Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on December 22, 2015 and has been revised.
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification
By R.C. Sproul
Baker Books, 1995, 219 pp.
I’ve discussed several times how I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior back in 1983 and worshiped at an independent fundamental Baptist church until 1991 when I could no longer take the Falwellian hyper-patriotism and anti-homosexual harangues. Well, I walked away from the Lord for 23 years, but finally returned to Him in 2014. Upon my return, I was quite startled at how snug some evangelical pastors and para-church leaders had become with Roman Catholicism in my absence. Even the young pastor at the Southern Baptist church where we began attending frequently expressed his admiration for several Catholic theologians (we stopped attending there in 2015).
I then began reading material on the festering evangelical compromise with Rome, including books and articles on Chuck Colson’s Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) ecumenical project, which released its first joint declaration in 1994. ECT argued that, despite some “secondary” differences, Catholics and evangelicals shared a belief in the primary doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ, so unification was not only possible, but desirable in the face of the mounting opposition to Christian “morality” from an increasingly secularized society. See my review of ECT’s first book here.
There were many prominent evangelicals who vigorously opposed ECT including Reformed theologian, R.C. Sproul. Sproul’s “Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification” is a thorough rebuttal of ECT’s betrayal of the Gospel and the Reformation. The Catholic church teaches that God initiates salvation by the grace provided through its sacraments, but that it’s then up to Catholics to “cooperate with grace” and do their part to merit their salvation. So Catholics can also say they believe in “salvation by grace through faith,” BUT they can’t and they won’t say they believe in salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith ALONE, in Jesus Christ alone. Catholics believe they must perfectly obey the Ten Commandments to merit Heaven (and go to confession when they fail – repeat cycle). Every born-again believer knows that trying to obey your way into Heaven is a sheer impossibility and denies our sinful depravity and Jesus’ office as Savior.
Sproul gets deep into the theological nitty gritty in this book and dissects both sides with precision and charity. In a nutshell, Catholics believe they must become intrinsically, subjectively holy enough to hopefully merit Heaven. Their justification is their own “righteousness.” In contrast, evangelicals believe we are justified only by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that was imputed to us when we accepted Him as Savior by faith alone. If anyone believes all or part of their justification relies on their own “goodness,” then they have an incorrect (and spiritually moribund) understanding of why Jesus came and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection.
Praise the Lord for R.C. Sproul and the many other evangelicals who raised a red flag when Judas Colson and the other evangelical signers of ECT (Land, Lewis, Packer, Bright, Guinness, Noll, Robertson, etc.) betrayed the Gospel of grace.
Catholics who are interested in learning about the Biblical view of justification, by the imputation of Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness at the moment a person accepts Him as Savior, would do well to start with this book. Order from Amazon here.
Postscript: R.C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord on December 14, 2017.