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Convinced as he is that the document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" too readily assumes that evangelicals and Catholics share a common perception of the gospel, R. C. Sproul presents a cogent case that substantial disagreement remains on the doctrine of justification. Whereas both Scripture and the Reformation affirm justification as a divine imputation of righteousness to those who believe, the Roman position enunciated at the Council of Trent maintains that we are justified to the extent that we are morally renewed through human cooperation with God's prevenient and sanctifying grace. Sproul claims with some validity that while Rome asserts justification by grace, it actually teaches righteousness by works, since we are justified according to our response to grace. In the Reformation position, grace is the free, undeserved favor of God to sinful humanity; in the Roman position, grace is the infusion of righteousness that qualitatively alters our being and behavior, thereby making us acceptable to God.

Sproul rightly reminds us that for the Reformers, justification in its wider sense includes inward moral change as well, but only because God sanctifies those whom he justifies. The ground of our acceptance before God is outside us in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ. Yet the fruits of our justification are worked within us by the Spirit of God, and here the believer has an active role in demonstrating and manifesting God's grace.

Sproul is on firm ground in his insistence that the Reformation position must not be confused with any form of easy believism or cheap grace. Yet it would have been helpful if he had discussed how this position itself could lead to cheap grace by underplaying the need to work out our ...

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In the Magazine

October 7, 1996

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