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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: That analogy is readily understandable and useful. Murray says that “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin. Sin is the contradiction of the perfection of God and he cannot but recoil against that which is the contradiction of himself. … To deny propitiation is to undermine the nature of the atonement as the vicarious endurance of the penalty of sin. In a word, it is to deny substitutionary atonement.”[8]

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes, we see that clearly in the Genesis account of the fall of man. God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. They were allowed to eat from every other tree, they were only forbidden to eat from that one. But we read in Genesis 3:4-5 Satan came in the form of a serpent and said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. God is offended by sin. It needs to be covered. We noted last week that in the Old Testament period the high priest would go in to the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the cover of the ark. The ark contained the law of God, which the people had broken and which, therefore, testified against them. The symbolism was that when God, who appeared above the cover, looked down toward the ark, his view of the law would be blocked by the blood. In other words, the blood covered the tablets of the law, which testified against the people.

Marc Roby: One of the uses of the law identified by theologians is to drive us to Christ since it is evident that we have not, and indeed cannot, keep it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And in those verses Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: I will again summarize only a portion of Murray’s argument. Note that it is God who is working in this passage, not us. He has reconciled us to himself and he made Christ to be sin for us. Also note that the passage says God is “not counting men’s sins against them.” That is clearly speaking about his attitude toward us. And it speaks about what we have called the double imputation; namely, that God imputes our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. Verse 21 says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The fact that this is speaking about imputation makes it clear that it is not speaking about a real change in our attitude.

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid, pg. 30

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

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

[5] Ibid, pg. 31

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

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

[8] Ibid, pp 32-33

[9] Ibid, pg. 30

[10] W. Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 375

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

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

[13] Ibid, pg. 33

[14] Ibid, pg. 33

[15] Ibid, pg. 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And how does Murray define atonement?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What point is that?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Very well, please continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pg. 21

[6] Ibid, pg. 22

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I don’t like that conclusion.

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Which is the double transaction we have mentioned a number of times and about which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Paul also tells us about God’s solution to the problem in his letter to the Romans. First, in Romans 1:17 he wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” This verse tells us that there is a righteousness that comes from God, which means it is a perfect righteousness, and that it is “by faith”, which refers to the fact that we appropriate this righteousness in some way by faith.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: It is just as bad. But the very next verse begins in the English with a most wonderful word, the conjunction “but”, which introduces something that contrasts with the conclusion just reached. In Romans 3:21-22 we read, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

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

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

Dr. Spencer: And in Romans 3 Paul explains this further. Let me read Verses 22-26. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: Those verses say a lot!

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And how would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the ultimate cause of our salvation is the love of God. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John tells us in John 3:16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And we all like fair play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Last week we discussed the fact that Jesus Christ is our example and we are to imitate his life of perfect obedience to God. Dr. Spencer, what would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to finish our study of Christology and transition into a study of soteriology.

Marc Roby: Which is the doctrine of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Last time we discussed Jesus Christ as our example, which is a completely biblical idea. For example, Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:1-2 to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [1]

Marc Roby: And when you say that Paul commands us, it is because the verbs used in the original Greek are, in fact, in the imperative mood. He is commanding us to imitate God and to live a life of love as Christ did.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in the Greek the second of those commands actually says to walk in love as Christ did, which I think is a more vibrant and active way of putting it.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree.

Dr. Spencer: But, even though this idea of imitating Jesus Christ is biblical, it can be a dangerous concept if it is absolutized. In other words, if we reduce Christianity to nothing more than the modern-day bracelet with the initials WWJD, standing for “What Would Jesus Do?,” we completely miss the true gospel message. This is an example of the fact that you don’t have to say anything that is unbiblical to preach a heretical brand of Christianity. All you have to do is leave out certain parts of God’s Word.

Marc Roby: Yes, like sin, wrath and hell.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. People don’t like hearing about sin, or wrath, or hell, but they are essential to the true gospel. Many professing Christians today think of Jesus Christ as nothing more than an example. But that ignores his greatest work, which is that of being our atoning sacrifice.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that it was not appropriate for us to emulate Christ in everything he did. And, in the case of his sacrifice, we can say something even stronger. It is not possible for us to emulate that work, at least not in the ultimate sense.

