23 Jul 2017

RC Sproul on Romans

Religious 29 Comments

I’ve been listening to RC Sproul go through the book of Romans.  

This is something that took me a long time to get, even though I had gone to religious schools for years and had accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. Nonetheless, when I was going through counseling with the preacher who was going to officiate at my wedding, one of the questions he had on a take-home worksheet was, “When you die and stand before God, what will you say to gain entrance into heaven?” (Or something to that effect.)

So I wrote something like, “I will say that I always tried to tell the truth even when it came at great personal cost.”

After he had had time to read the answers, he basically took out a Bible and proved to me that I was wrong. What startled me about this demonstration was:

(a) That apparently the Bible did *not* teach that there was a certain bar and your life had to be good enough to “pass” and make it into heaven.

(b) That somebody could actually use the Bible to settle such a question in the first place. I somehow had the idea that “this is ultimately up to God and who are we to know such a thing?”

I realize that my original viewpoint relayed in (a) seems natural and obvious, and I realize that even many Christians today believe (b). (I’ve had them argue with me on this blog in the past, and perhaps they’ll do so now as well.) But I am encouraging people (especially followers of Christ) who have never thought about (a) and (b) above to investigate more fully. For example you can try listening to Sproul and see if he suits you.

In a nutshell, the perspective my pastor shared with me was this: The works of men and women are but filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. People are prideful and don’t like to admit their error. They look around at others and think, “Well I’m not a murderer.” (My pastor in Houston once dealt with this trait by saying, “Convicted murderers in prison say without irony, ‘I never killed kids.'”) But compared to God, we are all abominable sinners. We sin dozens of times daily. (Remember that if you’re a married man and look with lust at another woman, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.)

So you deserve hell. God is just and so He can’t just turn a blind eye. But Jesus takes our sins upon Himself and died on the cross for us, reconciling us with the Father. If you are willing to accept the gift of grace provided through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, then you can enter the kingdom of God.

Note, sometimes people say, “Oh, so God says I will burn for eternity if I don’t love him. What a tyrant.” But no, He is saying you will burn for eternity which is a just punishment for your sins. You might disagree with that, but then again most convicted criminals probably don’t agree that they deserve the punishment they get. But Jesus provides a means by which God’s love and forgiveness can rescue us while still satisfying His righteousness and His law.

I am not trying to give elaborate defenses of any of the above, and I’m also sure that even other Protestants would quibble with my wording. But I wanted to at least give a succinct post laying out a perspective that would have blown my mind, even after I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. (Which shows that I didn’t fully understand all it entailed when I sincerely took that step.)

29 Responses to “RC Sproul on Romans”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    It’s interesting to compare this with Hinduism. First of all, we believe that every single good deed or bad deed that you do in your life is individually rewarded or punished. Sometimes these rewards and punishments take the form of good or bad experiences on Earth (either in your present life or in future lives). Other times, when you do an action that’s really good or really bad, the reward or punishment is given in the afterlife, either by being sent to Swarga (Heaven) or Naraka (H*ll). But in contrast to Christianity, both Swarga and Naraka are temporary. After you spend your allotted time in those places, you’re reborn on Earth and the cycle begins again. Hindus believe that the goal of life is to break out of this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and attain Moksha or salvation.

    Hindus believe in four ways to attain Moksha:

    1. Doing your duty while giving up any thought of rewards. That way your actions won’t generate any new rewards or punishments, so once you experience all the existing rewards and punishments you won’t get reborn anymore, and thus you’ll attain Moksha
    2. Obtaining knowledge of God, which will burn away all the rewards and punishments you’ve racked up so far, so you won’t get reborn anymore and thus you’ll attain Moksha.
    3. Devotional service to God, which will similarly burn away your existing rewards and punishments so you won’t get reborn anymore and thus you’ll attain Moksha.
    4. Simply surrendering to God and asking him to destroy all your exisiting rewards and punishments and grant you Moksha

    Method 4, known as Sharanagati, is similar to the Christian concept of Jesus’ dying for our sins and getting into Heaven by accepting

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      Sorry, the last sentence got cut off: Method 4, known as Sharanagati, is similar to the Christian concept of Jesus’ dying for our sins and getting into Heaven by accepting him as your lord and savior.

      • Harold says:

        Keshav, I am interested in what happens after you have attained Moksha. Is this very similar to the Christian idea of Heaven?

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Harold, different sects and schools of Hinduism differ on the nature of Moksha, but pretty much all Hindus at least agree on three things: it involves bliss unmixed with sorrow, it’s eternal, and it involves union with God.

