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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. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and in our last session we addressed the objection raised by some that this doctrine prevents the gospel from being an honest offer of salvation for everyone. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at another objection brought against the doctrine of limited atonement. Arminians and others will insist that we must affirm th at natural man has free will in the sense of being able to accept or reject God’s offer. This is really the same objection, just expressed from a different perspective, but it is worth discussing because the different perspective leads the discussion in a slightly different direction.

Marc Roby: Our discussion last week centered on showing that we can be justly held accountable for decisions we make even though those decisions are, at least in part, a result of our own nature, which is not something we ourselves chose or caused.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good short summary. And the core issue was whether or not our ability limits our responsibility. And that is again the core issue in saying that we must affirm man’s free will but, as I said, the free will perspective leads us in a slightly different direction.

To be precise, the objection assumes that it is unfair of God to judge someone for not responding to the gospel in repentance and faith unless the person is able to do so. In its most extreme form people are viewed as having what is called libertarian free will, which means that their decisions are entirely uncaused. Not only are they not controlled by God, but they are also not controlled by our nature, in other words our desires. They are absolutely free.

Marc Roby: We discussed this topic before and you pointed out, in Session 84, that this view of human free will is really illogical. Unless our decisions are just random events, there must be some reason why we choose one thing as opposed to another.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. And not only that, but if our choices were completely uncaused, how could we be held morally accountable for them? They would really just be random events, there wouldn’t be any intention, good or bad, behind them. In a very real sense, we would not be responsible for our choices. In fact, I don’t think you could legitimately call them choices, they would just be events that occurred, and events that involve us but are not deliberately chosen by us. So, far from ensuring that we can be justly held accountable for rejecting the gospel, the idea of libertarian free will destroys human accountability.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting point.

Dr. Spencer: The theologian John Frame makes essentially the same argument. He has a very good short discussion of free will in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord. He wrote that “if human action were completely uncaused, divorced from our character and desires, it would be a random accident, not a responsible choice. … So, in my judgment libertarian freedom is not the ground of moral responsibility; indeed, it destroys moral responsibility.”[1]

Instead of libertarian free will Frame argues in favor of what is called compatibilist freedom. As the name implies, this is a kind of freedom that is compatible with divine sovereignty. It is also, I would say, a freedom that is compatible with reason and experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, can you explain what this freedom is?

Dr. Spencer: It is the freedom to do what you want to do, within the obvious limits of what is physically possible of course. This is more or less what Jonathan Edwards had in mind in his treatise on free will, which we also discussed in Session 84. In this view, my desires and my logical thinking about consequences and so forth all come into play in my decision making, and when all the factors are considered, I do that which I most want to do.

This freedom is logically compatible with God’s sovereignty because my decisions are not random and God, with his perfect exhaustive knowledge of me and all of my circumstances, can predict with absolute certainty what I will freely do. He can then also change my circumstances or put thoughts in my mind as needed to bring about exactly the end he so desires. But in no case does the Bible teach that God forces me to do anything, I do have compatibilist freedom.

Marc Roby: Very well. Do you have anything more you want to say on the topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The topic is so important that I want look at it in a slightly different way. And John Frame has a more in-depth treatment of human responsibility and freedom in Chapter 8 of his book The Doctrine of God and I think he makes a helpful distinction there between two different uses of the word responsibility.[2]

Marc Roby: What two uses are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we sometimes use the word responsibility to refer to accountability, and sometimes to refer to liability. Accountability assumes that there is an authority who is going to judge us and hold us accountable, while liability has to do with our incurring a debt of some sort because of the actual results of our actions. But the results of our actions can depend on things outside of our control and we are not, therefore, always fully liable for them. So, for example, if I am in a traffic accident, I am accountable for my own actions, but if wrong actions by others contribute to the accident making it much worse than it would otherwise have been, I am not fully liable for all of the damages.

Marc Roby: How does that distinction apply to the issue of human freedom?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, we are fully responsible, in the sense of being accountable, for our actions. God is the ultimate judge of all and will hold everyone accountable. We are even responsible for our moral nature. Frame correctly says that “We are responsible for what we are. We did not individually make ourselves evil by nature, but we are responsible for that evil anyway. Our inheritance from Adam is not the result of our individual choice, but we must bear the guilt of it.”[3]

Marc Roby: I agree that that is the biblical teaching, but it is still hard for people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it definitely is hard for us to accept, but it is true. Therefore, if we are Christians, we must embrace it as the truth. And as we’ve noted before, none of us would have done any better than Adam did anyway. God chose the perfect representative. Therefore, there is nothing unfair about it.

In fact, to give a silly example, but one that helps to illustrate the point, imagine some perverse dictator who decides to have a one-on-one basketball game to determine whether or not I get to go on living. I’m much better off if Lebron James plays for me than I would be if I play for myself. Similarly, I think it is safe to assume that Adam was a better representative than I would have been.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a silly, but nonetheless interesting, illustration. And so we are responsible for our actions in the sense of being accountable, even if those actions are determined by our inherited nature. But what about responsibility in the sense of liability? How does that fit into the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Frame points out correctly that it is biblical to say that ability may, to some extent, limit responsibility in terms of liability. Let me give a biblical example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: After God gave his people the Ten Commandments, he had Moses give them a number of specific examples for how to apply those commandments. For example, in Exodus 22:2-3 we read that “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” [4]

Marc Roby: The second half of that statement makes it obvious that in the first case, it is assumed that the thief broke into the home during the night. And it would seem that this specific application takes into account the fact that I am more capable of a measured response in the daytime than I would be at night.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly the case, yes. If someone breaks in at night you can’t see as well and may have been awakened out of your sleep and not know if the person is just trying to steal something or is a danger to your person or your family, whereas in the daytime you are better able to properly assess the danger to yourself and your family and to respond in a less drastic way. So, the Bible recognizes that while I am accountable for my actions in both scenarios, I am not equally liable for the results of my actions at night because I am not as capable of properly assessing and responding to the situation.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting example.

Dr. Spencer: And let me give just one more, this time from the New Testament. In Luke 12 Jesus told us about two different servants. In Verses 47-48 we read that he said, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Marc Roby: That short parable makes a clear point that being given more knowledge or ability or whatever increases our responsibility.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in terms of our liability, but not in terms of our accountability. Notice that both servants were punished, so both were held accountable. But the one with greater knowledge was punished more severely. His liability was greater because his knowledge was greater.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how does this apply specifically to the case of limited atonement?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, without God, there would be no ultimate accountability at all. Therefore, Frame wrote that “Without God’s control over the universe, there could be no human responsibility.”[5] And he was specifically speaking about responsibility in the sense of accountability in that passage.

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. The whole concept of accountability requires that there be someone to whom we are accountable. But what about liability?

Dr. Spencer: Well, when it comes to liability, I think it is clear biblically that people will be judged differently based on how much revelation they have received. For example, in Hebrews 10:26-29 we read that “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Marc Roby: That should be terrifying to anyone who has been a member of a good church and then walked away from the faith.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it should be. And it isn’t the most terrifying passage in that regard. In Hebrews 6:4-6 we read, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Marc Roby: You’re right. That’s even more frightening. And praise God that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. We also have the parable of the prodigal son to give us hope for those we know who have walked away from the faith. But the point is still powerfully made that the greater our knowledge and experience of the truth, the greater our liability is for rejecting it.

Marc Roby: That is clear. I can also think of another clear verse about our knowledge or ability influencing our liability before God. James warned his readers, in James 3:1, that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is not one of my favorite verses, but it does make the point. And tying this all back into the doctrine of limited atonement, I am confident that those who have never heard the gospel will be punished less severely than those who have heard and rejected it. They will still be punished for not seeking God however. We read in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” But it is still true that the punishment of those with greater revelation will be worse.

Marc Roby: And so God is not unfair in judging all men, independent of whether or not they have heard the gospel message.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God is not unfair to anyone. He treats some people with perfect justice and he treats his elect with mercy. But no one is treated unjustly.

Marc Roby: That’s a very important point.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And so, to wrap up what I want to say about the doctrine of limited atonement, let me simply point out that those who oppose this doctrine don’t do so on the basis of biblical exegesis. Rather, they oppose it because their human reason concludes that it is somehow unfair. Then they try to find biblical support for the position. But, as we saw in our previous sessions on this topic, the supposed support they cite is very weak and is equally compatible with the Reformed doctrine. The biblical position is actually clear if you do not allow yourself to sit in judgment over the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of Paul’s response to man’s objection that God’s electing some people to salvation is unfair. In Romans 9:19 Paul states the objection by writing “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” In other words, how can you blame me for not repenting and believing if I am unable to do so because of my sinful nature? And he then Paul gives us God’s response in Verse 20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’”

Dr. Spencer: That is the most definitive answer given to us on this topic. Paul would never have had to ask and answer that question if he had been teaching something other than the doctrine of limited atonement.

Marc Roby: We are just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add to the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord John Frame wrote that “The fundamental point here is not the limited extent of the atonement, though that is a biblical teaching. The fundamental point is the efficacy of the atonement.”[6] In other words, the most important issue biblically is that we uphold the truth that God saves his people. He does not just make salvation possible and leave it up to us, he saves us. We were dead in transgressions and sins as we read in Ephesians 2:1 and God made us alive with Christ as it says in Ephesians 2:5.

