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Sproul: Reformation & revival built upon power of the Gospel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Martin Luther called them “jackanapes” and “wiseacres.”

The father of the Protestant Reformation, in the final sermon of his life in 1546, used those terms to upbraid ministers in his day who proclaimed a weak, truncated and unbiblical gospel.

Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul told more than 300 attendees of the annual Founders Ministries fellowship breakfast June 21 that many contemporary preachers proclaim a similar pseudo-gospel that would certainly draw the ire of the great reformer were he alive today. The breakfast was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The message that is often preached is not the full-orbed biblical Gospel that God uses to bring about genuine revival and reformation, Sproul said. Authentic reformation and revival will come only when the Gospel is preached in its biblical purity and fullness, he said.

Sproul, author of such books as “The Holiness of God,” “Chosen by God” and “Grace Unknown,” said that true revival cannot be secured by human means.

“A reformation is nothing we can generate on our own,” Sproul said. “We cannot manipulate it. We do not have the power at our disposal in ourselves to bring the life-transforming change that reformation yields.”

Throughout the history of the church, human ingenuity has exhibited a penchant for taming the offensive nature of the Gospel to fit contemporary sensibilities so that more people will embrace it, Sproul noted. When this has happened, many doctrines central to the Gospel have gone into eclipse, he said.

One such area that has fallen on hard times today is the complementarity of the law and the Gospel, he said. In many churches, preaching and teaching the law of God has gone into eclipse with the result that sin and human depravity are soft-pedaled or absent, Sproul said.

God uses His law as a light to shine forth His righteous character, the existence of sin in the human heart and the necessity of a redeemer, bringing sinners to the end of themselves and driving them to Christ, he said.

“Where there is no law, there is no forgiveness of sin. We’re not talking to people today who are walking about with a sense of burden from their sin … That’s where we are today. We don’t feel the weight of the reality of sin. Therefore, we’re not excited about the Gospel. We are looking somewhere else for the right program to make our churches grow, to make our people happy.

“When the character of God is eclipsed, His law is eclipsed. And when the law is eclipsed, our awareness of sin is eclipsed. And when we have no awareness of sin, who needs the Gospel?”

Other areas in which the Gospel has been compromised is the Reformation principle of “sola fide” — salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, Sproul said. Often, the modern Gospel is presented as meeting felt needs while faith in Christ alone is scuttled, he said.

“The Gospel is not about purpose for your life,” he said. “The Gospel is not about making you feel good. In the first instance, the Gospel is about who Jesus is and what He did. The Gospel also includes … how the objective work of Christ is subjectively appropriated. We receive the benefits of Christ by faith and by faith alone. So without sola fide, you don’t have the Gospel.”

Another non-negotiable aspect of the Gospel is often missing from contemporary preaching, Sproul said: the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. Imputation is the biblical teaching that God, in reconciling sinners to Himself, deposits the perfect righteousness of Christ into their accounts; because of Christ’s righteousness, sinners are considered righteous in the eyes of God.

“I have no hope in heaven and earth except I receive somebody else’s righteousness,” Sproul said. “The heart of the Gospel is the idea that the righteousness by which I am justified is an alien righteousness, a righteousness that is not my own.

“The only way I receive it is if it is imputed to me, if God counts me righteous which is accomplished if and when I put my trust in Christ alone and in Christ alone. It’s really not that hard to understand…. It is elementary theology. To get it in the bloodstream is the toughest thing to do as a Christian … because the devil comes and tells me I have to do something else [to be saved].”

Referencing Luther’s sermon, Sproul reminded listeners that those who preached a false gospel that necessitated the Protestant Reformation did so because they were seeking power. It is not so different today with the popularity of watered-down gospels, Sproul said, and Christians must follow Luther’s example and settle for nothing less than the uncompromised Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.

“You can’t improve upon the Gospel,” Sproul said. “You want a reformation, preach it. Don’t hide it. Make it clear and let God work.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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