Tag Archives: R. C. Sproul

How Does John Calvin Explain the Virtuous Non-Christian?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

John Calvin and his theological offspring are famous for the doctrine of total depravity. What does this doctrine mean?

Theologian R. C. Sproul, himself a Calvinist, describes total depravity as follows in his Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was.

I am a sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. For total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.

Sproul goes on to quote Romans 3:10-12:

There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.

This doctrine often leads to the question, “If people are totally depraved, sinful to our core, then how do we explain seemingly virtuous non-Christians, people who have never been regenerated by the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the doctrine of total depravity tell us that these people shouldn’t exist?”

Not exactly. In order to answer this question, it is useful to look at the words of Calvin from his most famous literary work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin admits about the virtuous non-Christian,

Such examples, then, seem to warn us against supposing that the nature of man is utterly vicious, since, under its guidance, some have not only excelled in illustrious deeds, but conducted themselves most honourably through the whole course of their lives.

Calvin’s response is that the ability of a person to live virtuously at all is due to God’s special grace upon that individual in order to restrain his sinful nature.  Citing the many kinds of wickedness found in man, Calvin argues that

in the elect, God cures these diseases in the mode which will shortly be explained; in others, he only lays them under such restraint as may prevent them from breaking forth to a degree incompatible with the preservation of the established order of things.

Without God’s special grace, man would degenerate into complete corruption and the world would plunge into chaos. Calvin further explains natural men’s true motives for seeking good:

Some are restrained only by shame, others by a fear of the laws, from breaking out into many kinds of wickedness. Some aspire to an honest life, as deeming it most conducive to their interest, while others are raised above the vulgar lot, that, by the dignity of their station, they may keep inferiors to their duty.

The man that appears to live more virtuously owes all of this virtue to God’s special grace.  God distributes his special grace in a way that prevents the world from descending into chaos.  If we admit that these people exist, must we say that there is something good in them that earns them credit before God?  No.  Calvin argues,

But as those endued with the greatest talents were always impelled by the greatest ambitions (a stain which defiles all virtues and makes them lose all favour in the sight of God), so we cannot set any value on anything that seems praiseworthy in ungodly men.

In addition, righteousness is absent “when there is no zeal for the glory of God, and there is no such zeal in those whom he has not regenerated by his Spirit.”  He concludes, “The virtues which deceive us by an empty show may have their praise in civil society and the common intercourse of life, but before the judgment-seat of God they will be of no value to establish a claim of righteousness.”

Here is the bottom line. Calvin allows that some men live lives of relative virtue.  These men, however, owe all their excellence to God’s special grace, a grace that restrains their wicked natures like a bridle.  Calvin also argues that since men only pursue the good for their own personal ambitions, they merit no righteousness before God.

Although I do not consider myself a 5-point Calvinist, I think that Calvin’s ideas on man’s sinful nature are mostly correct. The regenerated Christian lives his life in a completely different way from the unregenerated non-Christian. I see this every day.

I am curious to know what you think about this doctrine and whether you think all men are born sinful at their core. Please leave comments!

Was Jesus Sinless and Does It Matter?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Yes, he was, and this is an essential doctrine of Christianity. I was quite surprised several years ago when I was talking to a friend of mine at work about Jesus, and he asserted that obviously Jesus was not sinless because he became angry.

My response to him was that anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is good to be angry about sin. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

But what disturbed me even more was his further claim that Jesus’s sinlessness, as far as he knew, was not taught in Scripture, and that it really didn’t matter anyway. Is that the case? Does it matter whether or not Jesus was declared sinless in Scripture?

First, we need to establish whether the Bible claims that Jesus was sinless. That is pretty easy to do, as there are several passages:

  • In 1 Pet 1:19 Jesus is referred to as a “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
  • In 1 Pet 2:22 Peter applies the prophet Isaiah’s words to Jesus: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
  • In 1 John 3:5 John proclaims about Jesus that “in him is no sin.”
  • In 2 Cor 5:21 Paul reminds us, about Jesus, that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”
  • In Heb 4:15 the writer explains that in Jesus “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

So it seems clear that the New Testament writers stated unequivocally that Jesus was sinless. However, it wasn’t just Jesus’s followers who claimed he was sinless. His enemies, likewise, found no fault in him.

  • In Mark 14:55 we read, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.”
  • In Mark 12:14 the Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”
  • In Luke 23:22 Pilate asked, “What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.”

But why is it so important that Jesus is sinless? Why is this an essential doctrine of the Christian faith? Theologian R. C. Sproul explains in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

The sinlessness of Christ does not merely serve as an example to us. It is fundamental and necessary for our salvation. Had Christ not been the “lamb without blemish” He not only could not have secured anyone’s salvation, but would have needed a savior Himself. The multiple sins Christ bore on the cross required a perfect sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be made by one who was sinless.

