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Justice and Grace

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 16, 2022 12:01 am

Justice and Grace

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 16, 2022 12:01 am

Our understanding of the gospel will be impoverished if we come to expect God's mercy. Today, R.C. Sproul demonstrates that the grace of God is a voluntary gift.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind... ... of how God's holiness relates to His justice. One of the favorite hymns of Christians is the hymn, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

But I wonder if we really believe the words of that hymn. When was the last time that you were amazed by grace? It seems as if the thing that amazes us about God is His wrath or His justice. I teach theology, and I have students coming to me all the time who are asking the deeply troubling question, how could God, if He is good, if He is loving, if He is merciful, allow all of the horrors and suffering that we find in this world to go on? That's what amazes them, that if God is so loving and God is so merciful and God is so gracious, why does He allow so much pain and sorrow to exist in His world? How could God allow this to happen to me, they say?

I had a dear friend who lost his child, his infant baby, to infant crib death, and he was greatly distressed about it. And he wasn't just sorrowful, he was angry. And he came to me and he shook his fist in my face and he said, R.C., how could God allow this to happen? And I don't usually do this in counseling or in pastoral care, but he was so angry, and I tried to stop him in his tracks, and I looked at him, and I said, why shouldn't it happen? Why shouldn't he do it to your other children? Why shouldn't he strike you dead since you got out of your bed this morning?

Because in the last 15 minutes, all that's come out of your mouth is blasphemy. Why doesn't he kill you? I can understand a holy God killing everybody who is unholy. The thing that bothers me is how a good God can allow evil to exist at all.

And if we really want to rid the world of evil, it would seem to me the quickest way to do it would be to rid the world of people, because we are the ones who spread evil in this world. And the thing that we have to do in this world and the thing that we have most to fear is the goodness of God, because a good God will not tolerate evil. And so the thing that should really amaze us is not his justice when he displays it, not his wrath when he expresses it, but his mercy and grace, which he pours out in abundance. I've yet to have a student come up to me and say, the most puzzling thing that I struggle with in my theology, the thing that I can't understand is why has God allowed me to be redeemed? That's the question I can't get over, is why would God bother to save R.C.

Sproul? Why didn't he execute me the first time I sinned? Do you ever think about that? See, somehow deep down in our hearts, we harbor the idea that heaven wouldn't quite be what it ought to be without us, that somehow we deserve every good thing that we get and everything else that we get that isn't so good. We're poor, innocent victims. There's never been such a victim mentality as there is today.

I mean, don't get me wrong. Injustices occur in this world all the time, but those injustice are committed by people against people. I have committed injustices against people in my lifetime, and I have been the victim of injustice in my lifetime at the hands of other people. And we are told in the Scriptures to plead for God for justice in the sense that where we have been treated unjustly, we are perfectly permitted by God to ask Him to avenge us and to bring justice where we have been unjustly accused or unjustly treated.

But that, my friends, is on a horizontal plane. If you falsely accuse me of something, if you slander me and commit an injustice against me on a horizontal plane, I have every right, according to the law of God, to seek redress from you for that injustice. But on the vertical plane, I can never say to God, oh God, it is unjust of you to allow this injustice from another person against me. You see, I may have suffered unjustly at your hands, but in the suffering unjustly at your hands, I have not suffered unjustly at God's hand. Do you understand that? I can never complain to God, oh God, you're not being fair to allow me to have to suffer through these indignities or through this pain or through what we call misfortune, because I know that every breath of air I take in this world, I take by grace.

But we struggle with this. The disciples of Jesus struggle with it. We have a record in the New Testament of their bringing this kind of a question before Jesus.

In Luke's gospel in chapter 13, we read this record. There were present at that season some who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered such things? See, they're asking a question here about justice. It's a question that comes up frequently when we consider the broader question, not simply of the holiness of God, but the providence of God. And we're going to be studying this text later in another perspective from another viewpoint as we are concerned then about the doctrine of providence. But when we look at the doctrine of providence, how God manages His world, how God governs His world, the questions that we often raise about the providence of God are questions really about God's holiness and questions about His justice. And that's the question that Jesus is listening to now from these people. They come and they say, they told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

The question is clear. How could God allow these innocent people who while they were in the middle of worship, their church for heaven's sakes, and the ruthless soldiers of Pilate come in and slaughter people while they're engaged in the act of worship and mingle the blood of the people with the blood of the animals that are being used in the sacrifices? And the question is how could God allow that to happen? Listen to our Lord's response. Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered such things?

I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Do you see what Jesus is saying here?