Dr. Spencer: That is completely true. We may be called to die for the gospel, but the death of any mere human being cannot atone for the sin of anyone. We can’t take care of our own sin problem, let alone the sin problem of anyone else. Whereas, we are told in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Marc Roby: And, as we labored to show in Sessions 114 and 115, Christ is the unique God-man, the only one capable of being an efficacious sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: Which is a critically important point. But getting back to the modern view of Jesus as nothing more than a good example, such a view completely eviscerates Christianity of all serious meaning, and any so-called gospel based on this minimization of Jesus is not good news, it is terrible news, because it leaves people unsaved.

Marc Roby: In other words, it leaves them subject to God’s eternal wrath in hell.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the terrible truth. We are told in Matthew 1:21 that an angle told Joseph that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” But we need to understand what that means. We are told in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death”, and we read in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. We are all sinners. We have all rebelled against God. In the language of the Bible, we are all under a curse because of our sinful rebellion. And Jesus himself said in Matthew 25:46 that the cursed “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one”. It would, therefore, seem as though eternal life is unattainable for human beings, since only the righteous receive eternal life.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a logical conclusion, but once again, what is impossible with man is possible with God. We must first acknowledge however, the bad news. We are all sinners. We all begin life cursed. No one is righteous in himself. We begin life destined for eternal hell. But, praise God, the story doesn’t end there. In Romans 3:21-22 Paul wrote, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And that is the gospel in a nutshell.

No one is righteous in himself. So no one will receive eternal life if he is judged on his own merits. But there is a righteousness from God that is available to us. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. He is not just our example. He is our Savior. He is our Lord. He is our God.

Marc Roby: And if someone preaches a so-called gospel that does away with sin, wrath and eternal hell, he is preaching a false gospel.

Dr. Spencer: And he is preaching a false Jesus. Because he is preaching a Jesus who is nothing more than a good example. There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. We are told in Acts 4:12 that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And in John 3:18 we read that “Whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: You often hear something to the effect that Jesus came down to show us what true love and sacrifice look like. God is all about love and the whole Christian life and gospel are summarized by love.

Dr. Spencer: Which is in one sense true of course. And that is what makes the lie all the more dangerous. We are, in fact, told in 1 John 4:8 and 16 that “God is love”. And we also read in Matthew 22:37-40 that Jesus Christ himself told us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” But we create a completely heretical view of Christianity when we divorce these statements from the rest of Scripture and impose our own definition of “love” on them.

Marc Roby: As always we should use Scripture to interpret Scripture, which is the first rule of hermeneutics.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. God is love. But he is also holy and just. He is too pure to look on evil. He is angry with sin and he must punish it. That is why Jesus had to come and die a terrible death on the cross, and endure the wrath of the Father for our sins. I read 1 John 4:10 a few minutes ago, which gives us the biblical definition of love. It says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Love is not what we define it to be. It is not that we loved God. God’s love required that the second person of the Holy Trinity become incarnate, live a perfect life of obedience, and then take our sins upon himself, be nailed to the cross, bear the wrath of God on our behalf and die. That is love. It must be defined in light of God’s hatred of sin and the need for sin to be punished. Love is self-sacrifice for the benefit of another.

Marc Roby: And it is all the more amazing when you consider who Jesus died for. It was not for people who loved him, or were noble and worthy in some way, it was for his enemies. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Dr. Spencer: That is an amazing truth to consider. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The verse is so familiar that I think we often fail to be astounded by what it says. God gave his one and only Son! In other words, Jesus bore God’s wrath and died so that we might have eternal life. That fact alone tells us all we need to know about how horrible our sin is. It required the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to take away our curse. God hates sin. The same God who is love also hates sin. We can never forget that.

Marc Roby: And a so-called gospel that only speaks about God’s love, while not necessarily saying anything unbiblical, can be completely heretical by not saying all that must be said. It makes me think of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders. We read in Acts 20:26-27 that Paul said, “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”  The clear implication is that he would have been guilty of the blood of others if he had not proclaimed the whole will of God.

Dr. Spencer: That is a clear implication. And a bit later in his address to these elders, we read in Verses 29-30 that he said, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” This is what we see happening today in many churches. They are so interested in church growth, in having large numbers, that they water down the gospel to do away with the offense of the gospel. But, in the process, they also do away with the power of the gospel to save.

