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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. In our session last week we discussed the fact that we are saved by faith in Christ, not by our own good works. But our good works are still necessary because they serve as proof that we have, in fact, been born again, which is a necessary and sufficient condition for our repenting and believing and, therefore, being united to Christ and justified by God. Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session you said you wanted to begin today by looking at Romans 6:1-7. Would you like me to read those verses to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, please do.

Marc Roby: Very well. In Romans 6:1-7 we read, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Those verses are wonderful, and they make it absolutely clear that anyone who has been born again will live differently. Not perfectly, but there will be noticeable change for the better. Paul uses the symbolism of baptism to speak about this radical change in a person’s life. His assumption is that the person who has been baptized has, in fact, been born again and has, therefore, repented and placed his personal faith, or trust, in Jesus Christ alone. And then notice what he says. He wrote that “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Now we must ask ourselves, what does the apostle mean when he says that we died to sin?

Marc Roby: Well, we have argued before that the biblical view of death is not a cessation of existence, but rather a separation[2], so it would seem reasonable to assume that Paul means that we have, in some sense, been separated from our sins.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good way of putting it. In fact, in Psalm 103:12 we are told that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” And Paul goes on in this passage from Romans Six to explain further what he means. In Verse 5 he wrote that “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” This speaks about union with Christ both in his death and in his resurrection. Those events together represent a radical transformation in the life of Jesus; his human nature went from living, to dead, to resurrected. And a believer experiences a similar, radical transformation. When he is born again, responds in repentance and faith, or conversion, and is then justified by God, we can say that he has died to sin and been raised to new life in Christ.

Paul provides further explanation in the very next verse. Verse 6 says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. The “old self” that Paul speaks about here is our old sinful nature and life prior to being born again. That life was crucified with Christ when we were united to him by faith.

Marc Roby: Paul also speaks of the old self in other places. For example, in Colossians 3:9-10 we are commanded, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Dr. Spencer: Those are also good verses for showing the difference that regeneration makes. Paul speaks about our having taken off the old self; in other words, it is a completed action. But then he also says we have work to do, we are to put on the new self. And when he says that the new self is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator, that mirrors what he says in Romans 8:29, where we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Marc Roby: We know from the Bible that man was originally created in the image of God, but sin defaced that image. We could say that new birth begins the process of restoring, or renewing that image.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what it does. New birth initiates a process. It immediately produces a radical and decisive change, but not a complete change. We are still sinners and have more work to do. We need to put on our new self, we need to be renewed day by day. This is the process of sanctification that we will speak about in detail in later sessions, but it has a decisive beginning that represents a radical change in a person’s life. There is an old self and a new self, an old man and a new man, an old life and a new life, and they are radically different. The dividing line is regeneration, or new birth.

And then we need to notice what else Paul said in Verse 6. The verse says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. That last phrase – that we should no longer be slaves to sin – speaks about our having been redeemed from sin.

Marc Roby: I remember that in our session last week you briefly mentioned this, but can you explain a bit more what is meant by saying that we are no longer slaves to sin?

Dr. Spencer: That is what the notion of redemption is all about. When Paul wrote that we died to sin, he meant that we no longer live in the realm in which we were slaves to sin. It isn’t that we now live perfect, sinless lives, but we are no longer slaves to sin; in other words, we are no longer ruled by sin. In Verses 11 and 12 of Romans Chapter Six Paul wrote, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” And later, in Verse 14, he says that sin shall no longer be our master.

Marc Roby: And sin is a terrible master. It leads to nothing but misery for us and for others.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, sin is a horrible master, a tyrant of the worst sort. And in John 8:34 we read that Jesus himself said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And when Jesus refers to everyone who sins, the verb in the Greek is a present participle, which means it is a continuing action. He isn’t referring to sinning just once in a while, he is speaking about habitual sin as the normal pattern of life.

Marc Roby: Alright, so someone who sins habitually is a slave to sin. That makes me think of what Paul wrote in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those verses make the point clearly. Now, of course, sin is impersonal, so saying we are slaves to sin as though sin itself were our master is a rhetorical device, the real master is the devil. And we’ll come back to that point later. But first, I want to make clear that Christians have the ability to say “no” to sin, which is a major burden of what Paul is teaching us in Romans Chapter Six. That is part of what it means to say that we have been redeemed. We have been purchased out of one condition and placed in a new condition. Theologians sometimes use a couple of Latin phrases to describe this difference. Prior to our conversion, we were non posse non peccare, which literally means that it was not possible to not sin. But, after our conversion, we are posse non peccare, meaning it is possible for us to not sin.

Marc Roby: Unbelievers, and even many professing Christians, have a hard time accepting the idea that an unbeliever is sinning all the time.

Dr. Spencer: I think people have a hard time with this idea because they have a wrong view of sin. For example, suppose an unbelieving man wakes up one morning and just doesn’t feel like going to work that day, he isn’t sick, he just doesn’t feel like going to work.

Marc Roby: We have all had that feeling.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure our listeners can all relate. But then suppose that he gets himself ready and goes to work anyway. He has done the right thing. It would have been sin to be lazy and stay home. But even though he made the better choice, he hasn’t avoided sinning altogether.

Marc Roby: Why not?

Dr. Spencer: Because of his motives. There are all sorts of motives we can imagine for doing the right thing here, some of them more noble than others. For example, perhaps he thought staying home would set a poor example for his children, or maybe he just considered the fact that it would cause him trouble at work and might, ultimately, lead to losing his job. But whatever his motives, they are focused on what is best for him and his family in this life. They are, at least to some extent, selfish and they are entirely worldly; meaning focused on this life alone. But there is one motive an unbeliever is guaranteed to never have. He will never be motivated by a desire to do what is right in God’s sight. His is not concerned with obeying God or bringing God glory by how he lives his life.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good point and agrees completely with what is said in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 16, Paragraph 7. And it makes me think of the famous verse in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we sin whenever we fail to recognize that we are creatures, accountable to God. We are to live all of our lives with that humble recognition, and every decision, no matter how minor, is to be made with reference to God and his laws. We are to live for his glory. We are to please him, not ourselves. This is the comprehensive lordship of Christ.

