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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What does he say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes good sense.

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

Marc Roby: What is that?

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

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] See Session 158

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

[9] Ibid, pg. 261

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

[11] Ibid, pg. 711

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And that was a painful lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That is wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And that process is called progressive sanctification.

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

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

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

If we say that we trust in Jesus, but we don’t really believe the Bible and if we never have it confront us with our sin and show us our need for change, then our confession is false, plain and simple. In the Great Commission, when Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven, he said, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And where do we find Jesus’ commands?

Marc Roby: In the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Ibid, pg. 240

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

[10] Ibid, pg. 504

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes. He was born again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid

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

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

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Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, it is hard to believe, but we have completed three full years of podcasts and this session marks the beginning of our fourth year!

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to believe, but we have a great deal more to cover and I’m excited to get going, so let’s go ahead and begin our fourth year.

Marc Roby: OK, let’s do it.

We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we noted that true, saving faith has three elements: first, there is specific content, the Latin word is notitia; second, there is mental assent to the truth of that content, the Latin word is assensus; third, we must trust in God’s way of salvation in order to be saved, which means we must trust in Jesus Christ, the Latin word is fiducia. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to look at the content of biblical faith, the information or notitia. It makes no sense to just say I have faith. Faith must have an object. We must believe in something or someone. With regard to salvation, we must have knowledge of the truth in order to be saved. In John 8:31-32 we read, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And many people would respond to that statement by repeating Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?”, which we read in John 18:38.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure many would respond that way. To some extent, Jesus answered the question in the verse I just read. He said “If you hold to my teaching,” so truth is found in the teaching of Jesus Christ, which is found in the Bible. This is the content of saving faith.

We discussed truth back in Sessions 68, 71 and 72 when we were examining the attributes of God and we saw that there are three different meanings for the word truth as it used in the Bible. John Frame discusses this in his book The Doctrine of God.[2] The first use of the word describes the nature of a person. So, for example, when we read in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 that Paul, Silas and Timothy had been told that the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”, the clear implication is that there are also false gods, but the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, is the only living and true God. In other words, the only authentic God, or you could perhaps say the only real God.

Marc Roby: Well, we use the word in much the same way when we say, for example, that someone is a true genius. We are saying that there are people who are called geniuses who aren’t, but the person that we are referring to is not like them, he is an authentic genius.

Dr. Spencer: And we also use it that way as an adverb; for example, if we say that some work of art is truly magnificent. We mean it is, in fact, magnificent, we weren’t using excessive flattery. The second use of the word true refers to a property of statements. If a statement is true, it means that it corresponds to reality. The third use of the word is with regard to morality.

Marc Roby: And we pointed out in those earlier sessions that, ultimately, truth is a person. Jesus Christ said, in John 14:6, that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Dr. Spencer: And that is certainly the case in Jesus’ statement that the truth will set us free. It is Jesus himself who has earned our salvation. All three senses of the word truth are important in this regard. Jesus is true God and true man in the sense of being both authentic, or genuine God and authentic, or genuine man. He is also completely truthful in everything he said as recorded in the Bible and, finally, he both has authority to tell us what is morally right and wrong and he is the only person to have lived a perfectly sinless life. So, as I said, we must have knowledge of the truth to be saved or, as Jesus himself put it, to be set free.

Marc Roby: And Jesus clearly meant to be set free from sin and death and eternal hell. So, we must know Christ in order to be saved. But, is there more that we must know? After all, there are many people who would claim a personal relationship with Christ but who don’t agree with the historic creeds of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: There are, without a doubt, many such people. We must know Christ as he truly is, and the only place we find that information is in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Well, it would seem then that there is some minimal set of doctrines to which a person must agree to be a real Christian.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it would seem so, but we must be very careful. The great 20th-century theologian J. Gresham Machen, in his book What is Faith? wrote the following: “How much, then, of the gospel, it may be asked, does a man need to accept in order that he may be saved; what, to put it baldly, are the minimum doctrinal requirements in order that a man may be a Christian?”[3]

Marc Roby: And I am excited to hear how Machen answered the question.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you are about to be disappointed then, because he doesn’t answer the question. And, in fact, he goes further. He not only said that he has never answered the question, he wrote, “Indeed it is a question which I think no human being can answer. … This is one of the things which must surely be left to God.”[4] But, he then goes on to say that churches need to be very careful in admitting members. They need to examine potential members to see whether or not they have a credible confession of faith and, he says, “To that end, it should, I think, be made much harder than it now is to enter the Church: the confession of faith that is required should be a credible confession; and if it becomes evident upon examination that a candidate has no notion of what he is doing, he should be advised to enter upon a course of instruction before he becomes a member of the Church.”[5]

Marc Roby: That seems to me to be somewhat at odds with what he said about not being able to define a minimal set of doctrines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it is somewhat at odds, but I don’t think he contradicts himself. He is opposed to giving a formal statement of exactly what doctrines must be believed, but he is definitely in favor of being sure that someone has a reasonable understanding of the gospel.

He wants to avoid the problem of putting down in print the absolute minimum a person must know and believe in order to be saved because, as he says, “who can presume to say whether the other man’s attitude toward Christ, which he can express but badly in words, is an attitude of saving faith or not?”[6] And, in addition, he points out that “Some men seem to devote most of their energies to the task of seeing just how little of Christian truth they can get along with.”[7]

Marc Roby: Wanting to get along with the absolute minimum for a passing grade, so to speak, would be a bad sign in terms of the truthfulness of a person’s claim to faith.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. If someone really wanted to see how little they could get away with believing, it would be sure sign the person was not born again. Born again people love Christ and want to know as much about him and his work as possible. But I think Machen is wise to refrain from giving a formal list of the minimum content of true, saving faith. His emphasis is on examining the person’s doctrine and life. A credible confession must include a changed life and some sign of love for God.

Nevertheless, I do think we can list some things that would clearly need to be part of any minimal list of necessary doctrines, and I think there is good reason for doing so since people can call themselves Christians and mean something completely at odds with biblical Christianity. It would be dangerous to the health of a church to admit such people to membership.

Marc Roby: And dangerous for the people themselves too I would add. Can you give an example?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The best example I’ve seen is one that James Boice gives in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, which we have used before. Let me read something he wrote because it is downright shocking, and yet it is representative of much of what goes on in the name of Christianity today. Boice wrote that “A number of years ago in a rather extended discussion about religion a young man told me that he was a Christian. As our conversation developed I discovered that he did not believe that Jesus Christ was fully divine. He said that Jesus was God’s Son, but only in the sense that we are all God’s sons. He did not believe in the resurrection.  He did not believe that Jesus died for our sin or that the New Testament contains an accurate record of his life and ministry. He did not acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life. … nevertheless he believed deep in his heart that he was a Christian.”[8]

Marc Roby: OK, that is rather shocking.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And although this may be an extreme case, in less extreme forms it is far more common than many of us would suppose. And I’m quite sure that Machen would agree that this young man was not a true Christian and should not be admitted as a member of a church. You simply cannot reject the true divinity and humanity of Christ, or the resurrection, or the Lordship of Christ and be a real Christian.

These issues were settled long before the reformation and are clearly stated, for example, in the Nicene Creed. So, while we agree that it would be unwise to try and publish an exhaustive list of so-called essential doctrines, we certainly can state some of them. And I think Machen’s reservations are valid. Someone can be brought to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and yet have a very poor understanding of Christian doctrine.

Marc Roby: Well, certainly as one example, young children can have true saving faith without very detailed knowledge of doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. I like the treatment of the topic of faith in Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. He defines saving faith in the following way: “Saving faith may be defined as a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance (trust) on the promises of God in Christ.”[9]

Marc Roby: That definition gets around the issue of defining specific content nicely. He says that you must have a certain conviction of the truth of the gospel, but he doesn’t specify which details of the gospel message you must know and understand.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. A child may have saving faith that the gospel is true, and yet have an understanding of the gospel that would be considered extremely deficient in an adult. The primary issue really is one of trust. We trust in the truth of the gospel and we trust in the person and work of Christ.

In our session last week we said that true saving faith has three components, which are often given by their Latin names, notitia, assensus and fiducia, but can also be called information, assent and trust. This three-component view is the classic reformed view[10], but some theologians reduce it to two elements: knowledge and personal trust[11].

Marc Roby: And Berkhof’s definition certainly sounds like it has only two elements. He refers to a certain conviction of the truth of the gospel and then trust in the promises of God in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I agree it sounds that way, although he goes on to give the familiar threefold division of reformed theology. But the two views are really the same at their core, because when theologians speak of true saving faith as consisting in just two elements, knowledge and personal trust, their idea of knowledge is information that we have agreed is true, in other words, to which we have given our assent. This is the view expressed by the Heidelberg Catechism for example in the answer to Question 21, which asks, “What is true faith?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given in the catechism is, “True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”[12]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great answer. And for our purposes right now the important points are that it refers to a “sure knowledge”, which is information and assent, and a “firm confidence”, which is trust.