Marc Roby: In fact, if you never present the bad news that there really is an eternal hell and that by nature we all deserve to go there, you have to wonder what it is that we need to be saved from.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the problem. You end up with a social gospel. All it can “save” me from is feeling bad about myself. It can make me feel good about myself, it can encourage me to be kind to other people and to help feed the poor and so on, but it can’t save me from the guilt and power of sin.

J. Gresham Machen was a great 20th-century theologian who left Princeton Seminary when it got taken over by liberalism and he founded Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in order to continue to proclaim biblical truth. He wrote a marvelous book called Christianity & Liberalism, which even though it was first published in 1923, is extremely relevant today. In that book he wrote the following: “Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of ‘salvation’) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God.”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a great statement. My salvation requires an act of God. If I could be saved by doing my best to follow the example of Jesus Christ, then I would, in the end, be responsible for saving myself.

Dr. Spencer: And that would be impossible according to God’s infallible Word. Machen went on to say that “According to Christian belief, Jesus is our Saviour, not by virtue of what He said, not even by virtue of what He was, but by what He did. He is our Saviour, not because He has inspired us to live the same kind of life that He lived, but because He took upon Himself the dreadful guilt of our sins and bore it instead of us on the cross.”[3]

Marc Roby: He paid the penalty that I owed and could never pay. Praise God!

Dr. Spencer: Machen explains in this book why we need more than just a good example. He wrote that “an example of self-sacrifice is useless to those who are under both the guilt and thralldom of sin; … an exhibition of the love of God is a mere display unless there was some underlying reason for the sacrifice.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice is God’s just wrath toward sinners and the fact that we can’t ever pay the penalty we owe. Once God chose to save anyone, he had to solve our sin problem. Which he did through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely what many professing Christians today find offensive. The very idea that God is wrathful toward mankind and that his wrath needs to be appeased is offensive to the natural man. Therefore, he makes up a religion that does away with that offense. He may still call it Christianity, but it is an empty shell completely devoid of truth and power.

Machen wrote, “So modern liberalism, placing Jesus alongside other benefactors of mankind, is perfectly inoffensive in the modern world. All men speak well of it. It is entirely inoffensive. But it is also entirely futile. The offence of the Cross is done away, but so is the glory and the power.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. There is power in the true gospel. I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Dr. Spencer: And when Paul used the double negative – saying he is not ashamed of the gospel – he was using a literary device called a litotes to emphasize that he was proud of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Machen wrote that “Jesus was not for Paul merely an example for faith; He was primarily the object of faith.”[6]

Marc Roby: As he is for all true Christians. We place our absolute trust in him when we make the declaration that Jesus is Lord.

Dr. Spencer: And whenever anyone makes that profession truly, he or she is also giving up all pretense to autonomy. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, in the context Paul was speaking about sexual immorality, but the application of the principle is much broader than that. If we have been really born again, we belong to God, we were bought at a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We have no right to think or act in any way we want. We are to walk in obedience to God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: And no one can do that in his own power. We must be born again to repent and believe and we must be born again and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to be enabled to walk in obedience. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:5-8, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

Marc Roby: And the only way out of that terrible position of hostility toward God is to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: And that will be the topic of our next series of podcasts; soteriology, the biblical doctrine of salvation. But we are finished, at least for the time being, with what I want to say about Christology.

Marc Roby: Well I look forward to getting into the glorious topic of soteriology next time. But before we sign off, I want to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d be pleased 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] J. Greshem Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009, pg. 99

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] Ibid, pp 104-105

[6] Ibid, pg. 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: And it is a most blessed and gracious option. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In other words, if we repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are united to him by faith and he becomes our representative instead of Adam. The biblical language is that we are then “in Christ”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: That’s an incredible promise. And that brings us to the fifth reason Grudem gives for Jesus being a man. He must be a true man in order to be our example for how to properly live. We are told in Romans 8:29 that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And in 1 Peter 2:21 the apostle tell us, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we were discussing the question, “Why did God make man?” I think it would be good to give a brief summary of how we answered that question to set the stage for our discussion today.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, please do.

Marc Roby: Alright. We first presented the biblical answer to the question, which is that God made us for his own glory. And we then noted that we glorify God by obeying him, as Christ himself said in John 17:4. We also discussed the fact that as Christians we can have great joy even in times of suffering and that the Bible commands us to test ourselves to see if we are truly saved. Finally, we started to examine the first letter written by the apostle John to see how we are to test ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And I quoted from the Rev. P.G. Mathew’s commentary on First John, which says that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[1] We then dealt with the first of these, the doctrinal test.

