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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and the “specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ”[1] according to the theologian John Murray. He lists four categories: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Last time we covered sacrifice. So, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today with the category of propitiation?

Dr. Spencer: We should begin by defining propitiation. Murray writes that “To propitiate means to ‘placate,’ ‘pacify,’ ‘appease,’ ‘conciliate.’ … Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[2]

Marc Roby: It is worth noting that you won’t find the word propitiation in the 1984 NIV Bible that we use as our primary source.

Dr. Spencer: No, you won’t. The translators shied away from using the term. You will find it, however, in four places in the New Testament of the English Standard Version.[3] Murray discusses the fact that this term has been troublesome for some. He wrote that “Perhaps no tenet respecting the atonement has been more violently criticized than this one.”[4] But he also notes that this criticism is mostly because the term is misunderstood. He wrote that “It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.”[5]

Marc Roby: That view of the atonement would certainly be at odds with the Bible. The famous verse in John 3:16 tells us plainly that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [6] And it is clear that “God” here refers to God the Father. It is he who loved the world enough to send his Son.

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right. Murray wrote that “To say the least, this kind of criticism has failed to understand or appreciate some elementary and important distinctions. First of all, to love and to be propitious are not convertible terms. It is false to suppose that the doctrine of propitiation regards propitiation as that which causes or constrains the divine love.”[7] In other words, God can love us and still need to be propitiated. It is not the propitiation that brings about his love. He loves us, but because he is holy and just, our sins still require propitiation.

Marc Roby: As a poor analogy we could note that a good human father loves his children, and yet will still be properly angry with them and need to be appeased, or we could say propitiated, when they sin.

Dr. Spencer: That analogy is readily understandable and useful. Murray says that “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin. Sin is the contradiction of the perfection of God and he cannot but recoil against that which is the contradiction of himself. … 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.”[8]

Marc Roby: And that is how you very quickly end up with a deviant form of Christianity that views Jesus Christ as just being a good moral teacher and example, rather than the unique God-man who loved us enough to take our sins upon himself, bear the wrath of God, and die to save us.

Dr. Spencer: And such an aberrant form of Christianity is also a false Christianity that cannot save anyone, which is why this topic is so important. I understand the modern thought that it is somehow vulgar and unsophisticated for God to require a propitiatory sacrifice to atone for sins, but we simply must recognize how vulgar and offensive sin itself is. It isn’t just that we are not always as nice as we should be, or that we are sometimes a little selfish or anything like that. We must recognize that, at its core, sin is rebellion against God. It is a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. We are, in essence, saying that God has no right to tell us how to live.

Marc Roby: Yes, we see that clearly in the Genesis account of the fall of man. God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. They were allowed to eat from every other tree, they were only forbidden to eat from that one. But we read in Genesis 3:4-5 Satan came in the form of a serpent and said to Eve, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: And when Eve allowed herself to consider that statement, which directly contradicted God, she was, in essence, rejecting her position as a creature and assuming that she had the right to decide who was telling the truth. It was a rejection of God’s authority and it implicitly accused him of lying to them and not treating them well, in other words, of denying them something good.

Marc Roby: It is not pleasant to think seriously about sin. The more you think about it, the worse it appears.

Dr. Spencer: And we never fully comprehend in this life how bad it really is. But let’s move on with discussing propitiation as being one of the categories the Bible uses to describe Christ’s atoning work.

Murray notes that in the Old Testament, the concept of propitiation is “expressed by a word which means to ‘cover.’”[9]

Marc Roby: And that makes perfect sense. If something is offensive, we can cover it up so that the offense is no longer visible.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. God is offended by sin. It needs to be covered. We noted last week that in the Old Testament period the high priest would go in to the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the cover of the ark. 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: One of the uses of the law identified by theologians is to drive us to Christ since it is evident that we have not, and indeed cannot, keep it.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in use at the time of Christ, called the Septuagint, the Greek word used for the atonement cover is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which can be translated as the place of propitiation.[10]

We see this word used in the New Testament. In Romans 3:25 the apostle Paul wrote that God presented Christ as a “sacrifice of atonement”, which is how the NIV translates the Greek word hilastērion. The ESV translation[11] is better and uses the word propitiation.

Marc Roby: I think that clearly establishes that propitiation is one of the categories in terms of which the Bible speaks of the atonement.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but before we move on to the next category, I want to read one more short quote from Murray. He wrote that “the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice of Christ if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered.”[12]

Marc Roby: That argument makes good sense. And now I assume we are ready to move on and examine the next category, which is reconciliation.

Dr. Spencer: You assume correctly. Murray writes that “Reconciliation presupposes disrupted relations between God and men. It implies enmity and alienation. This alienation is twofold, our alienation from God and God’s alienation from us.”[13] People often object to the idea that there is enmity, or hostility between us and God or God and us, but this is a completely biblical statement. In Colossians 1:21 Paul wrote, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” And in Romans 8:7 he wrote that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

Marc Roby: Those verses certainly make the case that sinners are hostile enemies of God.

Dr. Spencer: And there are others we could use as well, but I think those suffice. But in addition to looking at the attitude of sinners toward God, we also need to look at God’s attitude toward sinners. In Romans 2:6-8 we read that “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” If you reject the truth – that is you reject Jesus Christ and his gospel, you will experience God’s wrath and anger. In fact, by my count the word wrath is used 28 times in the 1984 NIV translation of the New Testament to refer specifically to the wrath of God that will be poured out on sinners.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is also the difficult verse we have looked at before in Romans 9:13 where Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Malachi and tells us that God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I think the reason people have such a hard time dealing with the idea of God hating anyone is that they don’t realize that our hatred is almost always sinful, so you can’t think of God hating the way a human being hates. But there is a kind of hatred that is devoid of sin. Murray writes, “If we dissociate from the word ‘enmity’ as applied to God everything of the nature of malice and malignity, we may properly speak of this alienation on the part of God as his holy enmity toward us.”[14]

Marc Roby: That is a bit hard to do – to think of enmity without malice or malignity. But God does not wish to do harm to anyone just for the sake of doing harm. When he hates someone and subjects them to his wrath, it is because their sin is, as you noted earlier in a quote from Murray, “the contradiction of the perfection of God”.

Dr. Spencer: It is difficult to remove our sin from the idea of hatred and anger, but we must try. God’s anger, hatred and wrath are holy and perfectly justified.

And in making our point so far, we have only quoted from the New Testament because many people incorrectly think that God is not wrathful in the New Testament. But God has not changed. As Paul tells us in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. He is merciful to those whom he chooses to save, but he sends the rest to eternal hell, which is treating them justly for their sins. As Jesus himself tells us in John 3:18, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: And Christ’s atoning work reconciles those who trust in him to God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. Paul wrote about Christ in Colossians 1:19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Now, when it says that was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things”, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved. Taken in context and interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture, it is obvious that it means all of those whom God has chosen to reconcile.

Marc Roby: There is a question though of whether we are speaking about God changing us to take away our enmity against him, or whether the reconciliation is referring to God’s enmity toward us being removed.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in the verses I just read from Colossians it may well be God changing us, but Murray notes that when you examine the Scriptures carefully, “It is not our enmity against God that comes to the forefront in the reconciliation but God’s alienation from us.”[15] He makes a lengthy argument to support this contention, but I’m only going to give part of it here because I think it is sufficient. Interested listeners can examine the original reference for more details. So, let’s take a look at two passages, beginning with Romans 5:8-11.

Marc Roby: Okay, well let me read those verses. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Dr. Spencer: Let me point out two of the things Murray notes about this passage. First, we were reconciled to God when we were God’s enemies. That makes no sense unless the word “reconciled” is referring to God’s attitude toward us. Secondly, we see that we have “received reconciliation.” In other words, it is a gift given to us. It is not something accomplished by us.

But the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 is even more powerful in making Murray’s point.

Marc Roby: And in those verses Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 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: I will again summarize only a portion of Murray’s argument. Note that it is God who is working in this passage, not us. He has reconciled us to himself and he made Christ to be sin for us. Also note that the passage says God is “not counting men’s sins against them.” That is clearly speaking about his attitude toward us. And it speaks about what we have called the double imputation; namely, that God imputes our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. Verse 21 says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The fact that this is speaking about imputation makes it clear that it is not speaking about a real change in our attitude.

Marc Roby: Although if we are born again, there certainly will be a change in our attitude.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, that’s very true, but Murray’s point is simply that the emphasis is placed on the removal of God’s enmity toward us, which flies in the face of much of the modern view about God being so nice and loving that he is never angry with anyone.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have now made the case that the atoning work of Christ is categorized as a sacrifice, a propitiation and a reconciliation. That leaves just the fourth category mentioned by Murray, that of redemption. But that will have to wait for next week because we are out of time for today. So I’ll take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will respond as soon as possible.

[1] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[2] Ibid, pg. 30

[3] Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10

[4] Murray, op. cit., pp 30-31

[5] Ibid, pg. 31

[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] Murray, op. cit., pg. 31

[8] Ibid, pp 32-33

[9] Ibid, pg. 30

[10] 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. 375

[11] i.e., the English Standard Version

[12] Murray, op. cit., pp 29-30

[13] Ibid, pg. 33

[14] Ibid, pg. 33

[15] Ibid, pg. 34

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our session last week we started to look at the doctrine called limited atonement and you said that you wanted to follow John Murray’s outline for covering the atonement. He began by noting that all of Christ’s work could be subsumed under the rubric of obedience.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a critically important point since, as we read in Romans 8:29, we were “predestined to be conformed to the likeness”[1] of Jesus Christ. If his whole life’s work can be properly characterized by obedience, and Murray is certainly correct in saying that it can, and if we are to be conformed to his likeness, then it must also be true that our lives should be characterized by obedience.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a perfectly rational conclusion, and we could add that our obedience should be increasing all the time.

Dr. Spencer: We could add that yes. All true Christians are in the process of being sanctified. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

And, in Christ’s great high-priestly prayer in John Chapter 17, he says to the Father, as we read in Verse 4, that “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The conclusion is obvious. To glorify God, which is our purpose in life, we must obediently complete the work he has given us to do, just as Christ himself did.

Marc Roby: And this reinforces the point we made at length in Session 121 that true Christians walk in what Paul called the obedience of faith[2].

And, after presenting the obedience of Christ as the “comprehensive category under which the various aspects of Biblical teaching may be subsumed”, Murray went on to say that “The more specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ are sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.”[3] So, how would you like to begin to look at these categories?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take them one at a time and begin with the first one he lists; namely, sacrifice. I first want to show that Murray is correct in saying that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as a sacrifice and then explore a bit what that means. If we turn to the book of Hebrews, we find a clear presentation of this idea. In Hebrews Chapter Nine the author speaks about the Old Testament sacrificial system. He describes the setup of the tabernacle and refers to the inner room or Most Holy Place, which contained the famous ark of the covenant.

Marc Roby: That ark contained the stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And our listeners may remember that the high point of the Jewish year is now, and has always been, the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On that day during the Old Testament period, the high priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the cover of the ark, which was called the atonement cover.