Berkhof goes on to examine this knowledge further. He wrote that “The knowledge of faith consists in a positive recognition of the truth, in which man accepts as true whatsoever God says in His Word, and especially what He says respecting the deep depravity of man and the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”[13]

Marc Roby: In other words, we believe the bad news that we are sinners deserving of hell and cannot save ourselves and we acknowledge the truth of the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the two necessary points yes. As we’ve said a number of times, no one will believe the good news if they have not first believed the bad news. Who will believe in a Savior if he doesn’t see that he needs to be saved?

Marc Roby: I would have to say no one.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. And Berkhof says more. He writes that “There must be certainty as to the reality of the object of faith; if there is not, faith is in vain.”[14]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the object of our faith is Jesus Christ. If we are not certain that he really existed and did the things the Bible says he did, and most notably, that he died on the cross for his people’s sins and then was raised from the dead, never to die again, well then our faith is in vain. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Dr. Spencer: That verse makes it clear that faith has content, it lists two things we must believe. First, it says that we must believe that God exists. And the context obviously indicates that this means we accept the Bible’s teaching about who God is. For just a few verses earlier, in Verse 3, we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” And second, the verse says that we must believe God rewards those who earnestly seek him. This is speaking about God’s work of redemption and his promises to men, which again we only learn about in the Bible. So, faith has content, or we could say an object, and the object of biblical faith is the person and work of Christ as told to us in God’s Word.

Marc Roby: And that is great place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

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

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

[3] J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith?, The MacMillan Comp., 1925, pg. 155

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pp 156-157

[6] Ibid, pg. 155

[7] Ibid, pg. 159

[8] J. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 409

[9] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 503

[10] E.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 71

[11] E.g., see Berkhof, op. cit., pg. 505

[12] G.I. Williamson, The Heidelberg Catechism, P&R Publishing, 1993, pg. 36

[13] Berkhof, op. cit., pg.503

[14] Ibid, pg. 504

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we discussed the protestant reformation and concluded by noting that the reformers declared that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that it is the word “alone” in the statement you just made that the Roman Catholic church objects to. R.C. Sproul wrote that “It is not an exaggeration to say that the eye of the Reformation tornado was this one little word.”[1]

The Roman Catholic church agrees that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. But if you say that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then the Roman Catholic church declared at the Council of Trent in 1563 that you are eternally damned.[2] They would say that faith must be accompanied by certain works and, as we saw last time, the whole process must be mediated by the church.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, gives the church tremendous power.

Dr. Spencer: And such power often corrupts people, which I would say is certainly part of what happened with the Roman Catholic church, but that is a topic for a different day. In the last two sessions, we have seen that both the protestant reformation and many modern liberal errors are caused by not properly understanding the nature of true, biblical, saving faith.

In the case of the Roman Catholic church, they don’t understand that true faith, by itself, justifies us, so they add to what the Bible requires by including human works and the mediation of the church. In the case of modern liberal churches they subtract from what the Bible requires by teaching that a person can be saved by a faith that amounts to nothing more than intellectual assent to some basic facts. It is not a penitent faith that includes a turning away from sin. It is a faith that anyone has the power to lay hold of, you need not be born again first. And yet, we must remember that Jesus Christ himself told Nicodemus in John 3, Verses 3 and 5, that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” and “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, I would hasten to add, that even the facts to which people are expected to give their assent are sometimes sorely lacking in biblical content.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Mostly since the rise of so-called higher criticism in the 19th century, it has been very popular to deny the historicity of many of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Some will say that Jesus Christ was not really God, or that he didn’t really rise from the dead, or that he was not born of a virgin and so on. It is quite popular to deny virtually all of the miracles in the Bible and yet still call yourself a Christian.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I’m forced by the facts to agree that is true.

Dr. Spencer: J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote a marvelous book on this topic called Christianity & Liberalism, which I recommend to all of our listeners.[4]

I think the reason many people believe they have to reject miracles is that they have been convinced that if you are intelligent and sophisticated you can’t possibly believe they occur. The German liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann famously wrote that “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”[5]

Marc Roby: I think that probably sums up pretty well what many people think.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it does. And, surprisingly, it even sums up how many self-professing Christians think. But I would say if one of our listeners agrees with that statement, I sincerely hope that he or she will think more carefully and reconsider. That view, which I am going to refer to as liberalism following Machen, is an egregious error for at least three reasons.

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. What is your first reason?

Dr. Spencer: The first reason is that there are things in this universe that simply cannot be explained with reference to just the material universe. I don’t mean that they can’t be explained right now, and that maybe we will be able to explain them in 100 years. I mean that they cannot be explained at all. We discussed some of these in Session 1, which any interested listener can go back and listen to or read in our archive at whatdoesthewordsay.org, but basically, I’m thinking about four things: First, this universe is not eternal. It had a beginning. But it makes no sense to believe that this universe popped into existence out of nothing with no cause whatsoever. That is a violation of basic logic.

Marc Roby: And, if I recall correctly, your second point is that living beings can’t be produced by natural processes operating on inanimate matter.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct. You can’t mathematically say that there is zero chance, but the probability is so ridiculously low that no rational person should believe it. Again, interested listeners can go listen to or read Session 1. The third point I would give is the diversity of life. The idea that all of the vastly different life forms on this planet came about through the operation of random processes is simply irrational. You can go through the numbers and see that, again, no reasonable person should believe it. Finally, I would point out that volitional beings such as us …

Marc Roby: and by volitional you simply mean that we make real decisions …

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. In any event, volitional beings such as us cannot exist if this universe is simply matter in motion according to the laws of physics. Those laws are all either deterministic or random. There is no room for real volition. Any freedom of the will that you may think you have is pure illusion if the material universe is all that exists. Again, Session 1 contains more detail.

Marc Roby: OK. So the first reason you have for saying that liberalism is an egregious error is that there are characteristics of this universe that cannot be explained if this physical universe is all there is.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the second reason I have for saying it is an egregious error is that if you call yourself a Christian, what on earth do you mean by that? The only place we learn about Christianity is the Bible. If the Bible is an unreliable book filled with myth and superstition, then why on earth would you believe anything it says? That makes no sense.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree.

Dr. Spencer: And not only that, but Christianity is all about what happens after we die. It is about how to go to heaven rather than hell. But if the material universe is all that exists, then heaven and hell are nonsense and there isn’t anything to be saved from. When you reduce Christianity to some sort of self-help program or social program focused on making life better in this world, you eviscerate it and calling it Christianity is just nonsense.

Marc Roby: That is definitely true. So what is your third reason for saying liberalism is wrong?

Dr. Spencer: Well, my third reason applies to those liberal professing Christians who at least believe that God exits and created this universe. This reason was stated by the apostle Paul almost 2,000 years ago. In defending himself before King Agrippa we are told in Acts 26:8 that Paul said, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”

Paul’s point is obvious. If you accept that there is, in fact, a God who created all things, then why on earth should you find it incredible that he raises the dead? Or does any other miracle for that matter? If he is capable of creating all things, wouldn’t it seem ridiculous to assume that he is incapable of doing things that violate the normal laws of physics, which he himself put in place? Raising someone from the dead should be easy compared to creating life in the first place. And the same argument applies to any miracle.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a powerful argument. We got into this discussion about the miracles in the Bible because you said, correctly, that it is popular at this time to deny the miracles in the Bible and still call yourself a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: And the point I want to make is that if your “faith” is like that, if you say you believe in Jesus Christ but you deny that he was born of a virgin or truly raised from the dead, then your faith is deficient and it will not save you. It is not biblical faith. There is content to faith and biblical faith must assent to the truth of the Bible.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense. We have now seen that faith can be deficient by subtraction – either not requiring repentance or not assenting to the truth of the Bible, and it can be deficient by addition – in other words, requiring something more, like works or the sacraments of a particular church.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Real, biblical faith, the faith that will save you when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, has three components, often listed by their Latin terms: notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia simply means information. Faith must have an object. If you tell me that you have faith and end your sentence there, you haven’t told me anything meaningful. I would want to ask you, faith in what?

Marc Roby: In other words, faith has content.

Dr. Spencer: Yes; faith has to have an object. And biblical faith has content that comes from the Bible. You aren’t saved by receiving a high enough score on some theology exam, but at the same time if your faith is in something other than the biblical Jesus, it will not save you. The second Latin term, assensus, simply means assent, or agreement. In other words, you agree that the information, the notitia, is true. That is necessary for real saving faith, but it is not sufficient.

Marc Roby: D. James Kennedy famously illustrated what is lacking in “mental assent” faith. He would ask people, “Do you believe that this chair will hold you up?” And if they looked at it and said something like, “Well, yes. It looks like a solid chair.” He would then say, “But it isn’t holding you up now. You have mental assent to the fact that it can hold you up, but you haven’t really believed that fully until you place your trust in it and sit down.”[6]

Dr. Spencer: And that is the third element in true, saving faith. The Latin word fiducia means trust. It is the source of our English word fiduciary. We speak about the fact that someone, like a financial advisor, has a fiduciary responsibility to his clients. That means that the clients are placing trust in him and he is legally responsible to act in certain ways as a result.