Marc Roby: And the most basic confession of a Christian is that Jesus is Lord. We read in Romans 10:9, “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 Jesus is the Lord of a Christian for two reasons. First, because he is the Creator  he is the Lord of everyone, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. And secondly, for a Christian, Jesus is Lord because he redeemed us by his atoning sacrifice. He purchased us with his blood. We belong to him both as creatures and as his blood-bought slaves.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will rile some. You often hear that Christ died to set his people free. In fact, in Galatians 5:1 Paul tells us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” So how can you say we are his slaves?

Dr. Spencer: Because that is what the Word of God tells us. The apostle Paul refers to himself many times as a slave of Christ. For example, he begins the book of Romans, in Chapter One, Verse One, by saying, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”. Now the Greek word translated here as “servant”, is δοῦλος (doulos), which literally means bond slave. Paul uses the same expression elsewhere[3] and it is also used, for example, by James[4], Peter[5] and Jude[6]. It is somewhat paradoxical, but we have been set free from our slavery to sin in order to serve as slaves of God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that concept will be hard for many to grasp.

Dr. Spencer: It is difficult for all of us to grasp I think, especially at first. But the greatest freedom a person could ever possibly have is the freedom to always do what is right and to do it for the right reasons. True freedom would be to be completely free from our selfish and sinful desires and from the sinful influences of the devil and the world and to be completely controlled by the only perfect law, which is God’s law. None of us achieve that freedom fully in this life, but the radical change brought about by regeneration makes us able, for the first time, to be free in principle even if we don’t always achieve it in practice.

Marc Roby: And so, if I may go back to the point about an unbeliever sinning all the time and summarize your argument, you are saying that even when an unbeliever does something that is in itself a good and right thing to do, the fact that he is not motivated by a desire to please and obey God, makes that action yet sinful. Even if his motives appear noble, he is still motivated by what appears to him to be right. And he is, in other words, sinning and acting autonomously.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a great way to put it. And because all people are made in the image of God, their own internal standard of right and wrong will often be right. But the autonomous thinking that is involved in following their own standard, rather than self-consciously desiring to follow God’s standard, makes their actions sinful. That is the autonomy that the devil was promoting when he tempted Eve by saying, in response to her statement that eating the forbidden fruit would lead to death, “You will not surely die, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, the devil was lying as usual. What actually happened is that Adam and Eve became like the devil, rebellious sinners opposed to God.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Jesus called sinners children of the devil.

One day Jesus was telling some people that they were not living as children of Abraham because they were not doing the things Abraham would do. The people responded that God is their only father and Jesus replied, as we read in John 8:42-44, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Marc Roby: That was harsh! Jesus told them their father was the devil. That doesn’t fit the modern view of Jesus as always smiling and being nice to people.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t fit that image at all because that image is unbiblical. When anyone sins, including a Christian, that person is being obedient to the devil. That is why I said that being a slave to sin really means that you are under the authority of the devil. People think they are being autonomous, but that is never the case. The devil lets you think you are autonomous, but when you set yourself up as the final authority, you are playing straight into his hands. When Christ redeems us, he sets us free from slavery to sin, which is really slavery to the devil; he is, as Jesus said, the father of all lies. And the greatest lie of all is that you can be like God. You can be autonomous. But no creature is ever autonomous, that is an illusion. Everyone obeys either God or the devil. Eve was not being autonomous when she ate the forbidden fruit, she was accepting Satan as her new lord and master. She weighed God’s words and Satan’s words and decided that Satan was right, so she obeyed him instead of God. That isn’t really autonomy, it is a shifting of allegiance.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting way to put it. And it reminds me of a verse you just briefly mentioned last time. You noted that Satan is called the ruler of the kingdom of the air in Ephesians 2:2, so let me read Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that makes it very clear, doesn’t it? When a person thinks he is acting autonomously by disobeying or completely disregarding God, it is really Satan who is at work in him. But Christ has redeemed us from this slavery. As Paul wrote at the end of the passage we have been considering from Romans Six, “anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

James Boice wrote that “Redemption has two consequences. First, it means we are free. Paradoxical as it may sound, to be purchased by Jesus is to be set free – free from the guilt and tyranny of the law and from sin’s power. … Yet this is a special kind of freedom. It does not mean that we are set free to do anything we might wish, to sin with impunity or once again fall back into the bondage of rebellion and unfaithfulness. We are released to serve God. We are set free to will the good. We are delivered in order that we might obey and love Jesus.”[7] And Boice then goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, where Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Marc Roby: And so the biblical view is that when we are freed from slavery to sin, or to the devil, we become slaves of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That is the biblical view, yes. Christ is our redeemer and our Lord and we owe him perfect, unquestioning obedience. To be a slave of Christ is to be as free as it is possible for a human being to ever be. It is to be free to do what is right and good. We are told in Hebrews 9:15 that “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Marc Roby: That is glorious. And it raises an obvious question. To whom did Christ pay this ransom? A ransom is usually paid to the one who is holding someone captive.

Dr. Spencer: Well, the analogy breaks down a bit at this point because the ransom is paid to God. It is the price required to satisfy God’s justice. Remember that we are justified on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. He paid our debt and he gives us his righteousness. That is redemption.