Marc Roby: And it is worth noting that only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place and even he was only allowed to do so once a year.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. This was the most sacred duty the high priest had. Remember that the Most Holy Place was in the tabernacle, which was also called the Tent of Meeting since that is where God said he would meet with the representative of his people.[4] The symbolism is that when God, who said he would appear in a cloud above the ark,[5] looked down at the ark, he would see the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the cover and that would block his view of the law, which his people had broken.[6]

In any event, in Hebrews 9:7-9 we read that “only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”

Marc Roby: In other words, the Old Testament sacrificial system was not ultimately capable of dealing with our sin problem. It pointed toward a greater reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. And the writer of Hebrews explains this. In Hebrews 9:11-14 we read, “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Marc Roby: That clearly tells us that Jesus “offered himself” to God, which means he was the sacrifice, the ultimate Passover lamb. In fact, in John 1:29 we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus he said to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Dr. Spencer: And the writer of Hebrews also uses the word sacrifice. In Hebrews 9:26 we read that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And the Greek word used here for sacrifice is θυσία (thusia), the normal word used to describe the Old Testament sacrifices.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have established that Christ’s atoning work can be described as a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: And, in addition, we have shown how the Jews at the time of Christ would have understood that idea. They would have understood it in the context of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Marc Roby: Which involved far more than just the sacrifices performed on the Day of Atonement. Sacrifices were a normal part of worship in the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: They most definitely were. The animals offered in sacrifice were intended to be received in place of the person bringing the offering, in other words, they were substitutes. God instructed his people through Moses how the sacrifices were to be made. In Leviticus 1:4 we read that the person bringing a sacrifice “is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

Marc Roby: This is the doctrine called substitutionary atonement. By laying his hands on the animal, the sinner was symbolically transferring his sins to that animal.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It was the person who had sinned and deserved to die, but God graciously provided this means of atoning for his sin. It is bloody and disgusting, especially to modern people like us who purchase our meat in shrink-wrapped containers at the grocery store, but it was meant to be a reminder of the seriousness of sin and the fact that it must be punished.

And, as Murray notes, “the Old Testament sacrifices were basically expiatory. This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed.”[7]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted, this provision is gracious. It would have been just of God to demand the life of every sinner.

Dr. Spencer: In which case there wouldn’t be anyone left. But God’s plan is to create and to purify a people for himself. And this is the way he has chosen to do it. The Old Testament sacrificial system was incapable of ultimately solving our sin problem, it pointed to Christ.

The author of Hebrews points this out when we read in Hebrews 10:1-4 that “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Marc Roby: The logic of those statements is impeccable. If the Old Testament animal sacrifices had been ultimately efficacious, they would have stopped. There would not have been any need to repeat them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the logic is unassailable. And the writer goes on to contrast the limited nature of the Old Testament sacrifices with the ultimate efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 10:10 that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: I like that phrase, “once for all.” It reminds me of what Jesus himself declared from the cross. We read in John 19:30 that “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Christ’s work of redemption was finished.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. In one sense, there is still work to do since God has not yet called all of those whom he has chosen to repentance and faith. And he has not yet finished working in those whom he has called, we are still in the process of being sanctified. But in another sense, the job is finished. There is no further need of sacrifice. The work of redemption is complete, all that is left is the application of that work to individual believers.

Marc Roby: It is wonderful to know that the end is absolutely certain. God’s plan will be executed without fault. We can be absolutely sure of all of his promises.

Dr. Spencer: And of all of his threats. There truly is only one thing needful in this life, and that is to come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. All of God’s enemies will be eternally destroyed and all of his people will enjoy eternal life in his presence. The best bumper sticker I’ve ever seen simply said “I know what happens in the end, God wins!”

Marc Roby: I like that.

Dr. Spencer: There is, however, one more important point to make about Christ’s atoning work being presented in the Bible as a work of sacrifice.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Christ was not just the sacrifice, he was also the priest. John Murray wrote, “That Christ’s work was to offer himself a sacrifice for sin implies, however, a complementary truth too frequently overlooked. It is that, if Christ offered himself as a sacrifice, he was also a priest. And it was as a priest that he offered himself. He was not offered up by another; he offered himself. This is something that could not be exemplified in the ritual of the Old Testament. … in Christ we have this unique combination that serves to exhibit the uniqueness of his sacrifice. The transcendent character of his priestly office, and the perfection inherent in his priestly offering.”[8]

Marc Roby: As we noted last time, Christ was not put to death against his will, he was actively obeying the Father in allowing himself to be crucified.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an amazing truth. And it makes me think of the best human illustration I’ve ever heard about God’s plan of salvation.

Marc Roby: What illustration is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I think it was R.C. Sproul that I heard tell this story, but I don’t know exactly where I heard it. In any event, it goes something like this.

There was an earthly king who discovered that someone had stolen something very precious to him. So he issued an edict that a search should be made throughout his kingdom to find the object. And, if the person who stole it was identified, he specified that the punishment would be 40 lashes with a serious whip.

Marc Roby: That’s a very harsh punishment.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said, the object that was stolen was precious to the king, and we must remember that the offense was against the king, not just against some ordinary citizen. But to continue with the story, when the object was found everyone was shocked to learn that it was the king’s own very old mother who had taken it.

Marc Roby: That would put the king in a very difficult situation given the punishment he had decreed for the offender.

Dr. Spencer: It would indeed. In fact, the king’s mother was so old and frail that 40 lashes would undoubtedly kill her. But the king had issued his edict and it would be patently unjust of him to change the punishment solely because the offender turned out to be someone he personally knew and loved.

Marc Roby: So what did he do?

Dr. Spencer: He did the only just thing, he ordered that she be given the 40 lashes. And you must picture the scene. The king’s men take his frail old mother and tie her to the post, and the man with the whip steps back and looks to the king for the order to begin the sentence.

The king does, in fact, order that the sentence be carried out, but at the same time he wraps himself around his mother so that the blows all fall on him and his mother’s life is spared. By doing this, the king could demonstrate both his justice in making sure that the appropriate punishment was meted out and his great mercy in taking the punishment himself in order to spare his mother.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful illustration. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and it is impossible for us to imagine the pain he endured when the Holy Spirit abandoned him and the Father poured out his wrath on him.

Dr. Spencer: We get some small indication of the pain from Jesus’ cry from the cross. We read in Matthew 27:46 that when Christ was on the cross, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, where King David uttered the same cry.

Dr. Spencer: But in the case of King David, the reality is that God never completely abandoned him. Whereas God did abandon Jesus while he poured out the full force of his wrath upon him.

We need to recognize how terrible sin is. In order to solve our sin problem and save us, it required God the Son to become incarnate and it required that the perfect fellowship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had enjoyed for all eternity to be broken for a time on the cross. It is simply not possible for us to fully grasp this. It is the ultimate possible expression of love, not just on the part of the incarnate Jesus, but on the part of the infinite, eternal, triune God.

Marc Roby: That is incredible to consider. Are we done with looking at the fact that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as being a sacrifice?

Dr. Spencer: Yes we are. So we are ready to move on to the second category Murray mentions; the Bible also represents Christ’s work of atonement as being a propitiation.

Marc Roby: And that will have to wait for our next session. But now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would 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] See Romans 1:5

[3] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[4] See Ex 25:22

[5] See Lev 16:2

[6] See P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 150

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 25

[8] Ibid, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, last week we presented the wonderful truth that God will see to it that all of his elect will persevere in the faith. And so we have now covered four of the five points of reformed faith summarized by the acrostic TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. I assume we are going to move on to discuss limited atonement next, right?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but I also want to remind our listeners that these five points do not fully cover the biblical doctrine of soteriology. We started with them because they are often points of contention between different evangelical believers.

Marc Roby: Very well, so how would you like to begin looking at the doctrine of limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin with what Jesus himself said. In Mark 10:45 we read that he told his disciples that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[1] Also, in John 10:14-15 Jesus said that “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” And the apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 4:25, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” And then in Hebrews 9:26 we read that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And in Hebrews 9:27-28 we are told that “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”.

There are many more Scriptures we could look at, but that is enough to establish the fact that the reason the second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate in the man Jesus, was to serve as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of his people.

Marc Roby: In fact, after Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion, he was speaking about his impending sacrificial death and said, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Jesus knew what was going to happen to him and he knew why. He was preparing to bear the sins of all of his elect and suffer the wrath of God in our stead as had been foretold in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 53:5 we read the famous verse, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And then a bit later in Isaiah 53:10 we read that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Marc Roby: That is astounding to consider. We are the ones who rebelled against God and sinned, but it was the Lord’s will to cause Jesus to suffer and to make him a guilt offering in our stead.

Dr. Spencer: The atonement is central to the Christian faith. Many modern professing Christians seem to have lost this focus. They ask “what would Jesus do?” in different situations, but they are only thinking of him as a kind-hearted teacher of morals, which misses the mark by a wide margin. As the angel of the Lord told Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

We all deserve hell and Jesus came to suffer and die in our place so that we can come to be with him in heaven. Jesus is our Savior and Lord, not just a good moral teacher.

Marc Roby: Well, given the importance of the atonement, we should probably provide a definition. Everyone has some idea, of course, from everyday usage what it means to atone for something. If I forget my wife’s birthday, which I would never do of course, but if I did, I could, for example, atone for that lapse by buying her some roses and taking her out for a nice dinner. But what is a more precise theological definition of atonement?

Dr. Spencer: Well, J.I. Packer wrote that “Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.”[2]

I think that is a pretty good definition that contains two important points. First, we have offended God. We have done wrong and satisfaction must be paid. Second, we are alienated from God, and he from us, and we need to have that relationship restored. But there is another aspect we could include here, and that is the idea of redemption. We are all by nature “slaves to sin”, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:17 and the atoning death of Christ redeems us and sets us free from that bondage.

Therefore, I want to look at the topic of atonement using the outline presented in John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

Marc Roby: And how does Murray define atonement?

Dr. Spencer: He notes that “The more specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ are sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.”[3]

Marc Roby: Well, we have our work cut out for us in looking at each of those terms.

Dr. Spencer: That we do, but before we get there, Murray makes another point that will probably come as a surprise to most people, but is extremely important in terms of the practical application of the doctrine of salvation.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, immediately after giving the list of specific categories for considering the atonement, he writes, “But we may properly ask if there is not some more inclusive rubric under which these more specific categories may be comprehended.” And then he answers the question by saying, “The Scripture regards the work of Christ as one of obedience” and Murray says that obedience can be “viewed as the unifying or integrating principle.”[4]

Marc Roby: Yes, you were right. That is an unexpected turn in considering Christ’s work of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Well, stick with me for a few minutes and I think it will all make sense and the importance of his point will become apparent.

Marc Roby: Very well, please continue.

Dr. Spencer: Murray begins by pointing to Isaiah 53, from which we have already quoted. In that passage, which actually begins in Isaiah 52:13, Jesus is called the Lord’s servant.

Marc Roby: In fact that passage is the most famous of what are sometimes called Isaiah’s “servant songs”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And Murray’s point is simply that Christ’s work is described there as that of an obedient servant. He then also quotes John 6:38, where Christ says, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” And Paul wrote, in Romans 5:19, that “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which obviously refers to Adam’s disobedience and to Christ’s obedience.

Marc Roby: And what a contrast that is! If we are still in Adam we are bound for hell, but if we are in Christ we are bound for heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. We are represented by one or the other. But let’s get back to examining the Scriptures that support Murray’s contention that Christ’s work can be subsumed under the rubric of obedience. In the famous passage about Christ’s humility in Philippians 2, we read in Verse 8 that “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” And, finally, Murray cites Hebrews 5:8, which says that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered”, which doesn’t imply that Christ was ever disobedient. It simply means that as the man Jesus grew he was tasked by the Father with greater and greater works and learned from each one of them how to do the Father’s will with perfect obedience.

Marc Roby: And when we speak about Christ’s perfect obedience, it is humbling to consider that in Romans 8:29 we are told that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the reasons Murray’s point about Christ’s obedience is of great practical importance. It puts the lie to the idea that we can have Jesus Christ as our Savior but go on living a disobedient life. We all sin, but if our lives are characterized by disobedience to God, then we have not been born again. You will know a tree by its fruit. But, let’s get back to the obedience of Christ as the rubric under which we consider his atoning work.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Murray points out that Christians sometimes improperly speak about Christ’s life as his “active” obedience and his death as being his “passive” obedience. But Christ was actively obeying the Father even in his death. The proper use of those terms derives from the fact that, as Murray says, “the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands.”[5] When Christ allowed himself to bear the penal sanctions, that was his passive obedience and when he fulfilled the positive demands of the law, that was his active obedience.