Saving faith means that we have placed our trust in Jesus Christ. This necessarily requires that we renounce all trust in ourselves, which goes along with our having repented of our sins. We see our own unworthiness and, when we see that, it is unthinkable that we would trust in ourselves. We can look at Jesus, like the chair, and say that we agree he is trustworthy, but we must sit down. In other words, we must actively place our trust in him.

Marc Roby: And, of course, doing that requires simultaneously renouncing all trust in this world for our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. On the one hand, we all trust other people and institutions every day for mundane things, we have no choice. But we dare not trust in anything in this world for our eternal salvation.

John Murray wrote that “Faith … is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like that statement even though the English is a bit awkward. We must commit ourselves with our whole soul, in other words, with our whole being. We must not have any reservations or back-up plans.

Dr. Spencer: And Murray speaks about the warrant we have for faith, in other words, what grounds do we have for thinking that Christ will accept us or that he is able to save us?

Marc Roby: Those are obviously great questions. It wouldn’t make much sense to commit myself fully to Christ if he wouldn’t accept me or couldn’t save me. How does Murray deal with those questions?

Dr. Spencer: He first points out that the gospel offer is universal, the offer of the gospel is, he says, “full, free and unrestricted.”[8] This offer is also not something that started with the New Testament. God calls out in Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” And the same offer is given by Christ. We read in Matthew 11:28 that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Marc Roby: That is a gracious offer indeed. And I love what Jesus said in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me”, he said, “I will never drive away.”

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is clear in teaching that anyone who humbles himself, repents of his sins, and turns to God seeking salvation will, in fact, be saved. We are told in Romans 10:13 that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And so this universal offer of salvation gives us reasonable warrant to place our faith in Jesus Christ. And, in addition to that, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ is fully able to save his people.

Marc Roby: In that context I immediately think of Hebrews 7:24-25, where we read, “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

Dr. Spencer: Those are great verses to show that Christ is fully able to save his people. He has accomplished redemption. He took our sins upon himself on the cross and bore the wrath of God in our place. He died a substitutionary sacrificial death, was buried, and was raised from the dead for our justification. In 2 Corinthians 4:14 the apostle Paul told the church in Corinth that “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful news. By his incarnation, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ did the work necessary to be the only Savior of mankind. And now, by sitting at the right hand of the Father and interceding for us he actually secures that salvation for all who believe in him.

Dr. Spencer: And Murray notes that “We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved.”[9]

Marc Roby: That is an important statement, and a great place to end for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer you.

 

[1] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 66

[2] The Council of Trent, The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), (see https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent.html), the Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, CANON IX says, “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

[3] 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.™.

[4] Machen, J. Gresham, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009

[5] R. Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, translated by Schubert M. Ogden, Fortress Press, 1984, pg. 4

[6] See D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion: Equipping Churches for Friendship, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Healthy Growth, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996, pg. 94

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 107

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pp 109-110

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we discussed the fact that true saving faith is what John Murray calls a penitent faith. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue to examine how important it is to have a right understanding of what the Bible means when it says we are saved by faith. We saw last time that one common heresy today is to define faith down to nothing more than a decision to follow Jesus, and that decision doesn’t even require a person to repent of his or her sin or to produce any fruit in keeping with repentance. It is, in fact, choosing Christ and the world at the same time.

Marc Roby: And yet, we read in Matthew 6:24 that Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”[1]

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And money in that verse is, of course, just one example of a master, we must not value anything in this world more than Jesus. The apostle John wrote, in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And we read in Matthew 10:37-38 that Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Marc Roby: That is extremely challenging, we are not to love anyone or anything more than Christ, not even our own life.

Dr. Spencer: It is very challenging, and it makes it clear that when the Bible speaks about believing in Jesus Christ, it is a very serious matter. It necessarily includes giving up all hope in ourselves or anything in the world. Christ alone is able to save us. Everything else is worthless in comparison.

But the nature of true saving faith doesn’t just separate people and churches within the protestant world, it was also the cause of the greatest split ever seen in the church; the protestant reformation.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, not all professing Christians are even aware of the reformation anymore, so it might be a good idea to just say that prior to the reformation in the 16th century, there was only one Christian church in western Europe, and that was the Roman Catholic church. The reformers, people like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were people who split away from the Roman Catholic church because it had fallen into serious doctrinal error and refused to change.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And then, unfortunately, the reformers themselves had a number of smaller splits over less important matters and the net result is the proliferation of denominations that we have today: Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians and many, many more.

Marc Roby: While the reformation was a complicated and lengthy historical event, it is often thought of us beginning when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although the seeds of the reformation had been planted in England by John Wycliffe and in the Kingdom of Bohemia, in what is now part of the Czech Republic, by Jan Hus about 150 years earlier. It’s also important to know that the reformation was really a return to biblical Christianity. No new revelation from God was involved in the reformation, it was, rather, a return to the Bible.

Marc Roby: And, as many people know, the main topic of the 95 theses was the Roman Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which are declarations by the Pope that supposedly release people from some or all of the time they would have to spend in purgatory.

Dr. Spencer: That’s also true. Before we go on, I think we have to give some background here for our listeners to be able to understand the issues.

The Roman Catholic church taught then, and still teaches, that when people die they can go to one of three places; heaven, purgatory, or hell.[2] They teach that when a person comes to faith and his sins are forgiven, which is called being in a state of grace, that does not mean that all of the consequences for those sins are removed. A forgiven person will ultimately go to heaven and spend eternity in bliss, but there are still temporal consequences for sins.[3] And if a person dies while not yet having undergone all of the temporal punishment due to him for his sin, he goes to purgatory to finish paying that penalty.

Marc Roby: Now, we should say that we certainly agree that there are temporal consequences for our sin. In Leviticus 26:40-42 God told his people through Moses, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a sobering passage, which should cause us all to be more careful in how we live. But we must also be careful to make clear that when God referred to people paying for their sin, he was not speaking about atonement. The Bible is clear that no one outside of Christ can atone for his own sins or the sins of others. Instead, this is speaking about temporal discipline.

So, we agree with the Roman Catholic church in part, although we would say that the Bible teaches that when a believer dies, all such temporal discipline is over. Whereas, the Roman Catholic church teaches that when you die you may still have left over temporal punishment to go through. And, if that is the case, you don’t go directly to heaven, you go to purgatory as I said earlier. Only when you have finished with your temporal punishment are you released from purgatory and admitted to heaven.

Marc Roby: It is important to note that the Bible never once mentions or even implies the existence of purgatory, or anything like it.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The doctrine of purgatory is unbiblical, but the background is important to understand the real issues of the reformation.

Marc Roby: OK, so an indulgence then was something that would release an individual from a certain amount of time in purgatory.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the church still issues indulgences today, although Pope Pius V abolished the sale of indulgences in 1567.[4] But we’ve said enough about indulgences for the time being. Luther’s 95 theses were mostly about them on the surface, but indulgences were really a symptom, not the true problem. At the time Luther posted his theses, he was hoping to reform the church from within, not split it up, and he even assumed in the theses that the Pope would not approve if he knew how indulgences were being described by those who sold them.

Marc Roby: Which turned out not to be entirely true of course.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, his assumption was definitely not entirely true. The papacy at the time of Luther was exceedingly corrupt and needed the money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. The protestant reformation is a fascinating and useful topic to study, and we may take a look at it in detail at some future time. But for right now I want to stay focused on the importance of having a right understanding of what constitutes true, saving faith as presented in the Bible.

Marc Roby: OK. You said that indulgences were only a symptom, what was the real problem?

Dr. Spencer: Well, it was related to the indulgences because of the way they were being marketed, for lack of a better term.

Marc Roby: Given much of what went on, I think that is a perfectly appropriate term.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you’re right about that, it just sounds bad. In any event, indulgences were sold as a way for people to escape punishment, without requiring true repentance or change.

Marc Roby: Which sounds much like the modern view of faith without repentance or change.

Dr. Spencer: It was similar in practice, yes. But, to be fair, the official position of the Roman Catholic church, then as now, required repentance. A little more background is probably needed to understand the picture. In the Roman Catholic church, a person is saved by baptism and the other sacraments of the church[5]. One of these was, and is, the sacrament of penance[6]. According to the Roman Catholic church, there are two kinds of sins; venial and grave, or mortal.

Marc Roby: Which is, I hasten to point out, a distinction not made in the Bible. In James 2:10 we read, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an important point. We are not suggesting, of course, that the physical act of adultery isn’t worse than having a lustful thought, or that murder isn’t worse than being improperly angry with someone, but nevertheless, there are no sins that are so small that God simply winks and ignores our committing them. Every violation of God’s law, no matter how small, is a demonstration of the fact that we are, at our core, rebellious sinners.

But, getting back to the idea of venial and mortal sins, venial sins do not destroy the grace received at baptism, but mortal sins do.[7] When a person commits a venial sin, he is still in a state of grace, although he still needs to repent of the sin. But, if a true Christian commits a mortal sin and then dies without having repented of it, the Roman Catholic doctrine says that he goes to hell. In other words, according the Roman Catholic church, true faith can be lost.

