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Romans by R. C. Sproul

February 17, 2011

Justin Taylor quotes R. C. Sproul’s commentary, Romans: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith on how some actions are good-good, bad-good, good-bad, and bad-bad.  Taylor quotes:

1) Actions that are good-good.

Good-good actions display the sort done by Christ, by God, and by the saints in heaven, where there is no alloy of evil mixed in. Whatever good we are able to do as we are being sanctified never reaches the level of good-good, because there is a pound of flesh in all the virtue we accomplish in this life. Augustine well said that our best works, because of the way in which they remain tainted by our human pride, are, at best, splendid vices.

2) Actions that are bad-good.

These actions are accompanied by the intention for virtue and obedience to God but nevertheless contain shortcomings and failures. Such actions are in keeping with what Calvin called civic virtue, in which righteousness is achieved even by the unregenerate pagan. Even an unbeliever can, through enlightened self-interest, stumble at times upon the good and do good, though not of a heavenly sort. Someone who drives his car according to the speed limit and is obedient to the civil magistrate is doing a good thing, even though not by God’s standard. God weighs actions in terms of both outward conformity to his law and inward motive. The pagan may have external righteousness. He may drive his car according to the speed limit, but the reason he drives his car at 55 mph is not that he has a desire in his heart to please the Lord; rather, he is trying to escape a speeding ticket or another negative impact. We find people driving at 55 mph on the interstate simply because they like to drive at 55 mph. We find these same people driving 55 mph in a 35-mph speed zone or even in a 25-mph speed zone. From time to time their outward behavior corresponds to the law but not from any virtuous intent. That is bad-good. The good is not motivated from a pure heart.

3) Actions that are bad-bad.

Bad-bad actions are so bad that no virtue is mixed in. Such actions are pure transgression outwardly, motivated by a hostile heart to God inwardly. Such are the sort of actions undertaken every moment by Satan and his fallen angels.

4) Actions that are good-bad.

It is easy to understand the first three categories. The more difficult one to understand is the one we call good-bad. When certain actions take place, they are simply evil; nevertheless, under the providence of God, under his sovereignty over human events, he has the power to bring good out of them, which is a glorious thing we can experience as Christians. Everything we are called upon to suffer, even things that are truly bad, are, nevertheless, being used by God for our ultimate good. Viewed from a proximate perspective, such actions are indeed bad, and there is no redemptive virtue in them, but from the ultimate perspective it is good that they are happening because God is using them for his ultimate purpose. That is a critical point to grasp if we are to understand anything of the providence of God.

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