John Murray wrote that “when we examine the Scripture we find that the glory of the cross of Christ is bound up with the effectiveness of its accomplishment. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood, he gave himself a ransom that he might deliver us from all iniquity. The atonement is efficacious substitution.”[7] Jesus Christ’s sacrifice actually accomplished our salvation, it did not just make it possible for us to be saved.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion. Now let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’ll do our best to answer you.

[1] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 96

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 120

[4] 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.™.

[5] Ibid, pg. 125

[6] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 153

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 75

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And how does Murray define atonement?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What point is that?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Very well, please continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of our depraved sinful natures, we are incapable of saving ourselves. Jesus Christ came to save his people and it is only in union with him that we can be saved. As we read in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: And the fact that God chose us in Christ shows that God this plan of salvation in mind from all eternity. It is not something he came up with because things didn’t work out the way he had planned.

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

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

Marc Roby: Ephesians 2:10 famously says that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And I look forward to doing that, but we are out of time for today, so we’ll have to pick this up next time. Before we sign off, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

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

[2] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Pub., 1993, pg. 134

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

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pg. 21

[6] Ibid, pg. 22

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Ephesians 2:1-2 the apostle Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Which I very much look forward to doing, but we are out of time for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will be sure to respond.

 

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Last time we established that Jesus Christ was fully human and that he overcame every temptation in his humanity, strengthened by the same Holy Spirit power that is available to all believers, which is a serious challenge to us all to not sin. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at why it is theologically important that Jesus be fully human. As we noted in Session 113, the apostle wrote in 1 John 4:2-3 that “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” [1] So, to deny the full humanity of Jesus is to give place to the spirit of the antichrist.

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly emphasizes the importance of the topic.

Dr. Spencer: It does, yes. And in examining this topic, I am going to again follow fairly closely the presentation in Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology. He notes that there are “several reasons why Jesus had to be fully man if he was going to be the Messiah and earn our salvation.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, before you proceed, perhaps we should remind our listeners that the Hebrew word Messiah simply means anointed and refers to the Savior promised in the Old Testament. The Greek word Χριστός (Christos), which also means anointed, is the source of our English word Christ. Jesus is the anointed one.

Dr. Spencer: Well, we haven’t said that in quite a while and not everyone knows it, so it is a timely reminder.

But getting back to why the Messiah, or the Christ, had to be fully man in order to earn our salvation, the first reason Grudem lists is that he had to be man in order to be our representative before God as he fully obeyed God’s laws.

Remember that Adam was God’s appointed representative for the entire human race, which theologians call our federal head, as we discussed at some length in Session 76. Therefore, because he was our representative, when he fell he brought the whole race into what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls “an estate of sin and misery.”[3]

Marc Roby: And so Jesus Christ had to be fully man in order to be a new representative, or federal head, to redeem his people from the estate of sin and misery.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. The apostle Paul explains this in his letter to the Romans and also mentions it in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In Romans 5:18-19 we read, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul speaks about “the obedience of the one man” he is clearly referring to Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is absolutely clear if you read the whole passage. I don’t want to repeat what we said in Session 76 so anyone who is interested can go look at that, but every human being is either represented by Adam or by Jesus Christ. All human beings are initially represented by Adam by virtue of being his descendants. As a result, we inherit his sinful nature and the guilt of his sin. In addition, of course, we heap up more guilt for our own sins and, if we die in Adam, meaning that we are still represented by him, we will go to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: Praise God that through Jesus Christ he has provided another option!

Dr. Spencer: And it is a most blessed and gracious option. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:9, “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.” In other words, if we repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are united to him by faith and he becomes our representative instead of Adam. The biblical language is that we are then “in Christ”.

Marc Roby: And if we are in Christ, he is in us! Jesus told us in John 14:20 that “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” What an awesome and incomprehensible truth that is. God is in us! I don’t understand it, but I rejoice that it is true.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of that blessing. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul tells us, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” But we must remember the first rule of hermeneutics and interpret this verse in the light of the entire Bible; “all” does not mean each and every person without exception. It means all of a particular class. The very next verse, 1 Corinthians 15:23, says “But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” In other words, Christ will be raised from the dead first, which is what we commemorate on Easter Sunday, but when he comes again, “those who belong to him” will also be raised from the dead, which is referring to the resurrection of our bodies. And the fact that Paul uses the limiting clause “those who belong to him” tells us clearly that he isn’t referring to every single human being.

Marc Roby: Well, this might be a good time for to summarize what we’ve said so far. We’ve noted that every human being is represented by either Adam or Jesus Christ, which we had discussed at much greater length in Session 76. Everyone is initially united to Adam by virtue of being a human being, and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are then united to him by that faith and he then becomes their representative.

Dr. Spencer: Which explains why Jesus had to be a man. It is God’s will that we be represented by a man and Adam and Jesus Christ are the only two options available. There is no third way. And, if we are represented by Christ, he took our sins upon himself and paid the penalty for them on the cross and in return we are given his perfect righteousness, which make us fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: I’d say that that is the most amazing and one-sided transaction imaginable. We give up our filthy sins, guilt and shame, which deserve hell, and receive Christ’s perfect righteousness, which deserves heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, theologians call this the double transaction or double imputation. Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “God made him” which refers to Jesus Christ, “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is truly marvelous. Why else did Jesus have to be fully man?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason Grudem gives is that Jesus needed to be man to be a substitute sacrifice for us. After all, God cannot die. In speaking about Christ, the writer of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 2:14, that “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil”. And in Verse 17 of that chapter we read, “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Marc Roby: I feel compelled to point out that that word “atonement” there is an interpretation, rather than a translation of the Greek word in this verse. It should say “propitiation”, not “atonement”.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and other translations do a better job on this verse. We will get to that in a later session, but for now I want to stick to the question of why Jesus had to be a true man.

Marc Roby: Okay, what is the third reason Grudem lists?

Dr. Spencer: He notes that Jesus had to be both God and man in order to be the only mediator between God and man. We read in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.

Marc Roby: Now it’s sad when you think about Adam and Eve before the fall. They didn’t need a mediator. They had direct fellowship and communion with God. But they lost that privilege because of their sin.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is terrible, but praise God for his mercy. He restores us to fellowship with him in Jesus Christ.

And the fourth reason Grudem gives that Jesus had to be real man is to fulfill God’s original purpose for man to rule over the rest of creation. God’s original purpose was expressed in Genesis 1:26 where we read that God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” But because man sinned, he doesn’t rule properly.

Marc Roby: Yes, and, as a result, Jesus had to come and clean up our mess so to speak.

Dr. Spencer: I guess that’s one way of putting it. In 1Corinthians 15:24-25 the apostle Paul wrote that the end will come when Christ “hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” And to reign, of course, means to rule.

Marc Roby: And the amazing truth is that we will reign with him. We read in 2 Timothy 2:12 that “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s an incredible promise. And that brings us to the fifth reason Grudem gives for Jesus being a man. He must be a true man in order to be our example for how to properly live. We are told 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.” And in 1 Peter 2:21 the apostle tell us, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Marc Roby: I don’t think that many people like the idea of following in Jesus’ steps in terms of suffering.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I don’t know anyone who likes suffering. But Jesus himself told us in Matthew 16:24 that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To understand this verse you need to know that the Romans usually made a condemned criminal carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. So, to deny ourselves and take up our cross is a clear reference to dying.

Marc Roby: We need to remember that death is not the end of existence. The real meaning of death is separation, as we discussed in Session 104. In Colossians 3:5 Paul commands us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature”.  Instead, in Ephesians 4:24, he tells us we are to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s an important point because most people, even many professing Christians, think of death as the cessation of existence. But, if that were true, then it would make no sense to say, as Paul does in Ephesians 2:1-2, that a person could be dead in his transgressions and sins, in which he used to live. As always, we need the biblical worldview to properly understand the Bible and the world we live in.

But, getting back to Grudem’s point. Jesus Christ is to be our example. We are not to do everything he did of course, some of the things he did and said were only proper for God to do or say. But the way he lived, in perfect obedience to the commands of God, is to be our example.

Marc Roby: Probably the most famous verses to make that point are in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews Chapter 11 is often called the hall of fame of faith and it lists a number of biblical examples of people who lived faithful lives. And then, in Hebrews 12:1-2, we are told, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great encouragement. We have many godly men and women throughout history and even at the present time to whom we can look as examples of living godly Christian lives. But our ultimate example is Jesus Christ himself. And the ultimate picture of his faithfulness was that he was willing to take our sins upon himself and endure the wrath of God on our behalf.

