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Archive for the ‘Articles by R.C. Sproul of Legonier Ministries’ Category

from Tabletalk magazine, February 2008
by R.C. Sproul

I don’t remember the exact words. They went something like this: “He was a thundering paradox of a man.” These words served as the opening lines of William Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur. In this work, MacArthur was shown as a multi-faceted man whose essence could not be crystallized by a single attribute. In like manner, the prophets of the Old Testament were men of multi-faceted and multi-dimensioned responsibilities and behavior. Some of the roles carried out by these prophets include the following: First, the prophets of Israel were agents of revelation. They did not say, they were singularly called and endowed by the charismatic power of the Holy Ghost to speak the Word of God. As agents of revelation, they did not preface their teachings by saying, “In my opinion.” Instead, they introduced their statements or oracles with “Thus saith the Lord.” Though the Old Testament prophets as agents of revelation are popularly conceived as being principally men involved in foretelling, that is, predicting future events, in reality the emphasis of their activity was involved in forthtelling. Forthtelling meant that they were declaring the Word of God to their own time and to their own generations.

The second dimension of the role of the Old Testament prophet was that of being reformers. We must distinguish here between the work of reformation and the work of revolution. The Old Testament prophets had no desire to root up and cast down or to destroy the cultic structure of the nation. Rather, they called the people to return to orthodoxy, not to abandon their history. They called for a return to the terms of the original covenants that God had made with them, to obedience to the law that God had revealed through Moses, and, most importantly, to the practice of true worship as distinguished from all forms of idolatry and hypocrisy. They spoke boldly against formalism, externalism, and ritualism. But in their critique, they did not repudiate the formal, the external, or the ritual. Rather, it was the ism attached to these concepts that expressed the hypocrisy of Jewish worship during the prophetic era. The rituals, the externals, and the forms had been distorted by false forms of worship.

Third, the prophet carried out the role of the covenant prosecutor. There were legal ramifications in terms of the relationship between God and His people. The structure of that relationship was the covenant, and all covenants had stipulations associated with them as well as sanctions. There was a penalty for disobedience, as well as a reward for obedience. When Israel violated the terms of her covenant, God sent his prosecuting attorneys to file suit against them, to declare his controversy with the people. We see this in Hosea’s announcement when he called the people of Israel to solemn assembly, saying that the Lord has a controversy with His people. The announcement and pursuit of this controversy by reason of law had the prophets speaking not as priestly defenders of the people, but rather as divine prosecuting attorneys pronouncing God’s judgment and wrath upon them.

Fourth, the role of the prophet in Israel, individually and corporately, was to serve in a concrete way as the conscience of the nation. Israel was structured as a divine theocracy. There was no hard-pressed separation of church and state. When the state and the people in it wandered from the ethical structure of the nation, it was the prophet who would prick the consciences of the people and of the kings. Part of the reason the prophets lived such perilous lives was because they were called to speak boldly to the rulers of the nation, which rulers did not appreciate the intervention of the prophet. Rare was the king such as David who gave heed to the intervention of Nathan and who responded with profound repentance (2 Sam. 12:1-15). Normally, the course of the rulers was to follow the way of Ahab, to seek the very life of that prophet who dared to call him to repentance (1Kings 19:1-3). In our own culture, where we have a so-called separation of church and state, it is not the role or responsibility of the church to rule the nation. But it is the responsibility of the church to be the conscience of the nation and to call the state to repentance when the state becomes demonized and fails to serve in the cause of righteousness.

Finally, the prophets were known as rugged individualists. There were indeed schools of professional prophets who worked together executing their trade for their own livelihood. Traditionally, these were the ones who became the false prophets of Israel. The true prophets were those who usually met with God alone in the wilderness and were given a divine summons to stand against the crowd and against the false prophets. Jeremiah, for example, felt the ignominy and the anguish of always being outnumbered by the false prophets who united in their cause against the truth boldly proclaimed by him. It was Elijah who thought that he was the only one left who had not bowed his knee to Baal. God rebuked him and reminded him that he had preserved 7,000 for Himself, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. These incidents reflect the commonplace experience of the Old Testament prophet who, time after time, was called to stand alone against a secularized nation and an immoral culture. They stood their ground for the truth of God and in many cases paid the ultimate price for it. It’s on the shoulders of the prophets of the Old Testament that the New Testament church establishes the agents of revelation – which are the apostles in the language of the new covenant. And so the foundation of the church of Christ is the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is author of the book Truths We Confess.

