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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Dr. Spencer, last time you made the argument that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God and, since the Bible is our ultimate standard, we must accept what it says. It seems that the real issue here is one of authority, wouldn’t you agree?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Authority clearly is the key issue. And authority is a bad word in modern society.

Marc Roby: It certainly is. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker you occasionally see that says “question authority”.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, I’ve seen that bumper sticker. I also remember a cartoon I saw once though. It showed a guy who had obviously just died and was in line waiting to see St. Peter at the gate of heaven. He had on a T-shirt that said “question authority” and the person in front of him in line looked at his shirt and said something like “bummer of a shirt to have on today.”

Marc Roby: That would be an unfortunate choice of clothing. And God is the ultimate authority imaginable.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We should never approach him without fear and trepidation.

Marc Roby: In fact, Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the Bible repeats that idea in a number of places. I think the key notion here is one of humility. As we discussed in Session 2, one of the most important things we need to grasp is the creator/creature distinction. God is the creator, we are just creatures. We are, to be sure, marvelous creatures. When you look at what a world-class scientist, or musician, or artist, or athlete can do it is truly amazing. But, rather than idolize the person to whom such gifts have been given, we should stand in awe of the one who gave him such amazing gifts.

Marc Roby: But, sadly, man most wants to exalt himself and refuses, in his natural state, to willingly submit to the authority of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has a wonderful short book on Authority[1] and I am going to draw from it in what we discuss today. He makes the point that much of what is wrong with the modern church is its lack of authority. He suggests, I think quite rightly, that one of the things that attracts some people to the Roman Catholic church, and to various cults as well, is that they speak and act as if they had authority.

It is somewhat paradoxical, but in spite of our natural aversion to being under authority, most people actually desire authority; at least in the sense that they desire an authoritative statement about the purpose of life and how they are to live it. We tend to not like uncertainty, but to have certainty requires authority.

Marc Roby: Of course, many people today would deny that objective truth even exists, but without objective truth, you can’t have certainty.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although, such people often contradict themselves because they are quite certain of the absolute objective truth of the statement that absolute objective truth doesn’t exist. In any event, Lloyd-Jones makes the point that people throughout history have been trying to find ultimate truth through their own efforts.

Marc Roby: But, of course, they have miserably failed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they have. And the Bible deals with this issue in the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the most quoted and misrepresented books in the Bible because it deals with an honest attempt by the writer to figure out the meaning of life. He is called “The Teacher” in the book, and many think that it was Solomon who wrote it. But, independent of who wrote the book, it was someone who had achieved great success, fortune, power and fame in this world, and yet found it all unfulfilling without God.

Marc Roby: I can relate to that feeling; there are many things in life that you look forward to and, then, when you achieve them, you find that they aren’t nearly as wonderful as you thought they would be.

Dr. Spencer: I can second that comment. And the Teacher in Ecclesiastes states it very clearly at the start of the book. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 he says, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” [2] That word “meaningless” can also be translated, as it in the King James Version, as vanity. It can also be translated as breath, as it is, for example, in Psalm 39, verse 5, where we read “Each man’s life is but a breath.” So, the idea is clear. The Teacher is saying that life is like a breath, here one moment, gone the next. It is of no real consequence or significance. And then he goes on to explain why he says this. Beginning in verse 3 he writes, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.” And he goes on in this vein for some time.

Marc Roby: Not exactly an uplifting passage, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it’s not uplifting at all. And it isn’t meant to be. It is, however, an accurate picture of the way things are if we imagine a world where there is no God. The Teacher goes on in the book to consider the meaning of gaining wisdom, or riches, or of indulging in every pleasure imaginable, and he concludes that none of it has any real deep, lasting significance. A phrase that is repeated nine times in the book sums it up well, he says it is all “a chasing after the wind”.

Marc Roby: Now that is a great image. You can chase the wind all day long and you’ll never catch it.

Dr. Spencer: True. It’s a fabulous image to have in mind. But, it also conveys a serious message. Life without God is meaningless. If the materialistic worldview were correct, and I argued in Session 1 that it is not, then we would be left with despair and depression. In fact, there is a great quote from Bertrand Russell, the great English philosopher and mathematician of the early 20th century. In his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, he wrote about a materialistic view of life with unusual and insightful candor. Let me quote a few snippets to put in context the quote I really want to get to. He wrote, “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving”[3], in other words, we are result of blind evolution. And he went on to say that “no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; [] all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system”, and then he concluded this passage with the quote I want to examine. He wrote, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Marc Roby: Wow. I hope you don’t mind if I stay out of that building, it doesn’t sound safe to me.