Marc Roby: And that is also a good place to end for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We enjoy 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] See Sessions 102.1-3 and 104.2-3

[3] E.g., Titus 1:1

[4] James 1:1

[5] 2 Peter 1:1

[6] Jude 1

[7] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 330

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Last week we showed that justification is a legal declaration of God. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16, we “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”[1] At the end of our session last week Dr. Spencer, you noted that the Roman Catholic view of justification is called analytic justification and the reformed, or biblical, view is called synthetic justification. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to remind our listeners that how we are justified is not some unimportant, esoteric discussion about a trivial technical point of doctrine. We are dealing with the central question for all men and women; namely, “How can a sinner be justified, or declared righteous, in the sight of a holy and just God?” Justification is the heart of the issue and the differences here are critically important. If you are wrong in your understanding of justification, it may well be that when you stand before God to be judged, you will hear those terrible words, “Depart from me!” And that would mean eternal destruction. Our whole reason for doing these podcasts is to lead people to Christ and to strengthen the church. But the path to salvation is narrow.

Marc Roby: Near the end of his famous Sermon on the Mount, we read in Matthew 7:13-14 that Jesus himself admonished us to, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Dr. Spencer: Those verses are very important. I don’t know anyone who enjoys conflict – well, maybe some lawyers I know – but, seriously most people don’t like conflict. We would like to be able to say it doesn’t matter what someone believes, just so long as he is sincere and a nice person, he will go to heaven. But that is not the truth. And, in fact, if we think about it for a few minutes, we wouldn’t really want that to be true. It would require that God change his just character, and his character is perfect, so we should never want that. The bottom line is that there is one and only one way to heaven. Calling yourself a Christian and even faithfully attending a church, no matter what denomination, will not save you. So, there is nothing more important than understanding what God says about how we can be justified.

Marc Roby: Very well. Getting back then to this issue of analytic and synthetic justification, what do you want to say about these different views?

Dr. Spencer: We should begin by briefly reminding our listeners of what these terms mean. The terms analytic and synthetic come from philosophy. An analytic statement is true by definition; in other words, it is a tautology. So, for example, the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” is an analytic statement. The subject, bachelor, contains within it the information contained in the predicate, “unmarried”, so the sentence tells us nothing we don’t already know from just the subject. Synthetic statements however, can be either true or false. If I tell you that my car is blue, that statement may be true or false because the predicate, “blue”, adds information to the subject, “car”. [2]

Marc Roby: And how does all of this apply to justification?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in the Roman Catholic view, no one is declared just in God’s sight until that person actually is just. You could say that God analyzes you and determines that you are, in fact, just, or righteous, and so he declares that to be so. His declaration doesn’t change anything; you were just and he simply recognized that fact. That is analytic justification.

Marc Roby: In other words, God justifies the just.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But that is unbiblical. In Romans 3:23-24 we read that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Which tells us that God justifies sinners, not righteous people.

Marc Roby: And there are no righteous people as Paul noted; all have sinned. Every single human being outside of Christ is a sinner.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in Romans 4:5 we read that “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Which is even more explicit. God “justifies the wicked”.

Marc Roby: That verse ended by saying why God justifies the wicked; it said that “his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: And that is the point we were making last time, but using different words. This justification is synthetic. It is not based on analyzing the person and determining that he is, in fact, righteous, it is based on imputing to him a righteousness that is not his own, what has been called an alien righteousness.[3] As it says in Romans 3:21-22, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Marc Roby: In these verses Paul wrote that this righteousness “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And in the previous verse we looked at he wrote that God justified the wicked because “his faith is credited as righteousness.” These two expressions are obviously speaking about the same thing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. They are both speaking about being united to Christ by faith and the double imputation that results from that union as we noted last week. Paul’s main point in Romans Chapter Four is to show that Abraham, the father of the Jews, was justified by faith and not by works. The Jews at that time thought that “Abraham was perfect in his deeds with the Lord and well pleasing and in righteousness all the days of his life”[4], so Paul was arguing against this view. He quoted Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” And he then argued, in Romans 4:4-5, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. If Abraham earned his justification, then God would have been obligated to justify him and would not have said in Genesis 15:6 that his faith was credited to him as righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, given that the argument is part of God’s infallible word, it isn’t just a strong argument, it is definitive. You quoted Galatians 2:16 in your opening statement today and it says, in part, that “by observing the law no one will be justified.” The Bible is clear that no one outside of Jesus Christ has ever lived a sinless life, and no one ever will. But a sinless life is necessary to be perfect in righteousness. It is only the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ that can save; and that can only be ours if we are united to him by faith. It is an alien righteousness. Our justification is synthetic, not analytic. We are united to Christ by faith and it is on the basis of his perfect righteousness that we are justified.

The free book that we offer to all listeners of the podcast, Good News for All People, is, in essence, an exposition of the passage we have been considering from Romans Chapter Three and I strongly recommend it for those who want to consider this topic in more depth.

Marc Roby: And our listeners can obtain a free copy of that book by going to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and clicking on the button to request a copy. Are we done talking about the difference between synthetic and analytic justification?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. But I also want to point out that it is possible and, in fact, quite common, to fall into the other ditch as well.

Marc Roby: What do you mean?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we noted earlier that the path to heaven is narrow, and we could add that there are ditches on both sides. On the one side you can error like the Roman Catholic Church does and think that you can earn your salvation in some way, but it is also very common to believe that your own righteousness doesn’t matter at all. That view is frequently called antinomianism, which simply means to be against the law.

Marc Roby: And I would say that although they may not admit to being antinomian, that view is the most common view among Protestant churches today.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obviously true. The minute you say anything about good works being necessary, most professing protestants today will accuse you of being legalistic. In other words, they will accuse you of rejecting the idea that we are saved by grace alone. They will say that you are adding your own good works to the requirements for salvation. But that view is completely wrong.

Marc Roby: Well, for one thing, we aren’t saying that your works are the basis for your salvation. As you said a moment ago, we are justified on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. They ignore the difference between salvation and justification. Although these two terms are sometimes used as though they were synonymous, salvation is a more general term that refers to the whole process of being saved, beginning with God’s electing love in eternity past and culminating in our receiving our glorified bodies and living with God in perfect happiness for all eternity future. Whereas justification only refers to God’s legal declaration that we are justified in his sight. We would say that our own good works are necessary for salvation, but not for justification; although even our “good works” are only done and accepted by grace as we will discuss in a later podcast. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone; period. Nothing is added to the requirements for justification.