Marc Roby: Although we didn’t give an exhaustive test of essential doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: Nor did the apostle John. He just gave some examples of the most important doctrines, like the full deity and humanity of Christ and the sinfulness of man.

Marc Roby: And, at the end of the session, you also mentioned Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection as essential doctrines.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. In 1 John 2:2 we read that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”[2]

Marc Roby: We probably need to point out that this verse does not lend any support to the heretical idea that all people will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t support the idea of universal salvation at all. You have to read the verse carefully and interpret it in light of the clear teaching of all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: Which is the first rule of hermeneutics; that we must use Scripture itself to understand Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And for interested listeners, we covered hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation, back in Sessions 39 through 48.

Marc Roby: I think it would also be good to point out that there is a topical index available, as well as a scripture index and an index of all references used in these podcasts. So our listeners can find where we have discussed different topics or verses in the Bible. These indexes are all available on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good reminder. And now, betting back to 1 John 2:2, notice exactly what John says in the verse. He first says that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins”, which is addressed to the original recipients of this letter. He was assuming that they were Christians, although I’m certain he was aware that non-Christians would read his letter too, so you don’t want to make too much of that point. He just didn’t want to take the time in this spot to spell out exactly who was included in the statement.

Marc Roby: Yes, our writing and speech would be pretty cumbersome if we always explained every possible exception or precisely defined every general statement.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very tiresome indeed. In any event, he then goes on to say that not only did Christ provide the atoning sacrifice for the recipients of this letter, but also, “for the sins of the whole world.”

When you see the contrast he is making you realize it isn’t at all necessary to assume that he means every single person in the world without exception. The statement makes perfectly good sense if all he had in mind were all believers everywhere, in contrast to the smaller group of believers to whom he was writing. And when you look at the rest of the Bible, it is abundantly obvious that not everyone will be saved.

Marc Roby: There is no doubt about that fact when you look at the whole Bible. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus tells us he will separate the people into two groups and in Verse 41 we read, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a terrifying verse, and it certainly shows that not everyone will be saved. I’ll cite just one more example to solidify this point. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus told us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Marc Roby: That’s another sobering verse. So the first test to know whether or not we are saved is doctrinal. If we don’t agree with the clear teachings of the Bible, we have no basis for believing we are saved.

Dr. Spencer: And in order to agree with the Bible, we must obviously know what it says. Therefore, being biblically illiterate is not an option for a true Christian.

Marc Roby: And I would say that anyone who has been born again will have a desire to read the word of God.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but let’s move on with examining John’s letter. The second kind of test John gives is moral. For example, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

I don’t know how John could have made this any clearer. The modern idea that we can have Jesus as Savior without having him as Lord; in other words, that I can be saved without any obedience, is completely contrary to the teaching of the apostle in these verses.

Marc Roby: And he was very politically incorrect in how he stated it. He says that anyone who claims to know Jesus Christ, by which he obviously means to know him as Savior, but does not obey him, he’s a liar. In other words, he is not saved.

Dr. Spencer: It goes against the grain in our culture, but our testimony about ourselves is of no value on the day of judgment. Our self-esteem and our self-evaluation will not matter. All that will matter is what Jesus says about us. If he says, “This one is mine, I died for his sins”, then we will be saved. If he says, “depart from me, I never knew you”, then we will be eternally dammed. There is no way to soft-pedal the true gospel. We do not earn our salvation nor do we, or could we, pay for it in any way. But, at the same time, the basic confession of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord, which implies that I am his bond slave. In other words, my salvation costs everything I am and have.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted in Session 95, Jesus provides the example for us to follow. We are to be conformed to his image. And John explicitly uses this as one of his moral tests. He wrote, in 1 John 2:5-6, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

Dr. Spencer: I love the biblical imagery of walking. It is far more descriptive than to say we should live like Jesus did. It implies effort and motion, taking one step after another. And the apostle Paul uses the same imagery. For example, in Ephesians 2:1-2 he wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live”. In the Greek it actually says “in which then you walked”.  The Greek word is περιπατέω (peripateō), which is the origin of our word peripatetic.

