[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: Before we resume our study of theology, we have a question from a listener. This question refers to Session 16, where we discussed the need to make our calling and election sure. Our listener writes, “You talked a lot about questioning your own profession of faith to make sure it’s true – questioning your motives, actions, habits, and heart-attitude. This is something that tends to get me stuck in introspection and self-focus. How can I gain strong assurance of salvation without getting stuck in an unproductive circle of introspection?”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important question. One of the main points I was trying to make in that session is that my confidence and hope are not based on anything that I am or have done, they are based on the work Jesus Christ is doing in me and God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 that he will complete the work he has started. So, in examining myself, I am not looking to see perfection, or to see that I am good enough for heaven. I can tell you for certain that none of us are perfect, and none of us are good enough for heaven. What we are looking for are signs that God is working in us to bring about serious change in our inner being. The real danger here is in mistaking some good change in habit – like stopping excessive drinking – for a deep-seated inner work of God.

Many people who are alcoholics, or addicted to cigarettes, or grossly obese are able to radically change their lives and stop these destructive behaviors on their own. You don’t need to be born again to accomplish these things. What you should be looking for to have assurance of salvation is evidence that there is a deeper work going on within.

So, for example, if someone has been an alcoholic and is born again, he doesn’t stop getting drunk just because it’s better for his health and will make his life better here and now. Having been born again, he knows that getting drunk is a sin that dishonors God and is disobedient to his commands and deserves punishment, and he is being transformed to see this truth more clearly as time goes on. He is also being transformed to realize that life is a gift from God, his body and his life are not his own, and he needs to work hard to use his gifts and resources for the good of God’s church. And he is being transformed to depend more and more on God’s power working within him to do what is right, rather than trying to do it in his own strength. In other words, his motives and methods will not be selfish, powered by human will alone, and focused on this life.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to notice that you said one who has been born again “is being transformed”, meaning that it is a continual work in progress.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a critically important point, none of these changes will be complete and perfect in this life. The former drunk may still find a seed within him that takes selfish pride in stopping his drinking and he may tend to focus on the benefits he gets in this life. And he may even fall down and drink at some time as well if he starts to depend entirely on himself. But, of course, if he is a true Christian he will repent and pray for God’s help to live in obedience. Nevertheless, neither our motives nor our actions are ever perfect in this life.

Marc Roby: I certainly know that mine aren’t, so it is comforting to know I’m not alone.

Dr. Spencer: Not only are you not alone, you are among the best possible company. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3. After saying in Verse 10 that he wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” he wrote, in Verses 12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” [1]

The Christian life is one of constant warfare. We have enemies on the outside; the world, Satan and his demons, and we have a traitorous enemy within, our old sinful nature, which is being put to death, but will never be completely dead in this life. I said during that session that “If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.” I think that is the key. A Christian has been humbled and sees himself as a sinner in need of a Savior and incapable of saving himself, and so he places his trust in Jesus Christ alone.

He doesn’t think that his problems are caused by bad things that have happened to him or been done to him, nor does he think his problems are just bad habits. And he isn’t primarily focused on this life. He realizes that he is a sinner. And that is a profound realization. A sinner is one who has offended Almighty God. He has violated God’s law and deserves punishment.

Marc Roby: That is a frightening realization.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. But here is exactly where the power of the gospel comes into play. If you examine your life and find it wanting, and then Satan attacks and brings all of your sins to mind, accusing you of not being a Christian, your response should be “You’re right Satan, I am a wretched sinner. But I’m saved by grace and Jesus Christ is my Lord, so go away!” We are promised in James 4:7 that if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest pieces of evidence you can have that you are truly born again is to find yourself seriously questioning whether or not you are born again. So, take heart. If you see that you are sinner in need of a Savior, cry out for God to have mercy and forgive your sins on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and then trust that he is faithful and will do what he has promised. When a Christian does this, he can come away with great confidence and assurance. A confidence and assurance that are based on God – his faithfulness, his ability, and his promises.  In his excellent commentary on the verses I read from Philippians 3, Matthew Henry wrote that “A holy fear of coming short is an excellent means of perseverance.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we see again that fear can be a good thing!

Dr. Spencer: Yes we do. And we also see that fear of coming short is great evidence that you are born again and, therefore, you can be confident that God will preserve you; I noted Philippians 1:6 earlier, but you can also look at Jude 24, where we read that God “is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy”. But, two caveats are in order here. First, our present assurance can only be as strong as our present obedience. If you are not experiencing any victory over sin at all, you have no basis for assurance. You should be questioning your salvation. But the right response is to humble yourself, cry out for mercy and trust God and his promises. The second caveat is that the only place we learn about God’s plan of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to him is from the Bible. So, your faith and life must be based on the Bible. If you don’t have an interest in learning what the Bible teaches, you are not born again. If you do have that interest, then praise God, and keep listening to our podcasts!

Marc Roby: Knowing that God has promised to complete his work is great assurance. Are we ready to move on with our study?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are. But I really appreciate that question and want to encourage our listeners to email their questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we are now ready to resume our study of biblical theology by continuing to examine extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we finished looking at evidence for the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt. And today we will examine evidence for the Israelites coming into Canaan sometime after 1400 BC.

Dr. Spencer, where would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin with solid, direct evidence that cannot reasonably be refuted. The Merneptah Stele was discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896 in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. It is also sometimes called the Israel Stele, and it dates from about 1210 BC. The last three lines of this stele describe a military campaign in Canaan and almost all scholars agree that they contain the oldest extra-biblical reference to Israel yet found.[3] Israel is described as one of the enemies that the Egyptians had to deal with in the region of Canaan, so it’s clear they were well established, and the Egyptians considered them a formidable enemy by 1210 BC.