Dr. Spencer: You don’t have to worry Marc. That building is only entered by those who deny the existence of God. But, as I said, he wrote with uncommon candor and insight. His statement lines up quite nicely with statements by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. If you try to find meaning and purpose in life without God, you end up frustrated and in despair.

Now, we must admit of course that the mere fact that life without God is meaningless does not in any way prove that God exists. There are many today who would say, in essence, that we just need to suck it up and deal with the unpleasant realities that when we die we’re gone and that life has no intrinsic value or purpose. But, as I argued in Session 1, an atheistic worldview is, I think, intellectually untenable in light of all that we now know about the world we live in. And, further, as the Bible itself tells us, everyone knows that God exists, although many will deny that they know it. So, rather than building on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair” as Russell counsels, I prefer to build on the firm foundation of God’s Word – which is why, by the way, the theme music for this series is the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The first line reads, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

Marc Roby: That is a great hymn. And Russell is a great example of what Paul tells us in Romans 1 – that men suppress the truth; and it seems that some, like Russell, are much better at suppressing it than others. But, how does this all relate back to the topic of authority?

Dr. Spencer: I think it relates very directly. You see, the issue is that man wants certainty, and he wants to believe in a benevolent and almighty protector and a wonderful life after this one and so on, but he does not want anyone telling him what to do, and he certainly does not want to be judged. So, he suppresses the truth he knows – that God exists – and searches for some kind of certainty apart from God, which drives him to Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair”. I don’t know a great deal about Russell’s life, but I do know that he was divorced three times and married four times, so I’m going to hazard a guess that he wasn’t too thrilled about God’s view of marriage, to point out just one example of why people don’t like authority.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s response to his vision of God on the throne, he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips”.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse. I also think of the apostle Peter. Remember the story in Luke, Chapter Five, where Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, and then Christ told him to lower his nets and all of a sudden he had such a huge catch that the nets began to break and the boat began to sink? He had some glimpse of who Jesus really is and his response was to say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

That is the response of any reasonable person when he contemplates coming before a just, holy and omnipotent God. God knows everything I have ever done, said, thought or felt. And he will bring all of it to his perfect bar of justice. That is terrifying. It should be terrifying, because we are sinners who deserve God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: And God is the one with authority, and power, to judge our sin. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes came to the right conclusion in the end, we read in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly the right conclusion. So, authority is, as you said at the beginning, the issue of central importance. It is also why we are spending time in these podcasts to establish the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and why we are interested in then exploring what God commands us to believe and do in that Word. It is only in his Word that we find out that we can escape this terrifying judgement by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to note that God does not request, or suggest that we do, or don’t do, certain things; he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important distinction. And to command requires authority. As I said early on, in his book on authority Lloyd-Jones points out that a major problem with the modern church is a lack of authority. And I think that, in large part, that lack of authority stems from a lack of faith in the Word of God, which is also one of the points Lloyd-Jones makes.

But, if we believe in the authority and infallibility of the Bible, and I do, then when we speak about what the Word says, we are speaking with authority. The modern church should not approach preaching as though we are just offering people one idea out of many, which they are free to examine and decide, with human reason as the ultimate authority, whether it’s right or not. We must preach the truth with conviction and clarity, and with authority. If God opens a person’s eyes to the truth, then they will respond. If he doesn’t, then they will not respond.

But, when we preach the Word of God we must speak with authority. The Bible tells us who God is, what he loves and what he hates, and it is filled with commands for his creatures to obey.

Marc Roby: And Jesus sets the example for us, doesn’t he? He spoke with absolute authority when he was here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly did. One of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture is in Luke 8, where we read about Jesus and his disciples heading out to sail across the Sea of Galilee. On the way, Jesus fell asleep, which is clear sign that he was fully human. But then, we are told that a squall came up, the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. So, we read in verses 24-25, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’”

I love that passage because, in addition to showing that Jesus was fully human, it also clearly shows his divinity. You notice that he didn’t pray for God to quiet the storm, he simply rebuked the wind and the waves himself. Only God can do that! And so, it shows how Jesus spoke with authority, even authority over the inanimate creation.