Marc Roby: Now, if that were true, Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure would be very strange indeed. How could we ever be sure of our election if the possibility still existed for us to fall away from salvation by some future sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the answer, of course, is that we couldn’t be sure. The reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which we spoke about in Session 131, is the proper biblical view. But returning to the topic of sin, according to the Roman Catholic church, when someone has committed a mortal sin, he must avail himself of the sacrament of penance to be restored to the state of grace. And even after being restored to the state of grace there is temporal punishment for sin, which the penitent must go through either in this life or in purgatory. Now, there is also temporal punishment for venial sins. The Roman Catholic sacrament of penance at the time of the reformation and still today has three components: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.[8]

Marc Roby: So in order to have his temporal punishment reduced, a man must be truly contrite – in other words, he must truly feel sorry for having sinned, he must confess his sins, and he must perform some work of satisfaction.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s correct. And the Roman Catholic catechism carefully defines true contrition. It says, that contrition consists in “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again”.[9]

Marc Roby: That sounds very much like the way we have defined true, biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound a lot like it. We made the point last time that true, saving faith is always a penitent faith. So you can see that this issue of selling indulgences is connected with the nature of true faith; basically, it is a symptom of the fact that the Roman Catholic church teaches that a person is saved by the sacraments, through the action of the church and the works of the sinner, rather than through a vital, penitent, personal faith in Jesus Christ alone.

But, getting back to the sacrament of penance, the second component, confession, is clear enough, although we would again disagree with the Roman Catholic church by saying that there is no biblical requirement for a person to confess his sins to a priest. The third element, satisfaction, can take many forms, for example, saying certain prayers, or giving to the poor …

Marc Roby: Or, at the time of the reformation, purchasing an indulgence.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. An indulgence was one possible work of satisfaction. Although, as I noted earlier, the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567. But we have now gotten to the real issue. The way indulgences were being sold, there was no requirement for personal repentance.

And further, even if the indulgences had been marketed in accordance with the church’s doctrines, so that the person was instructed that there must be real contrition, the person’s faith was not, in and of itself, sufficient for salvation. He needed to do works of satisfaction and the church needed to accept his works and pronounce absolution.[10]

Marc Roby: Which simply means that the church declares that he has been forgiven.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So there are works required now in addition to faith. And the church must be involved to mediate this whole process.

Marc Roby: Even though Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.

Dr. Spencer: And in spite of the fact that we read in Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There is no mention of works of satisfaction being a condition upon which our salvation depends. And there is no need for a separate priesthood either. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:5 that Christians, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: Even though we repudiate the need for a special priesthood to mediate for us, we would certainly agree that a person who has been saved will have good works.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do agree with that. But those good works are the result of the fact that the person has been born again and is a new creation. They serve as proof that the conversion is real, but they are never seen as a condition which must be met in order for the person to be saved. There is all the difference in the world between these two positions.

We must be born again, not by being baptized or doing anything else that we or any priest can do, but by the sovereign, effectual work of Almighty God. If we have been born again, we are new creations and we will respond in repentance and faith. That faith unites us to Jesus Christ and, as a result of that union, our sins are put into his account and are seen as having been paid for by Christ on the cross. Simultaneously, his righteousness is put into our account and we are seen as perfectly righteous in God’s sight.

Marc Roby: And that is the glorious double transaction we have spoken of a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. So the core of biblical Christianity is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformers declared. But in order to be sure that we are not deceived, that faith must conform to the biblical standard. It must be a true, penitent faith in the real, fully divine and fully human Jesus Christ presented to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Well, I think we are out of time for today, so we’ll have to continue this conversation next time. But before we sign off, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdo

[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] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article 12, Paragraph 1021 (e.g., see http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2K.HTM)

[3] Ibid, Part Two, Section Two, Chapter One, Article 1, Paragraph 1264

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica, (see https://www.britannica.com/topic/indulgence)

[5] Catholic Church, op. cit., Part Two, Section Two, Chapter One, Article 1, Paragraph 1215 tells us that baptism “signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God.’” The quote they give is from John 3:5 where Jesus is telling Nicodemus about new birth, or regeneration. Therefore, they are saying that baptism “actually brings about” regeneration. This unbiblical doctrine is often referred to as baptismal regeneration.

[6] Also called the sacrament of conversion, or repentance, or forgiveness, or reconciliation; see Ibid, Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4, Paragraphs 1423 and 1424

[7] Ibid, Paragraph 1446 says that those who commit grave sin “have thus lost their baptismal grace”.

[8] Ibid, Paragraph 1448

[9] Ibid, Paragraph 1471

[10] Ibid, Paragraph 1424

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. We are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. We have finished discussing repentance and have noted that true repentance and faith always occur together, they are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, we are ready to move on to discuss faith. So, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that faith is absolutely central to Christianity. Christianity is not a social club or a self-help program. The focus of biblical Christianity is the salvation of sinners. In other words, it is God’s plan for how hell-bound rebels can be turned into heaven-bound children of God. In Ephesians 2:8 the apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.[1]

Marc Roby: That is a very well-known verse and the most amazing gift anyone could ever imagine.

Dr. Spencer: And the verse is well known for good reason. It is extremely important. First of all, it establishes that faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation; we are saved through faith. And, secondly, it establishes that we are saved by grace. In other words, it is not something we have earned. We don’t deserve it. As Paul says, it is the gift of God.

Marc Roby: Now, what do you mean when you say that faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation?

Dr. Spencer: The idea of delineating the different causes of an event goes back to Aristotle. He spoke about four causes; the material, formal, final and efficient causes of an event.[2] If we think about some statue, maybe the Lincoln memorial for example, the material cause of the statue is the stone from which it is made. The formal cause is the plan the artist followed – in this case the likeness of President Lincoln. The final cause is the ultimate purpose for which the statue is made, in this example the purpose is to honor and remember President Lincoln. And the efficient cause is the artist himself, he is the one who turned the stone into the statue according to the plan. Now Thomas Aquinas also spoke about the instrumental cause, which in the case of our statue would be the chisels and other tools used by the artist to shape the stone.[3]

But getting back to faith, it is a tool, if you will, for accomplishing a purpose.

Marc Roby: And that purpose is the salvation of sinners as you noted earlier.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Man has a very serious fundamental problem. We are sinners, deserving of damnation, and there is absolutely nothing we can ever do in our own strength to pay for our sins and earn salvation. If we had to solve this problem on our own, it would be hopeless. We will all stand before the sovereign God in judgment someday, and he knows our every thought, word and deed. He is absolutely just and perfect and he knows all of the countless ways in which each one of us has violated his holy law. If we are judged on our own merits, we will all spend eternity in hell.

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he sovereignly chose to save a people for himself. And, as you read earlier from Ephesians 2:8, salvation is a gift given to his people by grace, through faith. Which then begs the question, what does it mean to be saved through faith? How is it the instrumental cause?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the beginning of the biblical answer is given to us in John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is the ultimate cause, and he has determined that this salvation comes through faith in his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, the unique God-man.

Marc Roby: OK. That speaks about those who believe in Christ being saved, and about God’s love being the original motivation, but it doesn’t really explain how faith is the instrument. What is it that faith accomplishes?

Dr. Spencer: Faith unites us to Jesus Christ. God’s plan of salvation in a nutshell is this: Jesus Christ is the second person of the holy Trinity become man. It was man who sinned and stands guilty before God, so in God’s plan of redemption it had to be man who paid the penalty. But no mere man is capable of paying our penalty, so God became man in Jesus Christ. Christ then lived a perfect, sinless life of obedience, completely fulfilling God’s law, and then willfully gave himself as an atoning sacrifice on the cross to pay for the sins of his people.

Marc Roby: No matter how often you hear or read about God’s plan of redemption it never ceases to be amazing. The love of God is simply beyond our ability to fully comprehend or even describe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But to finish the basic plan of salvation, Christ paid the penalty for his people, but each individual person needs to be united to Christ in order for his payment to be placed into their account. It is faith that unites us to Christ. We are all born sinners and are represented by our first father, Adam. As we discussed in Session 106, when Adam sinned, it was as a representative for all of his posterity. So long as he remains our representative, we are damned.

But Jesus Christ is called the second Adam[4]. If we place our faith in him, he becomes our representative. Paul wrote about this in Romans 5:16-17 where we read, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: We see that word gift again. Only this time, the Scripture says that we are given a gift of righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Because that is what we need in order to be saved! We are guilty sinners. We need our sins to be paid for, but that alone won’t save us. We need to be righteous in order to come into God’s presence. And, as I have said, we can’t do righteous works to earn this for ourselves. Paul wrote in Romans 3:20-21, that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul refers to “the Law and the Prophets”, he means the Old Testament, which were the only Scriptures available to the earliest Christians.

Dr. Spencer: He does mean the Old Testament, yes. No one is able to perfectly keep the law, and so, as Paul says, by looking at our behavior in light of God’s law we become conscious of our sin. But the Old Testament also tells us about God’s promised Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. The righteousness from God that Paul refers to is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the only person to ever perfectly keep the law. And Paul then goes on, in Verses 22-24, to say, “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.”