Marc Roby: Alright. What else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The next evidence I would cite comes from the Amarna letters from the mid-14th century BC. These are clay tablets that contain diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and her representatives in Canaan. They discuss, among other things, dealing with a group of people called the Apiru, or Habiru. Some people think these are the Hebrews, although Kenneth Kitchen says that these terms cannot readily be linguistically related and he refers to them as “displaced people.”[4]

Nevertheless, at the very least these letters provide us with a clear picture of the activity in this region at the time that is completely consistent with the biblical account in the book of Joshua. And, if the people who think that the Apiru are the Hebrews are correct, these letters provide amazing evidence for the activity described in the book of Joshua.

Marc Roby: That would be truly incredible. Do we have anything more?

Dr. Spencer: We have quite a bit of indirect evidence for the entry of the Israelites into Canaan as described in the book of Joshua. But, before we get to that, let me talk about the most controversial of the evidence, the evidence for the destruction of Jericho.

Marc Roby: I’m sure most of our listeners have at least heard of Jericho, but perhaps I should quickly relate the biblical description of what happened there?

Dr. Spencer: Please do.

Marc Roby: Alright. According to the book of Joshua, the first city the Israelites captured after crossing the Jordon into Canaan was Jericho. God chose to make an example of Jericho to show the Israelites that he would give them victory in the conquest of the land, so we read in Joshua Chapter 6 that he had them march around Jericho once a day for six days and then, on the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times. When they finished the seventh circuit, the people shouted and the city walls collapsed so that the Israelites were able to go in and conquer the city.

Dr. Spencer: I think we should add that we are told the Israelites then destroyed the city completely and burned it. But, they were commanded to not loot the city and they also spared the prostitute Rahab and her family because she had hidden and protected the spies that Joshua had previously sent into the city.

Marc Roby: Very well. So, what evidence do we have for this?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I mentioned, the evidence is controversial. In the 1930’s, Jericho was excavated by John Gastang, a British professor, and he concluded that the city was destroyed at the time of Joshua and corroborated the biblical account. But, Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated the site in the 1950’s concluded that Jericho was destroyed around 1550 BC, almost 150 years before the Israelites arrived. Most archaeologists today agree with Kenyon. This conclusion is based on the fact that Kenyon did not find any Cypriot pottery, which was common from around the time of the conquest,[5] and also on Carbon-14 dating of some items from the site.

The evidence from both Gastang’s and Kenyon’s excavations was re-examined by Dr. Bryant Wood around 1990 and he found that some of the pottery found by Gastang was in fact Cypriot pottery, which would date the layer later than Kenyon did, and put it around the time the conquest starting in roughly 1406 BC.[6] Kenyon had excavated a different section of the city and because Cypriot pottery was only used by the wealthy, it wasn’t found in the section she examined. As for the Carbon-14 dates, there is a well-known discrepancy between Carbon-14 dates and dates determined from other historical factors in the second millennium BC, with the Carbon-14 dates being one or two hundred years earlier, and this isn’t true just for biblical archaeology, so it isn’t clear that the Carbon 14 dates are correct.[7]

If you accept Wood’s conclusions, then there are a number of interesting features in the Jericho excavations that fit the biblical description. Meyer does a good job of presenting these in his video,[8] but let me give you a couple of examples. The walls appear to have fallen outward, which is not what you would expect if they were broken down by a conquering army from the outside. Also, there were jars with lots of grain still in them, which would be unusual since grain was valuable at the time and would typically have been plundered. But, remember that the Israelites had been specifically prohibited by God from taking any of the plunder.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. And, of course, the Bible indicates that the Israelites were very careful to keep this prohibition, since we are told about what we can reasonably assume was the only exception. Achan took some items and, when it was discovered, he and his family were put to death as punishment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And, strangely enough, the items he took provide some indirect evidence for the account in Joshua. Kenneth Kitchen examines the list of items taken and notes that they fit very well in that period.[9]

Marc Roby: Interesting. Is there anything else to say about Jericho?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are two more things to note. First, a minor but interesting bit of indirect evidence concerns the prostitute Rahab. There is a debate about whether she was a prostitute or ran a tavern, although I suppose she certainly could have been both. In any event, the idea that she might have been a tavern-keeper fits the period well. Kitchen notes that the Code of Hammurabi mentions tavern keepers.[10] In Section 109 of the code we read, “If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting, and if anything could classify as a trivial detail, that would be it. You mentioned a second additional comment?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Kenyon concluded that Jericho was totally destroyed around 1550 BC and was then uninhabited for quite some time, including the time of the Israelite conquest. But Gastang’s excavations at Jericho found some very interesting items in tombs. He found some scarabs, which are Egyptian amulets shaped like a beetle, that had inscriptions with the names of pharaohs who lived after 1500 BC. Obviously, that would not be possible if the city was destroyed completely prior to that time and was then uninhabited.[12]

Marc Roby: Again, some very interesting pieces evidence. What other indirect evidence do we have for the conquest of Canaan?

Dr. Spencer: Kitchen goes through the towns named in the Joshua accounts and shows that there is archaeological evidence for almost all of them.[13] In addition, he points out that the descriptions of the military campaigns fit the pattern in use at the time[14], the names of people and of places are right for the period[15], and the descriptions of the boundaries of territories fit the pattern in use at the time.[16] As we have noted before, it is really impossible to imagine that someone writing hundreds of years later could have gotten all of these details right, so all of this indirect evidence very strongly points to the account having been written at the time.

Marc Roby: All fascinating. But, we are almost out of time, is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’d like to point out that even though Kenneth Kitchen holds to a later date for the Exodus than I have been using, the things I have cited from his book today are still perfectly valid because we are just talking about the general time frame. Also, should it turn out that the date for the ruins excavated at Jericho is prior to the conquest, that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. Kitchen himself assumes that the earlier date for the destruction is correct, but argues that the huge amount of erosion seen at that site during the long period of its being uninhabited would likely have wiped out the remains of a small city.[17] I don’t think that is the most likely scenario, but it isn’t impossible.

Marc Roby: There is obviously some degree of doubt about some of the evidence that we’ve looked at, but other pieces of evidence, like the Merneptah Stele are hard to deny. Overall I think it is a very, very compelling case for the accuracy of the Bible. But, we are out of time for today.