Marc Roby: How then would you explain, I’m tempted to say justify, the statement that our good works are necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: Well, they are necessary proof that we have truly been justified. We have argued that justification is a legal declaration, it does not refer to a process of actually making us just. We are sinners before we are justified and we are still sinners after we are justified. But there is a huge difference nonetheless, a radical change must have taken place or we would not have truly repented and believed and God would not have justified us. We must have been born again, in other words, regenerated.

We discussed regeneration in Sessions 149 and 150 because it comes early in the order of salvation. Our listeners may remember that the order we have been using is: effectual call, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.

Marc Roby: And no one can repent and believe unless they are born again, which is why it comes before repentance and faith in the order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: And the converse is also true as I noted in Session 149; anyone who has been born again will, without a doubt, repent and believe. In fact, the whole order is guaranteed once God has chosen someone to be saved. We see this in the famous passage in Romans 8:29-30, where Paul tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul says God “foreknew” certain people, that really means that he has fore-loved them. He knows every single person and everything about every person, so to say that he foreknew someone would not limit the group of people in any way.

Dr. Spencer: And that emphasizes yet again that the source of our salvation is the love of God. But, to stay on topic, every element in the order of salvation is certain to occur in the life of every single individual whom God fore-loved and predestined to be saved. That process begins in the life of a believer with the effectual call and regeneration, which then necessarily result in repentance and faith and also in sanctification in the life of every true believer. God justifies us based on our faith, which unites us to Christ. But we would never have truly believed if we had not been born again first. And the instant we are born again we are radically changed; new birth is the beginning of the process of sanctification.

Marc Roby: And hence, good works are essential proof that this process is truly underway.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. And that forms a good segue into discussing the third side of the triangle of salvation.[5]

Marc Roby: Now we haven’t spoken about the triangle of salvation yet today, so perhaps I should briefly remind our listeners of what that is. This triangle shows the relations between God the Father, Jesus Christ and an individual believer. God the Father is at the top, Jesus Christ on the bottom left and the believer on the bottom right. The left side, connecting Christ and the Father, represents the fact that Christ propitiates or appeases the wrath of God for us, and the right side, connecting the Father to the believer, represents the fact that the Father then declares us just, or legally righteous, based on the work of Jesus Christ. We have already spoken about both of these. The bottom side, connecting Christ to the believer, represents the fact that Jesus Christ redeems us.

Dr. Spencer: And we pointed out in Session 176 that redemption refers to paying a ransom to free a prisoner or a slave. As James Boice wrote, “The Greek word at the base of the major word group meaning ‘redeem,’ ‘redeemer’ and ‘redemption’ is luō, which means ‘to loose’ or ‘loosen.’ It was used of loosening clothes or unbinding armor. When applied to human beings, it signified the loosing of bonds so that, for example, a prisoner became free. At times it was used of procuring the release of a prisoner by means of a ransom.”[6]

Marc Roby: I know that some theologians have objected to the idea of a ransom being paid for our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and Boice deals with that objection. He has a rather lengthy, and very good, discussion of this, which I encourage interested listeners to read.[7] But I’m going to skip most of it and simply point out the most important conclusion.

Marc Roby: And what is that?

Dr. Spencer: The biblical view of man is that he was created sinless. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect communion with God in the garden prior to the fall. But when they sinned, which we must remember was deliberate rebellion against God in response to the devil’s lie that they could become like God … In any event, when they sinned, their natures were changed. God had told Adam, as we read in Genesis 2:17, that “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And that is what happened. Death is not the cessation of existence. As we have discussed before[8], the biblical idea of death is separation. And Adam and Eve were immediately separated from intimate fellowship with God. In addition, they immediately started the process of physically dying, which leads to the separation of the body and spirit[9]. And that is the state we all inherit from them. We are sinful creatures bound to physically die and then face judgment.

Marc Roby: We are in the estate of sin and misery as the Westminster Shorter Catechism phrases it.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In any event, the Bible describes this state of sin as slavery. In John 8:34 we read that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And in Romans 7:14 Paul refers to himself in his unregenerate state as having been “sold as a slave to sin.” But when we are born again, we are freed from slavery to sin. We are also freed from being under the dominion of Satan, who is called the ruler of the kingdom of the air in Ephesians 2:2, and we are freed from the sting of death as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:55-56.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the glorious symbolism in the sacrament of baptism. We are said to have died with Christ and to have been buried with him, which refers to being done with our old way of life. But then, praise God, we have also been raised to new life with him.

Dr. Spencer: And that symbolism expressly uses the idea of being a slave to sin, especially as it relates to the ethical change that takes place in us and the concomitant release we experience from the power and dominion of sin. Romans Chapter Six speaks about the change that takes place when a sinner is born again and baptized. At the end of Chapter Five Paul argued that the law was never intended to save anyone. Rather, the law actually increased our sin and guilt. Because of our sinful nature, when we are told not to do something, that is the first thing we want to do. But then Paul declared, in Romans 5:20 that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”. His point was that our greater sin leads to God displaying even greater grace in saving us. But this can be misunderstood, just like modern antinomians misunderstand our being saved by grace. And so Paul answers them in Romans Chapter Six.

Marc Roby: Let me read the first seven verses of that chapter: Paul wrote, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Dr. Spencer: That wonderful passage speaks about our union with Christ, it speaks about our old self and that we should no longer be slaves to sin, and it speaks about our having been freed from this slavery. And in our next session, I want to begin with this passage and speak about Christ as our Redeemer.