The key point here is that, as Murray writes, “The death upon the cross, as the climactic requirement of the price of redemption, was discharged as the supreme act of obedience; it was not death resistlessly inflicted but death upon the cross willingly and obediently wrought.”[6]

Marc Roby: Which reminds me of John 10:17-18 where we are told Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. Murray wrote that “When we speak of obedience we are thinking not merely of formal acts of accomplishment but also of the disposition, will, determination, and volition which lie back of and are registered in these formal acts.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, our attitude matters! If we are grumbling in our hearts as we do what we are told to do, we aren’t really obeying.

Dr. Spencer: That is the point. And now we finally get to the conclusion of this discussion about obedience. Murray wrote that “It is obedience that enlisted all the resources of his perfect humanity, obedience that resided in his person, and obedience of which he is ever the perfect embodiment. … And we become the beneficiaries of it, indeed the partakers of it, by union with him. It is this that serves to advertise the significance of that which is the central truth of all soteriology, namely, union and communion with Christ.”[8]

If you look at God’s overall plan you see that he created Adam and Eve perfect, but with the ability to disobey. It was that disobedience, and the resulting disobedience of their natural offspring, that brought all of the troubles we see in this fallen world. And so God’s plan to fix this problem begins with the perfect obedience of Christ and we become partakers of that obedience by being united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: And we then demonstrate, or prove, that we are united to him by living obedient lives ourselves, albeit imperfectly.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And when we get to discussing the application of redemption to us as individual believers by going through the steps in what is called the order of salvation, we will see that our union with Christ is not just one step along the way, it is the foundation for the whole process.

Marc Roby: And according to the apostle Paul, there was a sense in which believers were united with Christ even before the creation of the world. In Ephesians 1:4 he wrote that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: What a wonderful phrase that is, “in him”, or “in Christ”. The phrase “in Christ” shows up 89 times in our NIV Bibles and the phrase “in him” also shows up many more times with the same meaning. Union with Christ surely is, as Murray claims a number of times, “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[9]

Because of our depraved sinful natures, we are incapable of saving ourselves. Jesus Christ came to save his people and it is only in union with him that we can be saved. 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: And the fact that God chose us in Christ shows that God this plan of salvation in mind from all eternity. It is not something he came up with because things didn’t work out the way he had planned.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. In making his glory manifest, God created mankind knowing that the fall would occur, but also knowing that he was going to save some from that fall for the praise of his glorious grace, while leaving others to justly suffer for their sins to the praise of his glorious justice. And there was agreement from all eternity within the Trinity that the Son would become incarnate and accomplish redemption for his people.

Every aspect of a believer’s salvation is accomplished in union with Christ. Not only were we chosen in Christ, but we are also saved in Christ.

Marc Roby: Ephesians 2:10 famously says 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: Yes, that’s wonderful, we were “created in Christ”, meaning our new birth was in union with Christ. And we also live the Christian life in union with Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 Paul wrote that “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. Paul also wrote, in Galatians 2:20, that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Marc Roby: And Christians also die in Christ. Paul wrote in Romans 14:8 that “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: And he also wrote, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We will talk more about union with Christ later, but I first want to move on to discuss the specific categories, as Murray calls them, under which the Scriptures discuss the atonement of Christ; namely, sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to doing that, but we are out of time for today, so we’ll have to pick this up next time. Before we sign off, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll 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.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Pub., 1993, pg. 134

[3] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pg. 21

[6] Ibid, pg. 22

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 24

[9] Ibid, e.g., pg. 170

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. At the end of our last session we were discussing the reformed, or biblical, doctrine of God’s irresistible grace. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we have already noted that this doctrine, while it is denied by the post-reformation Roman Catholic church, Arminians and Lutherans, is biblical. It was not something that first appeared in the reformation though, it had been the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, through St. Augustine, long before the reformation. But, the most important question, in fact, the only one that really matters, is what does the Word say? And, on that score, the answer is clear.

Marc Roby: In our last session we quoted Roman 8:30 in support of this doctrine, which says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: And that passage, which is sometimes called the “golden chain” of salvation[2], is clear biblical support for irresistible grace. But there is much more.

Marc Roby: What other Scriptures would you cite in support of the doctrine?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s begin in the Old Testament. God tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Marc Roby: That is a clear statement of the efficacy of God’s Word. What other Scriptures would you cite?

Dr. Spencer: In the famous passage in Ezekiel 36:26-27, God declares, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” And note that God says I will give you a new heart, I will remove your heart of stone, and I will put my Spirit in you to move you to follow my decrees.

God doesn’t just make salvation possible and hold out an invitation for us to accept or reject, he removes our old heart, gives us a new one, and puts his Spirit in us to move us to obedience. In other words, he causes us to be born again.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted last time, that metaphor of new birth is itself significant evidence that we play no role in our regeneration. It is a monergistic work of God.

Dr. Spencer: And a monergistic work means a work that is done by one person alone, in this case, God. It is the opposite of a synergistic work in which two or more parties cooperate. Just as no one is responsible for bringing about his own physical birth, so no one is responsible, even in part, for bringing about his own re-birth.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what John wrote in his gospel. In John 1:12-13 we read, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a good passage. Our new birth is not the result of human decision. This is really the crux of the issue in irresistible grace. Does God cause us to be born again, or do we cooperate? Those who want to say we cooperate are concerned with preserving the idea of man’s free will, while those who say we do not cooperate are concerned with preserving God’s sovereignty.

Marc Roby: And, of course, as you said earlier, the only question that really matters is what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Spencer: And, while we have not gone through all of the verses we could, we have adduced a number of verses to argue that Scripture teaches that God is sovereign not only in electing some to salvation, but then in bringing that salvation about by the irresistible working of his Holy Spirit causing a person to be born again.

But we must be careful to note that we still truly and freely respond to God’s call. He monergistically changes our nature through re-birth but then, in that new nature, we freely choose to repent and believe. As it says in the Westminster Confession of Faith, “All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”[3]

Marc Roby: This goes back to our discussion of free will. We do have the freedom to choose what to do, but our choice will always be consistent with our nature. Prior to being regenerated, all men are enemies of God and will not, in fact cannot turn to him in faith.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Paul wrote in Romans 8:7-8 that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And repenting and believing would please God, so they are among those things that an unregenerate person simply cannot do.

And finishing what you were saying about the fact that we do have the ability to choose what to do, once God causes us to be born again, we have a new heart. In other words, we have a new mind, will, affections and so on.

Marc Roby: I like the way Paul puts it in Romans 6:18. He says that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That expresses it very well. Before God regenerates us, we are slaves to sin and could not choose what is good, but then regeneration frees us from sin and we become slaves to righteousness. And so, as new creations in Christ Jesus, we freely choose to repent, believe and walk in obedience.

Marc Roby: What Paul calls the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The question boils down to how significant is that work that is required to save us? Is it just a matter of persuading us to the truth of the gospel? Or, as the doctrine of total depravity would indicate and as the Bible teaches, are we truly enemies of God in need of a whole new nature? The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “If regeneration is a change effected by the man’s own will; if it be due to the mere force of truth and motives, it is a small affair. But if it be the effect of the mighty power of God, it is as to its nature and consequences supernatural and divine. The whole nature of Christianity turns on this point.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that is a strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is very strong, but I think it is correct. We don’t just need a little help to be saved, we need radical change. The biblical doctrines all logically fit together. Back in Session 128 I quoted R.C. Sproul, who wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP, the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[5]

If we are totally depraved, then we are incapable of responding to God’s command to repent and believe. Therefore, if our salvation depended on us, no one would be saved. God must work first. And the very first thing God did with regard to our salvation was accomplished in eternity past. We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Marc Roby: And that election must have been unconditional if total depravity is true since there is nothing in us, and nothing we can do, that will merit salvation in any way.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And his grace must be irresistible because, as totally depraved sinners, we would resist it to the end if that were possible. It’s interesting to note that independent of the position of the modern Lutheran church, Martin Luther himself would have agreed on this point. In his famous work The Bondage of the Will, he wrote that “now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. … Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of ‘free-will’ none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. His final conclusion is exactly what we have been saying. If it were left up to the supposed freedom of our own unregenerate will to accept God’s offer of salvation, “none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”

Dr. Spencer: And although it would be anachronistic to speak of Martin Luther having anything to say directly about TULIP, since that acrostic came more than 70 years after his death, this quote does tie in one more of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic. Notice that he said that because our salvation is under the control of God’s will, he has “the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.”

And, although I left it out of the quote the first time, he then cites John 10:28-29 where Jesus is speaking to the Jews about his followers and says that “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Marc Roby: That is marvelous comfort indeed. We are held in Christ’s hands, and in the Father’s hands.

Dr. Spencer: And it supports the fourth doctrine we want to look at from the TULIP acrostic; namely, the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: Although, as has been pointed out by many, a better name for the doctrine might be the preservation of the saints since our confidence is really in God’s sovereign power, not our ability to persevere.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. All of God’s chosen people will persevere, but only because he enables them to do so. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, as we read in Philippians 1:4-6, that “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul refers to the “day of Christ Jesus” he is, of course, referring to Christ’s second coming, which he wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where we read, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the glorious hope that all true believers have. God will complete the work he has begun in each one of us and we will be given a glorious body like that of the resurrected Christ we are told in Philippians 3:21. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also supported by Romans 8:30, which we have looked at a number of times. It says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” No one who is predestined by God for salvation is able to finally and utterly fall away. So, although true Christians can certainly backslide and fall into serious sin, they will always be brought to true repentance.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort. Paul also wrote, in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, that Jesus Christ “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Dr. Spencer: And Paul also said, in his benediction to the church in Thessalonica, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

The message in all of these verses is consistent. God is faithful and as the sovereign Lord over all creation, he will save those whom he has chosen to save. Not one of them will be lost.

Marc Roby: This does not mean, however, that everyone who professes to be a Christian will ultimately be saved.

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. That would contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:21, where he tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Marc Roby: That verse should make everyone who claims to be a Christian shudder. As Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12, we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should. We can have assurance of faith, as we will discuss later, but that is not incompatible with a careful, honest and even fearful, self-evaluation. Our confidence is based on God’s truthfulness, power and faithfulness, not on ours. He alone is unchangeable and cannot lie or be deceived. But, at the same time, we can never be presumptuous in believing that we are among God’s elect. The biblical doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints should never, ever be used in a presumptuous way. If we have been born again, we will live in a way that makes that new birth evident. If we don’t, we have no basis for personal assurance.

Marc Roby: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important principle. We must examine our own fruit. It is easy to say “I repent”, but true repentance always includes turning away from the sin. We are told in Acts 26:20 that the apostle Paul, in speaking before King Agrippa, said, “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Marc Roby: And, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist, we read in Matthew 3:7-8 that he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Dr. Spencer: And, most famously of course, in James Chapter Two we have the discourse about faith without works. James asks a serious question in Verse 14, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he then goes on to explain that a faith without deeds, in other words, without proof of a changed heart, will not save anyone.

In fact, he points out that even the demons have an intellectual faith, but the result is that they shudder in abject fear.

Marc Roby: True saving faith is more than just knowing and agreeing with the facts of the gospel. We must place our personal trust in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. And we will talk about that more later, but I think we have said all that we need to for now about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: And with that we have completed four of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP. We’ve discussed total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. So that only leaves the doctrine of limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the only one left. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think we had better stop. And this podcast will be released on December 26th, the day after Christmas. So, before we sign off, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of our listeners a blessed Christmas and a victorious new year in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: I join you in that and I will also remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we would 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.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 143

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 10, Par. 1

[4] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg 697

[5] Sproul, op. cit., pg. 128

[6] M. Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Trans. By J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson, Fleming H. Revell Comp., 1957, pg. 314

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, last time we finished discussing the doctrine of unconditional election, which says that God chooses whom he will save based on his own good pleasure and not any merit in us. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I would like to take some time to examine how we, as believers, should respond to the biblical doctrine of God’s unconditional election. We know how an unbeliever will respond; he will cry out that it isn’t fair. But as we’ve indicated, we all deserve God’s wrath. It would be perfectly fair for God to condemn us all. The amazing thing is that he chooses to save anyone. And so, the question remains, how should a believer respond to this doctrine?