[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] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 6, pg. 596

[3] Wikipedia, also Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg. 159

[4] Kitchen, op. cit. pg. 165

[5] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family, also the Carbon-14 dating of charcoal from Gastang was redone and gave an earlier date (see )

[6] Ibid

[7] See http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/08/Carbon-14-Dating-at-Jericho.aspx#Article, and also note that Wikipedia makes a similar comment; “As in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, radiocarbon dates run one or two centuries earlier than the dates proposed by archaeologists.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_the_ancient_Near_East)

[8] Meyer, op. cit.

[9] Kenneth A. Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 177

[10] Ibid, pg. 167

[11] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp

[12] Meyer, op. cit., and http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

[13] Kitchen, op. cit., pg. 186

[14] Ibid, pg. 173

[15] Ibid, pg. 175

[16] Ibid, pg. 181

[17] Ibid, pg. 187


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by returning to our consideration of evidence that corroborates the Bible. We left off, in Session 11, having considered extra-biblical evidence for the Patriarchs, which basically took us to the end of Genesis. Dr. Spencer, what would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue going through biblical history in sequence, so that means examining some of the evidence that corroborates the biblical narrative about the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt and then being led out by Moses in what is known as the Exodus, and then being led into the Promised Land by Joshua after wandering in the desert for 40 years. Let me set the stage by giving some approximate dates. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt a little after 1900 BC, the exodus occurred about 1446 BC, and so the Israelites came into Canaan about 1406 BC.

Marc Roby: Alright, what evidence do we have for this part of biblical history?

Dr. Spencer: We don’t have any direct extra-biblical evidence for Moses, or the exodus, or the desert wanderings, or Joshua, but we actually have quite a bit of indirect evidence. And, if you think about it for a few moments there are a lot of reasons why we wouldn’t expect to find any direct evidence.

Marc Roby: Like the fact that these events happened over 3,000 years ago?

Dr. Spencer: Well that would certainly be one good reason, yes. But, in addition to that you wouldn’t expect even an exceptionally large group of people wandering in the desert for 40 years while living in tents to leave behind any trail that would be evident to archaeologists after 3,400 years.

Also, when the Jewish nation was in Egypt they lived in the Nile Delta region, which is an alluvial fan mud plain. There is no stone in the area, so stone structures were built out of stone that was brought in from elsewhere, and that stone was then re-used to make new structures. Buildings made out of mud bricks by the Hebrew slaves, or anyone else for that matter, have quite understandably not survived.[1]

Finally, with regard to any possible Egyptian records, there are almost no records from the Delta region because papyri do not survive in that climate. And, as Kenneth Kitchen explains in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, “as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.”[2]

Marc Roby: I must admit that I can’t imagine a Pharaoh advertising such a defeat. But what kind of indirect evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: We have quite a bit. Let me first present evidence for there being a large number of Asiatic slaves in Egypt from the time of Joseph on down to the exodus, and after that I’ll present evidence for there being a large influx of Hebrews into Canaan after 1400 BC.

Marc Roby: Why do you mention “Asiatic” slaves when we’re talking about Jewish slaves?

Dr. Spencer: Asiatic was a general term used by the Egyptians at that time to refer to a number of different people groups living to the east of Egypt, which includes Canaan, and therefore includes the descendants of the patriarchs.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense.

Dr. Spencer:  So, turning to the evidence, let me just quickly list three things. First, the Annals of Amenemhot II, from around 1900 BC, list Asiatic slaves and prisoners being brought to Egypt.[3] Second, there is a wall painting at the Beni Hasan Cemetery from around 1870 BC, which shows Asiatic slaves.[4] And, third, there is a papyrus, called the Papyrus Brooklyn, from about 1730 BC, which also lists Asiatic slaves.[5] All of these can be looked up online and are presented either by Kitchen in his book or Stephen Meyer in his video series Is the Bible Reliable?

In addition, we know that Asiatic slaves were used in building projects from a famous set of wall paintings in the tomb chapel of Rekhmire, from about 1450 BC. You can look at these paintings online and they show Asiatic slaves making bricks out of mud and water in molds.[6] They also show Egyptian overseers with rods. From other sources we also know that they used a 2-level system of oversight, with Egyptian overseers having native foremen under them, just as described in Exodus Chapter 5. We also know from the Louvre leather scroll from year 5 of Ramesses II, around 1275 BC, that they kept careful track of how many bricks were being made. And, finally, we even have a story of two workers fleeing after being beaten by their overseer, which is on the papyrus Bologna 1094.[7] All of this fits the descriptions from Exodus perfectly. I’ve listed the detailed references in the written transcript for people who are interested, but all of this is either in Kitchen’s book or the video series by Meyer and can be found online as well.

Marc Roby: I am continually amazed at how much we do know about history from so long ago, and how well it fits the Bible’s description. What other evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: One more interesting detail discussed by Kitchens is the Egyptian name given to Joseph. We’re told in Genesis 41:45 that “Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah” [8] and Kitchen gives a very interesting set of evidence to show that this name fits a known pattern for naming foreigners in Egypt at that time.[9]

In addition, there is one other type of evidence for the Israelites having come out of Egypt that I find very interesting.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is the Egyptian influence seen in the Israelites after they left Egypt. For example, the tabernacle that God instructed them to set up for worship bears an amazing resemblance to one set up by Ramesses II. His was rectangular, like the tabernacle, and unlike the circular or oval camps of the Assyrians. It was divided into two parts with the outer room twice the length of the inner room, like the tabernacle. And the inner room has figures of divine falcons facing each other and overshadowing the royal name with their wings, much like the cherubim in the holy of holies of the Israelite’s tabernacle overshadow the ark of the covenant.[10] Now, of course, God did not have to give plans to Moses that in any way copied anything the Egyptians had, but it does makes sense that he would give him plans for something with which he was familiar.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. What other influences do we see?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the ark itself is similar to a box found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, complete with the rings on the corners and the poles for carrying it.[11] Also, the Sinaitic covenant that God made with the Israelites through Moses follows the form of a Hittite covenant in use in Egypt at the time of Moses, but is different from all covenants made in other periods, and we have 30 examples on which to base the comparison.[12] Let me quote from Kitchen on this point. He wrote, “The particular and special form of covenant evidenced by Exodus-Leviticus and in Deuteronomy (and mirrored In Josh. 24) could not possibly have been reinvented even in the fourteenth/thirteenth centuries by a runaway rabble of brick-making slaves under some uncouth leader no more educated than themselves. … In short, to explain what exists in our Hebrew documents we need a Hebrew leader who had had experience of life at the Egyptian court, … In other words, somebody distressingly like that old ‘hero’ of biblical tradition, Moses”.[13]

Marc Roby: But, of course, God could have disclosed the specific form of the covenant to anyone, he isn’t dependent on the knowledge of human beings.