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where we read in Matthew 7:28-29 that, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And there are many other places too. In the Sermon on the Mount you just mentioned, Jesus gave authoritative interpretations of the Ten Commandments to show the people they were wrong in their understanding. For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, we read that he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We see a number of places where Jesus says similar things, “you have heard”, followed by “but I tell you”. He is claiming the authority of God himself. He is making his own words and interpretations equal to the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: When I read passages like the one you just quoted, I’m always surprised to hear people who call themselves Christians and think that Christ did away with the Old Testament law.

Dr. Spencer: So am I. It is relatively easy to not commit the physical act of adultery, but to avoid even a lustful look? That is much, much harder I’m afraid.

Marc Roby: I agree. And yet, the Bible presents us with a holy God who commands us to live holy lives as well.

We are out of time for today, and we’ve taken a bit of a detour to discuss this issue of authority, but I think it is an important topic. I look forward to continuing our discussion next time.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961

 

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by examining why we should believe that the Bible is, in fact, the very Word of God.

Dr. Spencer, in Session 1 you argued that being an atheist is intellectually untenable and everyone should be concerned to know what the Bible says because it claims to be the Word of God. I’d like to spend some time today examining that claim. How can we know that the Bible is the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: We can know because the Bible claims to be just that, the Word of God.

Marc Roby: But isn’t that circular reasoning? You’re saying, in essence, that because the Bible is the Word of God, you believe it when it says it is the Word of God. Most people think circular reasoning is invalid. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: Let me defer answering that question for a moment. We need to establish an important principle first. Namely, that all human beings, whether we are aware of it or not, have some ultimate standard for determining what we believe to be true. Of course, we all have many different ways of determining if a particular statement is true.

For example, if you ask me whether or not some mathematical formula is correct, there are techniques I have learned that I would apply to determine whether or not I think the formula is right. And, if you ask me whether some theological statement is true or not, I would use different criteria to evaluate it.

But, independent of the many different ways we have for determining the truth or falsehood of a particular statement, we all have some ultimate standard to which all other standards or methods are subservient. And the really surprising thing is that when you sit down and consider the possibilities carefully, there are really only two possible ultimate standards; human reason, or divine revelation.

Marc Roby: Now when you say human reason, do you mean that each of us sets ourselves up as the ultimate standard?

Dr. Spencer: Not necessarily. When I say human reason, there are different possibilities. It may be that you have a particular person that you hold in such high regard that he or she is your ultimate standard, at least in a particular area. More commonly, it is human reason in the abstract that we hold as the ultimate standard. What I mean by that is that although we realize that any individual person is fallible and might be wrong, we may have faith that the collective wisdom of mankind can determine what is true, at least in the end. But, of course, it is hard to find a meaningful question for which all of humanity will agree on the answer. So, if human reason is your ultimate standard, you either have to go with certain individuals, or a majority opinion, or you must trust your own ability to decide which answer is right, those are your three choices.

Marc Roby: Sounds like the famous Greek saying, “Man is the measure of all things!”

Dr. Spencer: I think that expresses it fairly accurately. The other possible ultimate standard though is divine revelation. And if God, who is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable and perfect creator, chooses to reveal to us what he determines we need to know, then clearly that revelation should be our ultimate standard for truth.

Marc Roby: But, don’t we still have to use our reason to determine that we believe something to be divine revelation and to understand that revelation?

Dr. Spencer: Of course we do. We can’t escape the use of our reason, nor should we try to do so. God gave us our minds for a purpose and we must use them. The Bible is full of admonitions to use our minds. Perhaps the most famous is in Chapter 1 of the book of Isaiah, in verse 18 God tells his people, “Come now, let us reason together, … Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” [1] So, we must use our reason. In fact, we should apply our reason most carefully to the Word of God since it is the most important thing we can possibly think about.

But, our reason should not be our ultimate standard. Martin Luther made a distinction between the magisterial and ministerial uses of human reason.[2] The magisterial use of reason is to have it serve as the magistrate, or judge, presiding over God’s Word. In other words, it is to set up human reason as the ultimate standard. And that we should never do. Who are we to stand in judgement over the Word of God? The ministerial use of reason, on the other hand, is as a servant of God’s Word. The word minister comes from the Latin word for servant. So, the ministerial use of reason refers to our using our reason to understand and apply the Word of God properly.

