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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our last session we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living. We ended by saying that Christians must use the Bible as their standard even in the public sphere. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to remind our listeners of the verses we cited in part last time. In Matthew 5:13-16, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”[1]

Marc Roby: And modern readers need to understand that in addition to being used as a seasoning, salt was the primary means of preserving meat at that time since they didn’t have refrigeration. Therefore, by calling Christians the “salt of the earth”, Jesus was referring to their influence on the culture.

Dr. Spencer: And when he speaks about salt losing its saltiness, he was speaking about salt losing its ability to act as a preservative. Some salty mineral deposits, like those along the Dead Sea, contain a number of minerals in addition to sodium chloride, which is table salt. These salty deposits can lose their usefulness if the sodium chloride is leeched out of them by the rain for example. In other words, they can lose their saltiness.

I would contend that when a Christian accepts the unbiblical notion that his faith is a private matter and therefore refuses to self-consciously use a biblical standard when arguing in public, he has lost his saltiness.

Marc Roby: Now Jesus also used the metaphor of a light. Without light we can’t see the path we are taking.

Dr. Spencer: And, again, I would say that a Christian who fails to self-consciously reason and act biblically in the public sphere is failing to provide light to this dark world. The world is on the broad road to destruction and Christians are to shine the light of the gospel on the narrow path that leads to heaven.

Marc Roby: Which obviously requires that Christians be active in the public sphere.

Dr. Spencer: That is true. And being active isn’t enough, we must be active in bringing a biblical worldview to bear on the issues that confront us. According to the organization My Faith Votes, there are about 25 million professing Christians in the United States who don’t vote in presidential elections.[2]

Marc Roby: That’s an astounding number.

Dr. Spencer: It is astounding. And it is a number that could have a significant impact on who wins the next election. In his excellent book Politics According to the Bible, Wayne Grudem makes the point that many people, even professing Christians, accept the wrong notion that the separation of church and state in this country somehow argues against using biblical values to make public decisions. He wrote that “Using religious reasons to support a secular law is not establishing a religion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that phrase “establishing a religion” alludes to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which says, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is what the phrase refers to, yes. It is interesting to note, however, that there were established churches in some of the states at the time this amendment was ratified. But I am getting off topic. The point is that Christians in this country have every right to use biblical reasoning and arguments in the public sphere and, in fact, I would say that they have an obligation as Christians to do so.

Marc Roby: Paul did say, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: And that certainly includes our thinking about issues being dealt with in the public sphere.

Grudem goes through a number of Old and New Testament examples and then draws a conclusion based on them. He wrote, “Therefore all citizens who are old enough to vote have a responsibility before God to know what God expects of civil government and what kind of moral and legal standards he wants government to follow.”[5] And he goes on to add, “I believe that every Christians citizen who lives in a democracy has at the very least a minimal obligation to be well-informed and to vote for candidates and policies that are most consistent with biblical principles.”[6]

Marc Roby: It is interesting that he says everyone has a responsibility before God, not just a responsibility as a citizen.

Dr. Spencer: And I think he is completely right in saying so. And the theologian John Frame agrees with him as well. He wrote that “Christians have an obligation to vote according to God’s standards. And, as they are gifted and called, they should influence others to vote in the same way.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like the fact that Frame includes our obligation to influence others.

Dr. Spencer: So do I. We are called to be salt and light as we have already noted. Another good reason for pushing for laws that are consistent with the Bible is that we certainly don’t want Christians to be put in the position of disobeying the civil government in order to obey God, which implies that we should influence the civil government to the best of our ability so that the laws which are enacted support biblical standards of conduct.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is certainly an issue in the medical field, in which I worked for many years. There are constant efforts to force doctors, for instance, to approve of abortion and sex-change operations, even though these procedures clearly contradict Christian principles.

Dr. Spencer: It is becoming increasingly important in many areas of life. There are many people who do not simply want to be allowed to do things others find objectionable, they want to force others to approve and participate in these activities as well.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: We are also told in the great commission, in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore 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.”

Now, it isn’t just those who come to believe in Christ that we are to teach to obey Christ. God will hold everyone accountable on the Day of Judgment, so it would cruel of us to not tell people what God’s standards are. They may reject those standards, but we should push for them because they are what is right and good and all people will be judged by them in the end. Grudem wrote that “Believers have a responsibility to bear witness to the moral standards of the Bible by which God will hold all people accountable, including those people in public office.”[8]

Marc Roby: That makes sense, although unbelievers will certainly never agree.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from proclaiming the truth. In addition, we have to ask ourselves a serious question; do we really believe that God will continue to bless a nation that despises and ridicules him and openly flaunts his laws?

Marc Roby: No, I think all Christians would have to admit that the Bible is full of examples showing that God will not bless such a nation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And we can therefore draw a reasonable conclusion. In order to do what is best for our nation, we must do everything in our power to prevent it from opposing God and his moral standards. That is the best thing we can do for our fellow citizens, whether they are Christian or not.

In Session 145 I pointed out that as Christians we should be asking ourselves whether or not the corona virus is, at least in part, God’s judgment on our nation. It is certainly not outside of his sovereign control. And I pointed out that there are good reasons for God judging our nation. For example, I noted that abortion is the leading cause of death in this country and I also noted the existence of gay pride days and gay pride month, where people openly take pride in repudiating the biblical view of sex and marriage.

Marc Roby: And there certainly can be no doubt that God is angry with such things.

Dr. Spencer: I think that Christians need to realize that those who oppose God’s standard are not at all reticent to try and force their view on us through laws and other means. We are in a war whether we like it or not. If we think that we can simply retreat into our churches and not engage with the society at large, or if we let people intimidate us into silence by saying that biblical reasoning is invalid for public debate, then we will be in serious danger of losing the freedom we have to worship God and to share the gospel as we are commanded to do.

Marc Roby: We already see that happening in many ways. The state-mandated sex-education curriculum in California, for example, is absolutely contradictory to biblical standards in many ways.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And some of the people pushing for that program are open about the fact that they view this as an opportunity to indoctrinate our children into their anti-Christian worldview. This is a clear violation of God’s purpose for government.

Civil governments exist for the good of the people. In Romans 13:4 Paul tells us that any secular ruler is “God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” This verse tells us, in a nutshell, the purpose of the state. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives a good summary of the purpose of the state.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. Let me read from Chapter 23, Paragraph 1 of the Confession; we read “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”[9]

Dr. Spencer: That statement makes three important points. First, all earthly rulers are under God, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. Second, they are to rule for the public good. And third, they are given the power of the sword, which means both the power to wage war when necessary to protect their citizens and power to punish criminals.