Marc Roby: That’s a wonderful topic to look forward to. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We enjoy 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] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 187

[3] R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Baker Books, 1995, pg. 107

[4] Book of Jubilees, translated from the Ethiopic, by George H. Schodde, E.J. Goodrich, 1888, pg. 69, (available at: http://matrixfiles.com/JerryKirk/Book-of-Jubilees-from-the-Ethiophic.pdf) also see Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 182

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 323

[6] pg. 323 (note: his book prints the Greek word as lyō, which is a printing error, so I’ve corrected it to luō.)

[7] Ibid, pp 324-330

[8] See Session 102 pages 1 through 3

[9] See Session 104 pages 2 and 3.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today and we are in the midst of covering soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Last week we defined some terms and presented the triangle of salvation, which shows the relations between God the Father, Jesus Christ and an individual believer. The triangle has God the Father at the top, Jesus Christ on the bottom left and a Christian on the bottom right. The bottom side, that is, connecting Christ to the Christian, represents the fact that Jesus Christ redeems us. The left side, connecting Christ and the Father, represents the fact that Christ propitiates or appeases the wrath of God for us, and the right side, connecting the Father to the believer, represents the fact that the Father then declares us just, or legally righteous, based on the work of Jesus Christ. We ended by making the biblical case that God is, indeed, angry with sin and wrathful toward sinners and does, therefore, need to be propitiated. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to say just a couple of additional things about propitiation and then move on to the topic of justification.

Marc Roby: Alright, what else do you want to say about propitiation?

Dr. Spencer: That it is very frequently misunderstood. As John Murray points out in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, this doctrine is sometimes falsely presented as though propitiation means that God the Father is full of wrath and then Jesus, who is all loving, comes along and somehow wins him over and changes his wrath to love. But that view, or anything like it, is entirely unbiblical. We must remember the quote we gave from Murray in Session 175, “No treatment of the atonement can be properly oriented that does not trace its source to the free and sovereign love of God.”[1]

Marc Roby: Yes, that certainly argues against this false notion of propitiation, and Murray’s statement is biblical. In fact, I remember that last week you noted that Revelation 6:16 speaks of the wrath of the Lamb, which refers to Jesus Christ. So, in a sense, Christ’s sacrifice propitiates his own wrath.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. It is the triune God who is wrathful, not just the Father. And God’s being angry with sin and wrathful toward sinners is not incompatible with his having chosen, in love, to save some of those sinners. Murray wrote, “God is love. But the supreme object of that love is himself. And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory.”[2]

Marc Roby: That’s a marvelous statement and it agrees with what you just said, Murray wrote that God appeases his own holy wrath. And it is wrong to pit the Father against the Son. But some of our listeners may be disturbed by the idea that the supreme object of God’s love is himself.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure some will be bothered by that. But there is nothing more lovable than God. So, if you think about it for a moment, this has nothing in common with a man being egotistical and loving himself above all. If God didn’t love himself supremely, there would be something wrong, because there is no better object for his love. And God is also holy and just and, as Murray writes, “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin.”[3]

Marc Roby: I like that way of putting it. It is inevitable that the holy God be wrathful toward sin.

Dr. Spencer: And, therefore, sin must be dealt with in order for God, who is love, to save sinners. Murray sums it up this way; “To deny propitiation is to undermine the nature of the atonement as the vicarious endurance of the penalty of sin. In a word, it is to deny substitutionary atonement.”[4]

Marc Roby: In other words, it is to deny the work accomplished by Christ on the cross in saving sinners.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Sin is rebellion against God and an attack on his sovereignty and character. As Murray points out, “God cannot be indifferent to or complacent towards that which is the contradiction of himself.”[5]

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we done with propitiation?

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said you wanted to move on to discuss justification next, which is the right side of the triangle of salvation. How would you like to begin there?

Dr. Spencer: I want our listeners to picture themselves seated in God’s heavenly courtroom. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine facing God. He knows everything you have ever thought, said or done. And he knows it all perfectly. No defense can possibly be given. You are guilty of cosmic rebellion against the King of kings. You have violated his laws. You know it, and he knows it far more fully than you do! If you are declared guilty, which would be completely just, the punishment is eternal hell. Now, with that horrible picture in mind, I want to ask, what would you say in your defense?

Marc Roby: I know what I would say. I would cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!”

Dr. Spencer: And that is the only answer that can save you. Anything else will condemn you. And if a person balks at anything I just said – either he thinks he isn’t really that bad, or that God isn’t really so harsh in judging sinners, then he needs to read his Bible more carefully and cry out to God to have mercy and grant him understanding. But if, by God’s gracious work of regeneration, a person is able to answer as you did in all sincerity and truth, then that person will be saved, God will pronounce him just, or righteous in his sight. But not because he actually is, in himself, righteous. As Paul wrote in Titus 3:5, God saved us, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” [6].

Marc Roby: Praise God for his amazing mercy.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. But we also have to note that the answer you gave is very important. You simply said, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” But the simplicity of that answer in no way detracts from how profound it is. And you were, of course, simply quoting the Bible, and I think it would be worthwhile to read the passage from which you quoted.

Marc Roby: Okay, In Luke 18:9-14 we read, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

Dr. Spencer: And to understand that parable correctly, we must remember that the Pharisees were the strictest sect of Jews at the time of Jesus. They were well known for zealously keeping a very long list of rules, which they thought encapsulated God’s laws. They were looked up to by the people as very pious. While tax collectors, on the other hand, were among the lowest people. They were considered traitors for gathering taxes from their own people for the Roman government and, even worse, they were often greedy and became wealthy by collecting more tax than was necessary.

Marc Roby: And so, Jesus’ listeners would have been quite surprised by the outcome of this parable.

Dr. Spencer: Shocked and angry might be a more accurate description of their reaction. But we must take note of the simple prayer of the tax collector. First, he acknowledged that he was a sinner. Second, he didn’t think that he could in any way pay for his sins. He didn’t ask for justice, he cried out for mercy. God delights in showing mercy to people who come to him in true humility, which requires that they be born again as Christ said in John 3 verses 3 and 5. And notice what Jesus said, the tax collector went home justified.