Marc Roby: Well, it seems obvious that we should respond with great thanksgiving and praise!

Dr. Spencer: And, I would add, all the more so because God’s election is not conditioned on anything we have done or will do or, in fact, anything we can do. Once we realize that our new birth is a free gift from God, totally undeserved – in fact, given in spite of the fact we deserve condemnation – then we should be filled to overflowing with thanksgiving and praise.

Marc Roby: And that makes me think of the phrase in Ephesians where Paul speaks about the praise of God’s glorious grace. We read in Ephesians 1:4-6 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he 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, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”[1]

Dr. Spencer: And Paul repeats the same idea just a few verses later. We read in Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

The ultimate purpose of creation is the manifestation of God’s glory and the saving of his people is a marvelous part of this work and a great contributor to that glory.

Marc Roby: And it is also an incomprehensibly great blessing for us who are saved!

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is certainly true. And the doctrine of unconditional election is also a great comfort to believers. In Romans 8:28-30 the apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 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: That is comforting. Paul writes in the past tense even though our glorification is still in the future. He is letting us know that it is absolutely certain.

Dr. Spencer: And the first verse of this passage, Verse 28, where Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, should provide tremendous comfort for all of God’s children.

Let me quote the theologian Wayne Grudem. He wrote the following about these verses; “If Paul looks into the distant past before the creation of the world, he sees that God foreknew and predestined his people to be conformed to the image of Christ. If he looks at the recent past he finds that God called and justified his people whom he had predestined. And if he then looks toward the future when Christ returns, he sees that God has determined to give perfect, glorified bodies to those who believe in Christ. From eternity to eternity God has acted with the good of his people in mind. But if God has always acted for our good and will in the future act for our good, Paul reasons, then will he not also in our present circumstances work every circumstance together for our good as well?”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion, and a great comfort. But the apostle Paul goes on in that chapter to say even more about the comfort this provides to us.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, he most certainly does. In fact, he begins right way by asking the question we are dealing with now, in Romans 8:31 we read, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” In other words, given God’s amazing plan of salvation and the certainty we have that all whom he has predestined for salvation will be called, justified and ultimately glorified, how should we respond? And he begins his answer by asking a rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to that question is that no one can successfully oppose us. And then Paul goes on to draw another wonderful and comforting conclusion in Verse 32. He writes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great and logical deduction. In God’s unconditional election he chose us to be saved. But that salvation, while free to us, was unbelievably costly to God. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, had to become a man and die for us. And, as Paul correctly reasons, if God didn’t spare his own Son, we can be confident that he will give us everything we truly need for life and godliness. God never leaves work unfinished.

And so Paul goes on at the end of Romans 8 to ask some more rhetorical questions and to conclude that we who are in Christ are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: And we need that comfort given the trials and tribulations that come with this life in a fallen world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. I don’t want to go off track too far from discussing soteriology, but it is obvious to anyone who looks at this life honestly that we have many troubles. God does not promise his children a trouble-free life. Quite the opposite. We read in John 16:33 that Jesus himself told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And that is why we who are in Christ are promised that we will overcome the world as well.

In his commentary on this passage at the end of Romans Chapter 8, the Rev. P.G. Mathew notes that Paul lists seventeen enemies that Christians face; hardship, persecution, famine, danger, death and so on. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:37, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Rev. Mathew notes that “Troubles make us trust only in Christ. We hope not in this world but in the world to come. Sufferings for Christ’s sake cause the things of this world to grow strangely dim. These sufferings focus our spiritual eyes on Jesus.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is great encouragement. As God’s children we know that even the troubles and pain we go through in this life have a good purpose.

Dr. Spencer: And it will all be used by God to redound to his greater glory. But there is one more thing I want to say about how we should respond to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is that?

Dr. Spencer: It should be a great encouragement to us to share our faith.

Marc Roby: You usually hear people say that this doctrine discourages evangelism. So I think you need to explain that comment.

Dr. Spencer: It’s actually quite simple. If everyone has the power to either accept or reject the gospel message, then I can easily be afraid that my evangelism will fail to bear fruit. And, not only that, but it may be that my inept presentation is the reason someone doesn’t put his faith in Christ. Just think about how terrible that would be to have to live with.

Marc Roby: I’d rather not. I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s eternal damnation.

Dr. Spencer: Nor do I. But the doctrine of unconditional election gives me confidence to tell others about Christ. My witnessing absolutely matters, God has ordained the means as well as the end. But at the end of day, I can be absolutely confident that all those whom God has chosen will, in fact, come to true saving faith. We are the means, but any success we have is not based on our own efforts, it is based on God’s eternal election.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And it sounds like we are done discussing the Christian’s proper response to the doctrine of unconditional election. Before we move on, perhaps I should briefly summarize the points we’ve made so far with respect to soteriology.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a good idea, so please proceed.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have shown that man’s greatest need, in fact his only real need, is for salvation, because every human being will, after this short life, spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Secondly, we have shown that because all men are sinners and enemies of God, they will not and, indeed, cannot, accept his offer of salvation until and unless God causes them to be born again. Thirdly, we have shown that God sovereignly chooses whom he will save, not based on anything in them, or anything he foresees they will do, but solely based on his own free sovereign will.

Dr. Spencer: And if we go back to the acrostic TULIP, which to remind everyone stands for the biblical doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints, we have now covered the first two of these; Total depravity and Unconditional election. But rather than cover them in the order they appear in the acrostic, I now want to move on to examine Irresistible grace.

Marc Roby: Which we have briefly mentioned before. It is the doctrine that says that we cannot resist God’s saving grace. In other words, if he causes us to be born again, we will necessarily respond in repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: That is the doctrine. When Paul dealt with the objection to the biblical doctrine of unconditional election, he wrote in Romans 9:19, as we read last time, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” The expected answer is, of course, that no one can resist God’s sovereign will. So, this verse expresses the idea of the irresistible nature of God’s efficacious call.

We also see irresistible grace in the verse we read earlier today, Romans 8:30, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” It is clear that Paul is spelling out an unbreakable chain of events. If God has predestined us for salvation, he will call us. And if he calls us, we will be justified and glorified.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Paul is not listing every step in the process here. As I’m sure we will discuss in more detail later, justification, for example, is based on conversion, in other words on our having repented of our sins and placed our faith in Jesus Christ. And our repenting and believing can only occur if we have been born again, or regenerated. So it is evident from these verses that God’s call is effectual in bringing about our regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Jesus gave us a great illustration of God’s effectual call when he called Lazarus forth from the tomb. Lazarus had been dead for several days and yet, when Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!” He came out of the tomb still wrapped in the grave clothes.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great illustration.

Dr. Spencer: This doctrine of irresistible grace is not something new with the Protestant Reformation either. It goes all the way back to St. Augustine. Let me quote the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge; “Augustine, holding as he did that man since the fall is in a state of spiritual death, utterly disabled and opposite to all good, taught that his restoration to spiritual life was an act of God’s almighty power; and being an act of omnipotence was instantaneous, immediate, and irresistible.”[3]

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. As we have said before, dead people don’t make themselves come alive.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, one of the arguments Hodge uses to support this doctrine, which is a very strong argument I might add, is that the metaphors used in the Scriptures are important. He wrote that “As the blind could not open their own eyes, or the deaf unstop their own ears, or the dead quicken themselves in their graves; as they could not prepare themselves for restoration, or cooperate in effecting it, so also with the blind, the deaf, and the dead in sin. The cure in both cases must be supernatural.”[4]

Marc Roby: And we see all of these metaphors in the Bible. For example, in John 12:37-40, the apostle speaks about the unbelief of some of the people and says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common metaphor. In fact John is quoting from Isaiah 6:10 where God commands the prophet to “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Marc Roby: It is a paradoxical truth that the same gospel message brings life to some and hardens others against it.

Dr. Spencer: And it is precisely because of sinful man’s depraved condition. I’m sure some of our listeners have heard the analogy that the same sunlight which softens wax also hardens clay. The different responses to the sun’s heat are caused by the inherent differences in the materials.

Paul speaks about this in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 he speaks about the different responses people have to the gospel. And he wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” Note that we are to God always the aroma of Christ. There is no ambiguity or difference in the message itself. But this one message is the smell of death to those who will not, and indeed cannot accept it because of their sinful natures. While to those who have been born again it is the fragrance of life.

Marc Roby: And Hodge also spoke about the metaphor of being dead. He said that the dead cannot “quicken themselves”, which is an old-fashioned way of saying bring themselves back to life. And we see the metaphor of death most famously in Ephesians 2:1 where Paul tells the Ephesian believers that “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”, referring to their lives before they were regenerated.

Dr. Spencer: And he keeps the same metaphor going when he says in Verses 4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Marc Roby: Well, I’m sure there is more to say about the doctrine of irresistible grace, but I think it will have to wait for our next session. Let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our very 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] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 705

[3] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, vol II, pg. 712

[4] Ibid, pg. 692

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, at the end of our session last week we dealt with the very difficult material in Romans Chapter 9, where Paul tells us quite clearly about God’s sovereign election of some to be saved and others not to be saved. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to say a little more about the presentation in Romans 9 and then defend the biblical view of God’s sovereign unconditional election against some of the most common objections. The doctrine of unconditional election says that God chooses whom he will save based on his own good pleasure and not any merit in us.

The last thing we looked at in Romans 9 was God’s response to man’s objection that it isn’t fair for God to judge him given that God is completely sovereign in deciding whom to save.

Marc Roby: And God’s answer, in essence, was to shut your mouth. As a mere creature you have no business questioning the Creator.

Dr. Spencer: That was the answer. And then Paul went on, in Romans 9:21-24 to say, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”[1]

Marc Roby: Those verses are extremely difficult for people to accept. We spoke at length about them recently, in Session 109.

Dr. Spencer: And interested listeners can go to the archive and read or listen to that podcast. I don’t want to repeat it all here. But we noted there that an unbeliever will not accept the answer. He will continue to accuse God of being unfair. But a believer will accept God’s answer, even though it is still hard.

Marc Roby: Yes, it is very hard to understand. When we are born again, we are given a new worldview, which accepts God’s Word as our ultimate standard for truth even though God has not revealed a complete answer to the question of how to reconcile his sovereignty and our freedom.

Dr. Spencer: The tension between man’s freedom, or responsibility, and God’s sovereignty is one of the most difficult things for us to deal with. And I say “deal with” rather than “understand” because we can’t fully understand it. We can see that it is not a true contradiction, but we cannot fully resolve the tension.

In his commentary on Romans, the Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “The point of contention in Romans 9-11 is the conflict between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. Paul never offers a logical solution to this tension, except when he concludes ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”[2]

Marc Roby: And that says about all that we, as creatures, can say in regard to this issue. As we are told in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. We cannot fully explain how to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom and responsibility. But we certainly can say a bit more about whether or not the Lutheran and Arminian position avoids this complication. Remember that Lutherans and Arminians claim that every human being has the ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. They assume that by doing so, they protect God from the charge of being unfair by electing some to salvation while leaving others to pay for their sins in hell.

We have already shown that this is at odds with the biblical teaching, but we can say even more, because even if it were a possible interpretation of the biblical data, it doesn’t shield God from man’s charge of being unfair.

Marc Roby: Well, please explain why not.

Dr. Spencer: The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge said it well, so let me quote him. He wrote that “If it be right that God should permit an event to happen, it must be right that He should purpose to permit it, i.e., that He should decree its occurrence.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s a very important point, and a great way of putting it. If we think we are somehow isolating God from a charge of being unfair for his eternal election by leaving it up to men, we still have to face the problem that according to the Lutheran and Arminian view God permits some people to refuse his offer and go to hell. The end result is the same, not everyone is saved. So, as Hodge says, if it is right for God to permit such an event, it must also be right if his purpose is to permit it, or we could say, if he foreordains it.