Marc Roby: That is obviously an example that none of us ever live up to.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s for sure. But let’s quickly finish listing Grudem’s reasons why Jesus had to be a man. The next one he gives is that Jesus had to be a man in order to be what the Bible calls the firstborn from the dead and the pattern for our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: You read Romans 8:29 a few minutes ago, which says that Christ is to be the “firstborn among many brothers”. But we also read in Colossians 1:18 that Christ “is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Dr. Spencer: And in speaking of our physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:42 the apostle Paul wrote that “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable”. And then, in Verse 49, he says that “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man,” which refers to Adam, “so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Which, of course, refers to Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And in Philippians 3:20-21 Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great passage. And it brings us to the final reason Grudem gives for Jesus needing to be a man. And this one is a bit difficult to grasp. As God, Jesus knows everything, including exactly how we feel and what we think. He knows all of our temptations, fears and trials perfectly. And yet, in Hebrews 4:14-15 we are told that “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Marc Roby: And so, we are being told that by actually experiencing temptation himself, Jesus is better able to sympathize with us. I see the problem, it would appear that he learned something.

Dr. Spencer: I think this falls into the category of things that we can’t fully comprehend. But we are told in Hebrews 2:18 that because Christ “himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” So, we must accept it as true even if we can’t fully understand it. I do think it is a marvelous example of God’s love for his people. Jesus suffered in this life for a number of different reasons, but among them is that he is better able to sympathize with us when we are tempted.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is an amazing fact to meditate on. And a great place to end for today, so let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to answer.

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg 540

[3] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? Answer: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, I think we finished discussing total depravity last time, what else needs to be said about the nature of man?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to wrap-up our discussion of anthropology by discussing a very important controversy in the church, both historically and at present. And I’d like to begin that discussion by noting that one of the distinguishing marks of true biblical Christianity is that it is theocentric, that is God-centered, not anthropocentric, or man-centered. This emphasis is extremely important in every area of theology, including anthropology.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: If you have an anthropocentric view, your focus by definition is on man, which produces a strong tendency to distort a number of important doctrines and also has a significant impact on how we worship God. With regard to anthropology, an anthropocentric view often leads to thinking that man’s free will is far more important and far freer than it really is.

Marc Roby: Can you explain how that affects some of the doctrines we’ve discussed?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Consider the doctrine of total depravity. Remember that total depravity declares that there is no part of our nature that is unaffected by sin. We are born spiritually dead and must therefore be born again before we are able to repent, believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.

If you have an anthropocentric view of Christianity, you are virtually certain to object to this doctrine in spite of the fact that it is clearly biblical. You will instead demand that it is unfair to require of men anything that they are incapable of doing. This is the core of the Pelagian controversy.

Marc Roby: And for those listeners who don’t know, Pelagius was a British monk who lived from 360 to 418 AD and he denied the doctrine of total depravity. He was strongly opposed by St. Augustine.

Dr. Spencer: And this controversy continues in the church today. The vast majority of professing Christians are, whether they know it or not, Pelagian or semi-Pelagian in their theology. Many, if not most, are unaware of this because the underlying assumption often goes unstated and almost always goes unchallenged.

Charles Hodge states the fundamental assumption made by Pelagius very clearly. He writes that “the primary assumption [is] that ability limits obligation; that a man can be neither praised nor blamed, neither rewarded nor condemned, except for his own acts and self-acquired character”.[1]

Marc Roby: The key statement there is that ability limits obligation. In other words, Pelagius assumed that it is improper or unfair to require something of me that I am unable to do.

Dr. Spencer: That is the key idea. And I think we have to admit that the idea sounds quite reasonable at first. But let me unpack the assumption, as stated by Hodge, a bit more and then we will see why it is wrong. First, Hodge goes on to say that in the view of Pelagius, we can’t be praised or blamed, rewarded or condemned except for our own actions and our “self-acquired character.”

Marc Roby: Now, we probably want to explain what “self-acquired character” refers to.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. He is, essentially, referring to habits formed by a consistent pattern of actions. So, for example, if someone steals something, that is a sin and that act can be justly condemned. If the person steals repeatedly, it will form a self-acquired character; that is, a predisposition to stealing, and that inward character can then also be justly condemned.

But Pelagius denied that I can be justly held accountable for any part of my character that is innate, that is not the result of my own actions. He did not think that people are born with a good or a bad nature. And this included Adam. Pelagius denied that he was created righteous in his nature. He was neutral, according to Pelagius, and would become either righteous or sinful based on his own actions.[2]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted, on the face of it, it sounds reasonable to say that we should only be judged based on our own actions.

Dr. Spencer: But there are serious problems with that view. First of all, as we noted when discussing free will before, especially in Session 84, our will always chooses the action that is most desirable to us at the time when all things are taken into account. If we were ever truly neutral, we would not be able to make any decisions. But, in fact, we do have an internal nature that inclines us in one direction or another.

Marc Roby: But, as you pointed out by the example of stealing, that nature could possibly be self-acquired out of habit.

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps, but we must then ask, “Why did we ever steal the first time?”

Marc Roby: Well, it could have just been an impulse, like a child stealing a candy bar. It might not have been something that was thought through.

Dr. Spencer: That’s possible. But if our character was such that we thought stealing was wrong, we would then feel guilt after that impulse action and we would not be very likely to do it again, let alone do it enough times for it to become a habit. Do you see the problem? For it to become a habit, there already had to be something in our character that approved of stealing, otherwise we would not have done it repeatedly.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: Hodge makes a number of arguments to show that this assumption made by Pelagius was wrong. The assumption being that our ability limits our obligation and we therefore can’t be justly judged for our character unless that character is the result of our own free actions. His first reason is that this notion is opposed by our own consciousness. He points out that “we hold ourselves responsible not only for the deliberate acts of the will, that is, for acts of deliberate self-determination, which suppose both knowledge and volition, but also for emotional, impulsive acts, which precede all deliberation; and not only for such impulsive acts, but also for the principles, dispositions, or immanent states of the mind, by which its acts whether impulsive or deliberate, are determined.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s quite a mouthful. But I think this is the same point we just made with the example of stealing something on an impulse. We hold ourselves accountable for such actions even if they were not planned. And, in fact, as he says, we hold ourselves accountable for the “states of the mind” which produce such actions.

Dr. Spencer: And I think his point is a very important one. Because we hold ourselves accountable in this way, we are testifying that we believe there is a culpable moral character to the inner nature from which our acts proceed. He correctly points out that “When we pronounce a man either good or bad, the judgment is not founded upon his acts, but upon his character as revealed by his acts.”

Marc Roby: And that agrees with what Jesus Christ himself said. He uses an agricultural metaphor and argues that you can tell a tree by its fruit. In Matthew 7:17-18 Jesus said, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” [4] And then, in Verse 20 he concluded, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Dr. Spencer: And, obviously, he was talking about knowing people, not trees. You know their inner nature by observing their actions. He also told us in Matthew 15:19 that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Which is saying the same thing. Our actions do not determine our inward nature, our inward nature determines our actions.

Marc Roby: OK, that is clearly true. What else does Hodge say about this?

Dr. Spencer: Well, consider the idea that it is only our outward actions, or the self-acquired nature they supposedly produce, that are worthy of judgment. Hodge points out that this idea is not only wrong, but the exact opposite is true.[5] For example, it is the universal judgment of men that if I give something to the poor solely for the purpose of making myself look good, that is not a noble or praise-worthy action. The outward act is, but my motive is not. So, when we make determinations like that, we also testify that the inward character is what is important, not just the outward act.

Marc Roby: I certainly agree with that, and I’m confident that our listeners will as well.

Dr. Spencer: And now let’s go back and put this all together. If my inner character is corrupt and that corruption makes it impossible for me to obey some good command, that does not in any way imply the command itself was wrong or unfair. My inability to obey the command is a result of my corrupt inner character and that itself is worthy of condemnation. So to say that my ability limits my obligation is simply not right. As plausible as that sounds at first, we can see that we know better.

Therefore, we can see that it is perfectly just for God to command people to repent and believe in Christ, which is a good and gracious command, even though people are naturally, as Paul put it in Ephesians 2:1, dead in their transgressions and sins and therefore incapable of obeying that command.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense, although the conclusion is still a bit hard for most people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: I understand and sympathize. But the conclusion is biblical and, therefore, true. And it is consistent with our own internal witness. When God judges a person for failing to repent and believe, it is a just judgment based on the person’s inner character, or heart. Their inability to obey the command to repent and believe is the result of the fact that they do not want to repent and believe because, as Paul says in Romans 5:10, they are enemies of God. This why Jesus told us, in John 3:18, that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: A very sobering statement. And I think we have now shown that it is not unfair of God to judge someone based on his disobedience even though he is not able to obey the command to repent and believe. But that seems to be only be half of the problem. I know that Pelagius also argued that it is unfair for me to be affected in any way by Adam’s sin. In other words, Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he was completely wrong in doing so, which is why he was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage in 418 AD. He denied the doctrine of original sin, which we must remember says that Adam acted as a representative for the human race and that his fall affected all of his progeny. Therefore, we inherit our sinful nature from Adam. In any event, Pelagius denied this doctrine based on the same assumption; that I can only be judged for my own actions. In other words, there is no possibility of my being represented by another.

But representation is the grand plan of the Bible! Adam was the representative for all people and Jesus Christ is the representative for everyone who will repent and trust in him. If it is unfair for me to be affected by Adam’s sin, then it is equally unfair for me to be saved because Christ paid the penalty my sins deserved and gave his righteousness to me.