But, there is a problem here, and the problem has to do with sin. Sin affects every aspect of our being, including our thinking. In our natural state, we are in rebellion against God and, because of that rebellion, we do not think correctly. Our fundamental problem is a moral problem, but it affects every aspect of our being. So, God must draw us to himself and change our hearts or we will not accept the truth presented to us in the Word of God.

Marc Roby: And that change happens when we are born again.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. There is a radical change that takes place, which changes our mind, our will and our affections. We are no longer in rebellion against God and we accept his Word as our ultimate standard for truth. Theologians talk about the internal witness of the Holy Spirit as being the greatest evidence we have. God opens our eyes so that when we read the Bible we see that it is true. It is true about things that we can verify in other ways, and it is also true in things that we can’t possibly verify. When I read in the Bible, for example, that there is no one who does not sin, I know that the statement is true. I don’t need to be able to examine the life of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live to be able to confirm the statement. I know it is true because God, who knows all things, has told me it is true.

Marc Roby: But, of course, it also is seen to be true in our own experience. I’ve certainly never met anyone who was perfect.

Dr. Spencer: Nor have I. So, we see that our own experience – when it is correctly understood – corroborates the truthfulness of what the Bible tells us, but the Bible is the ultimate standard, not my reason or my experience.

Marc Roby: And that brings us right back to my original question. We’ve taken a slight detour to discuss ultimate standards, but let me ask again, “Why should we believe the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God?” If you answer that you believe it because the Bible is your standard and it claims to be the Word of God, you are using circular reasoning. And we don’t want to engage in that kind of circular reasoning, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the truth is that we can’t avoid circular reasoning when it comes to justifying our ultimate standard. If I claim that human reason is the appropriate ultimate standard, how can I justify that position? I must use human reason to justify that choice. So, the reasoning is always going to be circular when we justify our ultimate standard precisely because we must use our ultimate standard to justify our ultimate standard.

Marc Roby: Can that ultimate standard be tested or verified to be true?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it absolutely can be tested. I believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, but that faith is buttressed to a huge degree by external evidence. I want to be clear that I am absolutely not saying that we must subject the Bible to external proofs in order to trust it as our standard. I am simply saying that it would be irrational to put your trust in a standard that was obviously wrong. But that is certainly not the case with the Bible. In fact, quite to the contrary, there is a massive amount of evidence to corroborate the truthfulness of the Bible, and we will get to some of that evidence in upcoming sessions.

But for now, I want to consider what the Bible itself says. If it is our ultimate standard, then it must be the ultimate source for all of our doctrines, including our doctrine about the Bible itself.

Marc Roby: And the Bible quite emphatically does assert that it alone is God’s word.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. The Bible claims from beginning to end, both implicitly and explicitly, to be the very Word of God. For example, the Old Testament uses the phrases “God said”, “The Lord says”, and similar statements over 3,800 times according to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[3], and these expressions are clearly an explicit claim to being, at least in part, the Word of God.

In addition, there are implicit claims. For example, in Genesis 1 we are told things about creation that no mere man could know unless God revealed them to him. Similarly, in Job 1 and Zechariah 3, to name just two places, we are told about events in heaven that no man on earth could possibly know about unless God revealed them to him.

Also, it is clear that Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament considered the Old Testament to be the infallible Word of God. For example, in John 10 we read about an exchange between Jesus and some Jews who gathered to hear him speak. In that exchange, Jesus said that he was one with the Father, and, as a result of that statement, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy. He then quoted from a psalm and, in the midst of the quote, made an interesting statement. He said, “and the Scripture cannot be broken”. The point he was making was that the Scripture, even the psalms, which are certainly not historical narrative, are infallible. In other words, he was saying that the Bible, in its entirety, is infallible. Not one word of it can fail to be true. So, when it speaks of future events, we can be certain that they will come to pass.

Marc Roby: I also think of Christ’s responses when Satan came to test him.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly one of the best examples. Jesus said “it is written” over and over and the clear implication of that statement was that since it had been written in the Scriptures, it was absolutely true and binding on all beings. Then again in Mark 14:49, when he was speaking to those who came to arrest him, Jesus said that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” We can also look at Matthew 26:56 where Jesus said that what had been happening had “all taken place [so] that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” And the gospel accounts are filled with examples, like Matthew 2, verses 15, 17 & 23, and many other places, where we are told that what happened with Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we have the most classic statement of all in 2 Timothy 3:16, where the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that verse is probably the first you think of. And, of course, Paul was speaking about the Old Testament there, since the New Testament had not yet been written. And the Greek word used there is θεόπνευστος (theo-pneustos), which is well translated by the NIV as “God-breathed”. The Scriptures were breathed out by God himself, no less than if he were speaking directly to us.

