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Marc Roby: In these podcasts, we have now covered two of the six classic loci of reformed theology; theology proper – in other words, the study of God, and anthropology, which is the study of man. We still have four more loci to cover: Christology, which is the study of Jesus Christ the Redeemer; Soteriology, which means the study of salvation; Ecclesiology, which means the study of the church; and Eschatology, which means the study of last things. And so, today we are going to begin to examine biblical Christology. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to start?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin by pointing out the logic behind the order of presentation we are using. We began our podcast series with some preliminary material: why people should be interested in what the Bible says, a brief outline of what the Bible teaches, and a presentation of external evidence that corroborates the truthfulness of Bible. We then went on to present a case that the Bible is sufficient, necessary, authoritative and clear, which can be represented by the acrostic SNAC.

Marc Roby: And when we say the Bible is sufficient and necessary, we mean that it is sufficient and necessary for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we then made the case that the Bible is infallible, which is what one would expect since it is the Word of God. And we closed our preliminary material by discussing hermeneutics, the science of how to properly interpret the Bible.

We then began looking at the six loci of reformed theology, which you noted at the beginning of today’s session. We started by examining theology proper, the study of God. And we did that first because true biblical Christianity is theocentric, meaning it is God centered. The purpose of creation is the manifestation of the glory of God. He is the only eternal, self-existent, necessary reality. Everything else exists only because God chose to create it and chooses to sustain it.

Marc Roby: And we have made the point many times that we must always keep the Creator/creature distinction in mind.

Dr. Spencer: That distinction is critically important. The universe does not revolve around us. We do not exist necessarily, only God does. We then moved on to discuss anthropology, which is the study of man. Now it might at first seem strange that we would cover anthropology second. Why not, for example, discuss Christology first?

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good question. Especially since Jesus Christ is God incarnate and we began with theology proper. So continuing with Christology would make sense.

Dr. Spencer: It would, but we must ask the question, “Why did Jesus Christ become incarnate?” Why, in other words, did God become man?

Marc Roby: And the short answer of course is that God became man in order to save his people from their sins. We are told in Matthew 1:21 that before Jesus was born an angel appeared to Mary’s fiancée, Joseph, and said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [1] This is the good news God offers to us, we can be saved.

Dr. Spencer: That is the best possible news. And notice that we can’t fully understand who Jesus Christ is and what he has done without first understanding the problem he came to solve. In other words, the gospel, which simply means good news, makes no sense unless we have first received the bad news that we are by nature justly subject to God’s wrath and headed for eternal hell. The solution makes no sense if you don’t understand the problem.

Marc Roby: But, of course, many people do not believe that they are sinners, or that there is an eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why we must always begin by presenting people with the problem. The reality is that everyone knows in their heart that God exists. Paul tells us this in Romans Chapter 1. Many people won’t admit that fact, but it is true nonetheless. And the universality of sin is also obvious. Why do we need keys? Why do we need passwords for our bank accounts? Why do we read about crime every single day? And why don’t we do exactly what we know we should do every minute of every day?

Marc Roby: And the answer to every one of those questions is that we are all sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Jesus himself told us in Mark 2:17 that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And so the bad news is that we are all sinners and God is a perfectly just and holy God and must punish sin. In particular, he must punish my sin! But the good news is that Jesus came to save sinners.

In Session 108 we made the case for the doctrine of Total depravity, which says that there is no aspect of our being that is unaffected by sin. We are born enemies of God and subject to his eternal wrath. And because we are his enemies, we are incapable of doing anything to save ourselves from his just wrath. We need help. But there is a very fundamental problem that needs to be overcome for anyone to be able to help us.

Marc Roby: What problem is that?

Dr. Spencer: The price that needs to be paid to redeem us from our sin is too great for any mere human being to ever pay. Because our sin is rebellion against God himself, the infinite, eternal, self-existent Creator of all things, it warrants an infinite punishment. I mentioned this way back in Session 13, where I pointed out that the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards correctly argued in his famous sermon “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”,[2] that the heinousness of our sins is proportional to the dignity of the one against whom we sin.

We see this principle at work in the laws of our country. For example, it is a more serious crime if you murder the president than it is if you murder me. And so, Edwards argues, since God is infinite in his greatness, majesty and glory, he is infinitely honorable and sin against him deserves infinite punishment. And since sin is the transgression of God’s law, all sin is, first and foremost, against God. All sin is rebellion against his rule.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, no mere man would be able to pay the infinite penalty we deserve.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The only one who can pay an infinite price is God himself. And yet, because it is man who sinned, it must be man who pays the price.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, the problem is that we need someone who is both God and man.