Marc Roby: That would be a serious problem. Salvation would be impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. That assumption is fatal to true biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: And yet you said that most professing Christians today are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian.

Dr. Spencer: They are. And there are varying degrees of accepting the Pelagian idea, not all of which rise to the level of heresy. In other words, it is possible to be semi-Pelagian and be a true Christian. Although your walk and your witness would be better if your theology were better, meaning more in line with the Bible. Theology is important!

Marc Roby: And we should point out that the most common form of semi-Pelagianism today is Arminianism.

Dr. Spencer: And we need to define what we mean by Arminianism. Historically, this term refers to followers of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, whom we briefly mentioned in Session 108. His followers protested against some of the doctrinal positions of Calvin and his followers. Their objections were rejected by the Synod of Dort and the rejection was codified in the Canons of Dort, which is the origin of the five points of Calvinism represented by the acrostic TULIP, which stands for: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: And, so far, we have looked at the doctrine of total depravity and, along the way, have mentioned but not fully explored unconditional election.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into all of the differences between Calvinism, or reformed theology, and Arminianism at this point. But for now I’ll just say that an Arminian is semi-Pelagian in that he does not believe you must be born again before you can repent and believe. Rather, he would say that you repent, believe and are then born again. He would agree with Pelagius to the extent that God’s command to repent and believe must imply an ability in natural man to respond. In other words, he denies the biblical doctrine of total depravity.

Marc Roby: We must be clear that an Arminian can be a truly born-again Christian. Which raises an obvious question, why is this controversy important?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would say it is important for a number of reasons. A proper understanding of anthropology causes us to give greater glory and praise to God for saving us. We know that we were totally depraved and that God had to do a marvelous work of regeneration to enable us to repent and believe. All glory goes to God for his amazing grace in saving us. This is the result of a theocentric view of theology.

But, since an Arminian believes that his natural will is free enough to make a decision to put his faith in Christ without God first changing his nature, he deserves some credit for his own salvation. That robs glory from God that rightfully belongs to him and is the result of an anthropocentric view of theology.

Marc Roby: Now most Arminians will deny that they did anything deserving merit. They will say they are saved by grace and deserve no credit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but no matter what an Arminian may say about not doing anything to earn his salvation, the bottom line is that he did something, and that something is what made the critical difference. Look at it this way. Consider three young men in a college class together. And suppose one of them is a Christian and the other two are not. Then further suppose the Christian invites these two unbelievers to a church service. They both come and hear the same sermon. And one of them chooses to believe and the other does not. What made the difference? According to the Arminian, it wasn’t that God did something to the one and not the other, the difference was simply that one chose to believe and the other did not. So, at the end of day, salvation depends on man’s effort.

Marc Roby: I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: There is a story that is sometimes used as an illustration of salvation and it serves very nicely to show the difference between the Arminian position and the biblical position. An unbeliever is likened to a person who is in the middle of the ocean drowning, and the gospel is then likened to a life saver that someone throws to that person. All the drowning person has to do is grab ahold and be pulled to safety. That is the Arminian view of salvation. But notice that the drowning person had to grab ahold of the life saver and hold on. His effort was absolutely essential for his salvation.

The proper biblical understanding however is that an unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins. He isn’t merely drowning, he has already drowned. He is lying dead on the bottom of the ocean and God chooses to reach down, pull him up and give him new life.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration of the difference. I also think that the biblical position about new birth preceding repentance and faith is important in granting a believer a much greater degree of confidence in his ultimate salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, I completely agree. The biblical view affords a much greater confidence in the promises of God. If I have been born again, I am a new creation and I cannot return to the old. I can join with Paul in saying, as he wrote in Philippians 1:6, that I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Before I was born again I was not able to repent and believe, it would have been inconsistent with my unregenerate nature. But, having been born again, it would be inconsistent with my new regenerate nature to not repent and believe.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we must be careful to not be presumptuous about our being born again. Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important warning. Whether we are Arminian or Calvinist in our understanding, we must persevere in obedience or we have no basis for believing that we have been born again.

And with that I think we are done with all I want to say about biblical anthropology for now. There is certainly much more that could be said, but I want to move on and start looking at Christology.

Marc Roby: Very well, 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.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 107

[2] Ibid, pg. 106

[3] Ibid, pg. 107

[4] 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.™.

[5] Hodge, op. cit., pg. 109

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, you said in a previous session that there are three main components to the doctrine of sin: its cause, its nature, and its definition. We have finished discussing the cause and definition, but you said you wanted to return to examine the nature of sin. What more did you want to say?

Dr. Spencer: I want to talk more about the reformed doctrine of total depravity. We already noted that to say man is totally depraved does not mean he is as bad as he can possibly be. It simply means that there is no part of his being that is unaffected by sin. So, I noted that the doctrine might more properly be called pervasive depravity, but the term total depravity is so common and has such a long history that we’re not going to get away from it.

Marc Roby: And it also goes along with the well-known acrostic TULIP, which is meant to represent reformed theology in a nutshell. The ‘T’ in TULIP stands for total depravity.

Dr. Spencer: And now that you’ve brought up TULIP you need to say what the other letters stand for as well.

Marc Roby: All right, the ‘U’ stands for unconditional election; the ‘L’ stands for limited atonement; the ‘I’ stands for irresistible grace; and the ‘P’ stands for perseverance of the saints.

Dr. Spencer: And, God willing, we will get to all of those doctrines at the proper time. I should also point out that as with total depravity, one can argue that better terms exist for some of the other doctrines as well. But, far more importantly, these five doctrines do not fully define reformed theology. For example, they don’t mention the Creator/creature distinction, which is central to reformed theology.

Marc Roby: Yes, in fact, they came about in direct response to the challenge brought by a group of Dutch theologians, called the Remonstrants, in 1610. These theologians were followers of Jacobus Arminius, who died in 1609, and they summarized their disagreements with reformed doctrine in five points. These five points of contention were formally answered by the Canons of Dort and it is those five points that are summarized by that acronym TULIP.

Dr. Spencer: And all five of these points logically fit together, beginning with the T standing for total depravity. As I said, this means that there is no aspect of our being that is unaffected by sin. Our thinking, our emotions, our will, they are all affected. But the most important aspect with regard to our salvation is our will.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because the fundamental issue that has caused, and continues to cause, divisions in the church is the issue of how we can be saved. The disagreement is about what, if anything, man contributes to his justification. And we need to be careful now to be precise with our language. By justification we are referring to God’s verdict concerning man. In Psalm 130:3 the psalmist asks the rhetorical question, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” [1]

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer is, no one. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:9-12, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is our great problem. Because we inherit a sinful nature from our parents, we all sin. We are all rebellious. No one seeks God on his own. We are all guilty sinners. Any human being who stands before God to be judged on his own merits is doomed to be declared guilty. Paul summarizes this in Verse 20 of Romans 3, where we read, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

But, praise God, Paul goes on in the very next verse, Verse 21, to tell us, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Marc Roby: What a glorious verse that is! There is a righteousness from God, that is not based on our keeping his law, which has been made known to us and to which the Law and the Prophets, meaning the Old Testament, testifies.

Dr. Spencer: That verse gives us hope. We are guaranteed to be declared guilty if are judged based on our own law keeping. We are not righteous. But there is another righteousness available to us, a righteousness from God, which is not based on our keeping the law.

Marc Roby: The obvious question then becomes, “How do I obtain this righteousness from God?”

Dr. Spencer: That is the obvious question. And, as Paul wrote, the Old Testament testifies to this righteousness. We will see far more later when we discuss salvation in detail that the Old Testament documents a progressive revelation of the truth that God provides a substitute to pay the penalty for us and to provide us with this righteousness from God. For now, it will suffice to provide a very brief summary, which begins by noting that the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was meant to point God’s people to their need for a substitute.

Marc Roby: And, in the New Testament, that ultimate substitute is revealed to be Jesus Christ, who is called the Lamb of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the righteousness from God that Paul spoke of is, in fact, the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself. God requires perfection for us to come into his presence, and none of us is perfect. Jesus told us, in Matthew 5:48, to, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: Needing to be perfectly righteous is, to say the least, a serious problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: It is an insurmountable problem for us. But, as Jesus told us in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And our problem has two components to it. First, we need to have our sins paid for. We are guilty sinners and our guilt must be taken care of. And then, secondly, we need a positive righteousness to be able to come into God’s presence.

And God solves both of these problems in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect sacrifice, who pays for our sins; in other words, takes away our guilt. And then he is also the only perfectly righteous person who has ever lived and if he is our representative before God, we are counted righteous in him.

Marc Roby: In Session 106 we discussed the fact that Adam acted as the representative of the human race. We share in the guilt of his sin, and our being born with a sinful nature is part of our sharing in the punishment for his sin. But as you pointed out then, God’s using a representative is a great blessing because being represented by Jesus Christ is the only way anyone can be saved.