          Beyond that, the details depend on what school of Hindu philosophy you believe in. There’s one philosophy called Advaita, which says that the world is an illusion, God is the only thing that exists, and you are God. So followers of Advaita think that as soon as you’ve realized that you’re God and the world is an illusion, that’s what Moksha is. Other Hindus, myself included, believe that the world is real, and that Moksha involves not becoming God or realizing that you’re God, but rather having equality of experience of God, i.e. experiencing everything God experiences, sharing in God’s bliss, etc.

          In any case, I would compare the Heaven of Christianity, not with Moksha, but with Swarga, except that Swarga is temporary.

          • Harold says:

            Keshav. I think Hinduism has a different perspective on time and duration. Some Christians look on the world as 6000 years old, and while this is not required or universal there is nothing said about very long durations – it is either recent or eternal. As I understand it, Hinduism teaches abut cycles of immense duration – many billions of years. This allows a different perspective, I think. Hindus are taught to believe in a very long passage from Human to Moksha, involving many iterations. For Christians it is more of an all or nothing affair. Although the idea of purgatory does extend this somewhat. Purgatory is I think only weakly supported by scripture.

            This allows a more complicated view of the afterlife. I would not want to get into a “my heaven is better than yours” argument, but it is interesting that the Hindu idea of Swarga is a step on the way to an ultimate goal. Whereas Christianity has only the similar idea of heaven as the ultimate goal. I think the the idea of very long duration cycles is central to this difference.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              Harold, yes, Hindus believe in incredibly long time scales. For instance, we believe that the maximum time a person can be in Swarga is 306.72 million years, if I’ve done my math right. (Most people stay there for much shorter periods of time though.) And yes, one crucial difference between Hinduism and Christianity is that in Christianity you only have one life on Earth, whereas in Hinduism every soul has had infinitely many past lives (going infinitely far back in time).

              By the way, I’d quibble with your statement “the Hindu idea of Swarga is a step on the way to an ultimate goal”. Swarga is actually a hindrance to getting Moksha, not a step towards it. A person needs to ultimately realize that all rewards that can be obtained through actions are ultimately temporary, including Swarga. Only then will they stop desiring things like Swarga, and instead seek Moksha.

              • Harold says:

                Keshav, thank you for the clarification on Swarga.

  2. Steve says:

    Bob, why should I listen to RC Sproul or the one pastor you talked with? Why do you think these two are authorities on Scripture and Christianity? Please explain.

    • Bob Murphy says:


      I don’t expect you to take anything from my anecdote except that I’m saying someone made me change my mind on something, so if you trust that I’m not a liar and I’m not stupid, that should be an indication that there is a persuasive case to be made. Just like if I said, “I was talking with this Keynesian and now I realize ‘in the long run we’re all dead’ doesn’t mean what I used to think,” that wouldn’t prove anything but it would be circumstantial evidence that maybe you have been using it wrong yourself.

      As far as Sproul, he is just walking through Romans. (Also with the pastor I mentioned: He just went through about 5 different Scripture verses.)

      If I link to an economics article and say, “Check this out, it’s great,” I’m saying you might find the arguments compelling.

      The only “authority” involved in the argument with Sproul (or the pastor) is that they are assuming the listener already agrees that statements in the Bible are true.

      • Steve says:

        Thanks. Just to clarify, however, I was asking a serious question, and you gave a non-responsive answer. I don’t mean this in a hostile way at all. Rather, I would like to hear your reasoning. I’ll ask again: please explain why I should believe and listen to your, RC Sproul’s, and your unnamed pastor’s views on Scripture and salvation, as opposed to those of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, the early Church Fathers, Karol Wojtyla, and Joseph Ratzinger’s? All of these men’s views were similar to Jim S’s below. Why should I believe your views on salvation and the Bible as opposed to those of the men I’ve mentioned above?

        • Steve says:

          Typo: I meant to write “Jeffrey S,” not “Jim S.”

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Bob isn’t telling you to blindly believe what R.C. Sproul says, he’s asking you to examine Sproul’s arguments and decide for yourself whether they make sense or not. (And similarly you can examine the arguments of the Catholic thinkers you mentioned.)

          • Steve says:

            Thank you, Keshav. I appreciate you chiming in, but your comment is similarly unresponsive to my very specific question(s) above.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              I don’t understand. Your question was “please explain why I should believe and listen to your, RC Sproul’s and your unnamed pastor’s views on Scripture and salvation”. And the answer is that Bob is not telling you to believe R.C. Sproul’s views, he’s asking you to evaluate R.C. Sproul’s arguments for yourself.

              • Steve says:

                Keshav, okay, but do you see that your answer is still unresponsive? And even though it’s not relevant to my specific question, I am quite familiar with RC Sproul and his views, having converted to Catholicism from Calvinism. The thought of Aquinas and John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) in particular simply blow Sproul out of the water, so to speak. No comparison. It’s like comparing genius to junior high school level (no personal offense intended toward Sproul).