Now, there is absolutely no reason to think that the tax collector was somehow made perfect at that moment, so we must realize that this statement is a legal declaration about the man’s status before God. It is not a statement about his own character. He was still a sinner and very far from righteous in himself. So, we should ask, “How it is possible for God to justify him?”

Marc Roby: Well, certainly, we know that God cannot lie and he always does what is just and right.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. And the answer to the question of how God can justify this man, or any sinful man, is given in the passage from Romans 3 that we have been looking at for the past two sessions. In Romans 3:25-26 we read that “God presented him [meaning Jesus Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement [or we could say, a propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” This tells us that God is just when he justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Marc Roby: And we can conclude from that statement, combined with the fact that Jesus said the tax collector went home justified, that this tax collector had been born again and had true faith in Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s an obvious conclusion. And his faith was the instrument that united him to Christ so that his sins were imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to him. That is the glorious double imputation we have spoken about a number of times and it comes as a result of our union with Christ. Perhaps it would help if I gave an earthly example of a similar union.

Marc Roby: Yes, please do.

Dr. Spencer: When a man and woman get married, and I’m speaking about a biblical marriage here, I’m not talking about what the laws of any given state or country may say … In any event, when a man and a woman get married, they are united by that marriage and become one in many respects. If the husband owed $100,000 when they got married, that liability now belongs to the wife as well. Similarly, if the husband had $100,000 in the bank, that money now belongs to the wife as well. The husband and the wife are one; they are united.

Marc Roby: And when we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are united to him as well.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And by being united with Christ, our liabilities, our sins in other words, are placed in his account and are considered paid for by his substitutionary atonement. At the same time, his perfect righteousness is placed in our account. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ to use the language used by Paul in Romans 13:14 as we noted last week.

Marc Roby: And we could add that Paul wrote, in Galatians 3:27, that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a great verse as well. We read the passage from Zechariah Chapter Three last week, where the high priest Joshua had his filthy clothes removed and was given rich garments to wear instead. This is what happens when a true believer comes before God in judgement. Our sins are not counted against us. They are counted as having been paid for by Christ and we are seen clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. And it is on that basis that God declares us just. It isn’t because we are righteous in ourselves. Paul wrote in Romans 4:5 that God justifies the wicked.

Marc Roby: Hallelujah! God’s plan of salvation is truly remarkable. It is not anything that a human being would conjure up.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. All man-made religions, if they contain the idea of salvation at all, have men earning their salvation in some way. Only Christianity gives us God’s eternal plan for saving sinful people. But we must note that he has not simply set his anger and wrath aside. At the end of our session last week we read a few of the many verses in the Bible that clearly show God is angry with sin and wrathful toward sinners. He is also, as our passage in Romans Three says, just. He is the just Judge of the universe. He doesn’t just wink at sin, he deals with it. Sin must be punished for God to be just. Notice again what it says in Romans 3:25, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”. Now, we must ask, “What sins did God leave unpunished?”

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: And the verse tells us that it was, “the sins committed beforehand” that were left unpunished. And, in context, that clearly refers to the sins committed prior to Christ’s sacrifice of atonement. Old Testament believers were saved just as we are, by being united to Christ by faith. But their sins were left unpunished until Christ came. They were punished in Christ, just like our sins were. So, in the end, no sins are left unpunished. God is just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. As the Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote, “The saints of the Old Testament looked forward to the cross and their sins were forgiven, we look backward to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the gospel in a nutshell. We’ve used that verse many times because the double imputation, or double transaction, of which it speaks is the heart of the gospel message. God is just and must punish sin. But he is also loving and has chosen to save some people. And we are all sinners and cannot pay the debt we owe. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. He sent his Son, the eternal second person of the holy Trinity, to become incarnate, live a perfect sinless life in fulfillment of the law, and then willingly give himself as a substitute on behalf of his chosen people. As the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Marc Roby: It is impossible to understand the depth of the love of God displayed in saving us from our sins.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Justification is a legal declaration of God, but it is not a fiction or unjust in any way. It is like the marriage I spoke about earlier; the liabilities and assets of the husband and wife are merged when they are united in marriage. And when we are united to Christ by faith, our liabilities are merged with his assets. But his assets are infinite and totally swamp our liabilities. And, as a result, God declares us to be just.

Marc Roby: Now this legal, or forensic, view of justification differs from that of the Roman Catholic Church, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. I don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion of the reformation now, but we must at least point out that the issue of justification was the central issue. It has been called the material cause of the reformation.[8] According to Aristotle, the material cause of a statue, for example, is the material, perhaps some stone, out of which the statue is made. And, in much the same way, the doctrine of justification is the material out of which the reformation sprang.

Marc Roby: I remember that we briefly discussed the reformation in Session 155 while discussing saving faith.

Dr. Spencer: And we discussed it at that time because the true biblical doctrine of justification, which is also the reformed view, is that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. Whereas, the Roman Catholic Church says that we are justified by grace through faith. They leave out the word alone because, in their unbiblical view, we are saved by the sacraments administered through the church. Theologians call the Roman Catholic view of justification analytic because, in the end, God analyzes us and declares us just, or righteous, because we are in fact righteous. This is a radically different view of justification and is completely irreconcilable with the Bible.

Marc Roby: What do theologians call the biblical, or reformed, view of justification?

Dr. Spencer: They call it synthetic because it is based on a righteousness that is not our own; it is, as we have been laboring to show, the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to us when we are united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: Very well. I sense that we need to branch off in a new direction to discuss these two views, so this is a good place to end for today. Therefore, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to respond.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 9

[2] Ibid, pg. 32

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pp 32-33

[5] Ibid, pg. 117

[6] 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.™.