Dr. Spencer: There is no other way of salvation. And the fact that Christ took our sins upon himself and then gave us his righteousness is called the double transaction or double imputation by theologians. We spoke about this back in Session 73 when we examined the goodness of God. The classic verse to explain it is 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we read that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: Or, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s wonderful, isn’t it? I don’t think we can ever meditate too much on all that God has done for us. But God is holy and just, the supreme Judge of the universe, and as such he cannot simply wink at our sin. It must be paid for. Paul also wrote in Romans 3:25-26 that “God presented him [referring to Jesus Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In God’s great wisdom his plan preserves his nature as the perfectly just Judge of all and yet also allows him to display his infinite mercy in declaring guilty sinners to be just because we are united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: And John Murray correctly called our union with Christ “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: It is the central truth of salvation. Salvation is in Christ, which is an expression we see 89 times in the New Testament. For example, in Romans 6:11 Paul wrote, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And in Romans 8:1 he wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. But we are in danger of straying too far off topic again.

Marc Roby: And when we got into this topic of representation, we were starting to answer the question of how it is a man can obtain the righteousness from God that Paul speaks about in Romans 3:21.

Dr. Spencer: And the answer is that we must be united to Jesus Christ by faith. And with that answer in hand, we can now go back to our discussion of total depravity and see why I said that the fact our will is sinful is our most serious problem with regard to our salvation.

We must be united to Jesus Christ by faith in order to be saved, but because our will is sinful, we have no desire to believe in Jesus Christ and, therefore, will not believe. In fact, in speaking about us prior to our conversion, Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

Marc Roby: And an enemy of God has no desire to repent and place his trust in Jesus Christ, which is what it means to believe in him.

Dr. Spencer: That is the crux of the matter. The doctrine of total depravity, which is completely biblical, says that we will never choose to repent and believe in Jesus Christ of our own free will. We have a free will, no one is forcing us to do or think the things we do, but as we have discussed before, our will chooses that which we most desire at any given point in time. And being God’s enemies, we will never choose God.

Marc Roby: Which is why Jesus told us in John 6:44 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Dr. Spencer: And as I noted way back in Session 15, the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about some kind of gentle persuasion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. I don’t mean to imply that God forces us to believe against our will, he does not. But he must change our hearts first so that we desire to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Paul makes the same point by saying, as he does in Ephesians 2:1, that we were dead in our transgressions and sins before coming to faith.

Dr. Spencer: And, as we discussed in Session 104, by saying that we were dead Paul clearly does not mean that we had ceased to exist, or even that we had ceased to live in this world. He means that we were separated from God and his blessings. We were his enemies and incapable of responding to him in faith.

He uses this same imagery in Colossians 2:13 where he tells us, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

Marc Roby: Jesus himself used this same metaphor. He said, in John 5:24, that “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Dr. Spencer: Which is clearly speaking about spiritual death and spiritual life. If the person had truly been dead in the sense that word is usually used, he could not have heard Jesus’ words. And, if he had remained spiritually dead, he would not have believed. But, the person who has been born again hears and believes and has, therefore crossed over from death to life. Dead men do not believe.

Marc Roby: And it isn’t just Jesus and the apostle Paul who use this language. The apostle John wrote, in 1 John 3:14 that “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”

Dr. Spencer: And to reinforce the idea that spiritually dead men cannot do anything to save themselves, listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:6-8, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

So, the person who has not yet been born again is hostile to God, he not only doesn’t submit to God’s law, but he cannot submit to God’s law. It is an impossibility. And he cannot please God.

Marc Roby: And yet we read in Acts 17:30 that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Therefore, it logically follows from Romans 8 that a sinner cannot repent because he cannot submit to God’s law, which means he cannot obey God’s command.

Dr. Spencer: And also take note of what the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:21-23; “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Now, going back to the passage in Romans 8 again, if an unbeliever is incapable of obeying God and is incapable of pleasing him, he is also incapable of obeying the command to believe in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, that it is very clear. And, in fact, we are told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Therefore, the Bible is clear that an unbeliever can do nothing to please or obey God. Faith must come first.

Dr. Spencer: And it follows necessarily that saving faith is not something an unbeliever can exercise on his own initiative. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And in Verse 5 he went on to say, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Now, dead people don’t choose to be born. Dead people do nothing. The teaching of the New Testament is clear on this subject. We must be born again first, then we can repent and believe in Jesus Christ. That is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “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.”

Marc Roby: Therefore, the biblical view is that man is born dead in transgressions and sins and cannot save himself. He cannot do anything that pleases God because every aspect of his being is tainted by sin, which again is the reformed doctrine of total depravity. God must do a work in us before we can repent and believe in him, and that work is called being born again, or being regenerated.

Dr. Spencer: And that is also what the Old Testament tells us also. In Ezekiel 36:25-27 God is speaking and says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” God must cleanse us, give us new hearts, and move us or we will continue in our stubborn, sinful ways. We must be born again, which is a work that God alone can do. Only then will we repent and believe. And our faith will unite us to Christ so that our guilt is taken away and we are given his perfect, unimpeachable righteousness.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question raised by this doctrine of total depravity. If man is utterly incapable of obeying God’s command to repent and believe, how then can it be fair for God to condemn an unbeliever for not doing so?

Dr. Spencer: That is the central question that has caused so much division in the church. But I’m going to have to put off answering it until next time because we are out of time.

Marc Roby: Alright, you were saved by the bell. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we enjoy hearing from you.

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

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 170

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started to discuss sin, which is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall. We noted that there are three main components to the doctrine of sin: its cause, its nature and its definition. We then noted that even though the original creation was entirely good, Satan sinned and then successfully tempted Adam and Eve to sin as well. And we then stated the biblical doctrine of original sin; which is that Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature, and that everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits this sinful nature.

Dr. Spencer, it is often argued that it is unfair of God to allow Adam’s sin to affect anyone other than Adam himself. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there are a number of things that can be said in response to that charge. James Boice correctly claims in his Foundations of the Christian Faith, that “the fact that Adam was made a representative of the race is proof of God’s grace.”[1]

Marc Roby: Now, how is that fact proof of God’s grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, Boice points out that Adam knew he was representing all of his descendants. And, as any father or mother knows, we are far more careful when the welfare of our children is at stake than we are if it is only our own welfare that is at stake. Boice says, “what could be better calculated to bring forth an exalted sense of responsibility and obedience in Adam than the knowledge that what he would do in regard to God’s commandment would affect untold billions of his descendants.”[2]

Marc Roby: That’s a good point, although I don’t know that Adam was thinking about “untold billions of his descendants.” It seems far more likely that he would think about his own children. And even they weren’t born yet.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but Boice’s point is still good. And it has also been pointed out by others that God had placed Adam in a perfect place, the Garden of Eden, and had bountifully provided for his every need. In other words, the circumstances under which Adam was called to obey were the best possible circumstances, those which were most conducive to his actually obeying. In addition, no great effort was required for him to obey since the command given to him was very simple and clear, he only had to refrain from eating the fruit of one tree. Everything else was available to him. This again illustrates God’s grace.

Marc Roby: The circumstances were certainly arranged to make it as easy as possible for Adam to obey, which makes his rebellion all that much more terrible.

Dr. Spencer: And I think we can reasonably conclude, based on the character of God, that Adam was the best possible representative we could have had. We shouldn’t think that we would have done any better.

Marc Roby: I know I wouldn’t want to make that claim.

Dr. Spencer: Nor would I, to do so would be to call God a liar since he says that his ways are perfect, which must include his choice for our representative. And Boice points out another important aspect relating to Adam’s representative role. He says that “the representative nature of Adam’s sin is an example of God’s grace toward us, for it is on the basis of that representation that God is able to save us.”[3] And he then quotes from Romans 5:19 where Paul wrote that “just as through the disobedience of the one man [which, of course, refers to Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [which refers to Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous.” [4]

Marc Roby: That verse alone makes it pretty clear that God’s relating to us through the mediation of a representative is, ultimately, very gracious. If it weren’t for representation, there could be no salvation. If someone thinks it is unfair to be represented by Adam, then to be logically consistent, that person should also not want to be represented by Jesus Christ. But there is no salvation possible outside of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a lot more that could be said, but this is not properly part of the topic of anthropology, so I will defer further discussion along those lines to a later session. For now, let me just say one more thing about the cause of sin. Because Adam represented us, we share in his guilt and punishment. Part of that punishment consists in our being born with a sinful nature. The fact that Adam’s sinful nature is passed on to all of his natural descendants explains the universal nature of sin. We all sin because we are, by nature, sinners.

Marc Roby: I have never met the person who is an exception to that rule.

Dr. Spencer: Nor have I, nor will either of us ever meet that person in this life because there are no exceptions among Adam’s natural descendants. We are all sinners.

We do have a free will, meaning that we make real choices for which we can be justly held accountable. But as we discussed in Session 84, our will chooses according to our desires. And because we have a sinful nature, our desires are sinful. We may do things, and many people often do, that are in accordance with God’s law and are, therefore, good. But unregenerate men never do anything from a heart that desires to obey and please God, so even their outwardly good deeds are sinful because, as we’re told in Proverbs 16:2, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.”

Marc Roby: The idea that we all inherited a sinful nature from Adam is not something that many people will readily accept.

Dr. Spencer: I am well aware of that. But we are examining what the Bible teaches, which is truth, not what man will readily accept. And that completes what I wanted to say for now about the cause of sin.

Marc Roby: I do have one question on this topic that some of our listeners may be wondering about though.