Dr. Spencer: That’s certainly true. But, God’s normal mode of operation, as revealed to us in the Scriptures, is to prepare the leaders of his people by sovereignly arranging their education, their life-experiences, and so on. Think of the apostle Paul as an example – in God’s providence, Paul was born a Roman citizen, was a brilliant thinker who was fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” who received a first-class education in Judaism. God is, of course, fully sovereign over how and when people develop their skills and knowledge, and he is not limited by them, but he most often makes use of them.

The other interesting thing here is that we also see clear differences between the Israelites and the Egyptians, which is what we would expect. Kitchen explains that, while the form of the covenant is the same as used by the Egyptians and would have been known to Moses from his time in Pharaoh’s household, the legal content has much more in common with the customs of the Semitic Near East.[14]

Marc Roby: That is all fascinating, and completely consistent with the biblical record. What else do you have for us to consider?

Dr. Spencer: Well, before we go on I need to mention something more about the date of the Exodus. The book I’ve been mentioning by Kitchen, while I find it to be very good and to contain a lot of useful information, does advocate a late date for the Exodus, mid-thirteenth century BC,[15] rather than the more traditional date of 1446 BC that I noted earlier. That is one point where I have to disagree with him and I think there is a good article available online that presents a solid case against his view, the reference is in the written transcript. [16]

I should also note that one of the arguments Kitchen uses in support of the late date is the form of the Hittite covenants, or treaties that we discussed earlier. He pins it down to a very tight timeframe, which others dispute because they don’t think he has accurately dealt with all of the biblical data. But, whether he is right or wrong does not affect the argument we’ve made here, because we aren’t trying to argue over one or two hundred years. The important point is that the Sinaitic covenant agrees with the form of Hittite covenants used in the general timeframe of the mid-to-late 2nd millennium BC and is not representative of the forms in use much later. Therefore, the biblical minimalist argument that these documents were written perhaps a thousand years later is simply wrong. Also, the fact that Moses would have been familiar with such documents is important.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else important for us to note about this dispute about the time of the Exodus?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. One of the other reasons Kitchen has for preferring the late date is that the Bible refers to the city of Ramesses in Exodus 1:11, but Pharaoh Ramesses II lived from about 1303 to 1213 BC, and the city was named after him. So, that name would be a clear anachronism in Exodus 1:11 if the Exodus occurred in 1446 BC.

Marc Roby: OK, so how do we explain this anachronism if the traditional date for the Exodus is correct?

Dr. Spencer: We explain it very easily. As we discussed in Session 11 with respect to the town of Laish being referred to as Dan in Genesis 14:14, this change was made later because the previous name of the city would not be well known. The interesting thing is that Kitchen uses this exact explanation for the name Ramesses being used for the region of Goshen in Genesis 47:11,[17] but doesn’t think that is the case in Exodus 1:11.

Marc Roby: That explanation sounds perfectly reasonable, is there anything else to be said about the dating?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is worthwhile to briefly mention that when I brought up the tabernacle used by Ramesses II and the box found in Tutankhamun’s tomb earlier, both of those pharaohs lived after the date of the Exodus, but the point I was making is still valid because those objects demonstrate things that were known by the Egyptians in this general timeframe. It isn’t really necessary that they be from before the time of Moses.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we finished with this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think this quick survey has made a reasonable case that there is significant extra-biblical evidence for the Israelites having been in Egypt as slaves, and for their having been influenced by their time in Egypt.

Kitchen also gives descriptions of how the various plagues God sent on Egypt could have occurred. And, even though I don’t think there is any need to explain the plagues since God can certainly work miracles, some of what Kitchen discusses may explain how the Egyptian magicians could mimic some of the plagues, which I find interesting.

Also, as a final point, there are some people who think that the Ipuwer Papyrus provides evidence that corroborates some of the plagues,[18] although I think it is unlikely since not only secular historians but others as well date this papyrus from well before the time of the Exodus.[19]

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned that you also want to present evidence for the Israelites entering Canaan after 1400 BC, but I think we will have to postpone that to our next session.

Dr. Spencer: That’s fine. But, I do want to mention one change we are making to the podcasts. If any of our listeners has a question he or she would like to ask, we would be very happy to hear it. Questions can be emailed to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will then select questions we think are of general interest and answer them in a future podcast.

Marc Roby: Great, well I think that concludes our time for today.

[1] See, Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg 246 (also, his notes on pages 255-256 about the stone from Pi-Ramesse/Raamses being taken to Tanis)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid pg 636, Fig. 38

[4] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[5] Kitchen op. cit. pg. 346

[6] e.g., see http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/tomb-of-rekhmire.html

[7] Kitchen op. cit. pg. 248

[8] 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.™.

[9] Kitchen op. cit. pp. 345-346

[10] Ibid pg. 278

[11] Ibid pg. 280

[12] Ibid pp. 283-288

[13] Ibid pg. 295

[14] Ibid pg. 298

[15] Ibid pg. 359

[16] Bryant G. Wood, The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory, 2008, from http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/17/The-Rise-and-Fall-of-the-13th-Century-Exodus-Conquest-Theory.aspx#

[17] Ibid pg. 348

[18] Meyer, op. cit.