Dr. Spencer: And Hodge draws a very reasonable conclusion from this observation. We must remember that he refers to the reformed view of the decree of election as the “Augustinian system”, since it was also the teaching of St. Augustine. Hodge wrote that “The Augustinian system, therefore, is nothing but the assumption that God intended in eternity what He actually does in time.”[4]

Marc Roby: And that sounds eminently reasonable. The only logical alternative is that God is no longer sovereign over his creation, which would be a frightening thought.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a very frightening thought. We would not be able to trust any of God’s promises. And so, as you said, Hodge’s conclusion is completely reasonable. He goes on to write that all “anti-Augustinian systems”, which certainly includes Lutheran and Arminian theologies, “assume that God is bound to provide salvation for all; to give sufficient grace to all; and to leave the question of salvation and perdition to be determined by each man for himself. … The question is not which of these theories is the more agreeable, but which is true.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a critically important point. We should want to know the truth, even if that truth is in some way less agreeable to us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we certainly should. Especially when we take into account the fact that we are finite, sinful creatures, so what we think of as being agreeable certainly should not be the standard we use. But Hodge goes on to make a very good point about which view is true.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: He writes, “And to decide that question one method is to ascertain which accords best with providential facts. Does God in his providential dealings with men act on the principles of sovereignty, distributing his favours according to the good pleasure of his will; or on the principle of impartial justice, dealing with all men alike? This question admits of but one answer. … the fact is patent that the greatest inequalities do exist among men; that God deals far more favourably with some than with others; that He distributes his providential blessings, which include not only temporal good but also religious advantages and opportunities, as an absolute sovereign according to his own good pleasure”.[6]

Marc Roby: I’m afraid I have noticed that “the greatest inequalities do exist among men”, we certainly aren’t all equally capable in virtually any endeavor I can think of.

Dr. Spencer: No, we aren’t. And we need to recognize that God is the one who sovereignly decides what gifts to give to each person. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul addresses the issue of gifts given to different people in the church and he writes, in Verse 11, that “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” And this isn’t just true of gifts we are given for the edification of God’s church. God is sovereign over all the affairs of men. When Paul was speaking to the people in Athens he declared, as we read in Acts 17:26, that from one man God “made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Marc Roby: The Old Testament teaches us the very same thing. For example, in Job 12:23 we read that God “makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.” And, in Psalm 139:16 King David declared to God that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Dr. Spencer: It is a clear teaching of the Bible that God is sovereign over every detail of life. We don’t choose where, when or to whom we are born, and we don’t get to choose how tall we are, what color hair we have, what gifts we have and so on. And the flip side of that is that we have no basis for pride if we possess some particular gift, be it intellectual, musical, athletic or whatever, and we also have no rational basis for thinking that God has been unfair to us if our gifts aren’t as great as we would like. God doesn’t owe us anything. He never treats anyone unjustly.

Marc Roby: Do you think there is someone whose gifts are as great as he or she would like?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I doubt it. I certainly haven’t met the person. But let me finish this discussion by stating Hodge’s conclusion. He wrote, “It is therefore vain to adopt a theory which does not accord with these facts. It is vain for us to deny that God is a sovereign in the distribution of his favours if in his providence it is undeniable that He acts as a sovereign. Augustinianism accords with these facts of providence, and therefore must be true. It only assumes that God acts in the dispensation of his grace precisely as He acts in the distribution of his other favours; and all anti-Augustinian systems which are founded on the principle that this sovereignty of God is inconsistent with his justice and his parental relation to the children of men are in obvious conflict with the facts of his providence.”

Marc Roby: That is a very solid, logical argument. We should avoid having our theology be inconsistent with known facts.

Dr. Spencer: We should avoid holding any theory that contradicts known facts, whether we are talking about theology, physics, chemistry or whatever. But in every one of these fields there is a natural tendency to construct theories that are consistent with our own underlying assumptions. And if some of our assumptions are wrong, we are going to come up with wrong theories.

Marc Roby: And when we see that one of our theories doesn’t comport with the facts, it should cause us to go back and reconsider our assumptions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point. We should seek to gather together all of the available data and then find the theory that best explains all of it. That is no less true in theology than it is in physics and chemistry. But in doing this, we have to realize that we need some ultimate standard for determining truth and, as we have said many times, the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian is the Bible.

Hodge wrote, “If the office of the theologian, as is so generally admitted, be to take the facts of Scripture as the man of science does those of nature, and found upon them his doctrines, instead of deducing his doctrines from the principles or primary truths of his philosophy, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that the doctrine of Augustine is the doctrine of the Bible. According to that doctrine God is an absolute sovereign. He does what seems good in his sight. He sends the truth to one nation and not to another. He gives that truth saving power in one mind and not in another. It is of him, and not of us, that any man is in Christ Jesus, and is an heir of eternal life.”

Marc Roby: It is interesting that Hodge notes in that statement that God doesn’t send the truth to every nation. In other words, not every human being who has ever lived has heard the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: That statement is undeniably true. And it also argues against the standard Lutheran or Arminian position. No one can accept as true a gospel they have never heard, and it is obvious that not everyone in history has heard the gospel. So even if all people did have equal ability to respond in faith, not all have equal opportunity and you’re right back to the initial question about God’s fairness. We can’t let our own idea of fairness overrule what the Bible clearly teaches.

There is one final argument that Hodge makes against those who object to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Marc Roby: What argument is that?

Dr. Spencer: He points out that Paul would not have had to provide the answers he does in Chapter 9 of the book of Romans if the Lutheran and Arminian position were true. Hodge wrote, “What appearance of injustice could there have been had Paul taught that God elects those whom He foresees will repent and believe, and because of that foresight? It is only because he clearly asserts the sovereignty of God that the objections have any place.”[7]

Marc Roby: That’s a fantastic point. Paul’s asking and answering the question about fairness makes no sense if the Lutheran and Arminian understanding is correct.

Dr. Spencer: The bottom line is that we may think that fairness requires God to give all of us the same ability to accept or reject his gospel offer, but our thinking that does not make it so.

Marc Roby: And perhaps there are good reasons for not giving us all the same ability.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in fact, I would say that there are. We have shown before because of our total depravity, if God didn’t do anything, no one would choose to believe and we would all be condemned. Our natures are initially at enmity with God and cannot choose him.

But on the other hand, if God changes our nature so that we love him, which is what happens when we are born again, then we are guaranteed to choose him.

Marc Roby: And it seems like we are right back to the issue of free will, which we have discussed before.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the problem. The notion that our will is completely free from any constraint, even our own predispositions, is illogical. As we have discussed before, unless you want to think that your decisions are completely randomly, there must be some predisposition one way or the other for us to make any decision. So, in particular, the idea that we could be in some neutral state where we could freely choose either to accept or reject God is, I think, simply impossible. We are either against God, or for him. There can be no neutrality. And, in fact, I would argue that if someone was neutral, that would be sinful. How could you not love the perfect God? How could you be neutral toward your Creator?

Marc Roby: I see your point. And it appears as though we have finished discussing the doctrine of unconditional election. Is that true?

Dr. Spencer: For now, yes.

Marc Roby: Very well, then this looks like a good place to stop for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d 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] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2014, pp 62-63

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 336

[4] Ibid, pg. 337

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pp 337-338

[7] Ibid, pg. 352

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time in the middle of discussing different evangelical positions regarding salvation. How would like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the fundamental question we were dealing with at the end of our last session was whether or not every person has equal ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation and I want to state and defend the proper biblical answer to that question. Lutherans and Arminians would say that everyone does have equal ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation, but the reformed – and I would say biblical – position is that an unregenerate person cannot accept the offer and a regenerate person cannot reject the offer.

We’ve talked about how people make choices a number of times in these podcasts, most notably in Session 84, where I presented Jonathan Edwards’ view, which I think is correct. In that session I paraphrased his view as being that we always do that which we most want to do at any given moment, but limited, of course, to those things which we are able to do.

Marc Roby: And I remember from that discussion that we are limited not only by obvious physical limitations but also by our own nature.

Dr. Spencer: And that is the limitation that matters in the current context. Theologians often refer to this constrained view of free will as free agency. As we noted in Session 126, an unregenerate person is an enemy of God and has no desire for God, so it would be contrary to his nature to accept God’s offer of salvation and he is, therefore, incapable of doing so. J.I. Packer has a wonderful short presentation on this topic in his book Concise Theology.[1]

On the other hand, if a person is born again, his fundament nature has been changed so that he has a desire for God and, therefore, he is incapable of rejecting God’s offer of salvation.

Marc Roby: Which is the doctrine often called Irresistible Grace.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. But if we look at the Lutheran and Arminian position, it seems to be logically inescapable that if every person has equal ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation, then those who are saved can take some credit for their salvation. Whether we word it negatively and say that only those who ultimately reject the offer will go unsaved, or we put it positively and say that only those who accept the offer will be saved, at the end of day, if everyone is equally capable of making either choice, then the deciding factor in terms of who is saved and who isn’t resides in man.

Marc Roby: And why exactly is that a problem?

Dr. Spencer: I can see three ways in which that is a problem. First, it ignores the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1, we “were dead”[2] in our transgressions and sins. And dead people don’t do anything to help themselves come alive. The great 18th-century theologian, Charles Hodge wrote that “Should Christ pass through a graveyard, and bid one here and another there to come forth, the reason why one was restored to life, and another left in his grave could be sought only in his good pleasure.”[3]

Marc Roby: Well that does make perfect sense, it certainly could not be the case that one set of bones accepted an offer to come to life and another set of bones rejected that same offer!

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t make any sense at all. Dead people don’t do anything. And people who are spiritually dead don’t do anything that is in concert with the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And one of the things that comes from the Spirit of God is his offer of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I want to remind our listeners of the acrostic TULIP, which stands for the biblical doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limiter atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. In Session 126 I quoted the theologian R.C. Sproul, who pointed out that if we understand our moral inability to respond to God’s offer, which is part of the doctrine of Total Depravity, the rest of the reformed system of salvation, as represented by this acrostic TULIP, logically follows. He wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP, the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[4] And I would add that Charles Hodge completely agrees. He wrote about this same plan of salvation, which he calls the Pauline or Augustinian scheme, and said, “such is the order of his plan of redemption, that if one of the great truths which it includes be admitted, all the rest must be accepted.”[5]

Marc Roby: They are both pointing out that the reformed, or biblical, view of the plan of salvation is completely consistent. What is the second problem you see with the view that every man can either accept or reject God’s offer of salvation?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if it were true, it would give us something to be proud of. If we were both equally capable of either accepting or rejecting God’s offer of salvation and I were saved and you were not, then whether we say that is because you rejected God’s offer or because I accepted it, either way, the bottom line is that I did and it was precisely that action of mine that was the reason I was saved and you were not. The difference between us would not be solely due to the mercy of God. I would have played a role in my salvation, and not just a little bit part either, I would have played the decisive role in it. But, as we read last time, Paul told us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I certainly see that argument. What is the third problem you see with this view?

Dr. Spencer: That it denies God’s absolute sovereignty. If this view is correct, then when the Bible speaks about God’s election, all it can really be referring to is his foreknowledge. According to this view, God knows in advance who will accept his offer and who won’t, so he “elects” those who will accept his offer of salvation.

Marc Roby: That is, of course, exactly how Lutherans and Arminians view the doctrine of election.

Dr. Spencer: It is, but I don’t think it does justice to the biblical data. If that were the case then you wouldn’t expect the Bible to emphasize over and over again God’s sovereign election. But that is exactly what we see all throughout the Scriptures, the clear presentation of the fact that God makes an absolutely free, sovereign choice. This is the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

Marc Roby: Now, Lutherans and Arminians would point to 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter addresses his letter, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”.