Sproul adds:

It was by His sinlessness that Jesus qualified Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. However, our salvation requires two aspects of redemption. It was not only necessary for Jesus to be our substitute and receive the punishment due for our sins; He also had to fulfill the law of God perfectly to secure the merit necessary for us to receive the blessings of God’s covenant. Jesus not only died as the perfect for the imperfect, the sinless for the sinful, but He lived the life of perfect obedience required for our salvation.

In summary, only the sinless God-man could bridge the gulf between God and man.

Has God Dealt Justly with the Human Race? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Picking up from part 2, we continue the narrative of God’s dealings with mankind. Recall that God has sent messengers which his people have killed. What will he do next?

Finally, God says to himself, “They just don’t want to hear from these messengers, so I guess I will go myself.” In the supreme act of condescension, The Creator clothes himself in the flesh of the creature in the form of the eternal Son of God, to try to call the people back to him.

The son arrives on the scene and proceeds to call his people back to him. He begs them to renounce their wicked ways. He calls on them, saying “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

This son, who is God incarnate, heals the people and even raises some from the dead. He is sinless, he does not lie, he does not gossip. Never a wicked thought remains in his mind. He is perfect in his humanity. He loves like nobody has ever loved. The people watch him and, eventually, they decide what to do about him.

Their decision: assassination! Before they kill him, they hold a farcical trial where nobody is allowed to defend him. Not only do they kill this perfect son of God, but they ensure that he suffers the fate of a common criminal in one of the most excruciatingly painful means of death that men have ever invented. They nail him to a tree and let him suffocate to death over several hours.

Has God failed yet again to reach his people? Is there no hope for mankind? They have betrayed him, broken his covenants, killed his messengers, and now killed his very son.

But in an incredible act that bespeaks his unparalleled mercy and grace, God, seeing his innocent son murdered, decides that he can still be reunited with his creatures through the death of his son. All that they must do is trust his son as their savior, and he will still receive them into his kingdom. They can still have eternal life if they will only place their faith in his son.

Now I ask you, why should God do this for a rebellious and treasonous race of creatures who have rejected him, tortured and murdered his prophets, and ultimately nailed up his son who was sent to save them? Under what obligation is he? Put yourself in his place. You are dealing with a people who have cursed you, mocked you from the first.

How can anyone say that God is unjust, that he hasn’t provided enough ways to heaven? Given what has happened, why has God provided any way at all? It is unbelievably callous to ask God to provide yet another way. Should he should provide more sons for us to slaughter. Is one savior not enough? Should more innocent “sons of God” be murdered for us? No sane person can answer “yes.”

To question God’s justice is insulting and foolish. Now that you know the whole story, you should never doubt the fairness of God the Father asking us to trust Jesus Christ. Who can ask for more grace? Who can ask for more mercy?

Has God Dealt Justly with the Human Race? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Picking up from part 1, we continue the narrative of God’s dealings with mankind. Recall that God has given the humans a choice to obey him or betray him.

In direct defiance of God, they do exactly what he asked them not to do. They reject his leadership and commit high treason against the author and sustainer of the universe; they reject what he taught them. They say to him “We will be like God.”

God says to them, “I warned you of the consequences and yet you directly disobeyed.” He casts them out of the paradise they lived in, but he sets a plan in motion to reunite these rebellious people with him through time and history. Even though they have turned their back on him, he is not willing to give up. He wants to be with them. He wants them to have eternal life, to never lose the precious gift he has given them.

As history further unfolds, God chooses a man through which he will activate his plan to save the people who have rejected him. God makes a covenant with this man and tells him that he will create a great nation through him, a chosen people on whom God will lavish special attention. He will bless them with great numbers and he will give them a bountiful land. These people will be the instrument that God uses to finally reunite all of mankind with himself.

But there are conditions, because God is still holy and he cannot not be holy. His nature never changes. He is eternally good and so his people must be good. God says to this nation, “If you will obey me, you will prosper; if you do not obey me, you will be cursed. Is this a fair deal?” The people say “Yes! We gladly accept these terms from the author of life.”

Time goes by and this nation of people start to reject God. They ignore his laws, they worship false gods, they perform perverse acts with and against each other. They fall into complete rebellion against all of God’s ways.

God looks at this and thinks, “They must have forgotten my covenant, my deal with them. I’ll send a messenger to remind them.” In fact, he sends several messengers who remind the people of their deal with God. They are reminded of his holiness, his beauty, his goodness, but they aren’t interested in the message.

In fact, these messengers that God lovingly sends are massacred! They must run for their lives. They are killed by the sword, they are struck in the face, they are imprisoned, they are stoned to death, and they are sawn in two! Over hundreds of years, God sends his messengers, appealing to the people to return to him, but to no avail.