Dr. Spencer: And that person is Jesus Christ. We see a wonderful illustration of his dual nature in Matthew 8:23-27. We read in Verse 23 that Jesus “got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” Now this was a small fishing boat and they were heading out across the Sea of Galilee, which is famous for the violent storms that can pop up very quickly. So, in Verses 24-26 we read that “Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” And then, in Verse 27, we are told how the apostles reacted. We read that “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”

Marc Roby: I always wonder how I would respond to such an event. It is an unimaginable display of Jesus’ power.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing display of both his humanity and his deity. He is truly human. He walked with his disciples, he talked with them, he got into the boat with them, and like all human beings he got tired. And because he was tired, he went to sleep in the boat. But then, when they had awakened him because of the storm, he simply commanded the storm to cease, and it did. Only God can do that. He didn’t pray and ask God to stop the storm, he simply commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderfully clear illustration of Christ’s authority over the creation. But the dual nature of Christ, meaning the biblical teaching that he is both God and man, is obviously an extremely difficult doctrine to understand.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why many have rejected it. Jehovah’s Witnesses for example, reject it, but in practice, even many who call themselves evangelical Christians reject it. Many of them do not truly believe that Jesus is who he said he is, God and man, and that he literally died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. But that is exactly what the Bible teaches. It is an absolutely essential doctrine of true, biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: And we have made the case before that the Bible must be the ultimate authority for a Christian. We can’t use our reason to stand in judgment over what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: That is the critical point. The issue is one of authority as we have noted before. If a person has been born again, born of the Spirit of God, that person will accept the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. He will use his reason to understand the Word of God, but not to sit in judgment over it. It is obviously ridiculous to use our reason as the ultimate arbiter of truth. We are finite sinful creatures and our reason is so limited and subject to error. We should never accept a true contradiction of course, but we should not reject something as being true just because we can’t fully understand it. If it is a clear teaching of the Bible, we must accept it.

Marc Roby: And there is no contradiction in the statement that Jesus Christ is both God and man.

Dr. Spencer: No, there isn’t. There is great mystery of course, and the church struggled mightily for many years in coming up with a statement about the nature of Christ that is completely consistent with the Bible’s teaching, but there isn’t any contradiction involved. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is a carefully thought-out statement. Jesus Christ is one person, but with two distinct natures. He is simultaneously God and man.

Dr. Spencer:  And his humanity is real, not an illusion. He is a man just like you and me except that he is, and always was, without sin. In Philippians 2:5 the apostle Paul exhorts us to be humble and says that our “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”. He then goes in in Verses 6-11 to give us one of the most important statements about Christ. Verses 5-11 together say, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot of theology packed into that short passage. And we have looked at it before when we gave some of the biblical arguments for the deity of Christ in Sessions 51 through 54.

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of theology in that passage, you’re right. And, as you noted, we have discussed the deity of Christ before when we covered the Trinity as part of our study of theology proper. So some of what I’m going to say about the deity of Christ here will be repetition. But the topic is so important that it certainly bears repetition. And I won’t repeat everything we said then, so I would encourage any listener who is really interested in this topic to go listen to, or read, those podcasts as well.

Marc Roby: Yes, and, we should remind our listeners that all of our past podcasts can be found, along with their transcripts and some indexes, on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good reminder. But getting back to the passage in Philippians 2, I want to make a couple of points. First, notice that it says in Verse 6 that Jesus was, “in very nature God”. A similar statement appears in Hebrews 1:3, which says that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. The meaning of these verses is clear. Jesus Christ is God. He is also a man of course, but he is God. It isn’t just that he is God’s representative, that could also be said about Adam, or Moses, but Jesus Christ was, is and always will be God.

Marc Roby: Of course, the man Jesus did not always exist in his humanity.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. And the rest of the passage in Philippians 2 deals with that. Verses 6-7 in full read, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” In other words, although he was eternal God, Jesus didn’t consider his glory and status as the second person of the Trinity something that he had to hold on to. He was willing to temporarily let go of some of his honor and glory in order to become incarnate and save his people.

Marc Roby: And he did that when he was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. In Luke 1:35 we read that an angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the astounding truth. God was willing to humble himself to the point of becoming a man; two distinct natures in one person. He became a poor carpenter from the backwater village of Bethlehem. And Philippians 2 goes on, in Verse 8, to say that “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Marc Roby: Which is truly amazing given that being hung on a tree was considered cursed by the Jews of that time. We read in Deuteronomy 21:23 that “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”

Dr. Spencer: And Paul quotes that verse in his letter to the church in Galatia. In Galatians 3:13 we read that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”

Marc Roby: It boggles the mind that God would do that to save sinful and rebellious people.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does boggle the mind, but that is the gospel. As we said, because man is the one who sinned against God, it must be man who pays the price. But no mere man can pay the price, which is infinite because our sin is against God, who is infinite. But God chose to save some people and, therefore, it became what John Murray calls a consequent absolute necessity for Jesus to be incarnate and die on the cross, bearing the wrath of God for our sins.[4] Because Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, he is uniquely qualified to accomplish this task. His humanity makes the sacrifice acceptable on behalf of man, and his deity makes the sacrifice of sufficient value. We are told in Hebrews 7:27 that Christ “sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Jesus Christ was not just a good man who gave us an example to live up to. He was, and is, God and his sacrifice was a real sacrifice that was necessary to satisfy divine justice.

Marc Roby: Many modern professing Christians are offended at the idea of a sacrifice. It sounds vulgar and primitive to them.

Dr. Spencer: Independent of how it may sound to modern people, it is the truth. Sin is ugly and terrible and the penalty is correspondingly ugly and terrible. We can never understand who Jesus Christ is if we divorce him from his fundamental mission. Jesus Christ came for the express purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of his people. He is the unique God-man, the only possible Savior. As Peter declared before the Jewish rulers 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 we must give all praise and thanks to God for Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings!