In the third paragraph of that chapter the Confession also makes the point that the civil government has a duty to protect the church so that its officials and members may practice their religion without interference.

Marc Roby: So, to put it all in a nutshell, governments are necessary to provide order in society, which is necessary for the church to carry out its mission of evangelizing society.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Christians have a clear obligation to do what they can to make government run properly. In a democracy like ours, that certainly means arguing for and voting for measures and people who support Christian positions.

Marc Roby: I must point out that in my experience, we often don’t have any option that is truly Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you are, without a doubt, right about that. In that case I would say that you still have an obligation to vote, even though it may mean holding your nose and choosing the lesser evil. Not voting is simply giving up your right to provide any balance or influence at all.

And we can’t be naïve. Many candidates for public office in this country, if not most of them, in my life have claimed to be Christian. But most of them clearly were not born again. The real issue is not what the person claims, but what the person does. So, for example, if someone claims to be a Christian but supports abortion rights, and another candidate does not claim to be a Christian but says abortion is wrong, you should clearly support the second candidate.

Marc Roby: Although it is obviously over-simplifying things to mention just one issue.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we should prioritize issues in our minds and abortion would have to come out very near the top because it is such a clear violation of biblical law and because the consequences are so serious.

Marc Roby: Very well, do you have anything else to say about the proper role of Christians with regard to government?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I think R.C. Sproul made a few interesting points in his discussion of the Westminster Confession of Faith on this topic. He wrote that “The simplest, most basic definition [of government] is this; government is legal force. Governments are agencies that have the power and the legal right to coerce people to obey their dictates.”[10]

Marc Roby: I suspect a number of listeners will be disturbed at that statement, especially in our modern time of speaking about defunding the police and so on.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will sound objectionable to many, which is part of why I quote it. It should provoke us to think the issue through carefully. If governments were not given the power of the sword by God, what purpose would they serve?

Marc Roby: Well, they could still build roads and other infrastructure, but it does seem that they would have an impossible time regulating commerce or providing any other kind of function that might provoke conflict.

Dr. Spencer: And even if you think about building roads and so forth. How could they do that without collecting taxes? And who would decide where the roads or bridges or whatever should be built? Or what laws would govern the use of the roads? The more you think about it the more you realize that people are not going to agree on these things and there has to be some way of making decisions that are enforceable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: And so, Sproul goes on to write that “Every law that is passed restricts somebody’s freedom and exposes people to the violence of law enforcement if they fail to submit to that law. Governments must have legal force. If they don’t, they are no more than advisory committees. … Government is necessary because of evil. Augustine said that civil government is a necessary evil made necessary because of evil.”

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting statement by Augustine.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is accurate. The only perfect government is God’s government. He has chosen to have us live for a time in this world corrupted by sin, but there will come a time when there are only two groups of people; those who have been perfected and live in perfect peace and harmony in God’s heaven, which will be filled with joy beyond description, and those who live in hell, which will be miserable beyond description. In the meantime, God’s people are called to represent him to the best of our abilities in the countries in which he has placed us.

Marc Roby: That sounds like we are done with this topic and ready to move on to consider particular social problems facing our world.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think we are.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to starting that next week. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

[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] See https://www.myfaithvotes.org/

[3] W. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan, 2010, pg. 33

[4] See https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 62

[6] Ibid, pg. 74

[7] J. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 617

[8] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 59

[9] Taken from R.C. Sproul, Truths we Confess; A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing, 2007, Vol. 3, pg. 1 (with ‘hath’ changed to ‘has’)

[10] Ibid, pg. 7

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Marc Roby: We are taking a short break from our study of systematic theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. Our country has been in serious turmoil since the disturbing video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th. A number of protests have turned into destructive riots and the Black Lives Matter movement has become very prominent in the news. Dr. Spencer, why do we want to address any of these topics in this podcast?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the title of our podcast says, we are interested in looking at what the Word of God says about the world we live in and how we, as Christians, should live. The Bible isn’t only relevant on Sundays when we go to church, it is relevant all the time in every arena of life. The idea that we can neatly divide our lives into secular and sacred parts is completely alien to the Bible and, therefore, is alien to true Christianity. The Bible is the ultimate authority for a Christian and whenever we need counsel about how to respond to any situation, it should be the first place that we look.

Marc Roby: And what does the Bible have to say about our current situation?

Dr. Spencer: It has a lot to say. It tells us, for example, about our purpose, place and priorities in life. And we need to look at these first in order to set the stage for discussing specific current issues in our society. These are foundational for a truly biblical worldview and we can’t properly understand any issue without that. Let’s begin by looking at our purpose. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And the Scriptures they use to support that answer are the classic verses. They first cite 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[1] There are many other verses they could also have cited though. The Bible is clear that God created this universe for the manifestation of his glory.

For example, in Psalm 19:1-4 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Marc Roby: That is a great psalm. It begins by speaking about how the inanimate creation displays God’s glory and then it moves on to talk about how God’s Word displays his glory, particularly by bringing about salvation. We read in Verse 7 that “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” And, of course, reviving the soul here is speaking about new birth, or regeneration, and making wise the simple refers to the Bible giving guidance for living day to day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. God’s glory shines most brightly in his work of redemption. Isaiah spoke about this. In Isaiah 60:21 we are told about the future state of God’s church and we read, “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” The English Standard Version renders it more literally, saying, “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”

That is our purpose as God’s chosen and redeemed people, his church. We are to bring him glory.

Marc Roby: Saying that we are the work of his hands reminds me of Ephesians 2:10 where 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.”

Dr. Spencer: This idea of our being created for God’s glory is all through the Old and New Testaments. In fact, in the same letter you just quoted from, we read in Ephesians 1:5-6, that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace”. Then a few verses later in Ephesians 1:12 we read that “we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” And in Verse 14 we are told that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: It is amazing to think that sinners like us can ever bring any glory to the perfect, triune God!

