But when we get engaged in the theological question, let's not miss what's happening there of the forsakenness of Christ, the utter dereliction, the being expelled. And we think of the physical suffering, by His stripes we are healed. We think of His precious blood that pays the penalty of our sin. But we see the mediator as identifying with us in our forsakenness and then being brought back, reconciled, and brought near to God. So we do go to the theological conundrum, but that is probably one of the most dramatic sentences in all of Scripture.

Can I piggyback on that? Maybe it ties to these themes of assurance and even the fatherhood of God. There's a real sense in which you can say, if you're looking to Christ as your Savior, He was forsaken by the Father, by God, in being punished for my sin, that I might not ever be forsaken. He was cursed that I might be blessed. So how do I know that I can boldly run to the Father and receive salvation and not condemnation? Well, I know that because He was forsaken at the cross. He paid the penalty of my sin so that I might know God's everlasting fatherly embrace. So He was forsaken that I might not ever be alone. He was cursed that I might be blessed.

Wonderful answers. Dr. Nichols, your reference there to Chalcedon, it took me back, and sitting up here, of course, takes me back to thinking about many times sitting up here with Dr. Sproul. But the way that he would approach questions like this, much in the way that you all have done, it was bounded by Chalcedonian Christology. And here again, we find the helpfulness of the creeds and all of that was flowing through the way that R.C. would teach.

And for this conference and all we're talking about, it's wonderful to see how we're helped by the creeds, even in the answer on assurance as well. I was actually even thinking of Dr. Sproul. I wasn't going to say fully man and fully God. Can I tell the story very quickly?

Please, yeah. So we had a Q&A and Dr. MacArthur said fully God, fully man, and of course, R.C., ever the teacher, explained to him that it's truly God and truly man. And Dr. MacArthur expressed his appreciation for R.C. He said, yeah, that's what I meant. It was right here, this very space. Does Jesus actively mediate for his people today or was it all completed at the cross?

Yeah, absolutely. And the way we see this is in the book of Hebrews in the way that Jesus sat down as our high priest, which expresses the once-for-allness accomplishment of Christ's work of redemption. We do not have Christ re-crucified.

This is what was so appalling to the reformers of the mass. But the once-for-all accomplished Jesus sat down, but then he also stands at the Father's right hand, ever giving intercession. So interceded in a once-for-allness and reconciling us to the Father, interceding minutely, secondly for us before the Father as our advocate. And I think that if you have that image in your head of sat down and standing, it helps you see both sides of that coin. And the two really do go together wonderfully, Hebrews says, He lives to intercede for us.

Very striking. But all that intercession is on the basis of a fully accomplished atonement. So it is confident intercession, not just pleading into thin air. Why was Jesus baptized? To fulfill all righteousness.

Obedience. Related to it is this question, was it symbolic of the new covenant established in him? Well, the inauguration of the new covenant actually comes at the Last Supper when he actually institutes what we call the Lord's Supper or communion. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, that he might be our representative and mediator. So I think the baptism is pointing more to his work as our Savior, our Redeemer. We often even think in terms of his active obedience to the law. He was one who was born under the law to fulfill all righteousness. And so I think the baptism is more tied to that than it is explicitly tied to the inauguration of the new covenant, which Jesus states happens with giving of his blood symbolized in the Lord's Supper. I'm just thankful the follow-up question was not how much water was used.

How much water? No. Why is Jesus called the only begotten Son of God when he was not made? Maybe I need a better understanding of begotten.

Does it mean something different here? Was Adam begotten? That is a great question and one that theologians really wrestled through in the fourth century particularly. And so in the Nicene Creed, it says that the Son is begotten, not made. So it's wanting to draw a distinction between begetting and making.

And this might help to make clear what that distinction is. As a man, I can make a doughnut, but I cannot beget a doughnut. So I can make something that is not my nature. I can beget human children. I cannot make a human child. So begetting, is the bringing forth of the same kind of nature as myself.

Making is to do with constructing out of thin air something that is not the same as me. So when we say that the Son is begotten, not made, we're saying there is no time when the Son was constructed and started to exist. He's always existed. How's He always existed? Well, He's always been eternally begotten of the Father, meaning He's of the very being of the Father.

You've seen me, you've seen the Father. And this is why we can say God is eternally Father, because He finds His nature eternally in begetting His Son. The Son finds His very personhood in eternally being begotten of the Father.

And so it's really important to draw this distinction between being begotten and begotten. Because it means that we're able to say, God the Son never started to exist. He is of the same being of the Father. Therefore, He truly reveals the Father.

Therefore, He can truly bring us back into fellowship with the Father. And if we confuse those things, then suddenly we have a completely different God and a different gospel. There's no gospel of adoption with such a God. Now, this distinction can be difficult for us because people who object to it will say, well, for example, when I beget children, there is some point at which the children start to exist. So if the Son is begotten, that means there must be a time before He was begotten. But you can't read up human experiences into the life of God like that, because God is not like us. If you simply read up like that, you can say, hey, well, this chapter, this chapel was constructed by material pulled from somewhere else, so surely when God created, you must have found the material from somewhere else. But that is not how God created.

You can't read up from human experience into how God is. So when humans beget, it is a temporal thing, and a child begins to exist. With God, it is an eternal begetting, and that protects our understanding of the fact that the Father is eternally a Father. His relationship with the Son is always eternally characterized. He never started being a Father. He never started begetting. Eternally He's been doing this. Eternally the Son has been related to the Father by this begetting relationship, and that is glorious good news.

That's a good place to stop. Thank you, gentlemen. Would you thank our panelists this afternoon? That was a Q&A session from this January's Winter Conference hosted on the campus of Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Bible College. If you'd like to hear all of the sessions from this conference or join us for an upcoming event, you can find all of the links and information at

So what do you believe? We recently compiled a collection of creeds, catechisms, and confessions of faith into a single hardcover volume to help you answer that question and to see what a treasure these documents are from church history. And today is the final day to request your copy for a donation of any amount at or by calling us at 800 435 4343. This is a resource that I believe would be helpful in any Christian's library and would be appreciated by your pastor if you'd consider getting him a copy. So visit while there's still time as this offer ends at midnight. Do you recite, pray, or perhaps sing the Lord's Prayer in church? Next week, R.C. Sproul will walk us through this profound prayer taught to us by Jesus. That's beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-01 02:59:44 / 2024-03-01 03:12:27 / 13

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