Dr. Spencer: Oh absolutely. And the best way to show our thanks is through obedience. Notice that this passage said that Christ was obedient to death. His incarnation and sacrifice were done in obedience to the will of God. We’ll come back to this point later, but if we are God’s children, we must also be obedient, just as our Lord and Savior was.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a challenge to us all, 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. We’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, pg. 669

[3] From; Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VIII, Paragraph 2 (http://www.apuritansmind.com/westminster-standards/chapter-8/)

[4] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pp 11-12

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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, last time we discussed the doctrine of total depravity, which says that every aspect of our being is affected by sin. And, as a result, man is not able to repent and believe in Christ until and unless God regenerates him, that is, causes him to be born again. At the end of the session, I asked the question that many people have raised; namely, “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?” How would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me begin by giving God’s answer to the question, and then we can discuss it further. Paul deals with this question in Chapter 9 of the book of Romans. He begins by citing Old Testament passages that present the doctrine of election; in other words, that God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses whom to save.

Marc Roby: Now, by calling this election unconditional, you mean that it is not based on anything man does.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. This doctrine is represented by the letter ‘U’ in the acrostic TULIP. But, getting back to our passage, in Romans 9:18 Paul draws a conclusion from these Old Testament verses and writes, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” [1]

And then, in Verse 19, he anticipates essentially the same question you asked in response to this conclusion, he says, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” And finally, in Verse 20 we read his answer, which is really God’s answer since Paul wrote as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. And we read, “who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’”

Marc Roby: I must say that God’s answer would seem to argue in favor of not discussing this further. He asserts his sovereignty and basically says we are not in a position to ask the question.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. In fact, John Murray describes this answer as being an “appeal to the reverential silence which the majesty of God demands of us.”[2] We don’t want to probe beyond our proper limits. There is mystery in the doctrine of election that goes beyond what we are able to understand, and we need to be careful or we can get into territory that man should avoid all together, or risk being impudent.

Marc Roby: Yes, we certainly want to avoid that. We should have proper respect and reverence for God at all times and keep the Creator/creature distinction in mind.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And yet, there is more that we can properly and biblically say about this question. And it is a question that is deeply troubling to many, which is why the apostle Paul anticipates it, and then he himself goes on to say a little more. But we must pay careful attention to the fact that God is putting us in our place first. He is reminding us that we have no business questioning his goodness.

Marc Roby: And that reminds me of Job.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly does. In his excellent commentary on the book of Romans, P.G. Mathew noted that “Job had many questions for God. But when God questioned him. Job closed his mouth.”[3] And in Job 42:3-6 we read that Job replied to God, “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Marc Roby: That is the only response possible if we truly see God and ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And we must not miss the point of Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 9:20, “who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” We have no right to question God about how he governs his creation. If he chooses to give us an explanation, that is entirely by grace. He doesn’t owe us an answer. But God did graciously give us some more information about his purposes in election. Just as God dealt with Job’s questions by questioning him, so Paul responds to this question about God’s fairness by asking questions in return. We just dealt with the first of them, “who are you, O man?”, which points out that we have no right to talk back to God. And the second was also in Verse 20, “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”

Marc Roby: And the answer is, again, “No! The creature shall not say to the Creator, “Why did you make me like this?” In context, that question clearly has an accusatory tone. It is saying, in essence, that God should have made me some other way.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Paul is pointing out how inappropriate it is for us to question God and he means to humble and silence us. And he goes on, in Verse 21, to ask, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

Marc Roby: The same metaphor about a potter and the clay is used in the Old Testament as well. In Isaiah 45:9 we read, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the same idea. These three questions were meant to put us in our place. Let me quote from P.G. Mathew’s commentary again. He wrote, “Mind your place! You are down here; God is up there. God is all-transcendent. God is our Creator; we are his creatures, and we must never forget the Creator/creature distinction. We exist and consist in him. So think correctly. Pride goes before a fall. God is not our equal. No man has a right to bring God to trial. But God has every right to bring us to trial and cast us into hell.”[4]

Marc Roby: Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that God is not our equal. So, it is only reasonable that we keep that fact in mind at all times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that fact causes us to face reality. We have no business questioning the fairness of God. But, in a very real sense, anyone who goes to hell chooses to go to hell.

Marc Roby: Now how can you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we noted in Session 104 that eternal death, or hell, includes eternal separation from the blessings, or presence, of God. But let me quote from P.G. Mathew again. He says, “Listen to the arguments of the great theologian Jonathan Edwards: ‘I. That if God should for ever cast you off, it would be agreeable to your treatment of him. … II. If you should forever be cast off by God, it would be agreeable to your treatment of Jesus Christ. … III. If God should for ever cast you off and destroy you, it would be agreeable to your treatment of others. … IV. If God should eternally cast you off, it would be agreeable to your own behavior towards yourself.”[5] And Mathew adds a fifth point, “If God should eternally cast you off, it would be agreeable to your treatment of the Holy Spirit.”

Marc Roby: That is very good. If people reject the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, they should not be surprised when God rejects them.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in fact, that is what their actions show they really want. And we never treat others the way we should either, which shows our contempt for God since they are also made in his image. And when he speaks about our treatment of ourselves, he is reminding us that we don’t have the right to abuse our own bodies by using drugs, or over eating, or sexual immorality or any of a number of ways in which people do so. We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to God; he made us.