There must be another way for God to get through, to redeem mankind. In part 3, we will look at God’s next move.

Has God Dealt Justly with the Human Race? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

So many people complain that God, if he exists, is a tyrant who expects too much of human beings. To ask that we trust only his Son for salvation is unfair and exclusive. How do Christians respond to these accusations?

Pastor R. C. Sproul once spoke about God’s fairness in his dealings with mankind, and I have never forgotten what he said. Sproul summarized the entire biblical account of God’s dealings with mankind to put in perspective what really happened. Here is a paraphrase of what he said with some of my own commentary to flesh out the narrative.

A perfect, self-existent being, was living in perfect community and love, not needing anything. This God is perfectly holy, righteous, loving, just, and the ground of all beauty and of all that is good.

God decides to share his love and the gift of life with finite creatures. He creates a vast universe, he creates all the laws of chemistry and physics; he fine tunes the constants of gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear forces so that physical life can survive. He creates trillions of stars so that one tiny planet can support life; even burned out stars are needed in sufficient quantity to produce fluorine, which is essential to life on earth.

He creates a perfectly sized star which is just the right distance from the earth to provide heat and light. He creates a moon which the earth needs to regulate the tides and keep the earth’s tilt just right for temperatures to support life.

In fact, he creates the entire known universe and everything in it with the sole purpose of providing his creatures a physical world in which to live.

After the universe is created, this God then creates creatures who scurry around the newly formed earth doing exactly what God designed them to do. At this point, God decides that he would like to create a special creature, one that bears his image. This creature will have a rational mind, a moral conscience, a free will, and an ability to freely love God his Creator.

God scoops up a clump of mud and breathes life into it and names the new creature “man.” He provides this new creature with a partner whom he calls “woman.” He tells these creatures that they are beautiful creations and that he wants to have an intimate relationship with them. They will have dominion over all the plants and animals of the earth. They will rule as the sovereign king and queen over everything God created on earth.

However, as the author and creator of the entire universe, he is authorized to set up boundaries for them. He asks them to be holy as he is holy. He asks them to keep him in focus as their Creator and to obey his guidelines which are meant for their good. God tells them that if they do not obey him, if they commit treason against him, they will die.

In part 2, we will see what happens next. Will they obey him or commit treason?

Who Are the "Sons of God" in Genesis 6:2?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The most popular view, among evangelicals, is that the “sons of God” mentioned in Gen. 6:2 are angels who seduce human women, the “daughters of men.”  This view, however, is highly problematic because Matthew 22:30 informs us that angels do not marry.

So who are the “sons of God?”  According to both Tom Howe and R. C. Sproul, two biblical scholars that I have great respect for, the “sons of God” are the very human descendants of Seth, who was the son that God gave Adam and Eve to replace Abel .  The “daughters of men” are the descendants of Cain, who was cursed by God for the murder of Abel.

Why do Howe and Sproul think this?  The preceding passages in chapter 4  focus on the two lines of Cain and Seth.  Cain’s descendants are wicked (note how Cain’s line ends with Lamech, who sings a song about murdering a man).  His female descendants are the “daughters of men.”  Seth’s son is Enosh,  and after he was born, “men began to call on the name of the Lord.”  Seth’s male descendants are the “sons of God,” the only hope for mankind to halt the slide into utter depravity.

So Gen. 6:2 is referring to the male descendants of Seth marrying the female descendants of Cain, marriage that would yield a harvest of greater and greater sin.  This is a continuing theme in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are warned not to marry pagans because of the religious syncretism that would surely occur.

The results of the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men” was disastrous for the human race, as humankind became so evil that God elected to bring a flood that would kill everyone except Noah and his family.

Are Christians Thinking About Christianity?

No, not many of them.  I suspect that this just mirrors the fact that most people aren’t thinking about anything.  But it shouldn’t be that way for those who call themselves followers of Christ.  He called us to love God with our mind .  Read these quotes below and see if any of them apply to you or someone you know.  If so, what are you going to do about it?  (Hint: reading this blog might be a great start!)

“We are having a revival of feelings but not of the knowledge of God.  The church today is more guided by feelings than by convictions.  We value enthusiasm more than informed commitment.” – 1980 Gallup Poll on religion

“We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of western civilization.”  – R. C. Sproul

“Ignorance is the mother, not of devotion, but of heresy.”  – Puritan Cotton Mather

“For many, religion is identified by subjective feelings, sincere motives, personal piety, and blind faith.”  – J. P. Moreland

“I’m always encouraged to use my intellect in how I approach my vocation, select a house, or learn to use a computer.  But within the sphere of my private, spiritual life of faith, it is my heart, and my heart alone, that operates.”  – J. P. Moreland

“Most Christians would rather die than think – in fact they do.”  – Bertrand Russell