I severely underestimated this book. R. C. Sproul brings balance and clarity to the conversations surrounding pleasing God, sanctification, and total depravity. Also, if you've heard Sproul speak you can expect the same scholarly approachability you're used to.
In Pleasing God, Sproul takes a different approach than most of the recent books on sanctification. He tackles topics that the other books don't cover (see overview below) and he addresses pertinent points with clarity and depth.
He begins and ends with grace
Regeneration is the beginning of a journey. It is a journey with successes and failures, with growth amid stumbling. At times, the progress seems painfully slow, but progress is there. It is a movement to sharper focus--a life that begins with a touch of tender grace and moves towards more grace. (p. 14)
He discusses the goal of Christian living, self-righteousness; he tackles our battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil; he pastorally approaches the topics of fear, guilt, and forgiveness; he also addresses carnality and the core sins of pride, slothfulness, and dishonesty. I found his closing discussion on doctrine and life particularly enlightening.
Sproul has a strong word against perfectionism and second blessing theology. Again he emphasizes the journey:
Sanctification requires far more than a quick experience of the laying on of hands. Rebirth is instantaneous. Justification instantaneous. But sanctification is a lifelong process. It involves a diligent struggle against a multitude of obstacles. It is like the journey of Bunyan's pilgrim, filled with pitfalls and laden with perils. It is a journey that takes us through the dark night of the soul, through the valley of shadow of death, and through the wilderness of temptation (p. 20).
An implicit point but one that must not be overlooked is the instantaneousness of justification. There's no need for a second blessing when you've been adopted by God, robed in the righteousness of Christ, and are transformed daily by the Spirit.
Sproul also delivers an important word against seeking " spirituality" (or what some may call religion now days) and actual righteousness (obedience rooted in our justification; see pp. 26-27). But his section on sanctification was the most helpful in the book. Discussion Matthew 5:20 "Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" Sproul says,
The deeper question, still remains: How do I know that I have the saving righteousness of Christ? Might I not deceive myself into thinking I have the real thing when, in fact, m faith is fraudulent? Just because a person claims to believe in Christ is no guarantee that he or she has saving faith (Matt. 7:21-23). It is by our fruits that we demonstrate the reality of our faith (Matt. 7:16-20). We know that God is pleased with those who truly honor Christ. We feel just as certain that He is not pleased when people blithely use His name but avoid any real life-affecting commitment to Him. That is the scary part of Jesus's warning. (p. 36)
There's so much more gold I could share from Pleasing God but I don't want to ruin your journey. I highly recommend checking this older Sproul book in the newly released format through David C. Cook. They're doing a great service for the church. We need more straightforward thinking on this topic. A final word of encouragement, especially for those who feel their faith fading
When Satan whispers to the believer, "You, with all your sin, can't be pleasing to God," the believer replies: "Ah, but I am. To God be the glory." (p. 93)