Marc Roby: That’s an excellent point.

Dr. Spencer: And the bottom line is that we are all sinful, rebellious creatures. God does not treat anyone unjustly; he treats every individual with either perfect justice or mercy.

Marc Roby: And we should not want to be treated with justice if we have any inkling at all of the many ways in which we have violated God’s just laws and offended his holy character.

Dr. Spencer: No, any rational person will desire mercy. But now, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the final question Paul asks in Romans 9. In Verses 22-24 he wrote, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult passage. Not difficult to understand, but difficult for people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. Paul tells us that God has prepared some people for destruction for the purpose of manifesting his power and wrath and also to make the riches of his glory manifest to the objects of his mercy, in other words, to those whom he chose to save.

We have said a number of times that the Bible clearly teaches that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. And that includes showing his holiness and justice as well as his mercy and love. People may not like that, but it is the truth.

Marc Roby: But, of course, an unbeliever is not going to accept that answer.

Dr. Spencer: No, I’m quite sure they won’t. I know I didn’t. This question of God’s fairness was very disturbing to me before God graciously granted me a new heart. And, as we discussed last time, that is what new birth is. It is God granting an individual a new heart. Or you could say a new spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

But whatever terminology you use, the point is that God changes our fundamental nature, which affects every aspect of our being. He regenerates us. He gives us a new mind, a new will, a new set of affections. We are not made perfect, but we are changed in the very core of our being. And that change is just as pervasive as the depravity it begins to destroy.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that it “begins” to destroy our depravity?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to conform his people to the image of Christ through a process. The process begins with new birth, which issues forth in repentance and faith, which then result in justification.

But repentance and faith are not the only fruit that come from new birth. It also manifests itself in every aspect of our behavior. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And yet, the change is not complete, we are not yet perfect.

Marc Roby: Yes, that fact is abundantly obvious when we look at ourselves and others.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is obvious, yes. If we have been born again and have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, then we are justified in God’s sight, and yet we are still sinners as well. Theologians have a Latin phrase they use for this condition.

Marc Roby: Well of course they do, they’re almost as bad as medical doctors in liking Latin.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose that’s true. In any event, Martin Luther stated that believers are simul justus et peccator, which means simultaneously just and sinner.[6] We are justified in God’s sight by our union with Christ as we discussed last session. And yet, we are still sinners. When God regenerates a person, he changes every aspect of the person’s being. The effects of regeneration are just as pervasive as the sinful nature. But, just as our sinful nature did not make us as bad as we could possibly be, so regeneration does not make us as good as we can possibly be, it does not perfect us. It does not remove sin completely. It simply begins the process. We are simultaneously just and sinner.

Marc Roby: Which expresses the idea that a Christian is a mixture. We have a desire and an ability to obey God, but we still have sin residing in us as well. And there is a war going on between our old and new natures.

Dr. Spencer: And that is exactly what the Bible teaches us. Let’s take a brief look at one passage that deals with this fact. In Colossians 3:5-10 Paul commands us, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: That passage has an interesting mix of statements in the past tense, like “you have taken off your old self”, and commands in the present tense, like “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature”.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why it is a great illustration of the inner conflict that exists in every true believer. If we have been born again, there is a very real and pervasive change that has occurred. John Murray calls this change, which is produced in our nature by regeneration, definitive sanctification.[7]

Marc Roby: Which is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks in the past tense about believers having been sanctified. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul told the believers in Corinth, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly, it is also what is being referred to in the passage we are looking at in Colossians when it says that we “used to walk in these ways” and that we “have taken off [our] old self”. But, in addition to this definitive sanctification, there is also progressive sanctification, which is indicated, for example, by the command to “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature”. We still have work to do.

When we are born again there is a dramatic and pervasive change in our nature, but it isn’t complete. God has ordained that we struggle against sin, walking in faith, until he calls us home. At that time he will perfect our spirits as we are told in Hebrews 12:23.

Marc Roby: Now that is something to look forward to!

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But let’s get back to the point you made that an unbeliever is not going to accept the answer given in Romans 9. I have a couple of things to say about that. First, whether or not an unbeliever will accept the truth has no bearing on whether it is the truth. Remember, an unbeliever also won’t accept the most basic truth that God exists and has revealed himself in his Word.

Marc Roby: What is the second thing you wanted to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: That there is no reason to really get into this question with an unbeliever unless he or she brings it up. While it is true that an unbeliever is totally depraved, dead in trespasses and sins, and cannot repent and believe unless God first regenerates him. It is equally true, as Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is what we should be saying to unbelievers. Share the gospel. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. Pray for their salvation. But don’t worry about how to reconcile God’s sovereign election with their personal liberty. That question doesn’t affect what they must do to be saved. Never once in the New Testament do we see someone asking “What must I do to be saved?” and then being told to be born again. They are told to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: I think that is good advice for evangelism. And I personally find God’s sovereign election to be a very comforting doctrine. I must do my job to evangelize, but no one is going to perish because I didn’t do my job well enough. If God has chosen someone for salvation, then they are going to be saved.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is a great encouragement. It is our business to live for God’s glory and to share his glorious gospel. It is God’s business to save sinners.

Marc Roby: And with that I think we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’ll answer as best we can.