[7] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 153

[8] R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Baker Books, 1995, pg. 18

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today. We are in the midst of covering soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, and last time we just began to cover justification, which is the heart of the gospel. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: By reading the verses from Romans that I mentioned at the very end of our last session. We read in Romans 3:21-26, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” [1]

Marc Roby: That is a truly marvelous and theologically rich passage. What do you want to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to note that these verses speak about a “righteousness from God”, which comes “through faith”, and that we are “justified freely” through the redemption earned by Christ. James Boice wrote that “justification by faith is God’s answer to the most basic of all religious questions: How can a man or woman become right with God?”[2]

Marc Roby: And, of course, as the passage notes, the bad news is that we have all sinned, so no one is right with God on his own.

Dr. Spencer: That is the problem. We have a bad inheritance from our first father, Adam. Because he was our representative before God, when he sinned, which is called the fall, we all sinned in him. Therefore, we inherit both his guilt and his sinful nature. And because of our sinful nature, we all personally sin and increase our guilt daily. Question 17 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?”

Marc Roby: And the answer says, “The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”

Dr. Spencer: Which is the Catechism’s way of expressing the bad news. Certainly, when we look at the history of the world, we see the truth of this statement. It doesn’t negate the fact that life can have many legitimate joys and pleasures, but when you look at all of the sickness, cruelty, wars and even death itself, calling this an estate of sin and misery is accurate. But even worse is the fact that we must all face judgment at the end of this life. Every single human being will then either go to eternal heaven, or eternal hell. There are no other options.

Marc Roby: And Jesus said the same thing. In Matthew 25:46, he famously said that sinners, “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: And we are all sinners. Hence, to rephrase Boice, the most basic of all religious questions, and I would say the most basic and important of all questions of any type, is “How can a sinner be made right with God?” Our eternal destiny depends on being right with God.

And modern Christianity often tragically neglects this most basic question. The focus is often on how God can help us to live better lives here and now. But as Christ himself asked, in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Marc Roby: And by forfeiting the soul, Christ was referring to going to eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Nothing could be worse. It doesn’t matter how good this life is if you go to hell. And there is another heresy that is common among those few churches that do talk about heaven and hell or, more often, just about heaven. They will often present a gospel that, in effect, claims that you can earn your way to heaven. Many people think that God grades on a curve. That he will look at our life and weigh, if you will, the good and the bad things we do and so long as the good outweigh the bad, we will go to heaven. But that is not what the Bible says. Jesus told us, in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, no one can meet that standard.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. Even if a man lives a perfect life from the moment he is born again, he won’t be saved by his own righteousness because he sinned before that time. He is not perfect.

Marc Roby: And no one ever lives a perfect life, even after being saved.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is certainly true. But even if someone did, it wouldn’t be enough. There are 162 games in a normal major-league baseball season and if a team loses the first game, then it can’t have a perfect season. Even if it wins the next 161 games in a row, it still isn’t a perfect season. God does not grade on a curve. He is perfect and we must be perfect to be in heaven with him.

Marc Roby: Well, that makes it sound hopeless given the fact that no one is perfect.

Dr. Spencer: But there is hope in God because he can make us perfect. But that is a different topic, which we will get to later. For now I want to stick with justification, and justification isn’t about making us perfect, it is about our legal standing before God. In other words, it is about our guilt. God will ultimately perfect us, and he has begun that work in every born-again person, but our justification is not related to our own righteousness, that is a very common misunderstanding.

Notice what Paul wrote in the passage we started with. He said, “But now a righteousness from God … has been made known”, and that “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ …”. In other words, this righteousness is not our own, it comes from God.

Marc Roby: I’m glad to hear that.

Dr. Spencer: And so is every person whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit to see his own sin clearly. In his commentary on this passage, Martin Luther quoted St. Augustine, who wrote that Paul, “does not speak of the righteousness of God, by which God is righteous, but of that with which He clothes a person when He justifies the ungodly.”[3] In other words, this is speaking about the righteousness that is imputed to us when we place our trust in Christ. We spoke about the double imputation last week; God imputes our sin to Christ – meaning he places our sin in Christ’s account, and he imputes Christ’s righteousness to us – meaning he places his righteousness in our account.

Marc Roby: Augustine’s writing that God clothes us with this righteousness is a very descriptive way of putting it, and it completely agrees with the Bible. In Romans 13:14 Paul wrote that we should clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And it also harkens back to the Old Testament. In one of the visions given to the prophet Zechariah, we see the high priest Joshua presented before God’s court. We read in Zechariah 3:3, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” The filthy clothes represent Joshua’s sin. In his natural state he was not worthy of coming into God’s presence. And then, in Verse 4, we read, “The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’” In other words, he clothed Joshua in righteousness that came from God. That is the only way we can be declared righteous, or just, in God’s sight. We cannot earn our salvation, it is a gift.

Marc Roby: And, since you referred to God’s court, we could say that this justification is a legal declaration of God.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what it is. In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem defines it this way: “Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”[4]  Theologians sometime use the word forensic, which simply means having to do with the law, so this doctrine can be called forensic justification. We’ll talk about this more when we get to the nature of justification, but there is something else I want to discuss first. Theologians sometimes speak of the “triangle of salvation”[5]

Marc Roby: Now, what is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is a useful way of describing the different aspects of salvation, which can sometimes be confusing to people because different terms are used for the different aspects of salvation and there is some overlap in the meaning and use of the terms. For example, in Matthew 1:21we are told that Jesus was named Jesus because, “he will save his people from their sins.” That uses the generic term “save”, which has a range of uses. Then, in Luke 1:68 we read about John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” That talks about being redeemed, which is more specific and we will discuss that in a moment. And in the verses we are considering now, we read in Romans 3:24-25 that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” These speak about being justified, and about redemption, and about a sacrifice of atonement, or it would be better to translate that as a propitiation.