This is glorious! We obtain the righteousness from God through faith. In other words, by believing in the one whom God has sent as a propitiation for our sins, we are united to him by that faith. We are no longer counted as in Adam, but we are now in Christ. There are no exceptions; we are all sinners and the only possible way to be justified is to be justified freely by God’s grace, through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We again see that it is by God’s grace, just as we read in Ephesian 2:8, and we see that it is free, which is the same as saying it is a gift. But we also see a new term here; Paul says that we are “justified” through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And we will talk about justification in more detail in a later podcast, but we have given a brief definition before. In Session 152 we said that justification “is a legal declaration wherein God declares a sinner to be righteous in his sight”. As I said, we need righteousness to be saved, which means both that our past sins must somehow be blotted out and that we actually come to possess a positive righteousness that comes from perfect obedience. This is what Christ did to redeem us. He took our sins upon himself, paid the penalty for us, and then gave us his perfect righteousness in return.

Marc Roby: That is glorious exchange. Praise God! We have noted before that it is called the double transaction, or double imputation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, praise God indeed. We’ve quoted 2 Corinthians 5:21 a number of times because it is the very best single verse in the Bible to show this double transaction. It says, “God made him”, which is speaking about Jesus Christ, “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” When it says that we might become the righteousness of God “in him” it means in union with him. In other words, by having him as our representative before God, rather than Adam.

Marc Roby: And that union is the result of our placing our faith in the person and redeeming work of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And that is why faith is so important. Without it, no one will ever be saved. But we must be careful to have a biblical definition of faith. The meaning of faith is the issue that divided the church at the time of the reformation and it still divides the church today. Not just protestants from Roman Catholics, but true protestant churches from false ones also. There are many churches today who call themselves protestant, or evangelical, or New Testament, or whatever, who either deny this doctrine by not believing in the true, historical, substitutionary physical death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, or by perverting the meaning of true faith.

Marc Roby: For example, by saying that faith does not include repentance as we have already discussed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is, perhaps, the most common way of perverting the biblical gospel today. True, saving faith necessarily implies that you accept God’s just judgment that you are a sinner deserving eternal wrath and that you can do nothing to save yourself. Therefore, you repent of all your sins, turn away from them, and in simple faith accept God’s gracious offer of salvation as a gift. No one is able to do this unless he is born again first. This is true, penitent faith. It is well expressed in the glorious old hymn Rock of Ages.

Marc Roby: Yes, let me read the second and third verses of that hymn. We read, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfil thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears for ever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That is beautiful, and completely biblical. Nothing I can ever do is able to atone for my sin. Only Christ can do that. Therefore, I repent of all my works, which are all tainted by sin, and I cling by faith to Jesus Christ, the Fountain who is able to wash me of my sins and clothe me in his righteousness. This why John Murray speaks about true saving faith as a “penitent faith” and true godly repentance as a “believing repentance”.[6]

Marc Roby: I like those expressions; they are simple, but accurate, and they express the very important point on which we have also spent quite a bit of time.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And Murray expounded on this idea when he wrote, “Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence. And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Saviour, so repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are abiding marks of the believing soul.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is very good. And speaking about a broken spirit and a contrite heart does not describe much of what passes for Christianity today.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why it is so important to have a biblical understanding of the word faith. We are saved by faith alone. That is a true, biblical statement. But, as Murray said, if our faith allows us to walk “in the fellowship of the works of darkness”, it is a “mockery and deception”. Such faith is not biblical, saving faith. It will lead us straight to hell. And when he speaks of the works of darkness, that kind of language is laughed at in most modern churches, but it is very descriptive. Darkness is the absence of light. And God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” we are told in Psalm 119:105.

Marc Roby: Certainly when you judge things by God’s Word, our society is filled with moral darkness; sexual immorality, drunkenness, drugs, covetousness, selfishness and disregard for God’s Word and his ways are rampant.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And is rare to visit a modern church and find any real reverence for God. You often feel more like you’ve walked into a coffee shop where everyone is simply gathering to have a cup of coffee, maybe a donut, and a pleasant conversation with a friend.

Marc Roby: With a little bit of uplifting music and a couple of good stories thrown in for good measure.

Dr. Spencer: Unfortunately, that’s true. But that is not real worship. God has some very harsh words for what people sometimes think of as worship. In Amos 5:21-24 God told his people, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” And the righteousness God speaks of here must, of course, be according to his Word, not our fancies.

Marc Roby: That is a severe warning. And you can see how the definition of faith is very important. A truly penitent faith, as Murray called it, will approach God with reverence and awe, you could say, biblically, with fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12 that we are to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”. And that is completely consistent with Paul also telling us in Romans 8:15 that “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” “Abba” is an Aramaic word that could perhaps be rendered “daddy”. It is an intimate term. But this is not inconsistent with a reverential fear and trembling. We need to have a penitent faith, not a presumptuous faith. Faith is not simply a human decision to “accept” Jesus. As we’ve said, true saving faith is impossible unless a person is born again.

Marc Roby: The stakes are certainly very high. I’m sure the people who came to Christ on the day of judgement crying “Lord, Lord” in Matthew 7:21 would have said that they had faith in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure they would have said that. But they were not born again and we read Christ’s terrifying answer in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Marc Roby: Now, that makes if very clear how important it is to have a proper, biblical, penitent faith. And I look forward to hearing more about real, saving faith, but it will have to wait for next time. 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 answer 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] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg.156

[3] Ibid, pg. 159

[4] See 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 and Romans 5:12-21

[5] Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, #499

[6] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 113

[7] Ibid, pg. 116

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. Dr. Spencer, last week we were discussing repentance and we ended by noting that real repentance is not just being sorry for the consequences of our sin, it is being grieved for having offended God. And real repentance always produces a changed life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a necessary result because true repentance involves seeing how awful our sin is. In other words, we hate it. And if you hate something, you can’t help but turn away from it. That is why when Paul told King Agrippa about his conversion, we read in Acts 26:19-20 that he said, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 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.”[1]

Marc Roby: And the deeds he is referring to here are clearly those of forsaking sin and walking in obedience.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. Forsaking our sin and walking in holiness are not necessary for us to be justified. We are saved by faith alone. But true faith is always accompanied by repentance, and as Paul said, the deeds prove that the repentance was real, and therefore they also prove that the faith is real. As we read in James 2:26, “faith without deeds is dead.” And a dead faith won’t save anyone. As I said near the end of our session last week, true repentance and faith are inextricably linked, you cannot have one without the other.

Marc Roby: And I said I was looking forward to your making the complete biblical case to support that contention. So now, here’s your opportunity!

Dr. Spencer: And in defending the statement that true repentance and faith always go together, I’m going to make use of the presentation in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[2] He makes the important point that we are not advocating some kind of works righteousness as is often argued by those who oppose this view. The Bible is clear that, as I said a moment ago, we are justified by faith alone. And when I say that faith and repentance always go together, I’m not saying that you must have proven them by your deeds before you are justified. Repentance and faith occur in the heart and if they genuine, the person is justified immediately. The change that occurs as a result, namely forsaking sin and walking in holiness, comes after the person is justified and simply proves that the repentance and faith were real.

Marc Roby: Okay, that point is duly noted. But it does not address the question of showing that repentance and faith necessarily go together.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. Let me demonstrate the truth of that statement by first making a logical argument and then backing it up with Scripture.

Marc Roby: Okay, what is the logical argument?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we must ask what it means to believe in Christ. It means to trust him for your salvation. But then we obviously have to ask, what is it we are being saved from?

Marc Roby: And the biblical answer is that are saved from the eternal wrath of God.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And we deserve God’s wrath because of our sin against him! To believe in Christ makes no sense if you don’t first see that you have a need. And that need is caused by our sin and rebellion. It is logically impossible to think that you are going to believe in Christ to save you from sin if you don’t think that sin is worthy of punishment. And if you do think your sin is worthy of punishment, it means that you see it is wrong. In other words, you will repent of it. The two simply go together and cannot be separated.

Marc Roby: I see your point. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior the Bible claims him to be, then you must also believe what the Bible says about why you need to be saved. One of the ways the Bible tells us why we need to be saved is by telling us why Jesus came. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he was planning to call off the marriage. But we read in Matthew 1:21 that an angel appeared to him and told him that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Dr. Spencer: And so we see how repentance and faith are tied together. Saving faith is believing that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for my sins and that they will be forgiven based on my being united to him by faith. But it makes no sense to think that I will trust in Jesus to save me from my sins if I don’t agree that my sins are something I need to be saved from.

Grudem puts it this way: “Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), an emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).”[3]

Marc Roby: That argument makes good sense. Now what biblical support do you want to give for it? And before you begin I want to remind you that you ended last time by teasing us by quoting 1 John 3:9, which says that “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

Dr. Spencer: And that verse illustrates the point very clearly. If someone has been born again, he has been changed, he is a new creation, born of God. That change causes him to both turn away from his sin in repentance, and turn to God in saving faith. When John wrote that such a person cannot go on sinning, he was referring to habitual sin. He wasn’t denying that believers still sin, he was making the point that sin isn’t what characterizes our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, that’s clear. What other biblical support do you have?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s go back to the Old Testament to begin. The idea was clearly present there that a person must repent of his sin in order to receive forgiveness. For example, in the prayer of dedication for the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon prayed, in 2 Chronicles 6:36-39, “When [your people] sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, … and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul … then from heaven, … forgive your people, who have sinned against you.” Notice that the people must repent and turn back to God with all their heart and soul, which is faith; it is believing that God can and will forgive according to his promise.