Marc Roby: And we also read in many places that the Holy Spirit is directly speaking in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. For example, in Acts 4:25, after Peter and John had been released from jail, they joined with the other disciples in prayer, and in that prayer they said to God, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’” Which is a clear statement that the Holy Spirit was the author of what was written by King David in Psalm 2. In fact, in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, although we don’t know precisely how the writers were “carried along”, it is clear that the Holy Spirit was somehow guiding the process and ensuring the infallibility of the result. The Holy Spirit is, ultimately, the author of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we have adduced a number of Scriptures to show that the Bible claims the Old Testament to be the very Word of God, but, what about the New Testament?

Dr. Spencer: We can also firmly establish that the New Testament is the Word of God. First, notice that, in John 14:25-26, Jesus told his disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” And, in John 16:13 he said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” So, we see that Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them.

Marc Roby: So, we again see that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And the apostle Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians Chapter Two. He tells his readers that he is speaking about the secret wisdom of God, and in verse 10 he says that “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Then, in verse 13 he says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”

Marc Roby: And we also know that the Spirit is also necessary for someone to be able to understand the Bible correctly.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In the very next verse, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul wrote that, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And the only people who have the Holy Spirit are those in whom God has done a radical inward work, what the Bible calls being born again. And in light of that fact, everyone should cry out to God with the plea of the tax collector in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Dr. Spencer: So true.

Marc Roby: What other evidence do we have that the New Testament claims to be the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would also look at 1 Thessalonians 2:13, where Paul, Silas and Timothy wrote, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” So, we see that the words these apostles spoke to the church, which certainly includes the letters we have, were the Word of God.

Also, a very important verse is 2 Peter 3:16, wherein the apostle Peter wrote specifically about the letters of the apostle Paul and said, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So, Peter clearly considered Paul’s letters to be Scripture.

Marc Roby: Alright. Let me ask you about a verse that is sometimes used to argue that Paul did not consider himself to be writing words that carry the same authority as God’s own words. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 he prefaces some remarks about marriage by saying, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord) …”, and then, in verse 12 he prefaces some other remarks by saying, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord) …”. How would you explain these remarks?

Dr. Spencer: I actually think these are excellent evidence that Paul’s writings are the inspired Word of God! If you look at the passage you will notice that in both sets of comments he uses imperatives, the word “must” appears several times. There is no difference in tone nor is any indication given that there is a difference in the authority of the two passages. All that the apostle is doing is noting in passing that the first comments dealt with an issue about which Jesus Christ himself had spoken while he was here on earth, while in the second instance Paul was dealing with a situation that Jesus had not explicitly addressed himself. Nevertheless, Paul spoke with equal authority both times. And, if you look at Chapter 14 of this first letter to the Corinthians, in verse 37 Paul wrote, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” Which is a pretty explicit claim to authority.

Marc Roby: Well, we are out of time for today, but I look forward to continuing this discussion next time.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Noted in W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Crossway Books, 1984, pg. 36

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, pg. 50

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing with our summary of the Bible’s teaching.

In our last session, Dr. Spencer, you gave a very short outline of what the Bible teaches by quoting the answer to Question #3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

So, have we covered the Bible’s teaching about what man is to believe concerning God?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. The Catechism includes the gospel itself under the broad topic of what we are to believe concerning God. In other words, it includes all that we discussed last time, including the fact that man is sinful and can’t save himself, and that God has a plan to redeem some of his fallen creatures to spend eternity in his glorious presence. And that plan involved God sending his eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus Christ, to live a perfect sinless life and then offer himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all those who will put their trust in him.

That plan then becomes effectual in our individual lives when we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and trust in his saving work on the cross to redeem us from our sin. And it continues throughout life as God works with us to transform us to be more and more like Jesus.

Marc Roby: So, when the Catechism talks about what man is to believe concerning God, it is not referring to mere knowledge about God, it is talking about saving faith; which includes repentance and a personal commitment to Christ.

Dr. Spencer:  Right. In fact, if we don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ, we are disobeying God’s commands and further demonstrating our sinful rebellion. In Chapter 17 of the book of Acts, in verse 30, we read that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”[1] And, in 1 John 3:23 we read that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ”. And so, part of our duty as God’s creatures is to repent of our sins and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which means to abandon all trust in ourselves and to trust in Christ alone.