Marc Roby: OK, there are a lot of different words used here. So what are the important differences and how does this so-called triangle of salvation come into play?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s define some terms first. The word atone means to make amends for some wrong that has been done to someone. It is a fairly general term that can apply to the whole of Christ’s work in paying the penalty we owe because of our sinful rebellion against God. Redemption, on the other hand, is more specific and refers, for example, to paying a ransom to free a prisoner or a slave.[6] Justification, as we have already said, is a judicial term and refers to declaring someone to be just, or righteous in the sight of the law. And, finally, to propitiate means to pacify, to appease, in other words to regain the favor of an offended party.[7]

Marc Roby: And God is the offended party in this case.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. To quote John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, which we have used a number of times, “sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin”.[8] To propitiate is to pacify God’s just wrath. And this is done, specifically, by covering our sins. To quote John Murray again, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[9] He also wrote that in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, propitiation “is expressed by a word which means to ‘cover.’”[10]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 32, that wonderful penitent psalm of King David. That psalm begins by saying, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great psalm and it uses poetic parallelism to equate having our transgressions forgiven with having our sins covered. The Greek word used in Romans 3:25, which the NIV translates as “sacrifice of atonement”, but which the ESV[11] more correctly translates as “propitiation”, is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion). This word is used in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament in use at the time of Christ, to refer to the atonement cover on the Ark of the Covenant.

Marc Roby: I remember that we have discussed the symbolism of the atonement cover before.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we have. In Session 134 we noted that in the Old Testament period the high priest would go into the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, which is the atonement cover. The ark contained the law of God, which the people had broken and which, therefore, testified against them. The symbolism was that when God, who appeared above the cover, looked down toward the ark, his view of the law would be blocked by the blood. In other words, the blood covered the tablets of the law, which testified against the people.

Marc Roby: And so, Christ’s sacrifice of atonement, to use the NIV translation, refers to his having covered our sins with his own blood.

Dr. Spencer: Which is offensive to modern man, but that is the symbolism used. And the fact that it is offensive is appropriate. Sin is ugly. Sin is offensive. It must be punished. It is a topic that we should find very disturbing. And we are told in Hebrews 9:22 that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

Marc Roby: Which immediately makes me think of Leviticus 17:11, where God explains why the Jews were prohibited from eating meat with the blood still in it. God said, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that verse is foundational. Now, I personally don’t like blood. I could never have been a medical doctor. But we need to come to grips with how serious sin really is. We need to personalize these things. I need to realize that my sin is so ugly that God, being the holy and just Judge of the universe, could not forgive my sin without its having been paid for by blood, it had to be covered. Either my blood, or some acceptable substitute. And I am eternally grateful that God provided Jesus Christ, the only acceptable substitute, and the final sacrifice to which the entire Old Testament sacrificial system pointed. He provided propitiation for me.

Marc Roby: And now that we have these three terms defined, justification, propitiation and redemption, what is the triangle of salvation?

Dr. Spencer: It is a good way of visualizing the amazing completeness of Christ’s work on our behalf. Picture a triangle with a horizontal base and one of the vertices on top in the middle. In other words, it is shaped like a mountain. That top vertex, or the peak of the mountain, is God the Father, the vertex on the bottom-left is Jesus Christ, in other words God the Son, and the vertex on the bottom-right is a Christian. Each side of the triangle represents a relationship, but specifically with regard to our salvation. The bottom represents our relationship to Christ; he is our Redeemer. The left side represents Christ’s relationship to the Father; Christ is our Propitiation. His sacrifice appeases the wrath of God. The right side represents our relationship to the Father; he justifies us.[12]

Marc Roby: We are certainly the winners here in every transaction! Christ provides our propitiation, he redeems us, and God the Father justifies us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are blessed beyond our wildest imagination, and we contribute nothing positive to our justification, we only contribute our sin, which is entirely negative. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: I know that there are theologians who disagree with the idea of propitiation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are some who don’t like the idea of God being angry and wrathful toward men. But they have to do some exegetical gymnastics to try and avoid the clear biblical teaching about the anger and wrath of God. For example, in speaking to the Israelites on the plains of Moab to prepare them for entering the Promised Land, Moses told them, in Deuteronomy 9:8, that “At Horeb you aroused the LORD’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you.”

Marc Roby: And Moses was referring to the time the people had Aaron make a golden calf as an idol for them to worship while Moses was on the mountain speaking to God.[13]

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It is impossible to read the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, and miss the fact that God is angry with sin and wrathful toward sinners. We are told in Psalm 2:12, for example, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.” And in Psalm 7:11 we are told that “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.” The prophet Jeremiah spoke the Word of the Lord to the people in Jerusalem to warn them prior to the Babylonian captivity. And in Jeremiah 32:31 we read that God said, “From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight.” There are literally dozens and dozens of other verses I could cite.

Marc Roby: And the same message is also found in the New Testament. In John 3:36, no less than John the Baptist said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” And in Romans 1:18 Paul wrote that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”, and then again in Romans 2:8 Paul wrote, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Dr. Spencer: And Revelation 6:16 speaks of the wrath of the Lamb, which refers to Jesus Christ. And then in Revelation 19:15 we are told the following about Christ, “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” So no one should think that it is only the Father who is wrathful. God is one. We need Christ to propitiate the wrath of God, which is against every sinner.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to learning more about how Christ accomplished that great work for his people, but we are out of time for today. So, let me 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] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 416

[3] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. By J.T. Mueller, Kregel Publications, 1976, pg. 76

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 723

[5] E.g., P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 133, and Boice, op. cit., pp 322-323

[6] E.g., see Boice, op. cit., pp 323-330

[7] E.g., Webster’s says “to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of”, also see Ref. 8

[8] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 30

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] English Standard Version

[12] See Boice, op. cit., pg. 323

[13] See Exodus 32:1-8

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