 

[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, The Epistle to the Romans, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997, Vol. II, pg. 31

[3] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 62

[4] Ibid, pg. 65

[5] Ibid, pp 66-67

[6] R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Baker Books, 1995, pg. 102

[7] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Chap. 21

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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 going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then 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.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to discuss what it means to be made in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’”. [1] Which raises the obvious question, “What does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?”

Marc Roby: In Session 95, when we were discussing 1 John 3:2, which says in part that when God appears at the end of the ages, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” You quoted the theologian John Murray who said that “it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We need to be very careful with this concept. Murray also said that the “genius” of the devil’s temptation to Eve was to twist the meaning of being made in God’s likeness. Man was made in the image of God, he severely defaced that image when he sinned, and if we are in Jesus Christ, then God is working through his Holy Spirit to restore that image. We are, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, being “conformed to the likeness” of Jesus Christ, who is God.

But nowhere are we told that we will be “like God” in the sense the devil implied in tempting Eve. We will always be creatures. We will never possess deity. We will not have omnipotence, omniscience, self-existence or any other of God’s attributes to the full degree God does.

Marc Roby: In other words, we must always be mindful of the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. God is self-existent, we are created. God is immutable, we were made mutable as is evident from the fall.

Marc Roby: Although in heaven we will be confirmed in righteousness and unable to sin.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God that’s true. But even then we won’t be immutable, we will still learn and grow in knowledge and understanding for example. We will never be God, but we were created in his image.

Marc Roby: And so we return to our original question. Bearing in mind the Creator/creature distinction, what does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: Wayne Grudem points out that our English words image and likeness do a pretty good job of representing the Hebrew words they translate. An image of something can be a statue or photograph for example and it can be used to represent the original. For example, Federal office buildings in this country typically display a picture of the current president in the lobby. The picture is there to honor him and could be said to represent him as the head of the government. Grudem proposes that to the original audience the statement in Genesis 1:26 would simply have meant, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s reasonable. But it still leaves open the question of what it means to be like God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem points out that there have been three main views in the history of the church about what this means.[4] One is, “the substantive view, which identifies some particular quality of man (such as reason or spirituality) as being the image of God in man”. This view was held by Luther and Calvin, and many early church writers. Secondly, there have been “relational views, which held that the image of God had to do with our interpersonal relationships”. For example, Karl Barth saw the image as having to do with man being created male and female. Thirdly, there was “the functional view, which holds that the image of God has to do with a function we carry out, usually our exercise of dominion over the creation”.

Marc Roby: Well, those all seem like reasonable possibilities.

Dr. Spencer: And I think they all have merit and, in fact, are probably all correct. I suspect, as Grudem says, that “The expression refers to every way in which man is like God.”[5] And yet, I do think there is value in spending some time looking at a few of the specific things that this expression represents.

Marc Roby: Very well, which of the possibilities do you want to explore?

Dr. Spencer: Lets take a look at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says. It deals with this in Chapter IV, which is on Creation. In Paragraph 2 it says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We are told seven important things in this statement, all of which I think are involved in what it means to be made in the image of God. The first thing stated was that God created man male and female.

Marc Roby: How is that related to being made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Because God is triune, or we could say tri-personal, the fact that man was created male and female makes us better able to mirror his nature. When Jesus taught his disciples that they should not divorce, he said in Mark 10:6-8, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”

Marc Roby: I think it is important to point out that in a proper biblical marriage the expression “the two will become one flesh” has a much deeper meaning than just the physical union of a husband and wife.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. There is a profound emotional and spiritual unity in a proper marriage. The physical relationship alone can never make a successful marriage.

Marc Roby: Which may be part of the reason so many marriages end in divorce. People, especially men, tend to focus on external appearance and the physical relationship.

Dr. Spencer: I suspect you’re right about that being a significant contributing factor to the high divorce rate. The most important aspect of a successful marriage is the spiritual aspect. That is why God commands Christians to only marry “in the Lord” as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 7. In that passage the apostle Paul is giving instructions about marriage and he wrote, in Verse 39, that “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

Marc Roby: And that command applies to men as well as to women and it also applies to being married the first time, not just after a spouse has died. We can infer that from what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 he commanded, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” To be “yoked together” speaks, of course, of two oxen being connected by a wooden yoke and working together to pull a plow or cart. And Paul goes on to explain why we should not be yoked together with unbelievers, he writes in the last half of Verse 14 on through the first part of Verse 16, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

Dr. Spencer: Paul doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does he? He asks four rhetorical questions, starting with, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” The obvious answer to that question is, “nothing”. And the others are equally obvious. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and Belial – which is referring to Satan. A believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common when we speak about the most fundamental issues in life, and there can be no agreement between the temple of God and the temple of idols. Paul then seals the whole argument by pointing out that “we are the temple of the living God.” Because God lives in his people by the Holy Spirit, we cannot form the most intimate relationships with unbelievers, we cannot be “yoked together”.

Marc Roby: This does not prohibit us from normal day-to-day interactions with unbelievers of course. We must still live in the world, and that even includes entering into contractual obligations with unbelievers and so on.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But I think the modern church has gone very far into the opposite error of living as if there were no truly significant difference between believers and unbelievers. That cannot be true. We’re getting too far off topic to spend any significant time on that now, but the Bible speaks from beginning to end about the need for separation. We are not to live as the world lives. We are to represent Christ, in other words we are to function as God’s image bearers, which brings us back to our topic.