Dr. Spencer: And that verse is certainly consistent with their view, but it does not teach us that he chose the elect specifically because of his foreknowledge that they would accept his offer. Rather, in context, the term foreknowledge here refers to God’s having loved and chosen certain sinners in eternity past, even before they were born, which is exactly what we are told in Ephesians 1:4-6.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses. Paul wrote that God chose us in Jesus Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he 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, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Dr. Spencer: Notice that in these verses we are clearly told that our predestination to be adopted as God’s sons, which is referring again to our being saved, was “in accordance with his pleasure and will”, which is emphasizing God’s freedom in this choice. And we are also told that the choice was “to the praise of his glorious grace”, and we know that grace is unmerited favor, so that seems to point away from God simply having foreseen our choice. And finally, to put the nail in the coffin, we are told that he has “freely given” us this grace in Christ.

If God gave exactly the same grace to everyone and our salvation depended on our response, then this verse wouldn’t make any sense. It is speaking about a grace that is not given to everyone, but only to those whom God predestined in accordance with his own absolutely free and sovereign good pleasure.

Marc Roby: That argument is certainly persuasive. But there are also many more passages in the Bible that support the idea of God’s sovereign election. Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. When Paul and Barnabas shared the gospel with the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, we read in Acts 13:48 that “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Then, in speaking about Christ’s second coming, we read in Matthew 24:31 that God “will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Also, the apostle Paul opens his letter to Titus by writing, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Tit 1:1). There are literally dozens of examples in the New Testament that we could go through, but I don’t want to take that time. I encourage anyone who is really interested to search the New Testament for the words elect, chosen, appointed and so on and see what you find.

Marc Roby: And, interestingly, we even see a reference to elect angels. In 1 Timothy 5:21 Paul told Timothy, “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is interesting. And God’s free choice in salvation is also foreshadowed by his sovereign choice of Israel to be his covenant people in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: The classic passage about God’s choosing his people is Deuteronomy 7:7-8, where Moses told the people, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Dr. Spencer: And when Moses said that God didn’t choose them because they were more numerous, that is a form of synecdoche, meaning it is a part of something is used to represent the whole. So, rather than listing many of the countless things that a group of people might be proud of, like their numbers, or strength, or wealth, he only lists the one. But the message is clear, he didn’t choose them because of anything in them, he chose them simply because he loved them. And that love was not motivated by something worthy in them, and that is the whole point of what Moses says to them. He is telling them to not be proud, God chose them because he chose them, not because they were better than anyone else in any way.

Marc Roby: We also have the famous line in Exodus 33:19 where God tells Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

Dr. Spencer: Which is a clear statement of God’s sovereignty in providing blessings to men. God doesn’t owe us anything and he does not need to give equally to all of us to treat us justly. He gave us life and we owe him everything. The fact that we have all rebelled against him leaves us justly under his wrath until and unless he chooses to show mercy to us.

Marc Roby: Now, you said earlier that mercy is God’s unmerited favor shown to us, but we can make an even stronger statement; God’s mercy is his favor being shown to those who deserved his condemnation.

Dr. Spencer: That is an accurate statement. The bottom line in this controversy is that those who say that every man is equally able to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation are concerned with preserving a notion of man’s freedom of will, often called libertarian free will, that is unbiblical and, I would add, illogical.  No sinner will choose God until and unless his sinful nature, which hates God, is changed.

Marc Roby: And God does change the fundamental nature of his elect when he causes us to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly.

Marc Roby: But it seems to me that you have not yet presented the most obvious and irrefutable biblical evidence for the doctrine of unconditional election.

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right, I’ve saved the best, or should I say the most difficult, for last.

Marc Roby: It is certainly the most difficult for men to accept.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. And, of course, we are speaking about Chapter 9 of the book of Romans. God clearly tells us in this chapter that our election is not based on anything other than his sovereign choice.

Marc Roby: Let me read from Romans 9:10-13 where God tells us about the patriarch Jacob and his twin brother Esau. Paul wrote, “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is, as we noted, an extremely difficult passage for people to accept. And when Paul said “Just as it is written”, he was referring to the prophet Malachi, who wrote the last book of the Old Testament. We read in Malachi 1:1-3, “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?” ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.’”

Marc Roby: It is very sobering to realize that when the Bible tells us that “God is love”, it does not mean that God loves everyone.

Dr. Spencer: It is sobering, and it is difficult, but it is undeniably true. And, as we’ve seen, it isn’t just the Old Testament. God has not changed. And in the passage you read from Romans 9 we were clearly told that God’s decision about which of the twins to elect to salvation was made “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad”. I don’t know how it is possible to read that passage and conclude that God simply foresees who will accept or reject his offer of salvation.

And Paul anticipates that people will object to this teaching. In Romans 9:19 he writes, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is the natural question man wants to ask. How can God blame me for not repenting and believing in Jesus Christ if I am unable to do so?

Dr. Spencer: And God’s answer is not very politically correct. In Verse 20 we read, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’”

Marc Roby: I could give a simple paraphrase of God’s answer. He essentially says, “Shut your mouth.”

Dr. Spencer: But he does so while reminding us of the most important distinction there is. He is God, we are creatures. This Creator/creature distinction that we have noted a number of times is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. We must humble ourselves. We must fear God. We must revere him, worship him, believe him and obey him. To do anything else is to commit cosmic treason. Sin is rebellion against the only true and living God and Creator of all things, and it deserves eternal punishment. God does not have to save anyone. It is absolutely amazing that he chooses to save anyone, especially when you consider the cost.

Marc Roby: In fact, it staggers the mind when you consider that cost. As 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.”

Dr. Spencer: And although it is admittedly difficult to accept this idea of God’s unconditional election, it is actually a very comforting and marvelous doctrine and once you understand it properly, I don’t think anyone would want it any other way.

Marc Roby: I agree, but we don’t have time enough today to get into it further, so let me wind up our session today by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Publishers, 1993, pp 85-86

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

[3] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, vol II, pg. 340

[4] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 128

[5] C. Hodge, op. cit., pg. 335

 

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: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our previous sessions we have established the importance of salvation and explained that we can’t save ourselves. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to review what we’ve covered by means of a syllogism. This will first reinforce one last time this phenomenally important point and it will also lead nicely into our discussion of the nature of salvation.

Marc Roby: Alright. For those listeners who don’t what a syllogism is, it is a formal argument that uses deductive logic to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more premises.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And syllogisms are useful because they have been studied extensively since the time of Aristotle and if you construct one properly the conclusion necessarily follows if the premises are true. The classic example used in a logic course goes like this. The first premise is that all men are mortal. The second premise is that Socrates is a man. And the conclusion is that, therefore, Socrates is mortal. This syllogism is a valid syllogism, meaning that the conclusion is true if the premises are true.

Marc Roby: And I think it is obvious that the premises are true in this case.

Dr. Spencer: That they are. And a valid syllogism with true premises is called a sound syllogism, or a sound argument. If I have made a sound argument, then the conclusion I have reached is guaranteed by the rules of logic to be true.[1]

Marc Roby: Alright. So what is the syllogism that you have in mind to review what we’ve covered so far?

Dr. Spencer: My syllogism is more complicated than the simple example I just gave, but it is still relatively easy to follow, it has four premises. The first premise is that every human being will be judged by Christ. This premise is supported by 2 Corinthians 5:10, which says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[2] The second premise is that based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. This premise is supported by Matthew 25:46, where Jesus tells us that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And by “eternal life” Jesus means heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. It is the only alternative to hell, which is eternal death. The third premise in my syllogism is that you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. This premise is supported by 2 Peter 3:13, which says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” We could supply other verses to buttress this argument, but the righteousness spoken of there is absolute; there will not be any sin in heaven. And the fourth and final premise is that no human being is righteous. This premise is supported by Romans 3:10, where Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one”.

Marc Roby: Now, let me restate all four of your premises without the biblical support just so that we can have them clearly in mind. First, every human being will be judged by Christ. Second, based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Third, you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. And, fourth, no human being is righteous.

Dr. Spencer: And the resulting conclusion from these premises is that no one will make it to heaven, or alternatively, everyone will go to hell.

Marc Roby: I don’t like that conclusion.

Dr. Spencer: And neither did God. But God is the God of logic and reason. He is not bound by them as though they were some external authority whom he must obey, but he himself is logic and reason and will not do anything contrary to them because it would violate his nature. As the theologian John Frame wrote, “The laws of logic are an aspect of his own character.”[3] And so, God had to solve this problem. From a human perspective, the syllogism I gave is sound. If God doesn’t intervene in some way, we are all bound for hell.

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he did intervene.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. He made a way for us to be saved and he did it without violating his own nature, which is perfectly holy and just and therefore requires both that we be perfectly holy and that our sin be punished.

Marc Roby: Those are the two problems you mentioned last time. We need our sins atoned for and we need perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And God solved that problem by allowing our sins to be imputed to Christ and his righteousness to be imputed to us.

Marc Roby: Which is the double transaction we have mentioned a number of times and about which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “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’s exactly right. Paul also tells us about God’s solution to the problem in his letter to the Romans. First, in Romans 1:17 he wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” This verse tells us that there is a righteousness that comes from God, which means it is a perfect righteousness, and that it is “by faith”, which refers to the fact that we appropriate this righteousness in some way by faith.

Paul then speaks about this righteousness from God again in Chapter Three.

Marc Roby: Which is the chapter where he lays out the devastating argument that we are all sinners and do not seek God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he concludes that argument in Romans 3:20 by saying, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Marc Roby: And when we become aware of our own sinfulness we also know, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, that “the wages of sin is death”. And that sounds just as bad as the conclusion from your syllogism.

Dr. Spencer: It is just as bad. But the very next verse begins in the English with a most wonderful word, the conjunction “but”, which introduces something that contrasts with the conclusion just reached. In Romans 3:21-22 we read, “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.”

And we have to appreciate how significant that opening conjunction, “but” is! In spite of the universal condemnation logically required by our sin and God’s holiness, Paul says “But now”. This is wonderful news! “But now” God is giving us his divine solution to our unsolvable problem. And he tells us again that there is a righteousness from God and that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Marc Roby: And so we see the truth of what Jesus said in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Dr. Spencer: And in Romans 3 Paul explains this further. Let me read Verses 22-26. “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.”

Marc Roby: Those verses say a lot!

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly do, but for the moment let’s focus on the last thing Paul wrote. He said that God did this “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, God has not denied himself, he stays faithful to his own nature as the just God, and yet he is able to justify those who have faith in Jesus, even though there is no difference, they have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He preserves his justice because our sins are punished. But it is Jesus Christ who receives that punishment. He is, as Paul wrote, our “sacrifice of atonement”. Or we could say he is the propitiation for our sins.

Marc Roby: That is a beautiful solution to our humanly insoluble problem, but it is very sobering that it required the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to accomplish it.

Dr. Spencer: And exactly how this all works is the topic of soteriology. We’ve already said a lot about how we are saved, but I want to begin really looking at the doctrine very carefully, piece by piece. And I want to start by asking an answering a very basic question; namely, “What is the ultimate cause of our salvation?”

Marc Roby: And how would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the ultimate cause of our salvation is the love of God. “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.” John tells us in John 3:16.