Marc Roby: And we know that God responded favorably to Solomon’s prayer, because in his response we read in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that great, comforting line, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a glorious promise from God. But it is predicated on true repentance, which as he says will include turning from our wicked ways. It is easy to say we are sorry, but true repentance isn’t just feeling sorry, it is seeing that our sin is really wrong, we must hate our sin. And that will always lead to a turning away from it. And faith is also evident here because God said they must humble themselves, pray, and seek his face. But the connection is made even more explicit in the New Testament.

Marc Roby: What verses do you want to look at from there?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s look at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We read in Mark 1:14-15 that after John the Baptist was put in prison, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

Marc Roby: That’s explicit. Jesus said “repent and believe”.

Dr. Spencer: We also see the connection on the day of Pentecost, which was the beginning of the public ministry of the apostles after Christ’s resurrection. When Peter preached to the crowd we are told that many of them were cut to the heart and cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” In other words, “What must we do to be saved?” And Peter responded, as we read in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Now, this statement obviously doesn’t explicitly mention faith, but it does implicitly. When Peter told them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, he was telling them to profess their faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. And so he did, in essence, tell them to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: That also makes me think of what Paul said in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders. We read in Acts 20:21 that he proclaimed, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a good summary of the gospel. And it clearly lists both repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: But we must also admit that the New Testament often tells people to believe in order to be saved without mentioning repentance. For example, when the Philippian jailer cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” We read in Acts 16:31 that Paul and Silas responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. There are a number of places where repentance is not specifically mentioned. But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t required for salvation, it simply means that both elements are not named in every case. There are also places where only repentance is mentioned, and that does not imply that one can be saved without faith. For example, we read in Luke 13:3 that Jesus himself declared to the crowd, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Now Jesus did not mean to imply that they could be saved by just being sorry for their sins. Faith is assumed in this statement or Jesus would be contradicting what he said in Mark 1:15, which we looked a minute ago.

Marc Roby: And it is impossible for Jesus to contradict himself.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. The connection between true repentance and faith is also implicit in all of the biblical teaching about the need for believers to turn from their sins and walk in obedience. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the topic of sanctification, but we must remember that repentance and faith, or to use just one word, conversion, is the response of the individual to God’s work of regeneration. We argued in Session 151 that regeneration brings about a radical change. We are given new hearts. We have a new mind, will and affections. We are, as the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, new creations. He also speaks about our having died with Christ in Romans 6:8, and our having died to sin in Romans 6:2. And he says in Colossians 3:3 that “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

This language all speaks of a decisive break with our old nature. Repentance is part of that break. We hate the sinful life we used to live and we want to live a life pleasing to Christ, in whom we have placed our faith. The two things go together, you simply cannot have one without the other.

Marc Roby: When you talk about hating our sin, we do have to acknowledge that we all still sin daily. And the Bible mentions the pleasures of sin in Hebrews 11:25. How can we say that we hate something that we still do and that is at least some times still pleasurable?

Dr. Spencer: That’s a reasonable question, but I think we all know the answer if we are honest with ourselves. We have all given in to the temptation to say or do something that we later regretted, even though it may have brought us momentary pleasure at the time. Our regret was based on a realization that the momentary pleasure or gratification we received was improper and could not justify the action.

For example, we have all responded to some situation in our life by saying something mean to somebody. That may have given us momentary satisfaction, by getting back at the person a little for whatever problem we had endured, but on further reflection we realized either that the person we were mean to wasn’t responsible for our problem, or that whatever they did was unintentional, or that what we said was far more damaging and serious than the slight we received.

Marc Roby: I’m afraid I have to admit that is true.

Dr. Spencer: And, in addition, we can all remember other things we have done. Maybe we stole a candy bar when we were a child or something along those lines. We may have received some momentary thrill, but when we looked back on it we saw how wrong it was and hated the fact that we had done such a thing.

And although most of us have never committed the physical act of adultery we can certainly understand how someone could receive momentary pleasure, but later hate the fact that they had done something so destructive to the trust involved in their marriage and so cruel to their spouse.

Marc Roby: I agree that we can all understand that, even if we have never experienced it ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And I’m sure we can all come up with more examples, but the point is clear. It is entirely within the realm of normal human experience to regret, and even to hate, some things that we have done and even occasionally continue to do. We do them because at that moment we desire them, but then when we think it through more later we realize they were wrong. And this is true even for non-Christians. But there are two very significant differences between the regret a non-Christian feels and the regret a Christian feels.

Marc Roby: What are those differences?

Dr. Spencer: The first difference is that a non-Christian does not decide what is wrong or right based on the Word of God, but a Christian must. So, for example, a non-Christian might not think that getting drunk is wrong, so long as you don’t drive.

Marc Roby: Well, the adds tell us that we need to drink responsibly!

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Have a designated driver and then it’s OK to be drunk. But that is not what the Bible says. Getting drunk is a sin. And so a Christian will have real guilt and pain if he allows himself to drink enough to be drunk. His standard is the Word of God, not his own ideas.

Marc Roby: And what is the second difference?

Dr. Spencer: That a Christian is grieved not just because he feels he let himself down, or his family down, but most importantly because he offended almighty God. True repentance is only possible when the person has faith in the God of the Bible. He knows that he has sinned against his Creator and Redeemer. He has offended his heavenly Father. And that brings great pain and true godly sorrow and repentance. A true Christian longs for the day when he will be without sin, when his every desire will conform to the perfect law of God.

Marc Roby: I know that I look forward to such a day. It is impossible to imagine what it will be like to never have any internal struggle between what I want to do and what I should do.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. There won’t even be any need for the word “should” in heaven because what we should do will be exactly what we do! It is a marvelous thought.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that true repentance is always accompanied by saving faith. Do have anything more that you would like to add before we move on?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. We’ve been speaking about conversion, which is repentance and faith viewed as a single act. The word conversion is a good word for this. To convert something means to change it in some fundamental way. The process of becoming a true Christian, a child of God, who is on the way to heaven, is not just a matter of making a decision. It requires real change. As we have noted, God must first do the glorious work of causing us to be born again and then we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. This process necessarily produces radical change in our life. We are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.

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

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 713-717

[3] Ibid, pg. 713

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. And we are using the order presented by John Murray in his excellent book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He gives the following order: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.[1] In our session last week we finished regeneration, so, Dr. Spencer, I think we are ready to begin examining repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed. And what a glorious topic that is. As we have discussed, when a person is born again, or regenerated, by the Holy Spirit, he or she is made into a new creation. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”[2] And the first thing this new creation does is to repent and believe. And that is something that we must personally do. It is our response to God’s monergistic work of regeneration.

In fact, it would be impossible for a born-again person to not repent. The man who has been regenerated sees clearly, although not yet completely, just how vile and terrible his own sin is. He is now aware of how he has offended God and the only possible response is to fall at God’s feet and cry out for mercy. Just as a man who is dying of thirst must drink, so a man who has been born again must seek God’s forgiveness. It grieves him that he has offended God, his guilt gnaws at his soul and his longing for God, who he now sees as supremely good, draws him forward.

Marc Roby: One of the most beautiful expressions of this attitude in the Bible is Psalm 51. In that psalm, King David cries out to God in repentance after God used the prophet Nathan to convict him of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then his having her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in order to cover it up.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful psalm. It not only displays great sorrow for having offended God, it also demonstrates a great hope that God will be merciful in response to true repentance.

Let me read the first 8 verses. David cries out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”

Marc Roby: You get a great sense of the pain that David felt when he was brought to the place of seeing his sin clearly. And he understood that although he had sinned greatly against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah and even the people of his kingdom, his real problem was that he had sinned against God. And he had nothing he could plead in his defense; all he could do was to cry out for God’s mercy.

Dr. Spencer: I agree it is a wonderful psalm and I encourage our listeners to read it over carefully and apply it to their own lives. David also clearly understood that God is the only one who could take care of his sin problem. And he knew that the basis for any relief would have to be in the unfailing love and mercy of God, not in something David himself could do.

There are also a couple of much shorter, but no less poignant, expressions of true repentance given to us in the New Testament as well.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, one of them is the thief on the cross. Remember that two thieves were crucified with Jesus. And initially, they both mocked him, but then God mercifully caused one of them to be born again. That thief was immediately made able to see the truth and we read in Luke 23:40-41 that he rebuked the other thief for continuing to mock Jesus. He said, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Marc Roby: That is a simple but profound confession, he saw that he deserved punishment and that Jesus did not.

Dr. Spencer: And he then went on, as we read in Luke 23:42 to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He clearly saw that Jesus has an eternal kingdom that transcends this life and by faith he entrusted himself to Christ. We don’t know exactly how much this man knew about Jesus’ teaching, but he obviously knew enough.