              • Bob Murphy says:


                Now that I see where you’re coming from, wouldn’t it make more sense for you to say to me, “Bob, I recommend that you read XYZ from Aquinas. He has a different take on Romans and I think you’ll see that Sproul’s interpretation doesn’t hold up.” ?

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                No, I don’t see why my answer is unresponsive. You’re asking “Why should I believe Sproul?” And the answer is “No one is saying that you should believe Sproul, just that you should hear him out.” But it looks like you’ve done so already, so it’s a moot point.

                On a side note, I don’t have a dog in this fight, as I’m Hindu. I’ve never read Sproul, but I do have some familiarity with the thought of Aquinas, though the works of Edward Feser. I find Aquinas’ five arguments for the existence of God thoroughly unconvincing. (Hindus do believe in God, but we don’t think that the existence of God can be proven through logical arguments, rather it can only be proven through scripture. But how can you prove the truth of Hindu scripture without assuming that God exists? For that you’d need to study Hindu philosophy.)

  3. Khodge says:

    It sounds like one question but you actually asked two different questions, hidden by dropping the opening phrase. Try this:

    Theologically speaking…; to which the answer is: at the point of death, nothing you say will change your judgment.

    Pastorally speaking…; which is properly interpreted as: how am I responding to God’s call to me in this life?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      Or the question can be rephrased as “After you die, if God asks you whether you think you’re going to Heaven and if so why you think so, what would you tell him?”

    • khodge says:

      If we push it hard enough we can get back to the oldest texts of the Bible where the patriarchs actively negotiate with God as he walks the earth.

  4. Jeffrey S. says:


    Based on what I know about Protestant theology, this seems like a very fair summary. As a Catholic, I guess our perspective would be that you have it half right.

    1) This is the part we would agree with: “So you deserve hell. God is just and so He can’t just turn a blind eye. But Jesus takes our sins upon Himself and died on the cross for us, reconciling us with the Father. If you are willing to accept the gift of grace provided through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, then you can enter the kingdom of God.”

    2) However, for us, this is just the start of living as a Christian — we are then called to conform our lives to be like Christ (or to put it another way, to become Saints.) Of course, most of us will fall short — that’s why Catholics have the Sacrament of penance and and encouraging to do corporal works of mercy and such. That’s also why we believe in the doctrine of Purgatory — many of us will need some additional time before Heaven to get right with God.

    The problem with what I would call the strict Protestant view (maybe why Luther hated James 2:14-26?) is that people could confess their belief in Jesus and yet never change their lives — go on sinning and say to themselves, that Christ has taken care of everything so why worry? This seems problematic to say the least 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Really liked this, Jeffrey. I also thought this site gave a good explanation/summary: http://www.catholicbible101.com/faithandworks.htm

    • Harold says:

      “people could confess their belief in Jesus and yet never change their lives — go on sinning and say to themselves, that Christ has taken care of everything so why worry?”

      I used to think this, but it seems to me that a genuine confession and repentance requires a real desire to stop sinning. Sure, people fall short, but the desire and intent has to be there in the first instance, otherwise you are not really repenting. I assume God is able to perceive the difference between a genuine confession / repentance and one just going through the motions. Thus if I confess my adulterous affair whilst checking my diary for the next appointment, I am surely not absolved. This is how it seems to me, but I am looking at this from the outside, so to speak.

      • Harold says:

        My comment looks like it is just about confession, but it was intended to be wider than that. A genuine acceptance of Christ surely must be accompanied by desire to behave appropriately? Just saying you accept Christ but carrying on as before would not cut the mustard as it would demonstrate a less than full acceptance of Christ?

        • Darien says:

          I think Harold pretty much nails it here — acceptance of Christ is not about saying the right magic words, but is a momemt of transformation. Since we are flawed and sinful, of course, it will never be perfect, but there’s still a world of difference between pharisaic ritual behaviour designed to check att the right boxes and the honest acceptance of Christ.

          It is, of course, the old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate over again. I’m with Calvin on this one — salvation is purely by the grace of God, and good works flow from the acceptance of that grace, but are not a precondition for it. This is in good comport with the words of St. Paul, who told us that Christ’s sacrifice was both necessary and sufficient.

          • Steve says:

            As G.K. Chesterton said: “The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God; and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon.” (From the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 3, page 152).

  5. Tel says:

    When you die and stand before God, what will you say to gain entrance into heaven?

    I’m planning to give a nod to Groucho Marx:

    I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

  6. Mark says:

    You can learn a lot from Sproul. His podcast is one of the few I have on my phone. But he is a Calvinist, so you need to remember that as you listen to him – he will mix in theologically untenable comments periodically (sometimes he has whole programs on Calvinism) with otherwise sound teaching.

    • Steve Maughan says:

      I’d be interested in why you reject Calvinism out of hand

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