Marc Roby: Alright, that seems like a great segue to the second half of the Catechism’s answer, which says that the Bible teaches us what duty God requires of man, and you’re saying that part of that duty is to believe in Jesus Christ. What else are we duty-bound to do?

Dr. Spencer: When I quoted 1 John 3:23 a moment ago, I only gave you the first half of the verse, so let me give all of it now. It says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” This idea that we are to love one another is the biblical summary of God’s commandments as they relate to our relations with one another. Jesus himself, when asked what the greatest commandment in the law is replied, in Matthew 22:37-40, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Marc Roby: Let me stop you for a moment. It is interesting that 1 John 3:23, in giving us God’s commands for us, didn’t say anything about loving God.

Dr. Spencer: The idea of loving God is implicit in that verse since, as John labors to point out in the letter, and says explicitly in 1 John 5:3, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” Therefore, if we obey his command to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, we are demonstrating our love for God.

Marc Roby: Now that raises an issue that is very controversial in the modern church; this whole idea of obedience. As protestants, we believe that we are saved by grace alone, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: OK. But given that truth, many modern Christians say that obedience, while it may be nice, is not in any way necessary for a Christian. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond by first quoting a few representative Scriptures. In John 14:15 Jesus said that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And in John 14:23 Jesus said that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching”. Then, in the very next verse Christ states the case negatively by saying “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” In Luke 11:28 we read that Jesus said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Also, in Romans 1:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “Through him [meaning Jesus Christ] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

Marc Roby: I think it is safe to say that most modern Christians do not think of obedience and faith as being intimately linked.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. In fact, I’ve been told that the minute you say a true Christian must be obedient, or even that there must be a visible change in the person’s life, you are abandoning the Reformation principle of salvation by faith alone. But Romans 1:5, and many other Scriptures we can look at, make it abundantly clear that this is not the case. The reformers did not believe that you can be saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. The standard line about that is that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.

Marc Roby: 2 Corinthians 5:17 comes to my mind, which says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is one of the best verses. In fact, as you know, our senior pastor, Pastor Mathew, has pointed out that if you look at Ephesians 2:2 in the original Greek it speaks about those who have not been born again and it calls them sons of disobedience, while in 1 Peter 1:14, in talking about those who have been born again, it calls them children of obedience. So, when someone has been saved, they are transformed from being disobedient children to being obedient children. It is a manifestation of the fundamental change that has taken place.

If we are new creations, that must be evident. Ephesians 2:8-10 also come to mind. Verses 8 and 9 are very well known, they state that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And, when you stop there, the verses are consistent with the prevailing view that works are unnecessary. But, if you go on and read verse 10, it says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Now, if God has prepared good works for us to do, and we have been created in Christ Jesus to do them, it seems abundantly clear that doing these works is expected of us, and that is what the whole of the New Testament teaches.

Marc Roby: But, we must guard against the idea that our works are in any way meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: True. That is the distinction that we must uphold. The basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. And we become partakers of that righteousness by faith alone. But, the proof that we are truly saved, which means that we have been born again and are new creations in Christ Jesus, is that we do the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Our works are absolutely necessary to demonstrate that we have been born again. So, without works, we have no reasonable basis for making the claim to having been born again. But, our works are in no way at all meritorious.

Marc Roby: I think it would be good at this point to make completely clear exactly why our works can never be meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that’s a good idea. Our works can never be meritorious because, as I said in an earlier session, they are all tainted by sin and not perfect, and therefore, in-and-of themselves merit condemnation, not commendation. But, nevertheless, when someone has been born again and with a sincere heart desire to please God does what he requires in his Word, God graciously accepts that imperfect work.

Marc Roby: Much like a parent accepts a child’s attempt to do something that pleases them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are pleased when our young children learn to make their own bed, or clean their own room. We may still point out where their efforts were not up to standard, so that they can improve, but we are pleased with the effort. I think one of the best illustrations I’ve heard of this idea is the following: When a five-year old child draws a picture for us we may put it on the door of the fridge. And why do we do that? Is it because our five-year-old has produced a piece of art that has intrinsic merit as art? That certainly isn’t the case with any five-year-old I’ve ever come across. No, the reason we display it on the fridge is that it was an honest, but obviously imperfect, attempt by our child to draw something pleasing to us.