[19] E.g., see http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2006/09/20/Debunking-The-Exodus-Decoded.aspx


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you noted that because of total depravity, we must be born again to be saved. You then went on to point out that God’s grace is continually given to all who are born again and that grace gives us the power to live the Christian life. You ended by quoting Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul commands us, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” [1] So, why does a Christian need to work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: We must make certain that we are saved because there is nothing more important in this life! Our eternal destiny is at stake, which is also why we should do it with fear and trembling. We are in serious trouble if we just go through life assuming we are saved, but never carefully examining ourselves. Christ warned the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

The whole purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to live according to his commands, being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and thereby being prepared for eternity in God’s presence. And God makes it quite clear that it is not enough to just say “I believe in Jesus and therefore I’m saved.” Or, “I prayed to receive Christ twelve years ago, so I’m saved.” We must not trust in such superficial pronouncements.

In addition to the verses you just read, Philippians 2:12-13, we also have 2 Corinthians 13:5 where Paul commands us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” We must receive the warning implicit in this statement, Paul leaves open the possibility that we may, in fact, fail the test. And then in 2 Peter 1:10-11 we read, “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Notice again the conditional nature of the statement, “if you do these things, you will never fall”. The stakes could not possibly be higher. We can afford to be wrong about many things in life, but the penalty for being wrong about our salvation is missing out on heaven and suffering eternal hell instead.

Marc Roby: I remember that when we began this recent group of podcasts on the nature of true saving faith in Session 12, you quoted Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That prospect should produce some fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it should. My claim to be a Christian will not save me. I will only be saved if Jesus Christ owns me as his on that day. This passage in Matthew 7 goes along with the verses I just quoted as part of the biblical warning to be very careful in this regard. Salvation is a free gift, and we do not and cannot do anything to earn it, but we must be certain that we have actually received it. It’s easy to fool ourselves, and eternity is a very, very long time. So, as I said, this is the most important thing in life. Nothing else in this life even comes close to being as important as our eternal salvation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many modern churches help people along in deceiving themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. There is absolutely nothing in this world I can do to another human being that is worse than to call myself a minister of the gospel and then to tell him that he is on his way to heaven if I have no valid basis for saying so. And it isn’t only bad for the person being deceived, it is also quite bad for the so-called minister doing the deceiving.

In Acts 20:26-27, when Paul is saying goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he says, “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Notice the reasoning he used. Paul said he is “innocent of the blood of all men”, because he proclaimed the whole will of God. So we can reasonably conclude that had he failed to proclaim the whole will of God he would have been guilty of their blood!

Marc Roby: And, of course, the whole will of God includes the commands to repent, believe and love one another as we are told in Acts 17:30 and 1 John 3:23.

Dr. Spencer: Right, we can’t pick and choose what to preach, we must preach the whole counsel of God. And we must point out that the command to love another in 1 John 3:23 is being used as a figure of speech called a synecdoche – which means to use a part of something to represent the whole. For example, when we refer to putting “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan or somewhere else, we’re not talking about just putting boots there, we’re talking about putting troops and all of their equipment there. In the same way, the command to love another is being used to represent the whole law of God. Paul tells us this explicitly in Galatians 5:14, where we read that “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus himself emphasized the need for Christians to obey. In the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” But, how does this all tie back into the admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because we must realize that if we have been born again we are new creations, and new creations are evident for all to see. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” There must be a radical change evident in our lives or we have no sound basis for believing that we have been saved. The old must be gone, and the new must be there.

Paul gives an example of this in Ephesians 4:28 where he says that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” If a thief is saved by God’s mighty work of regeneration, then he will not only believe, he will also repent, stop being a thief and will do useful work and, even more, he will be generous in helping others in need.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we aren’t talking about perfection are we? We’re still sinners saved by grace.

Dr. Spencer: Of course we are. We don’t look for perfection to make our calling and election sure. But we do look for radical change, and for continual change throughout life. I saw a good illustration of this when my wife and I went on a road trip this past summer. Here in California our roads are in terrible condition and, for the most part, road work consists in putting patches over the holes and cracks. But we saw a number of places east of the Mississippi where they had completely dug out miles of road down to bare dirt a couple of feet or more deep, and were completely building new roads. That is the kind of work we should see in our lives if we are born again; not some little patching of a few symptoms of the underlying sin problem, but a radical digging out and removing of the sin and replacing it with a new nature. If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.

And this work will go on throughout all of life, although not always with the same intensity. But the point I am trying to make is that the work should be a deep, radical work in the core of our being. And if there is some huge besetting sin in a person’s life; like drug addiction, adultery, being a thief or whatever, you would expect there to be a very dramatic shift in the person’s life immediately. Not perfection, but an immediate radical change.

Marc Roby: Now I know that many people will voice two objections to this idea: First, that only God knows the heart, and second, that you are adding the requirement of works when the Bible says we are saved by grace alone.

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, it is true that only God knows the heart. But the Scriptures that we have cited about the importance of making our salvation sure must be dealt with. If there was no way at all for us to know, then these admonitions would not make any sense. They also would not make any sense if all we had to do was have some warm fuzzy feeling in our heart for someone we call Jesus, or some desire to be a better person. We have to be extremely careful to avoid the sentimental, feeling-based pseudo-Christianity that is so common today. The passage in Matthew 7, which you read earlier, makes clear how dangerous that is.