A Christian husband and wife have a very deep spiritual unity in addition to the physical and emotional unity present in a healthy marriage. And that union of two persons does a better job of representing the triune God than an individual person can.

Marc Roby: I can imagine someone asking why, given that we are made in the image of a triune God, there are only two in a marriage.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem deals with this question.[6] He points out that the analogy between marriage and the Trinity is not perfect and secondly, and most importantly, that the Bible does not explicitly answer that question. Nevertheless, we can speculate that the difference may be a reflection of the fact that God is much greater than we are. Also, when a human father and mother have a child, there are three. Which makes the analogy to the Trinity somewhat better.

Marc Roby: But what about single people? There are also made in the image and likeness of God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are not in any way inferior to those who are married. Nor are married couples who can’t have children in any way inferior to those that do. We don’t want to make too much of this aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God. But we also don’t want to make too little of it. The fact that human beings exist as male and female is a very important part of who we are. And for people who are still single, or childless, there are still other important relationships that express the fact that we do not exist as individuals in isolation. The most important human relationship for a Christian is with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is expressed most tangibly in our being an active part of a local church.

Marc Roby: Alright. Getting back to the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, it goes on to say that God “created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls”.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that we have “reasonable and immortal souls” is a very important part of our being made in his image and likeness. First of all, we have a soul. There is some debate among Christians as to whether there is a difference between the soul and spirit or whether those are two names for the same thing, but I want to put off that discussion for a later podcast. For the moment, let’s use the words soul and spirit as being interchangeable. The main point is that “God is Spirit” as Jesus told us in John 4:24, so our being made in his image includes the fact that we also have a spirit or soul.

Marc Roby: And the Confession says that our souls are “reasonable and immortal”.

Dr. Spencer: Which is also very important. Man’s ability to reason is one of the things that clearly separates us from animals. I’m not denying that some animals have the ability to reason in a limited sense, they can solve certain puzzles and problems and some of the higher animals can clearly communicate in various ways, but there is a clear difference between even the highest animals and man. I don’t want to spend time trying to quantify or specifically delineate the difference, I’ll just assume for the moment that the difference is obvious to all, or almost all, of our listeners.

The second thing said is also critically important; our souls are immortal. The clear teaching of the Bible is that when we die physically, our bodies cease functioning and are separated from our souls. But we go on living. The body is, in some sense, a physical habitation for the soul. But the essence of our being is immaterial, it is our soul. And that does not cease to exist when our body dies.

Marc Roby: The best passage I can think of to support that statement is in the book of Hebrews. In Chapter 12 the writer tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and his heavenly kingdom. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we are encouraged by reading, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Dr. Spencer: Praise God! He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ and that salvation culminates in our spending eternity with him in heaven. And, as you noted, this passage speaks about the immortality of the soul, because we are told that there is a great assembly right now in the heavenly Jerusalem, and that assembly includes thousands upon thousands of angels as well as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”

If we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a result of being united to him by faith, then when we die our souls, or spirits, are instantly perfected and come into the very presence of God. We then live in that perfected but disembodied state until God finishes his work of creating the church. At which time Jesus will come to earth again to judge the living and the dead and we will receive our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: What a glorious hope that is!

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and we will spend more time on all of that when we get to soteriology and eschatology, but for now we want to stick to the fact that man has both a material part, which is our physical body, and an immaterial part, which is our soul or spirit. The immaterial part is by far the most important. We can live without a physical body, but without a soul or spirit to animate them our bodies would be nothing but dead lumps of highly organized chemicals.

Marc Roby: That isn’t a particularly flattering way to put it, but I think that your meaning is clear.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, we must also point out that our spirits are not the same as God’s spirit. As always, there is the Creator/creature distinction. God created us, body and spirit. Our spirits are immortal only because God has determined to keep them so. We don’t have the power of life within us. We are not self-existent. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are not God and we never will be.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we done with what you want to say about the soul for now?

Dr. Spencer: We are. And to recap, in examining the statement made in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV, Paragraph 2, we have noted that we are made in the image of likeness of God in terms of our being male and female, and in terms of having reasonable and immortal souls. The next thing that the Confession mentions is that we have knowledge.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to discussing that, but I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

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

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 306

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 443

[4] Ibid, see footnote 8

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 455

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Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, I’m excited about today’s session because we are ready to begin studying systematic theology proper.

Dr. Spencer: I’m excited as well. We’ve gone nearly a year now and have covered a lot of material as background and motivation. We first talked about why people should be interested in what the Word of God says and gave a summary of the Bible’s teaching. We then noted that the Bible claims to be the infallible Word of God and spent quite a bit of time on extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible’s claim. We also discussed the nature of true saving faith to make it clear that our faith does not depend on the extra-biblical evidence. We then moved on to discuss the doctrine of the Word of God. We did that because even though it is true that God reveals himself in nature, that revelation is not sufficient for a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And so God graciously gave us special revelation in his Word.