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. But it isn’t because of what we do, it is because of what he does in redeeming and perfecting us. In his commentary on Isaiah, E.J. Young wrote about God’s glory and said, “This glory is displayed in the whole of the created universe, but was manifested in particular in the history of redemption, … for salvation is a manifestation of the Lord’s glory.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I think we have provided sufficient support for the idea that our chief end is to glorify God, but the Catechism also says that we are to enjoy him forever. In support of that phrase the Catechism cites Psalm 73:25-26, which say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Dr. Spencer: And those verses also point out that this earth, or we could say this physical universe, is not all there is, there is also a heaven, and we could add, a hell. Our joy is not primarily for this life. A Christian is a pilgrim here, a stranger in a strange land, passing through enemy territory so to speak. We are on our way to our eternal home. The instant we start to let our focus slip to being on our life here on this earth, we have lost the proper perspective for living godly, that is God-pleasing, lives.

Marc Roby: Speaking about our focus makes me think of Hebrews 3:1, where we read, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Dr. Spencer: And we read something similar in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is in heaven and we are to have our focus – our thoughts and our eyes if you will – fixed on Jesus in heaven. This earth is not our home. Our primary purpose has to do with our eternal home, not this temporary earthly home. Although, as we will see, we have serious obligations in this life as well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said the Bible gives instruction about our purpose, place and priorities. We’ve seen that our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. What did you mean by saying that we receive instruction about our place?

Dr. Spencer: I had two things in mind. First, we must know our place as creatures. We have noted the Creator/creature distinction many times and it is essential that we keep this in view. When the Catechism says our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, both parts of that answer are God centered. John Frame points out that “We are not to enjoy ourselves, but to enjoy him.”[3] Ultimately, this refers to heaven of course, but Christians also have joy in this life. In Romans 5:2 the apostle Paul says that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

Marc Roby: And the Rev. P.G. Mathew points out in his commentary on Romans that the phrase “the glory of God” means both the glory God himself has and the glory God will give to us.[4]

Dr. Spencer: Which is joyful to meditate on, we will know this glory in heaven and it will certainly lead to great joy there. But the joy we have in this life does not however, always equate with pleasure in this life. We do have many legitimate pleasures in this life, for which we should give God thanks, but in Verses 3-4 of Romans 5 Paul immediately adds, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point clearly. If we can rejoice in our sufferings, that joy certainly does not equate with our pleasure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. And we can rejoice in sufferings because, as Paul outlines, we know that God has ordained them for a good purpose. They ultimately help to bring us to that state of glory in heaven. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that we are creatures made by a good God for a purpose is an essential part of a biblical worldview.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, you said you had two things in mind when you said the Bible instructs us about our place. The first is the Creator/creature distinction, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second is that our place is to live under authority. God has lovingly provided us with everything we need to live godly lives that please him. And part of his loving provision for us are the authorities that he places in our lives.  We all live under authority in some way.

Marc Roby: I remember that way back in Sessions 28-33 we talked about authority in the home, church and state.

Dr. Spencer: And those are the three spheres of authority under which every human being is meant to function. In addition, most human beings also function as a delegated authority in one or more of those spheres at times as well. We have obligations in each of them. We were all at one time children under the authority of our parents. We are all under authority in God’s church, ultimately under God himself, but also under the elders that God places over us. And, the sphere that is relevant to a discussion of current events is that of the state. We are all citizens of some country.

Marc Roby: And we have no choice as to which country we were born in.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And although some adults can choose to switch their citizenship from one country to another, not all have that privilege.

Marc Roby: Now, certainly, the passage in the Bible that is most relevant to our being under civil authority is found in the book of Romans. In Romans 13:1 we read that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. And we have to remember that Paul most likely wrote this letter either just before or while Nero was emperor of the Roman Empire. Nero was a wicked ruler who persecuted Christians. Paul does not predicate his statement on an assumption that the ruling authorities are themselves good.

Marc Roby: I know that poses a significant problem for some people. For example, it implies that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany prior to World War II.

Dr. Spencer: Which is absolutely true, God did establish Hitler as the ruler of Germany. If God didn’t do it, then who did? Are we to believe that it happened against God’s will?

Marc Roby: That would certainly present problems.

Dr. Spencer: You win the award for the understatement of the year! If Hitler had become the ruler of Germany in opposition to God’s will, then God would not be the sovereign ruler of the universe and we could not rationally trust in any of his promises. After all, they might be negated by the same power that installed Hitler as the ruler of Germany against his will.

Marc Roby: That logic is unassailable, but it does leave us with the unsettling problem of accepting that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany. Hitler was certainly a wicked monster who was responsible for a tremendous amount of suffering and death.

Dr. Spencer: He was, and when we say that God established him as the ruler of Germany, we do not in any way mean to imply that God approved of Hitler or anything he did. I don’t presume to know God’s reasons for putting him in power, but it is not at all logically necessary to assume that God approved of anything Hitler did. This is not the time to get into that discussion, although we’ve dealt with similar issues before and we will again I’m sure.

For now, the point I was making was simply that when Paul says that we must submit to the governing authorities, he wasn’t just speaking about governing authorities that we like, or that we think are good, or anything like that. It was a blanket statement.

Marc Roby: Although there are some exceptions as we discussed in Session 33. For example, if the government tells us to sin, we must refuse. In Chapter 5 of Acts we read about the apostles being brought before the Jewish ruling council to be questioned. In Verse 28[5] we read that the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus’] name, Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” To which, Peter and the other apostles replied in Verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men!”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse for making the point that we must refuse if we are commanded to sin. We can also refuse to obey if an authority oversteps his bounds. God has defined the three realms of authority and he also set limits on them as we discussed in Session 33.

And this example leads nicely into the third foundational truth we need in order to consider our current political and social crisis. In addition to telling us our purpose and our place within the creation order, the Bible also gives us our priorities.

Marc Roby: Hence the apostles’ statement that they must obey God rather than men.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Our highest priority is God. If our relationship with God isn’t right, then we cannot be the person God wants us to be. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, as we read in Matthew 6:33, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” in that verse refers to our food clothing and so on, in other words the things of this world.

The Bible makes it clear that we are to live in the world. We are to work and help others, to feed ourselves and our families and so on. The idea of withdrawing from living in the world in order to be more spiritual is unbiblical.

Marc Roby: Yes, we read in John 17:15 that Jesus prayed to the Father about all who would follow him, saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Dr. Spencer: Not only did he not want us to withdraw from the world, but he told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that we are “the salt of the earth”, which refers to salt being used a preservative. He also said, as we read in Matthew 5:14 and 16, that we “are the light of the world” and are to “let [our] light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven.” Christians are to be a great blessing to the societies in which they live. But we can only do that if we properly apply the Bible to every issue in life. It must set our priorities.