Dr. Spencer: What question is that?

Marc Roby: How is the sinful nature transmitted from parents to children? Since sin has to do with moral choices, it is clearly caused by our spirit, not our physical body. But where does our spirit come from? In Zechariah 12:1 we read, “This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him”. But, if God gives each new person his or her spirit, and the spirit is sinful, doesn’t that make God the author of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, this question is interesting, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it since the Bible does not give us enough information to form a firm answer. I would agree with your statement that if God creates each new spirit that seems problematic since our spirits are sinful. But, Wayne Grudem, for example, disagrees. He says that “there does not seem to be any real theological difficulty in saying that God gives each child a human soul that has tendencies to sin that are similar to the tendencies found in the parents.”[5] Now I disagree with his logic, but I would not want to be dogmatic on the point.

In one sense of course God is the one who makes us. Not just our spirits, but our bodies as well. In Psalm 139:13 the psalmist is speaking to God and says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” I think this is speaking about the whole person, not just the spirit. But we all know how babies are made. In one sense God can be said to do it, but he uses a human mother and father as secondary agents.

Marc Roby: And so, Zechariah 12:1 doesn’t necessarily imply that the spirit is somehow different from the body in that regard.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly don’t see any reason to draw that conclusion. But with regard to the larger question, there have been great theologians on both sides of the debate. Some, like Calvin favored the idea that God created each spirit individually. That view is called creationism. Others, like Luther and Jonathan Edwards, favored the view that we inherit our spirit from our parents, which is called traducianism. And, while I think that traducianism is the most likely answer, I would never be dogmatic about this at all.

Marc Roby: Very well, let’s not spend any more time on it then.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. Then let me continue with our outline of the doctrine of sin. The second component I mentioned is the nature of sin. And the biblical view is that man is totally depraved.

Marc Roby: And that terminology is, of course, easily misunderstood.

Dr. Spencer: Not only easily, but frequently misunderstood. So, let’s be clear about what we mean and what we don’t mean. To say that man is totally depraved does not mean that he is as bad as he can possibly be. Rather, total depravity means that there is no part of man that is unaffected by sin. Every part of our being is corrupted, so perhaps a better term would be pervasive depravity. But we are stuck with the existing term because it has been in use for so long that we really can’t avoid it. The really important point is that we not think we have some faculty, whether it be our reason, our will or anything else, that is unaffected by sin. But I want to put off further discussion of total depravity until we have given our definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Which is the third component of the doctrine that you mentioned, so please go ahead.

Dr. Spencer: Let me start by quoting the answer to Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It says, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”

That answer mentions two kinds of sin. First, it said sin is “any want of conformity unto” the law of God. This is often called a sin of omission – simply meaning that we didn’t do something we were obligated to do. Second, it mentions “transgression of” the law of God, which is often called a sin of commission – in other words, we do something that we are forbidden to do. In both cases, this definition makes it clear that it is the law of God that establishes what is and is not sin.

Marc Roby: And all sin can be seen, at its core, as being rebellion against God’s rule.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. At the end of the day, every sin, no matter how small, is a way of saying to God that you are independent and do not need to come under his rule.

Marc Roby: Very well. What about the laws that men make?

Dr. Spencer: We should almost always obey them. The laws of God are, of course, more important and trump the laws made by men, but so long as the laws made by God’s delegated authorities are proper, it would be sin to violate them.

Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-2 that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Marc Roby: When you say those laws must be “proper”, do you mean they must be fully consistent with the Word of God? Or do you just mean that they must not directly contradict the word of God by commanding us to sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me first say that we absolutely must not obey any law of men that commands us to sin. In Acts Chapter Five we read about the apostles being arrested for preaching the gospel. They were put in jail overnight to await their appearing before the Jewish ruling council of elders, called the Sanhedrin. But, during the night, an angel of the Lord set them free and commanded them to go to the temple courts and preach the gospel. So, at daybreak, the apostles obeyed.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, didn’t sit well with the Sanhedrin.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t sit well at all. The apostles were again arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. In Acts 5:28 we are told that the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Marc Roby: And, by this reference to “this man’s blood” they were, of course, referring to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In any event, we read the apostles’ response in Acts 5:29, they said, “We must obey God rather than men!” This is a very simple concept, but potentially with very serious implications. We have spoken at length about God’s delegated authorities in the state, church and home in Sessions 28-33. God expects us to respectfully obey all legitimate authorities. But if they tell us to sin, they are no longer exercising legitimate authority because God has not given any delegated authority the right to sin or to command others to sin. And it is also possible for them to overstep the bounds of their delegated authority, in which case we have the right, but certainly no obligation, to disobey. Now, obviously, refusing to obey authority, even if you do it respectfully, can be costly.

Marc Roby: It certainly can. If, for example, we think about a German soldier in World War II being commanded to help in one of the extermination camps, it is easy to see that failure to obey that order would most likely cost him his life.

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly a very extreme and unusual example, but nonetheless true. If you were ordered to kill innocent people that would be an order you would have to refuse even if it cost you your life. But there are much less-extreme examples that come up far more frequently and, I might add, also pose far more difficult questions.

Marc Roby: Can you give some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Consider being a medical doctor in our current society. Suppose you have a patient come in for an examination and you find that he has a medical problem directly caused by homosexual behavior. If you are a Christian doctor, you might feel obliged to explain to the man that his medical problem is caused by his sinful behavior and that the best thing for him to do is to stop that behavior. But that would get you in a lot of trouble with most medical groups and might even cost you your job if you did it repeatedly.

Marc Roby: Yes, that could definitely be a very complex situation.

Dr. Spencer: And here is where I would have to say that each individual Christian has to decide for him or herself. As far as I can see, it would not be a clear sin to just treat the person and say nothing. Or, perhaps, you could just explain how the particular behavior caused the problem and suggest that he change his behavior without making any statements about it being sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, doctors certainly tell people, for example, that they would be better off if they stopped smoking, or lost weight, or got more exercise.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do that all the time. But those behaviors aren’t as politically charged in our society and unless the doctor came across as insufferably condescending or judgmental it’s hard to imagine such advice causing any trouble. In any event, I think each Christian has to make decisions about these difficult questions on his own. They can, and should, get counsel, if possible, from their elders to help them make a decision that honors God.

Marc Roby: And that brings us right back to the idea that it is God to whom we are ultimately accountable.

Dr. Spencer: That is the most important point. God is the one who defines sin, not man. He has delegated to the state, the church and the family the authority to make other laws and rules as necessary to regulate the orderly functioning of the state, church and home, and Christians are obligated to obey those man-made laws almost always. And those laws can change. Different countries, states, churches and homes have different laws and rules, but they can still all be proper and binding on Christians.

Marc Roby: And such delegated authority, unless abused, is beneficial to mankind in general and to God’s church in particular.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly is. Christians would not be free to worship, live their lives for God’s glory and tell others about Christ if they lived in the midst of anarchy. The orderly operation of the state, church and home are absolutely necessary.

Marc Roby: And if we go back to the apostles again, who lived under Roman rule, we have an example of Christians living under a government that was, at times, very hostile to them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, extremely hostile at times. And yet, in Romans 13:5 Paul said that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities” and, in Verse 7, he specifically told us to pay taxes, which were extremely unpopular at the time, Israel was under foreign rule.

Marc Roby: I think taxes are unpopular anytime, anywhere! And we could note that Paul was in agreement with Jesus on that point. Jesus also famously told the people to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” in Matthew 12:21.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are to keep the order straight. God is the supreme ruler. But we must obey all delegated authorities unless doing so requires us to disobey God. If we disobey an earthly authority, the worst thing that can happen to us that we can be killed. But Jesus told us, in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Marc Roby: Well, we are out of time, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll respond as best we can.

 

[1] James Boice, , Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 206

[2] Ibid, pp 206-207

[3] Ibid, pg. 207

[4] 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.™.

[5] Wayne Gudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 485

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Marc Roby: We are beginning our third year of this podcast by resuming our study of biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, at the end of the last session, you said that we could define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct.

Marc Roby: If we use this definition, what would say about the higher animals. Do they have a soul?

Dr. Spencer: I would have to say that I don’t know for sure. It may be that there is no immaterial part to animals, which would require that their abilities to reason are very limited and that they are not truly capable of making real, free-will decisions. Whatever “decisions” they do make would then have to be comparable to “decisions” made by a very complicated machine. They are entirely determined by the nature of the machine. But I find that idea a bit hard to swallow given animals I have known well in my life.

Marc Roby: They do have personalities, and it is hard to think of them as being just biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And so, I’m certainly open to the possibility that there is some immaterial aspect to the higher animals, but the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. If there is, then perhaps you could call it a soul or spirit, but it would be of an entirely different nature than our spirit because it is not made in the image of God and is not capable of fellowship with God. The Bible is clear on that much.

Marc Roby: And so, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing about our nature. We are made in the image of God and are able to have fellowship with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely the most important thing, yes.