©2008 Ligonier Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 01, 2008

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by R.C. Sproul

C.S. Lewis emerged as a twentieth-century icon in the world of Christian literature. His prodigious work combining acute intellectual reasoning with unparalleled creative imagination made him a popular figure not only in the Christian world but in the secular world as well. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, though rife with dramatic Christian symbolism, were devoured by those who had no interest in Christianity at all, but were enjoyed for the sheer force of the drama of the stories themselves. An expert in English literature, C.S. Lewis functioned also as a Christian intellectual. He had a passion to reach out to the intellectual world of his day in behalf of Christianity. Through his own personal struggles with doubt and pain, he was able to hammer out a solid intellectual foundation for his own faith. C.S. Lewis had no interest in a mystical leap of faith devoid of rational scrutiny. He abhorred those who would leave their minds in the parking lot when they went into church. He was convinced that Christianity was at heart rational and defensible with sound argumentation. His work showed a marriage of art and science, a marriage of reason and creative imagination that was unparalleled. His gift of creative writing was matched by few of his twentieth-century contemporaries. His was indeed a literary genius in which he was able to express profound Christian truth through art, in a manner similar to that conveyed by Bach in his music and Rembrandt in his painting. Even today his introductory book on the Christian faith – Mere Christianity – remains a perennial best seller.

We have to note that although a literary expert, C.S. Lewis remained a layman theologically speaking. Indeed, he was a well-read and studied layman, but he did not benefit from the skills of technical training in theology. Some of his theological musings will indicate a certain lack of technical understanding, for which he may certainly be excused. His book Mere Christianity has been the single most important volume of popular apologetics that the Christian world witnessed in the twentieth century. Again, in his incomparable style, Lewis was able to get to the nitty-gritty of the core essentials of the Christian faith without distorting them into simplistic categories.

His reasoning, though strong, was not always technically sound. For example, in his defense of the resurrection, he used an argument that has impressed many despite its invalidity. He follows an age-old argument that the truth claims of the writers of the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus are verified by their willingness to die for the truths that they espoused. And the question is asked: Which is easier to believe – that these men created a false myth and then died for that falsehood or that Jesus really returned from the grave? On the surface, the answer to that question is easy. It is far easier to believe that men would be deluded into a falsehood, in which they really believed, and be willing to give their lives for it, than to believe that somebody actually came back from the dead. There has to be other reasons to support the truth claim of the resurrection other than that people were willing to die for it. One might look at the violence in the Middle East and see 50,000 people so persuaded of the truths of Islam that they are willing to sacrifice themselves as human suicide bombs. History is replete with the examples of deluded people who have died for their delusions. History is not filled with examples of resurrections. However, despite the weakness of that particular argument, Lewis nevertheless made a great impact on people who were involved in their initial explorations of the truth claims of Christianity.

To this day, people who won’t read a Bible or won’t read other Christian literature will pick up Mere Christianity and find themselves engaged by the acute mental processes of C.S. Lewis. The church owes an enormous debt to this man for his unwillingness to capitulate to the irrationalism that marked so much of Christian thought in the twentieth century – an irrationalism that produced what many describe as a “mindless Christianity.”