Marc Roby: And yet, I have often heard people, sometimes even professing Christians, say that our faith must be private and can’t influence public policy. In other words, it is sometimes seen as illegitimate in some way to make decisions about how to vote and so on based on the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: I have had exactly that discussion a few times in my life. People will say that because others do not accept the authority of the Bible, it is somehow wrong to base public decisions on it. After all, they will say that religion is a private matter. But then turn that around and you will see how specious the argument is. Is it somehow improper for an atheist to use human reason as his ultimate authority in making decisions because I reject that ultimate authority? Of course not. Every person is going to use whatever his ultimate authority really is when he makes decisions. In fact, you can’t avoid doing so. When someone who professes to be a Christian uses human reason as his ultimate authority, he is being inconsistent and is, in a sense, denying Christ as Lord and functioning as a practical atheist.

Marc Roby: That’s a serious charge.

Dr. Spencer: It’s a serious matter. Christians must not surrender the public sphere to atheist ideologies. We must bring the Bible to bear on issues in society.

Marc Roby: I sense that we are heading into a somewhat different topic, so perhaps this is a good place to end for today. I look forward to continuing this discussion next week, and I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

 

[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] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol. 3, pg. 444

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pg. 303

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 256

[5] The audio incorrectly says Verses 38 and 39 in this part.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, that is, repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, we have established that true, saving faith boils down to trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our eternal salvation. What would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue the discussion we were having at the end of our session last week. We made two points at the end of that session. First, that true, saving faith is always a penitent and obedient faith, and second, that true saving faith includes trusting in God’s Word, in other words, in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember your argument. You said that when a person is born again, he is able to see his own sin and his unworthiness, which is why he no longer trusts in himself. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one”.[1] That is why true, saving faith is always a penitent faith.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And, in addition, since a born-again person sees that Jesus Christ is worthy of worship and is the only Savior and Lord, he wants to emulate and please Christ, so his faith will be an obedient faith. Jesus himself said, in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “Faith means that we move our center from ourselves to Jesus Christ. Faith declares Jesus Christ as Lord of our life. Faith in its essence is committing ourselves to Christ that we may be saved.”[2]

Few professing Christians today think much about the fundamental confession of a Christian, which is that Jesus is Lord.

Marc Roby: We read that confession in Romans 10:9, where Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Dr. Spencer: And to say that Jesus is Lord is a very powerful statement. We need to take it seriously and think about it. It is much easier to say that I believe in Jesus than it is to say that he is Lord. But, if my faith is true, saving faith, then Jesus is my Lord. And, if that is true, then as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” We belong to Jesus Christ. He owns us. We have no right to think, speak and act any way we want to. We are to obey him immediately, exactly and with joy in all things at all times. That is true faith.

Marc Roby: And we need to repent daily because no one does obey perfectly.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly don’t. But if we don’t even have the desire to do obey, and if we don’t feel the need to repent over our failure to do so, then any profession of faith that we make is a lie. As John wrote in 1 John 2:4, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, to obey Jesus, we must know what it is that he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That’s obviously true. And we learn what Jesus commands in the Bible. John Murray wrote that “To speak of knowing God and the truth that he is apart from the word of revelation which is incorporated for us in the Scripture is for us men an abstraction which has no meaning or relevance. When we are of the truth and know the truth we discern in the inscripturated word of truth the living voice of him who is the truth and there is no tension between our acceptance of the living God as ‘the only true God’ and of his Word as the truth.”[3]

Marc Roby: And so we could say that to truly trust in Jesus Christ then, includes trusting in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: We could say that, yes. In fact, theologians speak of saving faith as having two different elements, or senses; general faith, and special faith. Louis Berkhof speaks about both of these in his Systematic Theology. Now, as is often the case with theologians, he uses the Latin phrases (pg. 506) fides generalis, meaning general faith, and fides specialis, meaning special faith. He wrote that by general faith “is meant saving faith in the more general sense of the word. Its object is the whole divine revelation as contained in the Word of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: Which, as we noted in our last session, makes sense since it is only in the Word of God that we learn about Jesus Christ and his redeeming work. It would make no sense to say that I trust in Jesus Christ if I don’t trust the only infallible source I have for knowing Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you added the word infallible to your statement. I’m sure you did that because we do also have a personal, subjective, knowledge of Christ. But because our subjective knowledge can be so easily wrong, it must always come under the authority of God’s Word. So, for example, if my subjective sense of Jesus tells me that he is so loving he would never send anyone to hell, I have a problem.

Marc Roby: Yes, because we read in Matthew 7:23 that Jesus himself said he will tell the wicked, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Dr. Spencer: And, in the context of that statement, it is clear that it means he will send them to hell. He also said, in Matthew 25:46, that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment”. So, our only infallible source of knowledge about Jesus is the Word of God as you said. And the Word of God, or the Bible, is, as I said a moment ago, also the only place where we find the commands of Jesus. I also like the definition that John Murray gives for faith in the general sense.

Marc Roby: What does he say?

Dr. Spencer: He wrote that “Fides Generalis is simply faith in the truth of the Christian religion. More specifically stated, it is faith of the truth revealed in the holy Scripture. More pointedly it is the faith that holy Scripture is the Word of God; it is our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.”[5]

Marc Roby: I like his saying it is our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: So do I. Our salvation rests on the solid rock of God and his Word, not on our subjective ideas about God.

Marc Roby: Very well, so we have Berkhof’s and Murray’s definitions of faith in the general sense. What is the definition of faith in the special sense?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Berkhof wrote that special faith, “is saving faith in the more limited sense of the word. While true faith in the Bible as the Word of God is absolutely necessary, that is not yet the specific act of faith which justifies and therefore saves directly. … The object of special faith, then, is Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation through Him.”[6] He also wrote that “Strictly speaking, it is not the act of faith as such, but rather that which is received by faith, which justifies and therefore saves the sinner.”

Marc Roby: Now, that’s an interesting statement. I assume he means to guard against the wrong idea, which we discussed in an earlier session[7], that faith is somehow a valuable entity in and of itself, independent of its object.

Dr. Spencer: I think is exactly what he is guarding against. True, saving faith must have Jesus Christ as its object. As we read in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: In addition to saying that it isn’t the act of faith that saves, Berkhof also wrote that it is that which is received by faith which justifies and therefore saves the sinner.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a very important distinction. We often say that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, or sometimes just that we are saved by faith alone. But if we are going to be extremely careful, it isn’t faith that saves, it is Jesus Christ who saves. And we receive Christ, or we could say are united to Christ by faith. Faith is the instrument though which God unites us to Christ.