Secondly, it is not true that we are adding a requirement for works to be saved. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone just as the Bible and the reformers declare. When we talk about examining our works, we are not talking about the basis of our salvation, we are talking about the evidence of our salvation. As we discussed in Session 3, we don’t want to have a shallow view of the work that God is doing to sanctify us, obedience is necessary. He is changing us in a radical and serious way and such changes cannot be hidden. It isn’t just a warm feeling in my heart and then I go on living the same old way.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the first of John’s letters, where he makes this same point. In 1 John 2:3-4 we are told that “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Dr. Spencer: That whole letter is a great one to read in this regard. He gives us a number of tests for true faith. But, he also points out near the beginning that we are still sinners, so no one can think he is talking about sinless perfection. In 1 John 1:8 we read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There is a wonderful balance being maintained here that we should work to develop in our own thinking. Yes, we are sinners saved by grace. But, that does not mean that there is no change. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship with [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” And in Chapter 2 Verse 29 he writes that “If you know that [God] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He says much the same thing in Chapter 3 Verse 9 where we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

You see, if we have been born again, there should be some visible similarity between us and our heavenly Father and our older brother Jesus Christ. God is holy and he will have a holy people. He does not save us so that we can go on sinning just like before. This verse is not speaking about sinless perfection or it would contradict his earlier statement in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that all sin. Rather, this verse is speaking about Sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. This process necessarily follows regeneration in the life of every true believer.

Marc Roby: As our Pastor likes to say, children look and act like their parents.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And if there is no visible similarity between my life and Christ, then you have a perfect right to conclude that I am not born again. That is why the Bible tells us to work out our salvation, God is warning us to avoid presumption and self deception.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that in 2 Peter 1:10-11, which you cited a few minutes ago, we are told to make both our “calling and election” sure. I can imagine someone asking, “How can I be sure about my election? That occurs in the mind of God.” What would say in response to such a question?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I would say is that the problem is even worse than the person thinks. Not only did my election occur in the mind of God, but it did so before the creation of the universe! We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So, when Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure we must conclude that there is some evidence we can look at that will indicate we were chosen. He certainly can’t mean that we are to peer into God’s eternal counsel! No one can do that.

But notice he does not just say make your election sure, he says your “calling and election”. There are different calls in the Bible, there is a general call, meaning that someone has been told the gospel, and there is what theologians call the Effectual Call, which means that it is a call that God, by the working of his Holy Spirit, makes effectual for salvation. In other words, it produces regeneration, or new birth. And, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 a few minutes ago, if we have been born again we are new creations.

The logical chain of reasoning here is completely clear. If I have been born again, I am a new creation. If I am a new creation, the old me is gone and there is a new me. And this new me is different. Not perfect, but different. And the difference should be evident to anyone who knows me reasonably well. Look again at Ephesians 1:4, it says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God has a purpose in calling us. It is to make us holy and blameless and fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful purpose. But we also have work to do here on earth, don’t we?

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is all part of God’s perfect, eternal plan. He doesn’t need any of us, but he chooses to use us. We are to tell others about the gospel and we are to live changed lives that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. If my life is a mess, you aren’t going to be too interested if I start to tell you about Jesus Christ. But, if you look at me and see someone who is full of joy, cares about other people, is honest, does what is right and so on, then you would be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.

Marc Roby: And, I might add, I would be even more inclined to listen if I knew you before you were saved and then saw a dramatic and desirable change in your life.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, of course. If I used to waste time at work, speak ill of the boss, go to a bar and get drunk every Friday night, tell off-color jokes and so on, and then all of a sudden I start working hard, I’m respectful of the boss and others even when they aren’t around, I clean up my language and spend Friday evenings with my family, you would probably want to know what happened.

Marc Roby: The changes are not always so dramatic though.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Many of us have our worst sins hidden pretty well from other people. But there should still be some change evident in my life, even if it isn’t as obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well. And there certainly shouldn’t be obvious open sin in my life or you aren’t going to want to listen to what I say at all.

Marc Roby: I also think it is important to talk about the changes that others may not be able to see.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. There is a lot that goes on inside that isn’t evident to others, but is important evidence when we examine ourselves to make our calling and election sure. For example, what do I think about? What do I desire? What are my motives? These are questions I have to ask myself. If I profess to be a Christian, but I’m only thinking about the affairs of this world and have no concern for what God says, no desire to pray and worship him, or to read and study his Word, or to have fellowship with other Christians, then I had better seriously question my profession of faith.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve met people who claim to be Christians, but when you ask where they go to church they hem and haw around and finally admit that they don’t go very often and don’t belong to any particular church.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’ve met people like that. And the bottom line is that they are not Christians. A real Christian will want to be a vital member of a church so he can worship with other Christians and hear the Word of God preached. The idea that if you have been baptized and go to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe a couple of other times a year you’re a Christian is nonsense. Christianity is not just a minor addition to life, it is new life in Christ Jesus. It is a new creation. And we are all part of the body of Christ, there is no solo Christianity. We “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” we read in Ephesians 2:22.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned reading and even studying the Word of God. But I dare say that most professing Christians have not read the entire Bible, do not read it very often at all, and have never actually studied it. They would probably say that is for people who want to be ministers. How would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would say two things. First, you must seriously question whether you are really a Christian at all. And, secondly, if you are a Christian, you are living an impoverished Christian life and I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to start reading the Bible every day. Follow a reading plan that will get you through the whole Bible and then do it over and over again. Read the study notes, get a Bible dictionary, pay attention to what you read and even take notes. You will find your life greatly enriched.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree. What else would you like to say about making our calling and election sure?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps the most important thing is to realize what great peace and assurance we can have as Christians, and how that can make us able to go through trials in this life with great joy. If we see evidence that God has begun a work in us to change us, in other words, solid evidence that we have been born again, then our trust and hope are not in ourselves, they are in God’s promises and God’s power. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is doing a mighty work in me, I don’t need to worry about whether or not he will complete it, he has promised that he will.

Marc Roby: And we can be certain that God will keep his promises.

Dr. Spencer: Amen! And I think that we have now completed a reasonable first-pass treatment on the nature of true saving faith, so in our next session I want to return to the topic of external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that concludes this session and I look forward to 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.™.


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to consider the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you spoke about living in union with Christ, and made the point that the most important thing we need to know is that Jesus Christ is the supreme Lord of all. You ended by saying that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in us. I’d like to explore that statement today.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The first point is that we must be born again. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” [1] This is speaking of a radical change in our inmost being.