The Christianity of C.S. Lewis is a mindful Christianity where there is a marvelous union between head and heart. Lewis was a man of profound sensitivity to the pain of human beings. He himself experienced the crucible of sanctification through personal pain and anguish. It was from such experiences that his sensitivity developed and his ability to communicate it sharply honed. To be creative is the mark of profundity. To be creative without distortion is rare indeed, and yet in the stories that C.S. Lewis spun, the powers of creativity reached levels that were rarely reached before or since. Aslan, the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia, so captures the character and personality of Jesus; it is nothing short of amazing. Every generation, I believe, will continue to benefit from the insights put on paper by this amazing personality.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is author of the book The Truth of the Cross.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

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by R.C. Sproul

The gospel of Luke ends with a supremely jarring statement: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (24:50-53).

What is jarring about this passage is, as Luke reports the departure of Jesus from this world, the response of His disciples was to return to Jerusalem with “great joy.” What about Jesus’ departure would instill in His disciples an emotion of sheer elation? This question is made all the more puzzling when we consider the emotions the disciples displayed when Jesus earlier had told them that His departure would come soon. At that time, the idea that their Lord would leave their earthly presence provoked in them a spirit of profound remorse. It would seem that nothing could be more depressing than to anticipate separation from the presence of Jesus. Yet, in a very short period of time, that depression changed to unspeakable joy.

We have to ask what is it that provoked such a radical change of emotion within the hearts of Jesus’ disciples. The answer to that question is plain in the New Testament. Between the time of Jesus’ announcement to them that He would soon be going away and the time of His actual departure, the disciples came to realize two things. First, they realized why it was that Jesus was leaving. Secondly, they understood the place to which He was going. Jesus was leaving not in order that they might be left alone and comfortless, but that He might ascend into heaven. The New Testament idea of ascension means something far more weighty than merely going up into the sky or even to the abode of the heavenlies. In His ascension, Jesus was going to a specific place for a specific reason. He was ascending into heaven for the purpose of His investiture and coronation as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is King in the highest possible sense of kingship.

In biblical terms, it is unthinkable to have a king without a kingdom. Since Jesus ascends to His coronation as king, with that coronation comes the designation by the Father of a realm over which He rules. That realm is all creation.

The King is already in place. He has already received all authority on heaven and on earth. That means that at this very moment the supreme authority over the kingdoms of this world and over the entire cosmos is in the hands of King Jesus. There is no inch of real estate, no symbol of power in this world that is not under His ownership and His rule at this very moment. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in chapter 2, in the so-called kenotic hymn, it is said that Jesus is given the name that is above all names. The name that He is given that rises above all other titles that anyone can receive, is a name that is reserved for God. It is God’s title Adonai, which means the “One who is absolutely sovereign.” Again, this title is one of supreme governorship for the One who is the King of all of the earth.

The New Testament translation of the Old Testament title adonai is the name lord. When Paul says that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow and every tongue confess, the reason for the bowing in obeisance and for confessing is that they are to declare with their lips that Jesus is Lord – that is, He is the sovereign ruler. That was the first confession of faith of the early church.

The lordship of Jesus is not simply a hope of Christians that someday might be realized; it is a truth that has already taken place. It is the task of the church to bear witness to that invisible kingdom, or as Calvin put it, it is the task of the church to make the invisible kingdom of Christ visible. Though invisible, it is nevertheless real.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is president and chairman of the board of Ligonier Ministries, and he is author of The Last Days According to Jesus.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

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by R.C. Sproul

People use various adjectives to differentiate styles of worship. Some speak of high liturgy or low liturgy, or they speak of formal worship in relative degrees, depending on whether the ministers or priests wear vestments, whether printed prayers or spontaneous prayers are used, whether the music is classical or contemporary, and other criteria. These adjectives are employed because different styles of worship have arisen as a reaction against what could be called a high liturgy or a classical, traditional pattern of worship. Why has that reaction occurred?

At the time of the Reformation, some people in Protestant churches reacted against the traditional Roman Catholic style of worship. Some of that reaction was theological, but not all of it. Some of it was based on a zealous desire to do nothing in the way Rome did it. For instance, during the time Martin Luther hid at Wartburg Castle and translated the Bible from the original languages into German, one of his disciples in Wittenberg, Andreas Carlstadt, started vandalizing churches, smashing stained-glass windows, overthrowing the furniture, and doing all sorts of damage in the name of reform. When Luther heard of this, he was upset and disciplined Carlstadt for his over-zealous reaction against the sacred things of the past.