Marc Roby: You’ve noted before that faith has been called the instrumental cause of our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I said that in Session 154. I also like what John Murray wrote about this. He said that “Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even belief that Christ died for us. It is necessary to appreciate the point of distinction. Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved.”[8]

Marc Roby: That is yet another way of saying that true faith includes trust. It is a commitment to Christ.

Dr. Spencer: It is another way of saying the same thing, yes. We have said that true, saving faith has three elements: knowledge, or information, mental assent and trust. Or, to use the Latin terms, notitia, assensus and fiducia. The fact that true, saving faith requires trust is critically important.

It is illuminating to realize that the Devil himself has the first two elements of real faith. He certainly knows the content of the Bible much better than any human being does, and he also knows it is true. So he has the notitia and assensus. But he will not place his trust in Jesus Christ because he hates Jesus Christ. It is a moral problem, not an intellectual one.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, people don’t like to hear that, and I know that before I was saved I would have objected vehemently and denied that I was an enemy of God, but the Bible is clear that we all were. Anyone who denies that the God of the Bible really exists is his enemy. And the problem really is a moral one. In our unregenerate state we hate the true and living God because he is absolutely just and holy, and he knows everything we have ever done or thought and he is infinitely powerful to deal with us. That is terrifying and engenders hatred.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:19-20, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, Jesus is the light. Murray also wrote, “If faith is an act of whole-souled trust, we must be frank enough to acknowledge that the person dead in trespasses and sins, whose mind is enmity against God and whose characteristic attitude is one of hateful distrust, is incapable of exercising faith.”[9] Satan will not submit to God in loving trust because he hates God.

Marc Roby: And sinners refuse to trust in God for the same reason. But, praise God, that he has chosen to grant some new hearts so that can love him and trust in him. What else do you want to say about saving faith?

Dr. Spencer: Because the issue of trust is so important, I want to read what Wayne Grudem has to say in his Systematic Theology. He defines saving faith as “trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.” And he then goes on to say that “The definition emphasizes personal trust in Christ, not just belief in facts about Christ. Because saving faith in Scripture involves this personal trust, the word ‘trust’ is a better word to use in contemporary culture than the word ‘faith’ or ‘belief.’ The reason is that we can ‘believe’ something to be true with no personal commitment or dependence involved in it.”[10]

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember you making a similar point last time when you said the NIV translation of John 14:1, which uses the word ‘trust’, was better than some others, which use the word ‘believe’, because in our day and age the word faith often does not have this element of trust included.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. Grudem goes on to give some examples of how we use the words believe and faith today. Someone might, for example, say that they “believe” something to be true, and what they mean is that they aren’t sure it is true. If they were sure, they would say that they “know” it is true. But to say you “believe” something is true in our modern usage implies less than certainty. It is probable, but not certain in your mind.

On the other hand, the word “trust” is stronger. You don’t drive across a bridge without trust that it will hold you up.

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem makes another point that I think is worth mentioning as well.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: He looks at the original Greek for the famous verse John 3:16. In our Bible the verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful verse.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. But Grudem points out that when our translation says “that whoever believes in him shall not perish”, that isn’t a faithful representation of the original Greek. A more faithful translation sounds awkward in English. A literal translation would be to say that whoever believes into him shall not perish and Grudem notes that this has “the sense of trust or confidence that goes into and rests in Jesus as a person.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is a subtle, but important point. If I truly trust Jesus, I will entrust myself to him as my Savior and Lord for this life and the life to come.

Dr. Spencer: And with that, I think we are finished with what I want to say about true, saving faith at this time. Which also finishes the topic of conversion, which I hope our listeners remember is just repentance and faith together.

Marc Roby: And so the next topic in the order of salvation is justification, correct?

Dr. Spencer: It is. And justification is really the heart of the gospel.

Marc Roby: Alright. Well, it would seem unwise to begin a new topic today, so this looks like a good place to end. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to respond.

[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, Faith of Our Fathers, sermon text available at https://gracevalley.org/sermon/faith-of-our-fathers/

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 129

[4] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 506

[5] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 241

[6] Berkhon, op. cit., pg. 506

[7] See Session 158

[8] Murray, op. cit., pg. 259

[9] Ibid, pg. 261

[10] W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 710

[11] Ibid, pg. 711

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, that is, repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, we have established that true, saving faith has content, but we don’t want to come up with a formal list of essential doctrines. The real issue is one of trust. We have said that a born-again person trusts the truthfulness of the revelation he has received, which may be a more or less detailed presentation of the gospel. So, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at what our Lord said after the Last Supper and before he was arrested. In Chapter 13 of John we read about Judas leaving the supper to go and betray Christ and then, after Judas left, Christ told the remaining disciples, as we read in John 13:33, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”[1]

Marc Roby: And Peter then quite reasonably asked where Jesus was going.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did, and we read in Verse 36 that Christ said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Marc Roby: To which Peter famously replied, in Verse 37, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Dr. Spencer: Peter was trusting in himself at this point. He thought he could remain faithful in his own strength. But Christ was about to teach him a very important lesson, one which we all need to learn, and that is to not to trust in our own strength.

Marc Roby: And that was a painful lesson.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it was very painful. But I’m quite sure that Peter never forgot it! Jesus answered him, in Verse 38, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” And we know that Peter did, in fact, disown Jesus, but then after his resurrection Jesus graciously reinstated him. And that leads us to the verse I want to begin with today. In the very next verse, Jesus said to them all, in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Marc Roby: It was a mild, loving rebuke to Peter for trusting in himself.

Dr. Spencer: It was, yes. Jesus was making the very important point that we cannot ultimately trust in anyone or anything in this life. They will all fail us. God is the only one in whom we can ultimately place our trust and not be disappointed.