Marc Roby: We don’t want to run too far with the idea that flawed good works are acceptable to God though, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, of course not. If we do not make an honest attempt to give our best effort to God, then we should not think it will be accepted. Going back to our previous example, if a child is angry about something and grabs a crayon and scribbles something on the paper and tries to tell us it is a picture, we are not pleased. And we wouldn’t be pleased if a normal 15-year-old produced a drawing that looked like it was done by a 5-year-old either. We need to grow during our Christian life and our obedience should improve as we do so. And that growth should be evident to others.

Marc Roby: But, it matters where we start from doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Oh, absolutely it matters where we start. If someone who has been a profligate drunk and thief becomes a Christian, we expect radical change, but we don’t necessarily expect that person to be as outwardly conformed to God’s standard as someone who was a hard-working, honest and basically decent person before coming to faith. The standard for all of us is the same; we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is perfection. But, although no one achieves that goal in this life, we do start from different places and the rate of progress is not the same for everyone, nor is it completely consistent for anyone.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve established that works are important as proof of our salvation, so now let’s return to the answer in the WSC about what duty God requires of man. What exactly is that duty?

Dr. Spencer: Let me begin by quoting from the WSC again. The answer to question 39 states that “The duty which God requires of man, is obedience to his revealed will.”

Marc Roby: Even though we just discussed the necessity of good works for a Christian, I am still compelled to point out that the answer uses two words that modern people – even many who call themselves Christians – really don’t like; duty and obedience.

Dr. Spencer: Unfortunately, you’re right. But when we go back and consider who God is; namely, the eternal, self-existent creator of all things, and when we consider who we are; namely, sinful, rebellious creatures utterly dependent on him for everything, it is perfectly reasonable to speak of our duty and our obedience.

Marc Roby: Which brings us back to our need to have a proper understanding of who God is and who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And we are back to the conversation we had in our last session about what we can learn from Genesis 1:1. This fundamental distinction between the creator and the creature is so important. If we have that right, then the words duty and obedience make perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Right. So, our duty is obedience to the revealed will of God. Which begs the question, what is God’s revealed will?

Dr. Spencer: The answer that the Catechism gives is that God’s revealed will is his moral law, and it then goes on to say that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

Marc Roby: Well, we again have a problem with many modern professing Christians, don’t we? I mean, the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament and we are told in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” So, many modern professing Christians would say that the Old Testament Law no longer applies.

Dr. Spencer: I know many would say that, but they are wrong and they don’t get that idea from the Bible itself. When Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Christ is the end of the law, he did not mean that the law was being done away with. Rather, he meant that Christ was, as Pastor Mathew put it in his book on Romans, the goal of the law[2]. He was the one that the law pointed to. He alone kept it perfectly so that he could give his perfect righteousness to those who trust in him for their salvation.

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, wrote that “The design of the law was to lead people to Christ. The moral law was but for the searching of the wound, the ceremonial law for the shadowing forth of the remedy; but Christ is the end of both.”[3] The moral law of God shows us our sin and our need for a redeemer because we are incapable of keeping it ourselves. So, Christ kept it on behalf of all who will trust in him. In fact, in Matthew 5:17, Christ himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Marc Roby: In other words, as you said earlier, the basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. When we see our sin and need, and we renounce all trust in ourselves and place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith. Our sins are put in his account and his righteousness is put in our account.

Marc Roby: What is often called the double transaction, or double imputation.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 teaches it clearly, that verse says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing idea, that we become the righteousness of God. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think it would be good if you could summarize the main points we’ve covered about the duty God requires of us.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. First, it is absolutely clear from the Bible that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformation declared. It is the righteousness of Christ that saves us, not our own. But, here is where modern Christianity has gotten very far off the mark. It is equally clear from the Bible that we are not saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. Such a faith is, at best, mental assent. It is the faith of demons James tells us in James 2, and it will not save anyone. If we have been born again, then we are new creations in Christ Jesus and we will live differently. So, our good works are necessary proof of our salvation. Paul said, in Acts 26:20, that he “preached that [people] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Marc Roby: We will certainly return to these topics in more detail later, but I think that concludes our brief summary of the Bible’s teaching. I think I’ll close by quoting again the answer to Question three of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states it very well, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pp 125-131 (available on our Website: https://graceandglory.pub/)

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 6, pg. 354

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