The theologian John Murray gives a very brief outline of God’s plan for salvation by making three points. First, “God set his love upon men.” Second, “In consequence he decreed their salvation.” And, third, “In order to achieve this end, he decreed to send his Son to secure their salvation.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s a very broad-brush overview of salvation, which requires a great deal of fleshing out.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but it is sufficient to make a very important point. Murray notes that “Historically speaking, the distinguishing features of the various theologies appear in their respective constructions of the plan of salvation.” He then goes on to describe four broad categories of theology. The first theology is called “sacerdotalist”. Now sacerdotalism is the belief that priests are needed as mediators between God and man and includes the idea that we are saved through the efficacy of the sacraments. The most prominent example of a sacerdotalist theology is Roman Catholicism. Murry wrote that “The sacerdotalist conception [of salvation] is governed by the thesis that the church is the depository of salvation and the sacraments the media of conveyance.”[5]

Marc Roby: And by “media of conveyance” he means that the sacraments are means by which we obtain salvation. We should point out that this was not the original view of what is now the Roman Catholic church. The church’s view of salvation, as expounded by St. Augustin, agreed with the reformed view, but the view of the church evolved into sacerdotalism over time.

Dr. Spencer: And that movement away from the truth led to the Protestant Reformation. We may discuss both the reformation and the Roman Catholic view of salvation in more detail at a later time, but it will suffice for now to note that the Roman Catholic view of salvation is unbiblical and the Roman Catholic church is not a true church. I’m not saying it is impossible for someone to be saved in the Roman Catholic church, after all, the reformers themselves were all Roman Catholics first. But, if someone is truly saved in the Roman Catholic church, he or she will eventually want to get out of that church and find a church where the true gospel is preached and practiced.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. But you said Murray described four types of theology in terms of their view of salvation. What are the other three?

Dr. Spencer: The other three all came out of the Reformation and while I think that one of them is the correct biblical view, and that the differences are important, I want to be clear up front that a person can be truly saved and be in any one of these three groups.

Marc Roby: Alright. Well, what are the three groups?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Murray writes, “Among evangelicals there are the Lutherans, the Arminians, and Reformed. The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues” and I should say that by “diversity of issues” Murray means the diversity of results. In other words, the obvious fact that not everyone is saved. So, now let me read that last sentence again and complete it this time; “The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men. The Reformed, on the other hand, maintain that God makes men to differ, and that the diversity of the issues finds its explanation ultimately in God’s sovereign election of some to salvation.”[6]

Marc Roby: And although I’m sure it is obvious to anyone who has been listening to these podcasts, we take the reformed position. Although the Arminian position is, without a doubt, the most common one in the church.

Dr. Spencer: There is no doubt that it is the most common view today. And it is the view that I think virtually everyone likes the best when they first hear about the differences because it appears to be fair, it treats everyone the same.

Marc Roby: And we all like fair play.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But we need to be careful. If we think about it for a minute, it should be clear that we don’t want God to deal with us fairly. If he deals with us fairly, we are back to the syllogism I gave; we are all doomed to go to hell. God is just and holy, and while I certainly don’t want him to stop being just and holy, which is impossible anyway, I do not want him to treat me with justice. I want him to treat me with mercy.

Marc Roby: I see your point. Justice would demand that we all pay the penalty for our own sins, which we can never do.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. We can spend all eternity in hell and the debt is still not paid; in fact, it will have increased because we will have continued to be rebellious toward God. But that would be fair. The critical thing that many don’t seem to think through is that we don’t want God to be fair and just when it comes to our salvation. We want him to be merciful.

Marc Roby: But the Lutheran and Arminian positions certainly agree that God’s saving us is a merciful act. They agree that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.

Dr. Spencer: They do agree on those important points, and that is why I said a person can hold to those positions and be saved. But, think about it for a minute carefully. If God truly makes salvation equally possible for every person, but not every person is saved, then we can conclude that there must be something the people who are saved did that gained their salvation.

Marc Roby: Well, that logic seems sound, but I know that Lutherans and Arminians will agree that they did nothing to earn their salvation.

Dr. Spencer: They will agree with that statement, but there is a problem. They will usually say something like this; “God freely offers salvation to every person and only those who steadfastly reject it will be lost.” Now that sounds like those who are saved haven’t done anything positive to gain their salvation, but notice that they did avoid doing something negative! They did not steadfastly reject the offer. So they did, in fact, do something to gain their salvation. What they did was to not reject it.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether we word it in a positive or negative way, the conclusion that Murray stated is true. He said that “the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men.” In other words, our salvation depends on our response. It depends on us. We would have something to be proud of. But Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And given that this podcast will appear on Thanksgiving day, it is particularly appropriate to give thanks to our glorious God for his gift of salvation.

Marc Roby: I agree, we should be and are eternally thankful. But we need to explain how it is we can be saved and not have it depend on our response. We don’t have time today to start a new topic, so we had better stop now. Therefore, let me first take this opportunity to join you in wishing all our listeners a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and then remind them that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to reply.

[1] V. Poythress, Logic – A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought, Crossway, 2013, pp 48-49

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

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 518

[4] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 124

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology; that is, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our last session we emphasized the importance of salvation. Our greatest need is not for anything in this life, our greatest need is to be saved from eternal hell, which we all deserve because of our rebellion against God. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to introduce some more precise terminology. The term salvation refers to the whole process by which we are saved from eternal hell and ushered into heaven in our glorified bodies on the Day of Judgment. But there are a number of steps involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: And theologians often refer to those steps by the Latin phrase, ordo salutis, which simply means the order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and we will get to every item on that list, but I want to begin by focusing for a few minutes on one item in the middle of that list, which is justification.

Marc Roby: Which refers to God’s legal declaration that we are just, or righteous in his sight.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We need to picture a heavenly courtroom. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[1]

Marc Roby: And the verdict that is rendered in that courtroom seals our eternal destiny. We read in Matthew 25:46 that Jesus said the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: Which is why we made the point in our last session, as you reminded us in your opening comment, that our greatest need is to be saved from eternal hell. In other words, we need to be justified. Therefore, the first thing I want to do today is look at what it takes for us to be justified in God’s sight.

In order to be justified, we have two problems that must be solved and which we are utterly incapable of solving ourselves. First, the debt we owe because of our sins must be paid. God is the perfectly holy and just judge of the universe and sin must be punished.

Marc Roby: That is not a popular idea today. Many, if not most, people would prefer a God who simply forgives our sin. To require punishment sounds primitive to many people in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: People may prefer such a god, but he doesn’t exist. As I said, God is just and must punish sin. And if that idea sounds primitive to some of our listeners, I would ask them to consider a question. Suppose that you have a young daughter and she is brutally raped and murdered. Would justice be satisfied if the man who did it simply said “I’m sorry”?

Marc Roby: Yes, I don’t think most people would say that saying sorry is sufficient to pay for such a horrible offense.

Dr. Spencer: And, more importantly, neither would God. Forgiveness is possible if there is true repentance, but justice still demands that the sin be punished and we all have an intuitive sense of the truth of that statement.

Marc Roby: I see your point. But you said we have two problems, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: Our second problem is that we need perfect righteousness. God cannot declare us to be just without perfect righteousness. I want to focus on this second need first.

Jesus commanded us in Matthew 5:48 to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, we don’t just need to be better than someone else in order to be justified, and we don’t just need to be in the top 10% of moral people, or anything like that. God’s standard is perfection.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many will object that it is unfair of God to have a standard that we can’t meet.

Dr. Spencer: Many will say that, but it isn’t unfair because it was possible for Adam to meet this standard in his original state. He was our representative before God as we discussed in Session 106. And we all, as his descendants, inherit both his guilt and his sinful nature, which is why we all, without exception, sin.

Marc Roby: The idea that we inherit Adam’s guilt and sinful nature is known as the doctrine of original sin, which we first mentioned in Session 105.

Dr. Spencer: And the wonderful news of the gospel, is that God did not leave us in that sorry condition. The central feature of the history of man is God’s working out his plan of salvation to take care of our sin problem. History is linear and has a predetermined end. When God has finished saving all those whom he is going to save, Christ will come again and, as we read in 2 Peter 3:10, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” And then, just a few verses later, in Verse 13, Peter tells us, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise, and I look forward to that home of righteousness. We should point out though that this idea isn’t something new in the New Testament. God had already revealed his plan in the Old Testament. We read in Isaiah 65:17 that God said, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Dr. Spencer: And God had also revealed through Isaiah that this glorious new creation will endure forever, along with eternal hell. We read in Isaiah 66:22-24, “‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the LORD, ‘so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the LORD. ‘And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.’”

Marc Roby: This again makes clear the eternal importance of salvation. There are only two eternal destinies and all of us, as rebels against God, deserve to be in hell, where “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Dr. Spencer: And God progressively revealed his solution to our sin problem throughout history. It began with the curse pronounced on Satan in the Garden. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is called the protoevangelium, meaning the first gospel. Jesus Christ figuratively crushed Satan’s head when he accomplished our redemption on the cross.

Dr. Spencer: And this protoevangelium was followed in time by God giving man a sacrificial system, which pointed to our need for a substitute to bear the wrath of God, which we deserve for our sins. It was also followed by the moral law, which, as we pointed out in Session 58, has three uses. First, because of our inability to keep it, it shows us our need for a Savior. Second, the punishments serve as a deterrent to sin. And, thirdly, the law serves as a model to show us how God wants us to live.

In addition, God gave many prophecies about the coming Messiah and the redemption he would accomplish for his people.

Marc Roby: And those prophecies are all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: They are. It is also important to note that it is clear in the Old Testament that salvation comes from God, we don’t earn it. God tells us a number of times that he alone is our Savior. For example, we are told in Isaiah 45:21, “Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

Marc Roby: It would be impossible to be clearer than that.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And, in addition, God tells us how he will save us. We read in Ezekiel 36:25-27 that God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. And it also speaks to the radical nature of our depravity, which we discussed in Session 108 when we presented the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity. Because of our total depravity, we need nothing less than a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: And our heart refers to the core of our being. Our mind, will and affections. In other words, all that we are as human beings. We are not as bad as we could possibly be, but we are sinful in every aspect of our being. In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Marc Roby: That doesn’t sound good. If our hearts are beyond cure, then it would appear that there isn’t any hope.

Dr. Spencer: And that is true humanly speaking, but what is impossible with man is possible with God as Jesus told us in Matthew 19:26.

The radical nature of the change is also clearly illustrated by the figure of speech used in the New Testament. In John 3:3 we read that Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then again, in John 3:5, we read that he added, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Marc Roby: Being born again, which is also called regeneration, obviously refers to a radical change. And it reminds me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, these are all very important verses, and we have covered most of them before, but it is important to once again remind ourselves of just how serious the problem is. It is especially important to understand our total depravity, that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin, or we will not properly understand the biblical doctrine of salvation.

In Ephesians 2:1-2 the apostle 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.”

The biblical view is that we were spiritually dead. We weren’t just sick, or in need of a little help to be better. We were dead.

Marc Roby: And Paul’s language is completely consistent with Christ’s statement that we need to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: It is, the Bible is consistent in all that it teaches. Prior to being regenerated by a mighty work of God, we were spiritually dead. We were still physically alive of course, but we were enemies of God. Paul also wrote in Romans 8:6-8 that “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

Marc Roby: Paul doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of unregenerate human beings. They are disobedient, hostile to God, unable to submit to his laws and controlled by their sinful nature.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray summarized the problem in the following way. “If this is man’s condition in sin, then there can be no pleasure in the will of God. Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, Murray makes a strong argument for the reformed view that we must be born again before we can repent and believe.

Dr. Spencer: And his argument is entirely biblical. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We need nothing less than new birth. We need new hearts. And dead people don’t raise themselves to life. God must do the work first.

The biblical doctrine of justification flows inexorably from the biblical doctrine of total depravity. There is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin, and so it is impossible that we will ever choose to repent and believe in Jesus Christ if left on our own.

Marc Roby: And total depravity is represented by the first letter in the acrostic TULIP, which we have discussed before. It is often used to describe reformed theology.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And, just to remind those listeners who may not be familiar with this acrostic, in addition to the ‘T’ standing for total depravity, the ‘U’ stands for unconditional election, the ‘L’ stands for limited atonement, the ‘I’ stands for irresistible grace, and the ‘P’ stands for perseverance of the saints.