Marc Roby: As it says on the US dollar bill, “In God we trust”.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s not just on the dollar bill, it is on all US currency and is the official motto of the United States of America, although a lot of people don’t know that today.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’m sure many don’t know that. But getting back to John 14:1, I know that in both the King James Version and the English Standard Version of the Bible John 14:1 says that Jesus told them, believe in God, believe also in me, rather than trust in God, trust also in me.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The Greek verb being translated in both places in that verse is πιστεύω (pisteuō), and I think the NIV translation is better here, especially given modern ideas about belief. In Vine’s Expository Dictionary we are told that this verb means “‘to believe,’ also ‘to be persuaded of,’ and hence, ‘to place confidence in, to trust’”.[2] In addition, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the word means “to trust” or “to rely on”.[3] And Walter Bauer’s Lexicon says it means to “believe (in)” and then goes on to say it is “trust of religious belief in a special sense, as faith in the Divinity that lays special emphasis on trust in his power and his nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that he exists and that his revelations or disclosures are true. In our literature God and Christ are objects of this faith.”[4]

I think these definitions all make it clear that the key idea behind biblical, saving faith is one of trust. And it is important to note that it isn’t a blind trust, it is trust based on knowledge. We trust because we are convinced that God is true and his Word is true. Therefore, we trust in the gospel message of salvation.

Marc Roby: Well, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to place your trust in something you didn’t think is true.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t make sense at all. And Christ goes on in this passage to give his disciples great comfort by telling them, in John 14:2-3, that “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

This is the greatest promise you can possibly imagine, but it also implicitly provides the reason why we can trust Jesus. He first tells us that “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.” And then, secondly, he says he is going there, to his Father’s house, in other words to heaven, to prepare a place for us. And, finally, and most gloriously, he says he will come back to get us and take us to be with him in heaven.

Marc Roby: That is wonderful.

Dr. Spencer: It is the most wonderful thing that can be promised, but as I said it also implicitly gives us the reason that we can trust in Jesus. He is able to go to heaven on his own! He is able to prepare a place for us. And he is then able to bring us there to join him! This is incredible. No one but the perfect, eternal, God-man, Jesus Christ, is able to do this for us. We must trust in him alone.

Marc Roby: And as we said last time, true saving faith is, essentially, trust.

Dr. Spencer: It is. The theologian John Murray wrote that “faith is trust. Trust presupposes an object. An object evokes trust when there is an antecedent judgment of the mind that the object is trustworthy.”[5] Now, an “antecedent judgment of the mind” simply means a judgment made before we place our trust in the object.

Marc Roby: And, as we have said, the object of true, saving faith is Jesus Christ. And he is absolutely trustworthy.

Dr. Spencer: Which was the point he was making to his disciples. They knew him. They had travelled with him. They had seen him perform miracles – feeding thousands, healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead – and so they had an intimate personal knowledge of him and knew that he was, in fact, trustworthy. This is, as Murray said, a judgment of the mind.

Marc Roby: People often think of faith as being divorced from judgments of the mind.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. Faith is often thought of as being anti-intellectual. But true, saving faith is not that way at all. We may or may not go through a conscious process of careful reasoning, but no one will trust in someone or something in a meaningful way without being convinced that the object of their faith is, in fact, trustworthy. And this requires that we use our minds. The Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “biblical faith is not blind. It does not require a leap in the dark or the sacrifice of our intellect. Biblical faith is reasonable because it rests on the greatest possible reason-the infinite, personal God and his word.”[6]

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anyone or anything in creation that is worthy of complete trust.

Dr. Spencer: Well, there can’t be anyone or anything outside of the triune God who is ultimately worthy of complete trust because absolutely everything and everyone outside of God himself is a created being, and is completely dependent on God every moment of every day. No one can oppose God and succeed. Therefore, God will always accomplish all that he intends to accomplish.

So, when Jesus said that he is going to heaven to prepare a place for his people and that he will then come back and get us, we can be absolutely certain that it will happen.

Marc Roby: In other words, true, saving faith is not just a pie-in-the-sky hope. It is based on real knowledge about who God is and what he has done in history, which then gives us confidence in his promises.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. John Murray wrote that “Faith is trust, and trust induced or compelled by evidence. It is forced consent.”[7]

Marc Roby: Now that’s an interesting statement; forced consent. In what sense is our faith forced?

Dr. Spencer: It’s forced by the evidence. Unbelievers are suppressing the truth that they know as we are told in Romans 1:18. God has provided everyone with sufficient evidence. This suppression is not necessarily a conscious thing. It is embedded deep in our sinful nature. It begins with the most fundamental presupposition of our worldview. The unbeliever starts with the presupposition that the God of the Bible does not exist.

Marc Roby: And we are told in both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 that it is “The fool” who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: But that does not mean that he may not make up a God of his own, the Bible is full of examples of all kinds of idolatry. But it does mean that the fool says there is no real, true and living God, in other words, the God of the Bible does not exist.

But, when God causes someone to be born again, that fundamental presupposition at the core of his worldview is changed. He now believes that God exists and accepts the testimony God has given about himself in the Bible. It is a fundamental and radical transformation, and although the transformation is instantaneous, its effects are not all instantaneous.

Marc Roby: Now, when you say that the effects aren’t instantaneous, you mean, I assume, that born-again people can still have doubts and not be certain about everything in God’s Word and that their behavior is not immediately transformed entirely.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The more you have been indoctrinated in anti-God thinking, the longer it will usually take for you to come to terms with this radical new worldview. But, as Murray said, the consent is, in a sense, forced. It isn’t forced in the sense that God pushes on you and makes you cry “uncle.” It is forced in the sense that you see the truth and, whether you like it at first or not, you are forced by your own new born-again nature to accept it as true. Quoting from John Murray yet again, “We believe not what we could wish were true but what we are convinced is true.”[8]

Marc Roby: That is so clearly the case. If I believed what I wish were true, I would believe I have no sin, no sickness, no death, no trouble, the list could go on and on.

Dr. Spencer: And we can all agree with that, and add other items to the wish list. I would be the most intelligent, most talented, best looking, and most wealthy man alive. But such is not the case. And the reason that born-again people are forced to agree with God’s Word is simply that it is obviously true. We may like it if someone comes and tells us that we are perfect, or that we will never be sick again or never get old and die, we may want to believe such things, but we all know they aren’t true.

Marc Roby: And the Bible certainly makes no such statements.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. The Bible tells us what is true, whether we want to hear or not and completely independent of whether we like it or not. But getting back to the idea that our consent to the truth of the Bible is forced, it is forced by the truth. If we have been born again, then when we are confronted with the truth we respond properly. And the response is not just mental agreement with the facts. Trust is more than that. Louis Berkhof puts it well in his Systematic Theology, he wrote that trust “is the crowning element of faith. Faith is not merely a matter of the intellect, nor of the intellect and the emotions combined; it is also a matter of the will, determining the direction of the soul”.[9]

Marc Roby: In other words, as the well-know song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” We determine not just to believe, but to think and to live in the way God commands. In other words, to follow Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And doing that always involves constant change. As I said a few minutes ago, the transformation is instantaneous and radical, but the effects are not all instantaneous. The change is radical because we are instantly given a new heart and we see the truth. And because of the change in our fundamental presupposition, as we discussed earlier, we see everything differently, so, as time goes on we see more and more in ourselves that does not conform to the Word of God. We must continue to work all of our lives at putting our sin to death and walking in greater and greater obedience to God.