Carlstadt erroneously directed his ire against the “form” of Roman Catholic worship. The problem was not with the form but with the formalism into which Rome had fallen. The word formalism means that the form becomes the end in itself. Another word that means much the same is externalism, which is the condition that exists when all that exists are the external elements, while the internal elements, the heart and soul, are absent. The Reformers’ true goal was to cure the formalism and externalism of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the same way, the Old Testament prophets were vehement in their denunciations of the dead, empty formalism into which Jewish worship had degenerated. As a seminary student, I had to read two books on worship, one that favored a low liturgy and another that favored a high liturgy. The book that favored the low liturgy was presented as an expression of “prophetic” worship in the church, whereas the book that advocated a high liturgy presented itself as following the priestly tradition of worship. After reading these books, we students had to defend one or the other style of worship. I was astonished to discover that I was the only person in the class who favored the high liturgy and the priestly tradition. My professor was equally surprised at me, because he knew that I was a committed evangelical Christian, and evangelicals traditionally shy away from liturgical worship.

Why did I choose the high liturgy position? The author of the book on the priestly tradition convinced me by showing that when we go back to the prophetic critique of the deadly forms of worship that God rejected in Israel, the prophets were reformers but not revolutionaries. What’s the difference? The prophets nowhere rejected the liturgies of worship that God had ordained for His people. Instead, the prophets denounced the decadence of the people’s practice in following these liturgies. The problem wasn’t with the liturgies; the problem was with the worshipers, who came with cold hearts and went through the liturgies simply by rote, with uninvolved and untouched hearts.

Jesus, too, was a reformer in this sense. Exhibit A of externalism in the Bible is the Pharisees, who went through all of the outward rites, all of the liturgies that God had prescribed, but their hearts were not in it. They skated on the surface of superficial lip-service to God. As Jesus said of them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me . . .'”(Matt. 15:7–9a).

There is no doubt that God wants His worship to have form, so the question is not whether we will have a liturgy or not. The issue is whether the liturgy is biblical in its content, and ultimately, whether we are using the liturgy to worship in spirit and in truth. No matter what the liturgy is, whether it’s a plain liturgy, a simple liturgy, or a complex, highly symbolic liturgy, it can be formalized and externalized so that it is corrupted to the point that God despises it. As we seek out the forms of worship that please God, we must be vigilant lest we fall into formalism or externalism.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

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by R.C. Sproul

The rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation from Wittenberg, Germany, throughout Europe and across the Channel to England was not spawned by the efforts of a globe-trotting theological entrepreneur. On the contrary, for the most part Martin Luther’s entire career was spent teaching in the village of Wittenberg at the university there. Despite his fixed position, Luther’s influence spread from Wittenberg around the world in concentric circles – like when a stone is dropped into a pond.

Many means were used to spread Luther’s message to the continent and to England. One of the most important factors was the influence of virtually thousands of students who studied at the University of Wittenberg and were indoctrinated into Lutheran theology and ecclesiology. Like Calvin’s academy in Geneva, Switzerland, the university became pivotal for the dissemination of Reformation ideas. Wittenberg and Geneva stood as epicenters for a worldwide movement. The printing press made it possible for Luther to spread his ideas through the many books that he published, as well as his tracts, confessions, catechisms, and pamphlets. In addition to these methods of print, music was used in the Reformation to carry the doctrines and the sentiments of Protestantism through the writing of hymns and chorales. Religious drama was used not in the churches but rather in the marketplace to communicate the central ideas of the movement – the recovery of the biblical Gospel.