Marc Roby: There is one other question about higher animals that I find intriguing, although obviously not of critical importance. Are they morally accountable? In other words, do they know the difference between right and wrong and will they in any way be held to account for their actions?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the animals I’ve owned certainly seemed to know when they had done something wrong! But I only know of one Bible verse that speaks to the issue, although I’m open to having our listeners point out others. In Genesis 9 we read about God’s blessing Noah and his family after the flood was over. In Verse 5 God says to them, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” [1]

Marc Roby: Now that’s very interesting. God will demand an accounting from every animal.

Dr. Spencer: Now I haven’t studied this verse, and this may just be a way for God to make clear how sacred human life is, but it is possible that it literally means animals will be called to account in some way as well. There are obvious problems with that view though. First, does that mean that animals go on living in some sense too? There is no indication of that that I know of in the Bible. And second, there is no distinction here between higher and lower forms of animal life. What if someone dies from a spider bite? I simply cannot believe that spiders make moral choices and will be held accountable. At the end of the day, I think we simply have to say that we don’t know.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to say about dichotomy and trichotomy, or the soul and spirit?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to point out the obvious fact, which we have noted before, that the word spirit gets used in different ways and those who believe in dichotomy sometimes use the word in a way that is more consistent with trichotomy.

For example, when we say that an unbeliever is spiritually dead, we don’t mean that the immaterial part of the person has ceased to exist or function. If that were the case, the whole person would be dead as we have noted. I don’t think this causes any great difficulty for most people, but it is worth pointing out.

Marc Very well. But before we wrap up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, there is one passage relating to men and animals that we didn’t examine, but which I think it would be good for us to comment on because it speaks about the spirits of animals as well as men.

Dr. Spencer: What passage do you have in mind?

Marc Roby: In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 we read the following: “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Now, what would you say about those verses?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that they come from the book of Ecclesiastes, which relates to us the attempt of a man, called the Teacher, most likely Solomon, to understand the meaning of life in the face of life’s trials and troubles and the fact that everyone dies, no matter how good or noble the person is. In much of the book he examines the questions from what appears to be a purely materialistic point of view.

I like what J. Vernon McGee said about this book, he first noted that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs and then wrote that “In Proverbs we saw the wisdom of Solomon; here [in Ecclesiastes] we … see the foolishness of Solomon.”[2]

Marc Roby: That statement brings to mind 1 Corinthians 1. In Verse 20 Paul wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Dr. Spencer: That fits Ecclesiastes perfectly, although in the end the Teacher does conclude that you need God to make sense out of life. In fact, in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible it says that “Ecclesiastes is really intended to be a tract for the conversion of the self-sufficient intellectual”.[3]

Marc Roby: I’m sure the book has other uses, but I do like that statement. Human beings should never think of themselves as self-sufficient.

Dr. Spencer: No, we shouldn’t. But, returning to the verses you read. Solomon is relating to us his own thoughts here, as he tells us in Verse 18. And, while this biblical account of Solomon’s thinking is infallible, his thinking was not. In other words, you don’t want to build any doctrine from these statements.

If you read the whole book you get the point clearly. Thinking about the meaning of life apart from God leads to vanity, or meaninglessness. In these verses Solomon is allowing his thoughts to roam; he is considering the fact that all men, like animals, die. And when he speaks about the “spirit of the animal”, I take it to simply mean the life of the animal as opposed to the physical body.

Marc Roby: Which again illustrates the fact that the words soul and spirit have a wide range of usage.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, and it also illustrates that we need to be very careful with our biblical hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Are we finished then with our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: What are we going to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at what is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall; which is our sin.

Marc Roby: Why do you say it is the most important aspect of our nature?

Dr. Spencer: Because sin is the cause of all of the trouble we experience in life, including death itself, and it is the cause of our being under the wrath of God and needing a Savior. If our sin is not dealt with, our eternal destiny is hell. But if our sins are forgiven, our eternal destiny is heaven.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anything that comes even close to that in importance.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I, because there isn’t anything that comes even close. Jesus himself said that there is only one thing needful in this life[4], and that one thing is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is how our sin can be dealt with. We also read in Mark 8:36 that Jesus asked his disciples the rhetorical question, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to this question is, it does him no good at all since the soul lives on after the body dies, and our eternal state is, literally, infinitely longer than our time in this life. Therefore, even if someone truly became the ruler of the whole world and had all of the world’s riches at his disposal, if that cost his immortal soul it would, in fact, be the worst possible thing.

Dr. Spencer: It is unimaginably bad in fact. We, as finite human beings, have a serious problem in understanding eternal issues. We simply cannot grasp eternity. It is something we have to work at very hard.

Marc Roby: I’m always reminded of that fact when we sing the hymn Amazing Grace. The last verse speaks about heaven and says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That blows your mind. But that lyric is not just poetic, it is mathematically true. The Bible tells us we will spend all eternity in heaven with God. That is infinitely long. It never ends. And so when we’ve been there ten thousand years, we have, quite literally, been there zero percent of the time we will be there!

Marc Roby: And the same is true for those miserable souls who reject God’s offer of salvation and find themselves in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is, most regrettably for them, true. It isn’t a popular topic in this day and age, but it is true nonetheless. And so, the topic of human sin is extremely important. If we don’t properly understand our problem, we cannot properly understand the cure.

Marc Roby: A proper diagnosis is essential to getting the right cure even when dealing with physical ailments.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obvious to everyone. If I have a serious skin cancer and my doctor misdiagnoses it as a harmless rash, I’m not going to get the proper treatment and I am likely to die as a result. So, a proper diagnosis is critically important.

In the same way, if we misunderstand the true nature and extent of our sin problem, we will not take advantage of the only cure available. We may be satisfied with some other supposed cure, which won’t really take care of our problem and will lead us to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: And the nature of human sin has been a constant source of heresies since the beginning of the church.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly has. It was the fundamental issue that divided Saint Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century. It was the central issue that divided Luther and Erasmus in the sixteenth century, it was central to the reformation of the sixteenth century, it was at the core of the controversy between Arminians and the reformed church in the early seventeenth century, and it is still a common point of contention today.

Marc Roby: How do you want to approach this topic of sin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by spelling out as clearly as I can the biblical doctrine. There are three main components to the doctrine of sin. The first is the cause of sin, the second is the nature of sin, and the third is the definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Alright, what do you want to say about the cause of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, let’s look at what God said when he finished his creative work. We read in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In other words, there was no sin in the original creation. Therefore, we must say that when God finished creating this universe, it was entirely good. God is not the author of sin.

But, at some point, Satan, who was an angel, became proud and tried to usurp God’s authority. As a result, he was cast down and a number of other angels who had followed him were also cast down. The Bible tells us very little about this and I want to stay focused on anthropology for now, so I’m not going to say any more about it at this time.

Marc Roby: There is great mystery involved in Satan’s fall. How could a perfect being in perfect fellowship with God become wicked and rebel?

Dr. Spencer: That is an unanswerable question I think, but it happened. And, after Satan fell, he became God’s enemy and came and attacked God’s greatest creation, man. He attacked man by tempting him to also sin by desiring to be god. And, tragically, Satan succeeded. Adam and Eve sinned. And, when they sinned, they died, just as God said they would. They died in all three senses of the term as we noted in our last session: spiritually, physically and they became subject to eternal death.

Marc Roby: And to be explicit in remembering what we covered last time, by spiritual death we mean that they were separated from fellowship with God, by physical death we mean that they immediately started the process of physically dying, which culminates in the temporary separation of our body and spirit, and by eternal death we mean that they came under God’s wrath and, had he not saved them, would have been separated from God’s blessings in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true.

Marc Roby: And the first thing they did after sinning was to try and clothe themselves and then to hide from God.

Dr. Spencer: Sin always brings guilt and shame and causes us to want to hide from God, who is holy and just.

But the tragedy is much deeper than just Adam and Eve becoming sinners, because when Adam sinned, he did so as the representative of all mankind. When he died in the three senses we just spoke about, his nature changed. We noted last time that Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that unbelievers are alienated from God and are enemies in their minds because of their evil behavior. In other words, Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature. And everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits that sinful nature. This is the doctrine of original sin.

Marc Roby: And that doctrine is repulsive to natural man and has itself been the cause of a number of controversies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it has definitely been the cause of a number of controversies. But the biblical teaching about it is quite clear as we will see. The controversy only arises because man, in rebellion against God, refuses to accept God’s testimony about what happened.

Marc Roby: I look forward to hearing about this, but we are nearly out of time for today, so this is probably a good place to stop. Let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

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

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, Vol. III, pg. 105

[3] Zondervan, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 188

[4] See Luke 10:42

[5] Quoted from: Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, Hymn 460

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, in the past two sessions we have discussed the questions you called the bookends to life; where we came from and where we are going. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the creation of man. In Genesis 5:1-2 we read a summary statement; “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And the Hebrew word translated as “man” in that verse is adam, the same word used for the name of the first man.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God used the same term to refer to the entire human race, both male and female, and to refer to men in distinction from women. Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that since this usage originated with God himself, “we should not find it objectionable or insensitive.”[2]

Now I personally think it is a good idea to use gender neutral terms when it is possible to do so without misrepresenting the Word of God or making our speech or writing awkward or ungrammatical, but no woman should take offense at being referred to as a part of mankind. The term man can be used as a generic term for human beings or as a term specifically referring to a male individual. Like many words it has more than one meaning. And, contrary to popular opinion among non-Christians, the biblical view of women is that they are absolutely equal with men in terms of dignity and worth.