Marc Roby: And that process is called progressive sanctification.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And we will discuss that more later, but for now I want to point out that when we come to true faith we don’t just trust in Jesus Christ, we trust also in the Bible. Berkhof also wrote that “Naturally one who accepts Christ by a true faith, will also be ready and willing to accept God’s testimony as a whole.”[10]

Marc Roby: That makes good sense since the Bible is exactly where we learn of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And it is where we learn how we are to change. The Bible is a mirror that shows us our own faults, and then it is also an instruction manual to show us how we should live.

If we say that we trust in Jesus, but we don’t really believe the Bible and if we never have it confront us with our sin and show us our need for change, then our confession is false, plain and simple. In the Great Commission, when Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven, he said, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, that we are 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.” And where do we find Jesus’ commands?

Marc Roby: In the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We must turn to the Word of God to see how to live a life that is pleasing to God. And true, saving faith, a faith that trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, is also an obedient faith; true believers seek to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Marc Roby: To say that we want to be conformed to the image of Christ is certainly biblical. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29 that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: We have spoken about the need for obedience many times. We don’t earn our salvation by our obedience, but a true faith that will save us is always a penitent, obedient faith. We see that we are sinners and need to change, which is why we don’t trust in ourselves, in other words why our faith is a penitent faith. And we hate our sins and want to be done with them and we want to live in the way that pleases our Father in heaven. We want to be like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we love, worship and seek to emulate, which is why our faith is an obedient faith.

God originally created man in his image and the fall horribly defaced that image. But, if we are alive in Christ, God is working to restore that image by transforming us to be like Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, this looks like a good place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[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] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 61 (in NT part)

[3] G. Friedrich, Friedrich, Gerhard (Trans. By G. Bromley), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, Eerdmans, 1964-1976, Vol. VI, pg. 177

[4] W. Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 661 (see definition 2β)

[5] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 237

[6] P.G. Mathew, Faith of Our Fathers, sermon text available at https://gracevalley.org/sermon/faith-of-our-fathers/

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 238

[8] Ibid, pg. 240

[9] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 505

[10] Ibid, pg. 504

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, which is repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, in our session last week we emphasized the fact that true, saving faith has content. The object of saving faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go back to what we were discussing at the end last time. We had noted that we shouldn’t try to give an exact list of doctrines that must be believed in order to be a Christian. We said the real issue was one of trust. And we had mentioned that a child can have true, saving faith with a very limited understanding of doctrine.

Marc Roby: I remember all of that. What point do you want to make from it?

Dr. Spencer: Well, considering the faith of a child is a great way of recognizing why we don’t want to try and give an exact list of necessary doctrines. There are many doctrines of the faith that are very hard for adults to explain in any meaningful way – for example the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ – so we certainly can’t expect a young child to have a solid intellectual understanding of these things. What we do expect is that the child sees his need for a Savior, and that he trusts that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and that he believes what the Bible says, even though he can’t understand it all.

Marc Roby: Of course, no adult understands it all either.

Dr. Spencer: In a way that is precisely my point. We don’t necessarily look for a certain level of knowledge or intellectual understanding, what we look for is a receptive heart to the level of knowledge a person possesses about Christ.

So, for example, what level of knowledge did the thief on the cross have when he was saved?

Marc Roby: Well, I would have to say that no one knows the answer to that.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. But it is certainly possible and, in fact, likely, that he knew very little. He may have simply heard that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, and that he had performed some miracles. We know that at first this thief joined with the other thief in hurling insults at Christ because, for example, we are told in Mark 15:32 that “Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” [1] But then something happened to the one thief and he changed his tune completely.

Marc Roby: Yes. He was born again.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what happened. In God’s amazing eternal plan this thief had been chosen from all eternity to be saved. And here on the last day of his miserable life, hanging on a cross in great pain, he was given a new heart and new mind. And because of having been regenerated, he all of a sudden realized from what he had personally witnessed about Christ that the things he had heard were true. We don’t know, but we can imagine that it was when Christ prayed for those who were crucifying him. We read in Luke 23:34 that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Marc Roby: That would certainly be an amazing thing to hear Jesus say.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. But, in any event, independent of exactly how God brought it about, this thief was able to see for the first time that his own sins deserved judgment from God and that his only hope was this Messiah hanging on the cross next to him.

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine what must have been going through his heart and mind. He had to have a lot of questions he would have liked to ask and a lot of things that he didn’t fully understand.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure he did. And all of us have questions as well, things we don’t understand. But with his new regenerate heart, he did understand that he needed salvation and he trusted in Christ to save him. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to insult Christ, this newly born-again thief rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And then, in Verse 42 we read his plea for mercy and his confession of faith. He looked at Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Saying “remember me” was a plea for mercy, and speaking about Christi’s kingdom was a confession that Jesus Christ is, in fact, what the signs placed on his cross by Pilate said, the King of the Jews.

Marc Roby: And this thief had also proven his faith by the good work of rebuking the other thief.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right about that. God has work for every single one of his chosen people to do. This man didn’t have long, but he did the work he was assigned. And he has been with Christ in bliss for nearly 2,000 years.

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But it also illustrates why we shouldn’t try to give a precise or exhaustive statement of what doctrines must be believed in order to be saved.

It is equally important, however, that we don’t jump into the other ditch and say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere, or anything silly like that. This thief trusted in Christ and believed the information he did have. People who reject the gospel when it is presented to them are not born again, even if they call themselves Christians. We can still look for a credible confession of faith as we noted last week.

We are saved by faith alone, but not by just any faith someone might have. It must be faith in the true and living God and his plan of salvation revealed in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example of a faith that does not save?

Dr. Spencer: I can do better than to give an example of faith that doesn’t save. I can give an example of a completely useless faith, or to be more accurate, a so-called faith. In his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Boice gives a great example using the famous book by Norman Vincent Peale called The Power of Positive Thinking.[2]

Marc Roby: Well, I’ll have to confess that I’ve never read that book, although I have certainly heard about it many times.