Dr. Spencer: And we showed that the Word of God is sufficient, necessary, authoritative and clear in its teaching. It is sufficient and necessary for salvation. It is our ultimate and absolute authority in life, and the basic message is clear to anyone who takes the time to explore what it says. We also went on to discuss delegated authority in the home, state and church. And, most recently, we covered the infallibility of the Bible and the science of hermeneutics, which allows us to interpret it correctly.

Marc Roby: We also gave a couple of examples of really bad theology, which is common in the world today, as evidence for why it is so important for us to read the Word with great care.

Dr. Spencer: The time we’re living in makes me think of what the prophet Amos said. In Amos 8:11 God told his people that “The days are coming, … when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” [1]

In our day we are swimming in a sea of heretical views of Christianity – so it isn’t like dying of thirst because of having no water at all, but of having no fresh water! It’s more like dying of thirst while surrounded by salt water! We need to know what the Word of God really says so that we can have the pure, fresh water of the Word of God to assuage our thirst for truth.

Marc Roby: That’s a good metaphor. So, now that we are ready to dive into systematic theology, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to follow, somewhat loosely at times, a well-established outline in reformed theology. It covers what are called the six loci of theology. A locus is a central point or focus of something, so the six loci are the six main headings under which we can organize all of systematic theology. Those six loci are: 1) Theology proper, which means the study of God; 2) Anthropology, which means the study of man; 3) Christology, which means the study of Jesus Christ the Redeemer; 4) Soteriology, which means the study of salvation; in other words, how sinful men can be saved; 5) Ecclesiology, which means the study of the church; and 6) Eschatology, which means the study of last things; in other words, of the final eternal state of everything.

Marc Roby: I might add that some theologians would add the doctrine of Scripture, which we have already covered, as another locus, rather than as background.

Dr. Spencer: I’m not surprised that you would mention that since one of your favorites, John Frame, is an example of a theologian who would do so.[2] If we include the doctrine of the Word of God as a locus, then it would be first and we would have seven loci. In that case, we could say that we are done with the first of the seven loci and are moving on to the second.

Marc Roby: This outline also roughly conforms to that followed by John Calvin in his monumental work The Institutes of the Christian Religion. His work is divided into four books, with Book 1 being on the knowledge of God the Creator, Book 2 being on the knowledge of God the Redeemer, Book 3 being on the mode of obtaining the grace of Christ, and Book 4 being on the Holy Catholic Church. Now, the word “Catholic” here simply means universal and does not imply any connection to the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr. Spencer: And in his Institutes, Calvin includes a discussion of the Scriptures in Book 1. We can also look at the Westminster Confession of Faith and note that it begins with the Word of God. We’ve said before, but it bears repeating in this day of self-professed Christians ignoring the Bible, that the Bible is the only place we have an objective revelation of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense therefore, to call myself a Christian and not take the Bible very seriously.

But, getting back to our outline of systematic theology, it also conforms, again loosely, to that followed in a number of systematic theology books. For those listeners who are interested in references to use as we go through this material, I recommend James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith as a good readable introduction.[3] For a more in-depth treatment I recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology[4] and also Charles Hodge’s 3-volume Systematic Theology, which is even available online as a pdf for free.[5] A good but extremely concise treatment can also be found in J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology.[6]

Marc Roby: Those are all good references. And perhaps we should also mention that for those of our listeners who are well read and want to dive into something more challenging, there are good translations of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion available as well.[7]

Dr. Spencer: In fact, you can also find a pdf copy of the Institutes online for free.[8] The detailed references for all these things are given in the transcript of this session as always. All of our podcasts and their associated transcripts can be found on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org. And I would also like to mention, since many people don’t listen to the end of our podcasts, that we have a free gift available to any of our listeners. If you go to our webpage, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of Good News for All People, a short presentation of the gospel written by our founding pastor, Rev. P.G. Matthew. It is, in my opinion, the finest short presentation of the gospel available.

Marc Roby: I agree with that view. And I would point out that if someone is a mature Christian and doesn’t think he or she needs the book, they could get a free copy and give it to a friend. So, at long last, are we ready to start with Theology proper?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we finally are. This topic often starts by discussing the knowability of God through general and special revelation. But we’ve already covered those topics, so we are going to jump right in and start to examine the attributes of God.

Marc Roby: And by attributes you mean different aspects of God’s being.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Theologians have come up with different ways of categorizing God’s attributes, but I like the common approach of breaking them into two categories; his incommunicable attributes, meaning those that he does not share with his creatures, and his communicable attributes, which are those that we, in some measure, share.

Marc Roby: Of course, as Grudem points out in his book,[9] these categories are not absolute.

Dr. Spencer: No they’re not absolute, but they are useful because we have to always be aware of the infinite gulf between God as the Creator and ourselves as creatures.

Marc Roby: We also have to guard against God being thought of as just a collection of different attributes.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely have to guard against that. In dealing with that subject, theologians talk about the simplicity of God.

Marc Roby: I don’t think most people think of God as simple, but that isn’t what is meant here, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it is not what’s meant here. When theologians talk about the simplicity of God they are using the word to mean that God is not composed of parts. Some theologians would prefer to use the term unity, rather than simplicity, to avoid the confusion;[10] but the word unity doesn’t have quite the same idea.

Marc Roby: What is the essential idea?