We have noted before that one can certainly argue that better terms exist for some of the doctrines. And, in addition, these five doctrines do not fully define reformed theology. For example, they don’t mention the Creator/creature distinction, which is central to reformed theology. But this acrostic is very important in discussing the biblical doctrine of justification, and the five points all hold together logically. As I said, we can’t properly understand the biblical doctrine of salvation if we don’t first understand that prior to being born again we were spiritually dead.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, morally incapable of saving ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In his excellent short summary of Reformed theology R.C. Sproul wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP,” and the aspect he is referring to is our moral inability, then, “the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[3] And we will see that this is true as we dive into the biblical doctrine of justification.

Marc Roby: Which I very much look forward to doing, but we are out of time for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will be sure 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. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 169

[3] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 128

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last week we talked about the fact that Jesus Christ had to bear our sins on the cross and die for us to be saved. But this whole issue of our fundamental need for salvation is so important, and so central to what is wrong with many churches today, that I want to spend a bit more time on making a solid case for it. Our greatest need, and the fundamental mission of the church, have nothing to do with this life. They have to do with what happens after we die.

Marc Roby: When you look at what goes on in many churches and what is often said about Christianity in the world, you wouldn’t get that impression.

Dr. Spencer: No, you wouldn’t. And that is the problem. In Luke 12:4-5 we read that Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”[1]

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly makes it clear that this life is not the most important thing. We are not to fear those who can do no more than kill the body, even though we tend to think of that as being pretty much the worst thing possible.

Dr. Spencer: And when we think that way, we demonstrate that we don’t fully believe there is an eternal heaven and hell. We need to adjust our thinking to be biblical. And you could also extend this idea very easily, it isn’t just a matter of whether I live or die that is not eternally important. For example, a thousand years from now it really won’t matter whether I spend the next ten years enjoying health, peace and prosperity or if I endure horrible pain, conflict and poverty. What will matter is whether I am then in heaven or hell. Life is short, and eternity never ends. We should plan for eternity. Most of us take time to plan our vacations, but how often do we sit down and consider our eternal destiny?

Marc Roby: Not as often or as seriously as we should I’m afraid.

Dr. Spencer: People often put off any such thoughts until they are forced on them, and even then, they often resist. When the doctor says you have terminal cancer and only have three months to live, you would think anyone would get serious about considering what happens after death. But often people simply keep themselves busy making plans for their estate or take pride in facing the inevitable with a stiff upper lip, or just descend into a pit of self-focused despair.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’ve witnessed all of those reactions, and others.

Dr. Spencer: And my point is simply that it is all too easy and natural to be completely absorbed with this life. But such a view leads to a religion that is focused on making this life better.

I quoted from J. Gresham Machen’s book Christianity & Liberalism last week and I want to quote from it again. He wrote that “Joy is indeed being sought by the modern liberal Church. But it is being sought in ways that are false. How may communion with God be made joyful? Obviously, we are told, by emphasizing the comforting attributes of God – His long-suffering, His love.”[2]

Marc Roby: Or, as one modern liberal theologian put it, we should focus on God’s “one-way” love. The idea being that God loves me even if I don’t love him and he has a plan to make my life wonderful.

Dr. Spencer: Which means, among other things, that you shouldn’t feel guilty for sin or think about eternal punishment. You should just focus on God’s love. But Machen points out that “Two questions arise with regard to this method of making religion joyful – in the first place, Does it work? And in the second place, Is it true?” He goes on to answer these two questions. He wrote, “It certainly ought to work. How can anyone be unhappy when the ruler of the universe is declared to be the loving Father of all men who will never permanently inflict pain upon His children?” But then he points out the obvious fault with the view, “If God will necessarily forgive, no matter what we do, why trouble ourselves about Him at all? Such a God may deliver us from the fear of hell. But His heaven, if He has any, is full of sin.”[3]

Marc Roby: Well, given that sin is the cause of all our misery, a heaven full of sin doesn’t sound like much of a heaven to me.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But that is the heaven liberal theology holds out for us. They don’t say that of course, but that is the logical conclusion of their theology. If I don’t need to have my sin removed, if I’m just fine the way I am, then heaven won’t be perfect. To be sure, they would say that there won’t be any physical sickness or death in heaven, but what about all the personal problems and pain caused by our sin? I’m sure that almost every one of these people thinks that someone like Hitler will either be changed or won’t be there, but it is the height of arrogance and lack of honest self-evaluation for anyone to think that he can go to heaven as he is and have it still be a place of perfect peace and rest. Or even to think that he only needs some minor improvements to belong there.

Marc Roby: I agree. But Machen mentioned two questions; the first was whether or not this liberal theology works, and we’ve just explained why it doesn’t. His second question was more fundamental, he asked whether or not this theology is true. How did he answer that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, he wrote that “The other objection to the modern encouraging idea of God is that it is not true. How do you know that God is all love and kindness? Surely not through nature, for it is full of horrors. Human suffering may be unpleasant, but it is real, and God must have something to do with it. Just as surely [you do] not [know that God is all love and kindness] through the Bible. For it was from the Bible that the old theologians derived that conception of God which you would reject as gloomy. ‘The Lord thy God,’ the Bible says, ‘is a consuming fire.’”[4]

Marc Roby: Well, if I may summarize and paraphrase a bit, Machen is saying that the idea of a God who is all love and kindness is not consistent with the facts of life in this world, nor does it agree with the God revealed to us in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair summary. God is love, but as we pointed out last time, you have to define love biblically and you have to account for the fact that God is also just, holy and so on. The God of liberal churches is a figment of people’s imaginations. He is a Santa Clause for grownups. When we were little children, we were able to believe in Santa Clause, but then we grew up and realized he doesn’t really exist. The liberal god is just a far more sophisticated benevolent figure. One whom we know can’t be seen. But this god of human imagination is false. He doesn’t exist. And he can’t help anyone.

Marc Roby: And yet you see studies that claim all sorts of advantages for people who consider themselves to be religious or spiritual, independent of whether that religion is true biblical Christianity. One paper from the Mayo Clinic, for example, says that “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.”[5] How do you explain results like that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, you can also find reputable studies pointing to the tangible benefits obtained from meditation.[6] I don’t doubt that these findings have an element of truth. It seems reasonable to believe that by taking time out of your day to do anything that takes your mind off of your immediate problems and let’s your body relax is probably good for your health. It’s also good for your health to eat a balanced diet and get daily exercise. But these things will not save you. They may help you live longer and healthier, but they will be of no use to you once you die.

So, I don’t doubt that liberal churches can provide some benefits in this life. The whole point I’m getting at however is that this life is not the most important thing. There is a never-ending eternity that comes next. Even if I live to be 110 years old, what difference will the quality of my life make 1,000 or 10,000 years from now?

Marc Roby: Well, it is logically clear that it won’t matter much at all. But that is hard for us to see here and now. But what you have said reminds me of the final verse from that great hymn, Amazing Grace; we sing, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great hymn, and that line is literally true. Eternity never ends. So 10,000 years is nothing. We cannot conceive of that, which is part of why it is so easy to be deceived and focused entirely on this life.

Marc Roby: Now, to be clear, you’re not suggesting that this life is not important at all.

Dr. Spencer: No, quite the contrary in fact. This life has eternal importance. Once you die, the decision is made about your eternal destiny. The Bible is clear that there aren’t any second chances. If you reject God’s only way of salvation now, you will never get another chance. And the Bible also hints at the fact that there are different levels of reward in heaven and different levels of punishment in hell, so how we live matters. But the most important issue, by leaps and bounds, is a binary decision. Everyone will either go to heaven or to hell. And the least horrible place in hell is unimaginably terrible, while the least wonderful place in heaven is indescribably glorious.

Marc Roby: And heaven and hell are both eternal.

Dr. Spencer: They are. And so the important point I’m laboring to make is the singular importance of salvation. Religion in the broad sense, or even that incredibly nebulous thing called spirituality, may provide some benefits in this life, just like meditation, proper diet and exercise can. But the only thing that can bring you eternal salvation is the gospel of grace revealed to us in the Bible.

Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Every human being alive, or who has ever lived or ever will live, will be judged based on their answer to the simple question Jesus posed to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And there are only two answers. Either Jesus is who he claimed to be – God incarnate, the only mediator between God and man, the Savior and Lord of the universe, or he was just a man, and a liar at that.

Marc Roby: And, if he was just a man, we may want to emulate him in some ways, but he is of no help with regard to our eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But he isn’t just a man. He is the Lord of the universe and we owe him absolute, unquestioning obedience, worship and love.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is the only place we learn what God has said concerning our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: And the first thing that God tells us is that we are sinners. Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament and in Malachi 3:1 we read that the Lord God, Jehovah, said, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come”.

Marc Roby: And we learn in the New Testament that this messenger who prepares the way for the Lord was John the Baptist.

Dr. Spencer: And what was the message John the Baptist preached?

Marc Roby: Well, we read his message in Matthew 3:1-2; “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’

Dr. Spencer: And in Mark 1:15 we read that Jesus himself said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” The good news is the gospel. It is the biblical message of salvation. That Jesus Christ came and died in my place to pay the penalty for my sins. And if I will give up all self-reliance, if I will recognize the truth that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and if I will acknowledge Jesus Christ as that promised Savior, I will be saved. True repentance and faith in Christ are like two sides of a coin, you can’t have one without the other.

Marc Roby: And no one will repent if he doesn’t see that his sin is terrible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The problem with false churches is that they don’t tell their people that God demands repentance and holy living. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied while God was bringing judgment on his people in Jerusalem, but he was opposed by many other so-called prophets who said the judgment would not come.

But the judgment did come, the city was destroyed and the people were taken captive to Babylon. In Lamentations 2:14 Jeremiah wrote that “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.”

Marc Roby: So exposing sin can be a very good thing, it can ward off captivity, or eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It is like a diagnostic test that reveals your cancer. You aren’t going to be cured if you don’t even know you have the disease.

So, calling yourself a minister of the gospel and calling your building a church while failing to tell people they are sinners in need of a Savior is a serious sin. The most important responsibility of a true church is to proclaim the gospel. Not to try and make people feel good about themselves. And the good news of the gospel must follow the bad news that we are sinners, and that God is justly angry with sin. We need a Savior. Only when we confess our need can the cure of the gospel be applied.

Marc Roby: And that cure must address our real need, that is to have our sins atoned for.

Dr. Spencer: If the church doesn’t address that issue, it has reduced itself to nothing more than a self-help program and social club. You might as well go to the gym and work out or go and meditate. The only thing that can save us is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. To preach anything else is a terrible sin and leads people to hell.

Marc Roby: And even though liberal churches usually reject the idea that a Christian must be obedient, the somewhat paradoxical truth is that they are preaching salvation by works. Because they deny the miraculous work of Jesus Christ on the cross and focus on just being good people, most of their members, if asked why God should allow them into heaven, would say something like, “Well, I try to keep the Golden Rule and live a good life. I give to the poor regularly” and so on.

Dr. Spencer: And that attitude is salvation by works, even though they are not the works that God primarily requires of us. Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Galatians. In this case there were other preachers who had come in after Paul had presented them with the true gospel, and those preachers were telling the people that they needed to be circumcised and follow Jewish traditions to be saved. They were adding to the pure gospel of grace and turning it into salvation by works. Paul wrote, in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

Marc Roby: And, of course, to be eternally condemned means to go to hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I can’t imagine a more terrible proclamation. Preaching a false gospel, whether of works or any other kind of error, is a serious sin. We must be very careful to present the clear, true, biblical gospel of salvation. It is man’s greatest need, in fact, in a very real sense it is his only need.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to getting into the true biblical doctrine of salvation next time, but this looks like a good place to end 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 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] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009, pg. 112

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pp 112-113

[5] P.S. Mueller et. al., “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice”, Mayo Clin Proc, December 2001, Vol 76, pp 1225-1235 (available from: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/pdf)

[6] For example, see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section1

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