Marc Roby: And he received what must be one of the most wonderful comforts ever given to any human being. We read in Luke 23:43 that Christ told him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. And that thief has been in glory for nearly 2,000 years. But there is an even shorter confession in the New Testament, which I’d like to take a little time to examine. In Luke 18 we are told the wonderful parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

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

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of rich teaching in that parable, but notice how succinct the tax collector’s confession is. He simply said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The brevity of this confession in no way argues against the value of confessing our sins to God in detail, this man was obviously not in a position to be making a long confession. But his confession makes it clear that what is essential is a heart that has been changed. It has been changed so that it sees God in his holy majesty and it sees how our sins, even the smallest of them, are wicked rebellion against this most glorious and gracious God.

Marc Roby: We also see the tax collector’s reverence for God in the facts that he stood at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He obviously understood that he was unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true and very important. In fact, as Luke indicated, Jesus told this parable to some “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else”. We must always guard against thinking that we are somehow worthy of salvation. The truth is that what we are worthy of is damnation. Salvation is a free gift offered by grace alone. If anyone thinks that he is worthy of going to heaven, then he is not saved and he is on his way to hell. God’s standard is absolutely perfect holiness, and no one outside of the God-man Jesus Christ meets that standard.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the reality. God is perfect. He will not bring sinners to heaven to dwell with him forever without perfecting them first. And we all need serious change, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. There is no hope for any of us if we try to stand before the judgment seat of Christ on our own merits. Our sins must be atoned for. The tax collector saw this problem clearly. He saw that God is perfect in his holiness and justice and he realized that he was a rebellious sinner. That’s why he wouldn’t come close and he wouldn’t lift up his eyes to heaven.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the very first line of John Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin wrote that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[3]

Dr. Spencer: That is very true. The tax collector had been born again and as a new creation he saw clearly the Creator/creature distinction. He knew he had a problem that he couldn’t possibly solve himself. James Boice in his book The Parables of Jesus points out that the beginning and ending of this simple prayer reveal the tax collector’s understanding of his problem.[4] The prayer begins simply by saying, “God”, and it ends with “me, a sinner.” There could not be a greater contrast than that.

He stood before God, albeit at a distance and with his head bowed in shame, as a guilty sinner deserving God’s wrath and unable to pay the debt himself. But he knew much more than that. In our English translation the prayer reads, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But in the Greek, the word translated here as “have mercy” is ἱλάσκομαι (hilaskomai), which means to propitiate.[5] And, as John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[6]

Marc Roby: It’s also interesting that hilaskomai is the verb form of the Greek word used for the mercy seat, or atonement cover, in the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament in use at the time of Christ. The mercy seat was called the ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) in the Septuagint.

Dr. Spencer: Boice makes that point also, and even offers an interesting translation of the tax collector’s prayer. He correctly says that it could be rendered, albeit quite awkwardly, as “God, be mercy-seated toward me, a sinner”.[7] Now Christ had not yet died, so the tax collector still had in mind the Jewish sacrificial system, in which the high priest would go into the holy of holies once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. But the New Testament makes clear, particularly in Hebrews 9, that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing toward Christ. He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as John the Baptist declared in John 1:29.

And so, the tax collector’s prayer, while very short, was also very profound. He had a deep understanding of his problem and of the solution that God offers. And he came to God in true repentance for his sins and faith in the solution God offers in the gospel. And that is why Jesus said he went home “justified before God.”

Marc Roby: We will be talking about justification soon since it is the next item in the ordo salutis, but for now we should probably note that it is a legal declaration wherein God declares a sinner to be righteous in his sight.

Dr. Spencer: And we should add that the declaration is made on the basis of our being united to Christ by faith. As you said, it is a legal declaration. God is not saying that we are righteous in ourselves, that would be a lie. But, because we are united to Christ by faith, his righteousness is counted as ours. He took our sins upon himself and paid for them on the cross and, in return, he gives us his perfect righteousness. This is the double transaction, or double imputation that we have mentioned a number of times and which Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where we read that “God made him who had no sin” which, of course, refers to Jesus Christ, “to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glory of the gospel in one verse. It doesn’t get any better than that. We give God the filth of our sins and he gives us the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is the best deal anyone could ever possibly imagine getting. But we are getting off topic a bit since we are considering conversion, or repentance and faith, today.

Marc Roby: Well, it’s not really off topic since we are united to Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let’s get back to finishing what it truly means to repent. The tax collector had true repentance, but there can also be a repentance of sorts that does not lead to salvation.

Marc Roby: I assume you are referring to what Paul calls worldly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:10, where we read, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Often, when people say they repent of something they have done, or more likely they just say that they are sorry for something, all they really mean is that they are sorry for the circumstances it has produced. When we sin, we pay in some way. It isn’t always immediate, nor are the consequences in this life always proportional to the sin, but we do pay.

So, for example, if we look at a young man who has been lazy all through school and as a result ends up working in some menial job for minimum wage, he may say that he is sorry for not having applied himself in school, but what he really means is that he is unhappy about the fact that he can’t get a job with higher pay. In other words, he is sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the sin itself.

Marc Roby: And that kind of worldly sorrow is very common. But that is a far cry from the biblical idea of repentance.

Dr. Spencer: It is very different. True repentance would require that the young man see that his laziness was a sin against God. That God gave him the ability and the opportunity to learn and that he was being rebellious against his Creator by not applying himself. He would not just feel bad because the consequences of his sin are unpleasant, he would feel deep sorrow at having offended God and, more importantly, he would forsake his laziness and start working hard to improve himself!

Marc Roby: That’s a very important aspect of true repentance. We can’t go back and undo the past, but we can certainly work hard to not repeat the same sins in the future. In speaking about the new life a truly repentant person will live, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Dr. Spencer: That does illustrate the difference made by regeneration very clearly. There is a false teaching in the world that is quite common in churches and individuals that call themselves Christian. It is the idea that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord. In other words, you don’t have to repent and forsake your sins, you just have to acknowledge Jesus as Savior.

Now, we must agree that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. No one will ever be saved because he repented and forsook his sins. Our repentance is not the cause of our salvation, nor is our faith a cause of our salvation. They are the response of someone who has been born again. And you cannot have true faith without true repentance. They are inextricably linked together.

Marc Roby: And why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because true conversion is the result of regeneration, which causes us to see that our own best works are like filthy rags in God’s sight. It causes us to realize that we can do nothing to save ourselves and that we have offended the holy God. We see our own sin as odious and we see Christ as glorious and wonderful and we naturally turn away from our sin with great disgust and turn to Christ in joyful, loving faith. We cannot turn to Christ and lay hold of him as Savior without simultaneously letting go of our sin and turning from it. It is an impossibility. In 1 John 3:9 we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

Marc Roby: I look forward to your completing that biblical case to support the contention that repentance and faith are linked together, but we don’t have much time left for today, so this is a good place to stop. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 87

[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 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 1.1.1 (pg. 4)

[4] James Boice, The Parables of Jesus, Moddy Press, 1983, pp 83-91

[5] E.g., see Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 404, or Walter 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

[6] Murray, op. cit., pg. 30

[7] Boice, op. cit., pg. 90

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. In our session last week we were discussing regeneration, or new birth, and we made the points that it is a sovereign, monergistic, irresistible work of God. He causes us to realize that we are sinners in need of salvation and then enables us to respond to the gospel offer with repentance and faith. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to say a little more about the idea we introduced at the end of our previous session; namely, that the Puritans referred to the Word of God as the instrumental cause of regeneration. We had discussed at length the fact that when Christ told Nicodemus you must be born of water and the Spirit, the water referred to purification, and the Word of God is used by the Spirit to bring purification. It teaches us that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Marc Roby: And what else do you want to say about that now?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if you think about this for a few minutes you will realize that this view is inconsistent with the definition we have been using for regeneration. I noted before that we don’t want to get hung up on terminology, but we have been viewing regeneration, as many modern theologians do, as an instantaneous and immediate work of God in the heart of man, which makes him a new creation. John Murray clearly states how this definition is inconsistent with the Puritan view. He wrote, “If regeneration is an immediate act of creative power it cannot be said to be wrought through the instrumentality of the Word of God in the sense of the gospel.”[1] And this is because the Word of God is addressed to our minds, but if regeneration is an immediate work of God, our minds have nothing to do with it. It is something God does to us.

Marc Roby: How then does Murray explain the Scriptures we examined; for example, 1 Peter 1:23, which says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: The answer is actually quite simple. Murray points out that, “It must be that regeneration is used in two distinct senses in the New Testament: (1) in the restricted sense of recreative action on the part of God in which there is no intrusion in contribution of agency on our part; (2) in a more inclusive sense, that is to say, a sense broad enough to include the saving response and activity of our consciousness, a saving activity which is always through the Word of the truth of the gospel. In this sense it is virtually synonymous with the word conversion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term conversion refers to repentance and faith, which is the response of a born-again person to the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I had mentioned in Session 149 that theologians used to think of the effectual call and regeneration as synonymous, or they thought of regeneration as part of the effectual call. When we speak about the Word of God being an instrumental cause, we are, I think speaking about what should more properly be termed the effectual call, rather than regeneration itself.