Dr. Spencer: The central idea of saying that God is simple is that he isn’t made up of parts and he can’t in any way be separated. Of course God is not a physical being as we are, so we aren’t talking about God being made up of arms and legs and so on. But even though we have a hard time imagining what a pure spirit is, we must guard against thinking of God as disconnected parts.

For example, consider one of modern pseudo-Christianity’s favorite verses, which gives us one attribute of God; 1 John 4:16 says, in part, “God is love.” And that is without any doubt true. But God is also just and holy and therefore his simplicity tells us that his love is a just love, and a holy love. And his justice is a loving and holy justice, and so on. It helps us to think of God’s attributes separately, but we must always remember that God is all of them, all the time and that they all interact all the time. There is no conflict or separation in God. That is what is meant by the simplicity of God.

Marc Roby: John Frame puts it this way, “Each [of God’s attributes] is essential to him, and therefore his essence includes all of them. God cannot be God without his goodness, his wisdom, and his eternity. In other words, he is necessarily good, wise, and eternal. None of his attributes can be removed from him, and no new attribute can be added to him. Therefore, none of his attributes exists without the others.”[11]

Dr. Spencer: I like that explanation a lot.

Marc Roby: Alright, which of God’s attributes would you like to examine first?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin with his aseity.

Marc Roby: Let me define that word for those listeners who are not familiar with it. Aseity means to exist in and of yourself; in other words, to exist independently, without a cause.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And it is the attribute that is highlighted by the name of God. In Exodus 3 we read the story of Moses being confronted by God. Remember that Moses was born in Egypt at a time when the Jewish people had been commanded to throw all male babies into the Nile because the Egyptians were concerned that the Israelites were becoming too numerous as we read in Exodus Chapter 1. Moses’ mother however, put him in a basket and left him floating in the Nile, where he was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household but knew about his Jewish identity. At one point he murdered an Egyptian for beating a Jewish slave and he had to flee to a foreign country. And it is in that foreign country where God appeared to him in a burning bush.

Marc Roby: And God famously told Moses that he was sending him to Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from their bondage to the Egyptians.

Dr. Spencer: To which Moses replied, as we read in Exodus 3:13, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

Marc Roby: I’m always amazed at the audacity of Moses to ask God for his name.

Dr. Spencer: It is even more amazing that God actually revealed his name! In Verse 14 we read that “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” We need to understand that names had much greater significance to the ancient Jewish people than they do to us today. And the name God gives to Moses is very significant. As Boice points out in his book, “It is a descriptive name, pointing to all that God is in himself. In particular, it shows him to be the One who is entirely self-existent, self-sufficient and eternal. … these attributes more than any others set God apart from his creation and reveal him as being what he is in himself.”[12]

Marc Roby: I remember you noting that the Creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible way back in Session 2, when we first outlined what the Bible teaches. You were commenting on Genesis 1:1, which says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Dr. Spencer: The Creator/creature distinction is absolutely critical. We cannot understand the Bible in any meaningful way without knowing that we are merely dependent creatures. I very much like the way Matthew Henry put it, and Boice quotes him on the same page as the comments I quoted above. Henry wrote that “the greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely – and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say – I am that I am.”[13]

It is impossible for us to grasp the full import of this name. God exists necessarily, independently, eternally. His existence is necessary because, as I noted in Session 1, something, or someone, must be eternal. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now. Nothing comes out of nothing. He also exists independently. God doesn’t need us, or anyone or anything else. He is entirely self-sufficient. The fact that God exists necessarily also implies that he has existed eternally; his existence had no beginning and it will have no end.

Marc Roby: I agree with you that we cannot fully grasp this point. But it does put the lie to a common view in modern churches that God created men in order to have fellowship.

Dr. Spencer: That view is profoundly unbiblical, at least in the way it is understood by many. We do have fellowship with God, that is true. In fact, the greatest thing about heaven is that we will see him as he is and have perfect fellowship with him. But we must never let ourselves think that God was moping around in his loneliness prior to creating us. There was perfect fellowship within the three persons of the godhead. God does not need his creation in any way. He created simply because he chose to out of his own good pleasure, not because he had some need. We read in Ephesians 1:11 that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.

He doesn’t need our worship, he doesn’t need our help in saving others, he doesn’t need us to govern the rest of creation. He doesn’t need us in any way. We are to live for his glory, but we cannot add to his glory. The best we can possibly do is to reflect his glory to the rest of creation.

Marc Roby: Boice gives a quote from A.W. Tozer, which makes the same point, and which I really like. Tozer said that “Were all human beings suddenly to become blind, still the sun would shine by day and the stars by night, for these owe nothing to the millions who benefit from their light. So, were every man on earth to become atheist, it could not affect God in any way. He is what he is in himself without regard to any other. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfections; to doubt him takes nothing away.”[14]

Dr. Spencer: That is a fabulous quote to end on, so I think we are done for today. I’d like to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

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

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

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

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

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, available online as a pdf from http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/Systematic%20Theology%20-%20C%20Hodge%20Vol%201.pdf

[6] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Pub., 1993

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008

[8] See the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.pdf?url=

[9] Grudem, op. cit., pp 156-157

[10] E.g., Ibid, pg. 177

[11] Frame, op. cit., pg. 226

[12] Boice, op. cit., pg. 102

[13] Ibid, quoting from Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 1, pg. 225

[14] Ibid, pg. 104

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