Students from England, who studied at Wittenberg also had a major impact in bringing the Reformation across the Channel to Great Britain. Probably the most important person, in the English Reformation was William Tyndale, whose translation of the Bible into English was of cataclysmic importance. In 1524, he left England for the continent and studied for a period of time at Wittenberg. His first edition of the New Testament was published in Flanders in 1526, five years after the fated Diet of Worms during which Luther gave his famous “Here I Stand” speech. Thousands of these Bibles were smuggled into England.

In addition to those who influenced the English Reformation directly from Luther’s Germany, were those whose influence came by a more circuitous route, via Geneva, Switzerland. John Calvin himself had to flee from Paris because of the views he learned from his friends who had been influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. This Frenchman found his refuge in Geneva, where his pulpit and teaching ministry became known around the world. Geneva became a city of refuge for exiles who fled there for safety from all over Europe. Of the countries that sent exiles to Calvin’s Geneva, none was more important than England and the British Isles. John Knox, who led the Reformation in Scotland, spent some time in Switzerland at the feet of Calvin, learning his Reformation theology there. Though Calvin was twenty-six years younger than Luther, Luther’s views made a dramatic impact on the young Calvin’s life while he was still in his twenties. Though Calvin is usually associated popularly with the doctrine of predestination, it is often overlooked that there was nothing in Calvin’s view of predestination and election that was not first articulated by Luther, especially in Luther’s famous work The Bondage of the Will.

Some of the exiles from England under Calvin’s tutelage set upon the task of translating the Bible into English. This Bible, called the Geneva Bible, was the first Bible to have theological notes printed in the margin, which notes were heavily influenced by Calvin’s preaching. This Bible was the predominant Bible among the English for the next hundred years before it was supplanted by the popular King James Version. It was the original, official version of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. It was the Bible of Shakespeare, the Bible the Pilgrims brought with them on the Mayflower to America, and it was the Bible of choice among America’s early colonists.

From Wittenberg directly to England, or from Wittenberg to Geneva to England, in this roundabout route, the seeds of the Reformation that were planted in Germany sprouted into full bloom as they made their way into the English empire. To trace the pathway from Wittenberg to London, one must follow a series of circuitous routes, but the origin of that movement in Wittenberg is unmistakable, and its influence continues even to this day.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is president and chairman of the board of Ligonier Ministries, and he is author of Truths We Confess.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

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from Tabletalk magazine, October 2007
by R.C. Sproul

The adage tells us that there is a destination, the road to which is paved with good intentions. It is the destination that we would prefer not to reach. Good intentions can have disastrous results and consequences. When we look at the revolution of worship in America today, I see a dangerous road that is built with such intentions. The good purposes that have transformed worship in America have as their goal to reach a lost world – a world that is marked by baby boomers and Generation Xers who have in many ways rejected traditional forms and styles of worship. Many have found the life of the church to be irrelevant and boring, and so an effort to meet the needs of these people has driven some radical changes in how we worship God.

Perhaps the most evident model developed over the last half century is that model defined as the “seeker-sensitive model.” Seekers are defined as those people who are unbelievers and are outside of the church but who are searching for meaning and significance to their lives. The good intention of reaching such people with evangelistic techniques that include the reshaping of Sunday morning worship fails to understand some significant truths set forth in Scripture.

In Romans 3, Paul makes abundantly clear that unconverted people do not seek after God. Thomas Aquinas understood this and maintained that to the naked eye it may seem that unbelievers are searching for God or seeking for the kingdom of God, while they are in fact fleeing from God with all of their might. What Aquinas observed was that people who are unconverted seek the “benefits” that only God can give them, such as ultimate meaning and purpose in their lives, relief from guilt, the presence of joy and happiness, and things of this nature. These are benefits the Christian recognizes can only come through a vital, saving relationship with Christ. The gratuitous leap of logic comes when church leaders think that because people are searching for benefits only God can give them, they must therefore be searching after God. No, they want the benefits without the Giver of the benefits. And so structuring worship to accommodate unbelievers is misguided because these unbelievers are not seeking after God. Seeking after God begins at conversion, and if we are to structure our worship with a view to seekers, then we must structure it for believers, since only believers are seekers.