You're asking the wrong question. Instead of running up to me and saying, how could God allow these poor innocent Galileans to be slaughtered by the ruthless swords of Pilate? You should be asking me why I didn't get run through with that sword, why my blood wasn't mingled with the sacrifices. You should be asking me about grace, not about justice. And they go on. Listen to the rest of it. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all the other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?

I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Again, a similar incident.

Eighteen people walking down the street, minding their own business, not bothering anybody, not playing sidewalk superintendent, not harassing the construction workers. And whoo, without warning, the temple falls down, and in this natural disaster, this accident, and the temple falls down, and in this natural disaster, this accident, eighteen innocent people are killed. How would you expect Jesus to handle this? I mean, you would think that Jesus would say, you know, I'm dreadfully sorry that this took place. It's just one of those things.

It was one of those things. Jesus said, learn from this. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Now, what's He saying here? He's saying that on this earthly sphere, even though from human hands and from a human perspective, Pilate's act was a murderous, unjust act on the one hand, the collapse of this temple was an impersonal accident with no malice aforethought, and people were innocent of that particular event. Nevertheless, nobody is innocent before God, and that these terrible, dreadful things that may befall us, either through the violence of another person or the violence of a natural disaster, this will be the destiny of every human being who does not repent. In fact, when the Scriptures talk about the final judgment of a just and holy God, they say that the response of the people will be to cry out to the hills and to the mountains, to fall upon them, to cover them, that the impenitent person would give everything he had and trade everything that he owned, to have a temple building fall on his head rather than the wrath of God. Jesus says, unless A takes place, B will inevitably follow. And what are the A's and the B's here?

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Just yesterday, I sat down at a table with a young man whose parents had gone away for the weekend. He said, man, did I have a great time this weekend? I said, did you? He said, yeah. He said, man, we had the girls come in to sleep over.

We had a blast. I said, but, boy, think how expensive. He said, what do you mean? I said, well, that was a very expensive party you had. He said, I didn't have to worry about it. He says, my parents left me money, money enough to pay. He says, it didn't cost me anything.

He said, it wasn't expensive at all. I said, that's not what I meant. He said, what do you mean? I said, you know the law of God.

If you play, you pay. Maybe you had a wonderful time, but while you were having a wonderful time, you were heaping up wrath against yourself. Because God has made it very clear that we're not allowed to do that. There will be a payback, and He will execute His justice. But there was no fear in this young man, no sense that a bill would have to be paid, no sense that God would ever exact justice from him.

That's where we are, folks. Because God does not send down fire from heaven every 15 minutes every time we sin, we're like Rex Harrison. We've grown accustomed to His grace. We've presumed upon that grace. We assume that God would do it.

We assume that God will be as kind to us always as He is now, and that because He stays the hand of His justice, that He will stay it forever. My favorite illustration of this took place in the early years of my teaching. I was taking a new teaching assignment at a place where I hadn't taught before, and I had the responsibility of teaching 250 freshmen a required course in the New Testament. And on the first day of class, I gave out the course syllabus and explained the requirements, and I had already taught long enough to know that these kids are Philadelphia lawyers, and they'll find loopholes in your directions and so on.

But I said, I want to make it very clear. Here's the rules. You have three little papers. They were short papers, just three to five pages, that you have to turn in over the course of the semester. And the first one is due the 30th of September at 12 o'clock noon.

It has to be on my desk. And if it's not there, you get a zero, an F for that assignment, unless you are physically confined in the hospital or in the infirmary, or there's a death in the immediate family, not your dog, and so on. I spelled it all out, and I said, does everybody understand?

Yes. So September the 30th came, and 225 students had their term papers in on time. Twenty-five of them failed to meet the deadline, and they were terrified.

And they came in, and they were begging me. They said, oh, professor, we didn't make the transition from high school to college the way we should have. We didn't budget our time properly, and we didn't get our papers done on time.

Please don't flunk us on this. Please give us an extension. Please let us have a little more time.

You know, and they're begging, crocodile tears. I said, okay, okay, okay. I'll give you a couple more days to finish it. I'll give you two more days' extension, but don't do this again. Oh, we won't. Thank you so much.

You're wonderful. Two days later they all had their papers, and everything was fine. October 30th came, the second papers do. This time 200 students come with their papers. Fifty of them don't have their term papers. Now where's your term papers?

Oh, professor, this paper was due the same week that everybody else had papers due, and we had midterms, and besides that we had homecoming, and we were all busy working on floats for homecoming. They gave me all these excuses, and there's weeping and gnashing of teeth. Please, please, please give us one more chance. I said, okay, but this is the last time. You better not do this again.

I'm telling you, if you do it again, you'll flunk. Is that clear? Oh, yes. And spontaneously, the class began to sing, we love you, Prof. Sproul.