Marc Roby: But, many would say that this change is the result of our having decided to follow Jesus. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: That idea has the cause and effect backwards. It’s true that a Christian has decided to follow Jesus. But, remember what we said last time about our nature. No one can choose to do something that is completely contrary to his nature. So, no one will choose to follow Jesus Christ unless his nature has been changed first. And that is what being born again is all about.

God must do a miraculous work in us first, and only after God has done that work will we respond in repentance and faith. We make a free-will decision to follow Jesus, but we are only able to make such a decision after God has given us a new nature. And, further, if God has given us that new nature, we certainly will respond in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: I want to make sure this point is clear to our listeners, because much of the modern church world has this important point backwards. Many would say that when we repent and believe we are born again. But, that is not the order presented in the Bible, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t the biblical order at all. And it doesn’t make sense. Just like you can’t do anything to cause yourself to be born physically, so also you can’t do anything to bring about your rebirth. That is the point of the metaphor. We read in Romans 8:5-8 that, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires … The mind of sinful man is death, … the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And, in speaking about the “sinful mind” here, Paul is talking about unbelievers; people who have not been born again. The sinful nature we are born with affects the mind and prevents an unbeliever from willfully submitting to God’s law, or from doing anything to please God. The unbeliever is hostile to God. So how can he choose to follow God?

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray gave a lengthier version of the question that I think it would be well worth our time to read. He wrote, “Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that quote will rile up some of our listeners!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will too. But it is completely biblical. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 2:1-2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, calling us dead in trespasses and sins is a direct quote from the Bible. Murray next said that the natural man is “at enmity with God”, which is also straight from the Bible, we just quoted Romans 8:7 a minute ago and it says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God”, in the King James version the word enmity is used instead of hostile. Murray next says that the natural man has a mind that is “darkened and depraved”. And in Romans 1:21 & 28 Paul wrote that unregenerate people have hearts that are darkened and minds that are depraved. So, if someone wants to take exception to what Dr. Murray wrote, he needs to take it up with God, not Dr. Murray.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone will get very far taking the issue up with God. And, perhaps it would be good to point out now that the fact that man is hostile to God and unable to do anything that pleases God is part of the doctrine called Total Depravity.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, although the name total depravity can be misleading, so some have suggested giving the doctrine a different name, something like Radical Corruption. The doctrine does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. There is no doubt, for example, that many unbelievers do many things that are, in themselves, good things. We are not all serial rapists or murderers or anything of the sort. What the doctrine does mean is that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin. And that is why we cannot, in our natural estate, respond to God’s offer of salvation in the gospel. We mentioned Ephesians 2:1 before, where Paul wrote that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins”. And dead people don’t reach out and lay ahold of a lifesaver that is thrown to them. Dead people do nothing.

Marc Roby: The point you are making, that natural man cannot choose to follow Christ, also fits perfectly with what Paul wrote in Romans 3:11, where he said that there is “no one who seeks God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Unless God works first, no one will turn to Jesus in saving faith. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. And the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about a mere wooing or even coercion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. So, this is not describing God gently wooing people.

Marc Roby: At this point I’m pretty sure that some, if not many, of our listeners are objecting strenuously!

Dr. Spencer: I’m again sure that’s true. And I clearly remember this being one of the points that I found most disturbing before God mercifully saved me. I can remember objecting that the gospel was not a legitimate offer of salvation if I didn’t have the power to accept it.

Marc Roby: That is a very common argument.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. It’s a common argument because the unregenerate mind does not think biblically. The bottom line is that before I was born again, I was responsible before God. He created me, and yet I was a rebellious sinner who rejected him and, therefore, deserved his wrath. And the reason I wouldn’t accept his offer of salvation was not because there was any fault in the offer or the One making the offer, it was because there was a fault in me. I could not humble myself and acknowledge God to be just and true. I could not seek God until he started to draw me unto himself. My sinful nature made me incapable of accepting his offer.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that at this point many people will want to ask the question, “Why would God choose to draw you, but not some other person?”

Dr. Spencer: I would say that is an outstanding question. And I am perpetually astounded that God would choose to draw me! But, the bottom line is that we aren’t given the answer to that question in the Bible. What we are told, is that God did not choose me because of anything I have ever done or will do. In Romans 9:16 the apostle Paul speaks about God’s electing some and not others and writes that it “does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” In other words, the reason for his choice was not based on anything worthy in the person chosen, it was based on his own good pleasure. This is called the doctrine of election.

Marc Roby: And Chapter 9 of Romans, which you just quoted, has a clear presentation of the biblical doctrine of election.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. Paul uses the twin sons of the patriarch Isaac, Jacob and Esau, as an example. He writes, in verses 10-13, that “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult doctrine for most of us to accept.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But we can’t determine what is true based on what we like or don’t like. There are many things in this life I don’t like. I don’t like getting sick, I don’t like getting old, I don’t like it when I can’t do something as well as I want to and so on. But I’ve never noticed any real correlation between what I would like to be true and what is true.

Marc Roby: Nor have I.

Dr. Spencer: So, as we noted in Sessions 4 and 7, a Christian’s ultimate standard for truth is the Bible. If there is something taught in the Bible that I don’t like, then it is not the Bible’s problem, it is my problem. First of all, what is taught there is true. And secondly, since it is God’s word and all that he does is perfect, I need to change. I need to try and understand why the truth that I don’t like is displeasing to me and I need to take action to correct my thinking and my feelings.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how do you deal with this doctrine of election?

Dr. Spencer: As I noted before, we all begin with a sinful nature handed down to us from our parents. And, because of that sinful nature, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor can we accept his free offer of salvation because we are, in the core of our being, hostile to him. Therefore, if God had only chosen to make salvation possible for everyone through Christ’s death on the cross, but left it up to us to choose, no one would be saved. We would all reject the offer because of our sinful natures. Therefore, given God’s desire to save a people for himself, it was necessary for him to change our natures so that we can accept his offer.