The purpose of corporate assembly, which has its roots in the Old Testament, is for the people of God to come together corporately to offer their sacrifices of praise and worship to God. So the first rule of worship is that it be designed for believers to worship God in a way that pleases God.

Another erroneous assumption made in the attempt to restructure the nature of worship is that the modern generation has been so changed by cultural and contextual influences – such as the impact of the electronic age upon their lives – that they are no longer susceptible to traditional attempts of being reached by expository preaching. So the focus of preaching has moved in many cases away from an exposition of the Word of God. We assume this alteration is necessary if we’re to reach the people who have been trapped within the changes of our current culture. The erroneous assumption is that in the last fifty years, the constituent nature of humanity has changed, as if the heart can no longer be reached via the mind. It also assumes that the power of the Word of God has lost its potency, so that we must look elsewhere if we are to find powerful and moving experiences of worship in our church. Though the intentions may be marvelous, the results, I believe, are and will continue to be catastrophic.

Ligonier Ministries – Tabletalk Magazine

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is author of the book The Truth of the Cross.

©2007 Ligonier Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 01, 2007

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R.C. Sproul
by from Tabletalk magazine, September 2007

Today, the word honor has all but disappeared from the English language. I speak about honor because the dictionary lists the term honor as the chief synonym for the word integrity. My concern in this article is to ask: “What is the meaning of integrity?” If we use the pedestrian definitions given to us by lexicographers, such as we find in Webster’s dictionary, we read several entries. In the first instance, integrity is defined as “uncompromising adherence to moral and ethical principles.” Second, integrity means “soundness of character.” Third, integrity means “honesty.” Fourth, integrity refers to being “whole or entire.” Fifth and finally, integrity means to be “unimpaired in one’s character.”

Now, these definitions describe persons who are almost as rare as the use of the term honor. In the first instance, integrity would describe someone whom we might call “a person of principle.” The person who is a person of principle is one, as the dictionary defines, who is uncompromising. The person is not uncompromising in every negotiation or discussion of important issues, but is uncompromising with respect to moral and ethical principles. This is a person who puts principle ahead of personal gain.

We also see that integrity refers to soundness of character and of honesty. When we look to the New Testament, for example, in the epistle of James, James gives a list of virtues that are to be manifested in the Christian life. In the fifth chapter of that letter at verse 12, he writes, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no,’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” Here James elevates the trustworthiness of a person’s word, the simple statement of yes or no, as a virtue that is “above all.” What James is getting at is that integrity requires a kind of honesty that indicates that when we say we will do something, our word is our bond. We should not require sacred oaths and vows in order to be trusted. People of integrity can be trusted on the basis of what they say.

We look back to the Old Testament to the experience of the prophet Isaiah in his vision recorded in chapter 6 of that book. We remember that Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up as well as the seraphim singing the Trisagion: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” In response to this epiphany, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me,” announcing a curse upon himself. He said the reason for his curse was because “I am undone” or “ruined.” What Isaiah experienced in that moment was human disintegration. Prior to that vision, Isaiah was perhaps viewed as the most righteous man in the nation. He stood secure and confident in his own integrity. Everything was being held together by his virtue. He considered himself a whole, integrated person, but as soon as he saw the ultimate model and standard for integrity and virtue in the character of God, he experienced disintegration. He fell apart at the seams, realizing that his sense of integrity was at best a pretense.

Calvin indicated that this is the common lot of human beings, who as long as they keep their gaze fixed on the horizontal or terrestrial level of experience, are able to congratulate themselves and consider themselves with all flattery of being slightly less than demigods. But once they raise their gaze to heaven and consider even for a moment what kind of being God is, they stand shaking and quaking, becoming completely disavowed of any further illusion of their integrity.

The Christian is to reflect the character of God. The Christian is to be uncompromising with respect to ethical principles. The Christian is called to be a person of honor whose word can be trusted.

Ligonier Ministries – Tabletalk Magazine

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is the author of the book A Taste of Heaven.

©2007 Ligonier Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

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