Dr. Spencer: And I have to make the same confession, I’ve never read it either. Nevertheless, Boice points out that Peale ends the book by saying “so believe and live successfully.”[3] In Boice’s analysis of the book, he says the object of faith doesn’t really seem to matter to Peale. Faith itself is seen as some great powerful thing all in itself.

Marc Roby: Now, that is a strange view, but I have to admit I’ve heard a number of things over the years that sound very much like that.

Dr. Spencer: And so have I. And J. Gresham Machen also talked about this view in his book “What is Faith?”. He wrote that “The whole trouble is that faith is being considered merely as a beneficent quality of the soul without respect to the reality or unreality of its object; and the moment faith comes to be considered in that way, in that moment it is destroyed.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting statement. What does Machen mean by saying that faith is destroyed?

Dr. Spencer: When Machen says that faith is destroyed when it is thought to be beneficent independent of whether or not its object is real, I think he means that when faith is thought of this way, then real saving faith is not possible.

The young man we spoke about last week, who said he was a Christian even though he didn’t believe in the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, is a good example of a useless or vain faith, a faith that has been destroyed. People with such faith will find out in the most awful way imaginable how useless their faith is when they come face to face with Christ on the day of judgment and hear him say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” as we read in Matthew 7:23.

Marc Roby: We could say that such faith is not just useless, it is, quite literally, damning. It sends you to eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is the terrifying truth. Therefore, although we don’t want to come up with a formal statement of the minimal doctrinal knowledge required for true, saving faith, we nonetheless must stand firmly with Jesus and declare that real faith has content. It is the truth that will set us free, not a lie. True faith has an object. And, as we have seen, the object of real saving faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. If he is not truly who he said he was and if he didn’t do what the Bible says he did, our faith is useless.

Marc Roby: Well, that makes me think of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 in defense of the doctrine of the resurrection. He said there, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Dr. Spencer: And indeed we are to be pitied more than all men if Jesus Christ is not our Savior and God’s promises about eternity are not true. As Paul said, such faith is futile, it serves no useful purpose. Believing in a lie is never a good thing, nor is mere wishful thinking. But, praise God, he is truth and his Word is true.

In Hebrews 11:1 we read that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And we must ask the question, “What is it that we hope for?” And in the context of this verse the answer is clear; our hope is for the promises of God to be fulfilled. Just a few verses before this we read, in Hebrews 10:36, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, the preeminent promise of God to his people is eternal life. We read in John 6:40 that Jesus himself said, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Dr. Spencer: And what a glorious promise that is. When Jesus was speaking to Martha just before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead, we read in John 11:25-26 that he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Marc Roby: Those are difficult statements for people to understand.

Dr. Spencer: Well, they are impossible to understand if you have a materialist worldview. In fact, if you think this material universe is all that exists, the statements are completely nonsensical; how can you possibly live even though you die? How can you never die? These things are impossible in a purely materialist universe. You need a proper biblical worldview to understand them.

Unless Christ comes again first, we will all die someday. But death is not a cessation of existence, it is separation as we discussed in Session 104. When we physically die, our spirits will be separated from our bodies. But that is a temporary state. The Bible clearly teaches that at the end of history every person will be united again with his or her physical body, although the body will be different. It will be suited to our eternal state, whether that is heaven or hell.

Marc Roby: And we will all spend eternity in one of those two places.

Dr. Spencer: That is the truth as presented to us in the Bible. So, when Jesus said that “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”, he simply meant that if we have saving faith in Christ, then when we die physically, our spirits will immediately go into the presence of God and we will then spend eternity with him. First in our spirits and then, later, in our resurrection bodies. And that is true life. That is eternal life. So, what Jesus said is completely true, we will live – in the fullest sense of that word – even though we die in the sense of having our spirit separated from this physical body.

Marc Roby: I can’t think of a more wonderful promise than that.

Dr. Spencer: Neither can I. But we must notice that the promise is conditional. Jesus said “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”. When those who do not believe in Jesus Christ die, their spirits immediately go to hell. Then, when their bodies are united to their spirits at the end of the age, they will spend all of eternity in hell, in torment.

Marc Roby: And I can’t think of a more terrifying threat than that.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. But God’s threats are just as sure as his promises. And notice that the difference between the two groups of people, those headed for hell and those headed for heaven, is faith in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: OK. We have said that true saving faith has content, and I think it would be good for me to summarize the content we have gone over so far. First, we must know the bad news that we are headed for hell and can’t save ourselves. Second, we must understand that Jesus Christ came and died to pay for my sins. And third we must understand that God has promised us eternal life in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true, although we need to again be clear to point out that even a child’s understanding of these things can be sufficient for salvation. Adults have a difficult enough time thinking about eternity, but for children that concept is completely beyond them. Nevertheless, they can understand very early on that they have done things wrong and deserve punishment, but that Jesus loves them and allowed himself to be punished in their place. They can also understand, to some degree at least, that there is a reward awaiting all those who faithfully serve Christ and punishment for those who reject him.

Marc Roby: All right. We understand that a child can be saved without an adult-level understanding. We have also seen that the thief was saved with minimal understanding, but what does that tell us about what a typical adult must believe in order to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I think the reason it is important to realize that a child’s understanding can be sufficient for salvation is that it helps us focus on the main element, which is trust. A child knows his father and mother for example. That doesn’t mean he knows all about them and what they have done, or are capable of doing, it means he knows them as people who love him and take care of him. And saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is similar. Berkhof wrote that “All true saving faith must contain at least a minimum of knowledge, not so much of the divine revelation in general as of the Mediator and His gracious operations.”[5]

Marc Roby: Perhaps we could say that it isn’t that we have to possess some minimum level of knowledge about Christ, but we must know him personally as our Savior and Lord.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a good way of putting it. An adult will, of course, have a greater understanding, but the underlying issue is the same; do you know Jesus? Do you see that you have a problem? Do you see that Jesus is able and willing to solve your problem? In other words, do you trust in Jesus Christ himself? And do you believe whatever level of revelation you have been given about this Christ, in other words, do you trust the Word of God to be true.

Marc Roby: Well, we have established that saving faith has content, in other words, information. But the important issue is not so much the extent of our knowledge, but rather it is our response to the knowledge we possess. If we respond by believing God’s Word and trusting in Christ, we will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a reasonable summary.

Marc Roby: And it is also a reasonable place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to respond.

[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] J. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 409-410

[3] Ibid

[4] Machen, What is Faith?, The MacMillan Comp., 1925, pg. 174

[5] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 504

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