Marc Roby: And we are first told of this monergistic work of God in the Old Testament, aren’t we?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, for example, we read about this in Ezekiel 36. But, before I read that passage, let me point out that the word you just used, monergistic, simply means that regeneration is a work of God alone. It is not a work in which we cooperate, it is a work in which we are entirely passive. But we must emphasize that as we saw in the quote from John 6:44, God does work to draw us to him, which is certainly something we’ll be very aware of and participate in, and then, once he has regenerated us, we are also active in repenting and believing. So, saying we are passive in regeneration does not in any way imply that we are passive in coming to faith in Christ. We may go through a great deal as God draws us to himself and then we each must individually repent of our sins, trust in Christ, and walk in obedience. God does not do these things for us.

Marc Roby: That is an important point.

Dr. Spencer: But, now let me get to the passage in Ezekiel. In Chapter 36, verses 26 and 27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is speaking of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. It is a work that has been done in every true Christian. And note that three times in this short passage God says “I will”; this is his work in us. We must have our hearts of stone removed and be given new hearts of flesh, and we must be given God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and empower us to keep God’s laws.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful passage. But let me summarize what we’ve covered so far. You’ve argued that in his natural state, man is not able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ because man hates God. Then you argued that God chose to save some people, for reasons known only to him, and that he then draws these people to himself and regenerates them, or we could say causes them to be born again, so that they then repent and believe and are saved. Is that an accurate summary?

Dr. Spencer: It is an accurate summary. And the particular doctrine of election we have been discussing, which is the biblical doctrine, is called Unconditional Election. It is unconditional in the sense that God’s choosing someone does not in any way depend on what that person has done or will do in the future. And this doctrine necessarily follows from a proper understanding of the pervasive and profound effects of sin in us, which we noted earlier is called the doctrine of total depravity. And it is because of total depravity that we must be born again in order to be saved. Our nature must be changed so that we are able to respond to God’s offer of salvation. But, praise God, he causes all those whom he has chosen to be born again.

Marc Roby: But how should one of our listeners deal with this if he or she hasn’t been born again. Are they just to sit around and wait for God to act?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not! That is a common charge made against this doctrine, that it leaves people without hope. But that is the opposite of the truth. If God only made salvation possible, but it depended on us to respond, then we would be without any hope because, as we have argued before, no one would respond and be saved.

But given the possibility of new birth there is hope. So, my counsel to anyone who is not yet born again, or isn’t sure, is to cry out for God’s mercy. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So, don’t let yourself be concerned about the fact that you can’t cause yourself to be born again. If you are becoming conscious of your sin and your need for a Savior, it may very well be the sign that God is drawing you. So don’t resist. God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) So, don’t delay, don’t waste time probing into the mystery of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, simply cry out “Have mercy on me a sinner!” Order a copy of the book we offer at the end of each podcast, read it, believe it, and then look for a good church to join.

Marc Roby: Alright. I’m sure we will come back to this critically important topic again, but for now let’s move on. We started this session by looking at the statement you made last time, that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in him. We have discussed the first part, the need to be born again, but let’s address the second part. What do you mean by saying that we need God’s grace working in us to obey God?

Dr. Spencer: Being born again is a radical transformation, but it does not remove sin from us. We have a new nature, which desires to please God, and we have a new ability to obey, but we also still have our sinful nature, which wars against us, as we’ve said before. We also have powerful external enemies. Satan does not stand idly by and let God rip someone out from under his dominion. The minute we are born again we also enter into spiritual warfare. Satan will come and try to destroy our faith.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was confident that God, having begun a good work in us, would “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” But, even though the ultimate victory is certain, the war still needs to be fought, and we must fight it. Our enemies are powerful. We must oppose Satan and his demons, the world itself, which is opposed to God’s kingdom, and the indwelling sin that rises up as a traitor within us.

Marc Roby: And that is why you are saying we need God’s grace. So, perhaps it would be good to define what is meant by grace.

Dr. Spencer: People often define it as the unmerited favor of God, which is true. You could go further and say that it is God’s favor granted to those who deserve his condemnation. But, even that doesn’t fully grasp the New Testament usage of the term. To understand the full meaning of the term you need to see how it is used throughout the New Testament. I like how Louis Berkhof defines it in his systematic theology. He says that the most common meaning is that “it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit. … it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit.”[3] So, perhaps we could say that the grace of God is the source of a Christian’s power to overcome sin, Satan and the world, and to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And I certainly know that I need help to live that life.

Dr. Spencer: We all need help to live that life. But God gives us the help that we need. In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul calls himself the least of all the apostles because he had persecuted the church prior to his conversion. He then compares himself with the other apostles and writes, in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” And, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is exhorting them to fulfill their promise to give generously to the church in Jerusalem and he writes, in 2 Corinthians 9:8, that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. But how does one go about obtaining this grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first thing of course is that we must be born again as we have been discussing. Then, secondly, we need to make use of what are called the means of grace. The 88th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with this, although it doesn’t use the word grace. The answer reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption [or we could say, the means of grace] are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” There isn’t any magic incantation or anything like that, we are to read God’s Word, seek him in prayer, and join a proper church that preaches the Word faithfully, and which faithfully administers the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not stated in the answer, but certainly included in the scope of belonging to a good church, is the idea of Christian fellowship. In addition to needing God’s help, we need each other in order to faithfully live out the Christian life.

Marc Roby: I find John Calvin’s statement about this encouraging, he wrote the following; “What God demands from us by his word he likewise bestows by his Spirit, so that we are strengthened in the grace which he has given to us.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement of God’s promise to us in his Word.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes there is. An important part of the Christian life involves examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith and to see how we need to change to progress in that faith. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12-13 to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice in this verse we see both our activity, we are the ones who are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we also see God’s activity, we can work out because he is working in us. In our next podcast I want to explore this aspect of the Christian life.

Marc Roby: Alright, that certainly gives us something to look forward to.

[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] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 169

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996 (combined edition of Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology), pg. 427

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Calvins Commentaries, Vol. XXI, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 208