Marc Roby: And no man would be here if it weren’t for a woman! We all have a mother.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and so is the reverse, we all have a father as well. We need each other in many ways. We’ll get to the biblical view of women later, but I will continue at times to use the word man to refer to human beings in general, and I certainly do not mean in any way to denigrate women when I do so.

But, let’s return to the creation of mankind. One of the first questions that most people would think to ask about creation in general, and mankind specifically, is, “Why did God create man?”

Marc Roby: While discussing the question “Where did we come from?” in Session 94, we noted the purpose of life from our perspective is, first of all, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then secondly, to live for God’s glory. You could say that to ask why God created man is to examine the purpose of life from God’s perspective rather than ours.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good way of looking at it. And the most important point we should make at the start is that God didn’t need to create man at all. Our great triune God has had perfect love and fellowship within the persons of the trinity eternally. He certainly did not need us for fellowship, or for any other reason. It was his free choice to create anything at all, and, more to the point, it was his free choice to create man. He did not need us.

Marc Roby: That fact is very disappointing to some people.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose it is, but it shouldn’t be. It most certainly does not mean that our lives are meaningless. Quite the contrary. Our lives would be meaningless if we were cosmic accidents, but the fact that God created us for a purpose gives our lives great meaning. In addition, God takes delight in his people. We are, for example, called his treasured possession. The Hebrew word for treasured possession is segullah, which is used 8 times in the Old Testament. Six of those times it refers to God’s chosen people. For example, in Exodus 19:5 God told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thing to consider, that the eternally perfect God considers us his treasured possession.

Dr. Spencer: It’s an astounding statement. But as a weak analogy, think of a great artist. He could take joy and receive pleasure from his greatest work of art and you could say it was his treasured possession.

Marc Roby: And to say that would not imply that the work of art was in any way necessary. The pleasure the artist had in it would be the pleasure of seeing his own handiwork, it would not be a property of the art itself.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The fact that God does not need us in no way diminishes our worth, but the pleasure he has in us is the pleasure of a Creator, it isn’t because we somehow add something. But I called the analogy of an artist and his work a weak one because it fails miserably in one way.

Marc Roby: In what way does it fail?

Dr. Spencer: It fails because as creatures we cannot create living beings. We can only create inanimate objects. But God created living beings who can, in fact, have real fellowship with him. The fact that he doesn’t need our fellowship does not mean that he will never enjoy it. We read in Isaiah 62:5, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It truly is. God doesn’t need us, but he does derive joy from us. We can also add to this discussion the observation that it is a very good thing that God doesn’t need us in any way.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because if God actually needed us in any way to accomplish his purposes, then we couldn’t be sure he would accomplish his purposes! His promises would not be certain because man is never infallibly dependable.

Our only real hope is in God. I trust his promises precisely because they don’t depend on anything outside of God and certainly not on me. No one can thwart his purposes. We read in Isaiah 14:27, “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very comforting.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And we read in Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17:24 that Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Which backs up my statement that the persons of the Trinity have had perfect love and fellowship for all eternity.

Marc Roby: All right. We have established so far that God didn’t need us and that we are his treasured possession. What else do you want to say about why God made us?

Dr. Spencer: God created us for his glory. God himself says, in Isaiah 43:6-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” And in Ephesians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul wrote that we were chosen in Christ, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: What a wonderful purpose that is. And we should point out that we receive great joy from working to accomplish that purpose and from having fellowship with God as we do so. And our pleasure in God will be eternal. In Psalm 16:11 King David wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Dr. Spencer: And there is no greater joy than having one of those moments when you are praying or meditating on God’s word and you get a slight glimmer of understanding of the divine majesty and a sense of his presence with you. In Psalm 27:4 the psalmist declared, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m really glad you brought up that passage because it shows that our love for God is not just based on emotion or some mystical experience as is often assumed by unbelievers. We have not seen God, and we don’t see him now, but Peter gives the reason for our faith. He says, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

In other words, we have a good reason for our faith. It is not an irrational leap in the dark, it is based on truth. We have looked at the Word of God and found it to be true and we see him working in our own lives bringing about our salvation. This is an intelligent apprehension of truth.

Marc Roby: And the Bible commands us in several places to examine ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In fact, Peter himself tells us in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure, and Paul similarly tells us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Many self-proclaimed Christians today want a faith that doesn’t need to be tested. They will tell you that they prayed to receive Christ once and so they are saved and it doesn’t really matter how they live because we are not saved by works.

Marc Roby: That is a very popular view of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: And it is a profoundly unbiblical view, that is to say it’s an unchristian view of Christianity. When we are told to examine ourselves and to make our calling and election sure, there is an obvious assumption that if we have been saved there will necessarily be changes that can be observed. Otherwise, what could you examine?

But the purpose of examining ourselves is not to put is in a perpetual state of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The purpose is that we may see God at work in our lives and draw the conclusion that we have been born again, that his word is true, and that we can have great hope, confidence and joy in knowing his promises are true and certain.

Marc Roby: Unless, of course, we see no evidence of God working in our lives. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul commanded, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, as with any real test, there is a possibility of failure. But even failure is gracious because, if we fail the test, we clearly see our need and should be driven to cry out to God for mercy, and he will never turn away a truly repentant person. We are the beneficiaries no matter how the test turns out. Either we pass the test and have great assurance and hope, or we fail the test and are driven to seek salvation, which is the one thing we really need.

Marc Roby: Of course, all of this begs the question of how I go about testing myself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question. And the Bible gives us the answer. In fact, it is one theme of the apostle John’s first letter.  In 1 John 5:13 he wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: There isn’t anything more important than that; knowing that you have eternal life. And knowing that brings great joy. In the same letter John also wrote, in Chapter 1 Verses 3 and 4, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is also important to point out that the joy spoken of by John is not just a momentary feeling of happiness or pleasure. It is much deeper than that. It is the joy of the Lord, which we are told in Nehemiah 8:10 is our strength.

Marc Roby: And because it is a deep joy, not just momentary happiness, it is a joy that we can have even in the midst of suffering. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Dr. Spencer: That is true, and amazing. In Romans 8:28 we are told that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that includes even suffering. God uses it for our good.

And now I’d like to look at a passage that puts together several things we’ve been discussing. In John 15:8-11 Jesus told us that “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a marvelous passage. And it does tie things together nicely. It is to the Father’s glory that we bear fruit by loving him, which means obeying his commands. If we do that, our joy will be complete.

But can we get back to John’s first letter? You noted that one reason he wrote it was so that we could know we have eternal life. What tests does he give us to use?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew noted in his commentary on 1 John, he provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[4]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul told his young protégé to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, both are important. How we live and what we believe. The doctrinal test that John provides is not comprehensive, he uses a few essentials as representative of the essential body of doctrine. We’ll just examine a few of them today.

Let’s begin with the first two verses of this letter. In 1 John 1:1-2 we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

Marc Roby: There’s a lot of doctrine packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. For example, we note that he speaks of “That which was from the beginning”. In other words, in his deity, Jesus is eternal. There never was a time when he did not exist. This is a necessary doctrine of the Christian faith. And, as the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity he existed as Spirit. He did not have a body.

Marc Roby: And yet, John goes on to say that this is one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.

Dr. Spencer: Which clearly speaks of the incarnation. Jesus, the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity became man. He is truly God and he became truly man. He is the unique God-man. The only Savior. And the rest of that brief passage says essentially the same thing again. John wrote, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”, which harkens back to what he wrote in his gospel. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he goes on in this first letter to say that “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” This again clearly refers to the incarnation. This eternal life, Jesus, who was with the Father, appeared to John and others and they are declaring that to us.

Marc Roby: What other essential doctrines does John use as examples?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in 1 John 1:5 he says that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” In context it is obvious that he is using light and darkness metaphorically.

Marc Roby: Which is a common thing for John to do, he liked stark contrasts; light and darkness, love and hate, life and death, sons of God and sons of the devil.

Dr. Spencer: He does like stark contrasts. And to flesh out the metaphor he is using here in Verse 5 we could say that God is absolutely holy, just and truthful, in him there is no unholiness, injustice, or falsehood.

Another doctrine he highlights is the pervasive sinfulness of man. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There are more doctrines stated or implied in this letter, but for our present purposes that is enough. The main point is that while we live in a free country and anyone can call himself a Christian, our testimony about ourselves is irrelevant on the day we appear before the judgment seat of God. All that will matter on that day is what Jesus Christ himself says about us.

Marc Roby: And if we have rejected God’s revelation of himself in the Bible, or twisted and distorted it suit our own ideas, that will not work with God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it won’t work at all. We don’t need to be expert theologians to be saved, and there are doctrines about which truly born-again people can disagree, as we have noted before in these podcasts. But there are also essential doctrines. If you don’t believe in the full deity and humanity of Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection for example, you are not a Christian.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think we are out of time today and will have to pick this up again next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 440

[3] The people of God are also called his segullah in Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2 and 26:18, in Psalm 135:4 and in Malachi 3:17.

[4] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

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