Oh, yes, we do. I was Mr. Nice Guy, and I enjoyed this wonderful rapport with the kids until November 30th when the third paper came due. And this time 150 kids come with their term paper, 100 of them just breeze in that day, and there's not a concern in the world. I said, hey, wait a minute, where's your papers? And one kid, I'm never forgetting all of a sudden, he says, hey, don't worry about it.

Don't sweat it, Prof. We'll have it for you in a couple of days. I said, what? He says, hey, we'll have it, don't worry. I said, what's your name? He said, Jamison. I said, Jamison, F. Martin, where's your paper?

Don't have it, sir. I said, F. Alan, F. Baumgartner, F. What do you suppose the reaction was? Unmitigated fury. Like one voice, they cried one voice, they cried out. You can guess what they cried out. That's not fair. I said, Wilson, what did you say? He said, I said, that's not fair. I said, oh, it's justice that you want. Seems to me, Wilson, that I remember that the last time you were late too.

Isn't that right? And he said, yes. I said, okay, I'll give you justice. I'll give you F for this one. And I'm going to give you an F for the last one. And I took out my black book and I went back to his name. And for the second paper, I made an F. I said, who else wants justice?

And nobody said a word. That's how we are. We get mercy once. We're thrilled. We praise God.

We get it twice and we tell how wonderful is His kindness. But by now we're beginning to assume it and to presume it. And without the twinkling of an eye, we begin to demand it. We begin to think that He owes it to us. And I said to my students two things. I said, look, don't ever ask God for justice.

You might get it. And the second was this, that the basic difference between justice and grace is this, that grace is never, never, never, never do us. God is never obligated to be gracious.

Grace by definition is voluntary. And the minute you think that God owes you mercy, let a bell go off in your head and realize that you're no longer thinking about mercy. About mercy, you're thinking about justice. There really is tremendous confusion in our heads about the difference between mercy and justice.

Justice is something that is due, something that relates to obligation. But we remember what God said to Moses and Paul had to remind the Romans that God reserves the right of grace to Himself, saying, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. I will be merciful to whom I will have mercy. God's grace and mercy are never obligated, and we must never presume upon it. That's why Jesus said to those disciples and to those people who were asking about the tragedies of His day, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. And I want you to think about this. What would happen to you if God gave you absolute justice?

You would surely perish as we all would. When an amazing and overwhelming picture of God's holiness, every creature must cover their face in His perfect presence. We're glad you've joined us today for Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. We are pleased to feature The Holiness of God this week, a hallmark series from our founder, Dr. R.C.

Sproul. He believed that if we are able to catch just a glimpse of God's perfection, it would change the way we live our lives. And that was his focus for nearly 50 years. Our resource offer today will help you gain that perspective. It's the silver anniversary edition of the book, The Holiness of God. You can request it today with a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries as soon as your gift is processed. We'll also add the teaching series we're hearing this week to your learning library, allowing you to stream the series at any time.

You can find us online at, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. We are listener-supported, so your gifts truly make a difference. They help people around the world have access to clear biblical teaching, so we thank you. Dr. Sproul's teaching on The Holiness of God has influenced countless numbers of people over the years, including Dr. Stephen Lawson. They first met in a Doctor of Ministry course that R.C. taught many years ago, and that resulted in a lasting friendship, and Dr. Sproul handpicked Dr. Lawson to be one of our teaching fellows. We talked to Dr. Lawson recently about this theme that permeates all we do here at Ligonier Ministries.

Wow. I think about how that message, which I first read in this book, The Holiness of God, is what drew me to sit under his teaching in seminary. I had never met Dr. Sproul, had never seen Dr. Sproul, but I had read The Holiness of God, and I distinctly remember the portion of the book that is covered in this message that we heard today. And like a moth to the flame, I was just drawn to get in my car and drive to where he was teaching so I could sit under this influence.

And it wasn't just what he said, but it was how he said it. As Dr. Sproul preached and taught, there were such deep convictions in his soul and it came out with such passion that it literally just grabbed me by the lapel and just drew me up in my seat to give more to give more careful attention to who God is. And just hearing his voice in this message today, it just still continues to resonate with my soul. And I will be forever grateful that this influence has been placed upon my life and it continues to this day. And we're grateful that that influence continues in the ministry of men like Dr. Lawson.

Indeed, R.C. 's influence extends around the world, and if you see the importance of this kind of teaching and would like to help us continue making it available, I hope you'll contact us today with a donation of any amount. We will say thank you by providing a digital download of the teaching series, The Holiness of God, along with the book by the same title. We hope to hear from you. Our number again is 800-435-4343, or you can find us online at Thank you for joining us today, and I hope you'll return Monday for the next Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-25 06:21:41 / 2023-02-25 06:30:18 / 9

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