The important thing to realize here is that when you look at the Biblical data, things are sometimes combined. It is difficult to completely separate out at all times God’s calling, regeneration and our response in repentance and faith, or conversion. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential to recognize the miraculous and gracious work that God must do to give us new hearts and enable us to respond to the gospel call. Without that monergistic, sovereign work of God, our response is guaranteed to be a rejection of God’s offer and a suppression of the truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul makes this very clear in Romans Chapters 1 through 3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. The bottom line is that the exact means by which God brings about our new birth is not explained to us and I suspect we wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway. It is not a metaphysical change, in other words, it is not a change to the nature of our being. The fall didn’t change the essence of man’s being, he is still a rational and moral creature made in the image of God.[4] Rather, sin brought about an ethical change; man became an enemy of God.

Marc Roby: And so, regeneration is also an ethical change, which is why the Bible speaks about God giving us a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. There is no physical measurement that you could make to determine whether or not someone has been born again. God’s ways are often inscrutable. But there is value in recognizing that, whatever terminology we use, God draws us to himself, which almost always involves both particular circumstances in our lives and our hearing the gospel, and then God also regenerates us, which enables us to respond positively to this gospel call in repentance and faith. The details of this process vary from person to person, but in every single case three elements are included: first, the presentation of the gospel message; second, God’s sovereign, monergistic work of regeneration; and third, the voluntary response of the person in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: Very well. What else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: I want to emphasize what a radical change regeneration brings about. This is especially important today because so many churches have watered down what it means to be a Christian and are leading people on the broad way to hell by telling them that they are saved when they aren’t.

Marc Roby: We’ve read the frightening warning that Jesus Christ gives us in Matthew 7 before. In Verses 21 through 23 he said, “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a terrifying warning, and it is meant to be. If you think about the situation from Satan’s perspective for moment …

Marc Roby: Now wait a minute, that doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to think like Satan does.

Dr. Spencer: True enough, but we need to understand our enemy in order to defeat him. In any event, if you think about this from Satan’s perspective, you realize that the place he would most like to see people is sitting in the pews of a church every Sunday morning, believing in their hearts that they are worshipping God and on their way to heaven, when in fact they are on the broad way that leads straight to hell.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. That would make Satan’s job very easy. Thinking you are already saved is a great inoculation against hearing the gospel call.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And Paul warned the church in Corinth about false preachers. They had infiltrated the church after Paul established it and in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 he writes about these false ministers. He says, “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

We have to realize that false teaching does not usually come in a form that makes it blatantly obvious. False preachers are very often smooth, they speak well, they smile, they appear to be kind and loving, they quote the Bible and have degrees and, as we read in the passage from Matthew 7, they may even appear to prophecy, to drive out demons and to perform miracles in the name of Jesus.

Marc Roby: And so how are people to recognize these false preachers?

Dr. Spencer: By knowing the Word of God and recognizing that these false teachers are perverting it. You learn how to detect counterfeit money, in part, by becoming intimately familiar with the genuine article and the same is true for false teaching about God. You must know the truth in order to recognize error.

And by far the most common perversion of the gospel in our day and age is a so-called seeker friendly easy believism.  It is a different gospel that says you can have Jesus Christ as your Savior without his being your Lord. It tells you that if you just admit you are sinner and pray a prayer you will be saved, and you don’t have to forsake your sins. You don’t have to do battle with your old nature. It says that obedience is optional. It says that you simply decide to accept Jesus. This is sometimes called decisional salvation.

But think about that carefully for a moment. If every person is able to simply decide whether or not to accept Jesus, then there is no internal change necessary and without radical internal change, no radical change in behavior is possible. There may be some self-generated moral reformation, but nothing radical. We will not be new creations. We will not be obedient. We will not be fundamentally any different than the world and we will be rejected by Christ.

Marc Roby: We must admit however, that we do have to make a decision in order to become a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well of course we do. But it is a decision which an unbeliever cannot make until and unless God has regenerated him. As Christ said in John 3:3 and 5, you must be born again to see or enter the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 2:1-5 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 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.”

Now, listen to that politically-incorrect language! We were all by nature objects of wrath, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature. We were dead in our transgressions and sins. But then, praise God, listen to the language of the true gospel message. God, because of his great love for us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead! No dead person ever decides to follow the true and living God, he must be made alive first.

Marc Roby: You were certainly right to call Paul’s language politically incorrect.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is, but it is the truth. And we need to see how radical regeneration is. Regenerate people have been given a new heart and a new Spirit as we read in Ezekiel 36:26, they have gone from being dead to being alive as we just saw in Ephesians 2, they have come from darkness to light Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8, and they have been translated from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God as we can see from Ephesians 2:2 combined with Colossians 1:13, they are new creations Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

New birth is not a result of some decision that we make, it is something done to us by God and is the cause of a radical and pervasive change in our being, which is nothing less than a new creation. And then the first work of obedience done by that new creation is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For 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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you included Verse 10 because many people leave it out. They like to hear that we are saved through faith and not by works because they think that means all they have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer. But Verse 10 makes it clear that that isn’t the case. We are God’s workmanship, in other words he has done a mighty work of transformation in all true Christians, and we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works! If we don’t have any good works, we are not God’s workmanship and we have not been born again. Our good works do not in any way earn our salvation, but if we don’t have any, then we have not been born again and any claim we make to being Christians is simply not true. We will be like the people in Matthew 7, saying “Lord, Lord” only to hear Jesus tell us to depart because he never knew us.

Marc Roby: Of course many liberal churches do help with feeding the poor and so on and they would point to those as good works.

Dr. Spencer: And those certainly can be good works. But they can also be done with wrong motives, arrogantly thinking that I am doing something wonderful and earning some reward from God, or simply being focused on being a “good person” and “making this world a better place” rather than living for the glory of God. Good works begin in the heart, by recognizing our need to put our sins to death and recognizing the Creator/creature distinction; we are just creatures, wholly dependent on God. Truly good works must be done for God’s glory, whether we are helping feed the poor or just doing our normal jobs.

Good works require complete submission to the will of God. That means living in accordance with his Word. And his Word says that we are to work six days a week, that we are to honor the Sabbath, that we are to be honest and hard working, that we should not be in debt, that sex is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, that we shouldn’t get drunk and so on.

Marc Roby: To some that sounds like a lot of rules.

Dr. Spencer: Well, people often try to dismiss any mention of holy living as mere rule keeping, or even call it being legalistic. But they should read the sermon on the mount. It was Jesus Christ himself who said, in Matthew 5:20, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And he went on to say, in Verse 22, that “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” And then, in Verse 28 he said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And in Verse 32 we read that Jesus said, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” And he goes on and on.

You can view this as just a set of rules if you like, but Jesus is explaining the true meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are still applicable to Christians. They are a summary of God’s unchanging holy law and a transcript of his unchanging character. And we are told many times in the New Testament that if we love God we will obey his commands.

Marc Roby: That’s not a popular idea today.

Dr. Spencer: And that’s why it is so important for us to bring it up! Jesus said, in Luke 16:15, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” We must abide by God’s standards, not the standards of this world. And God’s standards are very, very different than those of the world we live in.

New birth brings us into God’s kingdom and gives us an entirely new set of priorities. We are given an eternal perspective so that we are not looking for a reward in this life. In fact, we know that we will have serious troubles in this life.

Marc Roby: Jesus said, as we read in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And Paul wrote in Philippians 1:29, “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, talk about something that is unpopular! The true gospel promises us trouble in this life, but a great reward in the next. The health, wealth and prosperity movement, also called the Word of Faith movement, is a wicked sham. Jesus does care for all of his people and he does want what is best for them, but he wants what is truly best for them now and eternally, not what is most pleasurable in this short life. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” And, in 1 Peter 4:13 he told us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He also wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: Now that is not the message that the Word of Faith preachers deliver.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. They deliver a message of “hope” for pleasure in this life, but it is an empty, false hope even for this life and it is an eternal death sentence. Regenerate people want to know and do God’s will for his glory. And when you look to Christ you see the supreme example of what that can mean in this life. As he prayed the night before his crucifixion, we read in Matthew 26:39 that he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And we know what the Father’s will was. It was for Jesus to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the full on the cross, bearing the penalty that we deserved, so that we might be saved.

And while none of us are called to suffer as Christ did, we do nonetheless have many trials and troubles in this life. We trust, as Jesus did, that there is a good purpose in them, that they will all redound to God’s greater glory and that they cannot be compared with the great glory and joy that will be ours throughout eternity if we persevere to the end of this life.

Marc Roby: And all true Christians look forward to that eternal glory.  Are we done with the topic of regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: We are for now, but I’d like to close with one more quote from Murray. He wrote, “If it were not the case that in regeneration we are passive, the subjects of an action of which God alone is the agent, there would be no gospel at all. For unless God by sovereign, operative grace had turned our enmity to love and our disbelief to faith we would never yield the response of faith and love.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a perfect place to end for today.  So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 196

[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] Murray, op. cit., pg. 197

[4] E.g., see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed, P&R Publishing, 2008, pg. 289

[5] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 100

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