Marc Roby: And Paul uses the same word again in Ephesians 2:10. Let me quote it from the English Standard Version since it gives a more literal rendering of the Greek. It says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Dr. Spencer: And there we have the moral test in a nutshell. Paul agrees completely with John as we would expect since they were both inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is the true author of the entire Bible. We are to walk in the ways God has foreordained for us, being obedient to his revealed will. We are to walk as Jesus walked when he was on this earth.

Marc Roby: And he said, in John 8:29, that “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

Dr. Spencer: And we understand that we will not do that perfectly, but we must not use that as an excuse. We should be striving to do the will of God. I want to give a stern warning to our listeners. If you think you are a Christian, but that does not affect how you walk day by day in every area of life, then you must seriously question whether or not you have truly been born again. Read through the New Testament and note how many times it speaks of the necessity for us to live an obedient life.

Marc Roby: Yes, and how many times we are warned to test ourselves and to be sure about it.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right.

Marc Roby: But we still have one more type of test to examine; the social test.

Dr. Spencer: And we see the social test, for example, in 1 John 1:7, where we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”, which ties the moral and social tests together, and again makes use of the walking metaphor for life. If we walk, or live, as Jesus did, then we will also have fellowship with each other. That is the social test.

Marc Roby: And in 1 John 2:9-10 we read, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is, again, a common teaching throughout the New Testament. If we have been born again, we love other people. Other Christians first, but even our enemies. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” We are to love our enemies enough to do good for them, to share the gospel with them and pray for their salvation. And we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and have fellowship with them.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ told us the same thing. During the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, as we read in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, if I had to give a one-word answer to the question, “How is a Christian to live?” I would have to say “love”. But the answer is only correct when you apply a biblical definition of the word love. Jesus himself said, in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Marc Roby: And he also tells us in John 14:15 what it means to love God, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: And to love our neighbor as ourselves is summed up in the moral and social tests given by John. But, and this is a critically important qualification, we spoke earlier of the necessity for a Christian to be biblically literate and to agree with what the Bible teaches. This point is never more important that when you say that a Christian should love others.

I see yard signs all around our town that say love, but the clear message of these signs is that it doesn’t matter how a person lives. The message is that same-sex couples or transgender couples or whatever are all equally right. That is absolutely not the teaching of the Bible. I’m not saying that we should treat such people disrespectfully or attack them, but we dare not pretend that God approves of their conduct or that it doesn’t matter, that is not loving them. It matters eternally because they are rebelling against Almighty God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure we’ll spend more time on human sexuality later in our discussion of biblical anthropology, but do you have more to say about the social test?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. This is a point on which many modern churches fail miserably. I remember years ago a young woman in our church was away at law school and attended a different church while she was there. That church had a series of teachings on hospitality, but even after several weeks of such teaching no one even bothered to introduce themselves to her, find out about her, or ask her over to lunch. They sat next to her in the pew and then got up and went on about their own lives. That is not true Christian fellowship. We must care about other human beings. There are no Lone-Ranger Christians, but there also should not be Christians who only have their set group of friends and never reach out to anyone else.

Marc Roby: And we have to admit that we all have that tendency. But the bottom line is that love must be other oriented; it must look outward.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it must. It is often said that there are three marks that characterize a true church. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession deals with these marks. It says, “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.”[3] But our pastor, the Rev. P.G. Mathew has proposed there should be a fourth mark, and I think that’s completely biblical, and that fourth mark is community life.[4]

Marc Roby: We read about the earliest days of the church in Acts 2:42 where it says that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Dr. Spencer: It’s interesting to note that fellowship was listed second after only the apostle’s teaching. We need each other to live the Christian life. We need accountability, we need encouragement and sometimes we need physical help. And it isn’t just that I need help from others, I need to use my gifts and resources to help others as well. It isn’t healthy to live a self-focused life.

Marc Roby: And this admonition to love one another or serve one another is common in the New Testament. Paul wrote in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” And then again, in Romans 13:8 he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And Peter said much the same thing. We read in 1 Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

Marc Roby: And in John’s first letter, which we’ve been examining, we read the phrase “love one another” five times. In 1 John 3:11 we read, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” And then in Chapter 3 Verse 23 we read, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Dr. Spencer: And in 1 John 4:7 we are told, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Which again tells us that this is a good test of our salvation. If we love the way the Bible commands us to love, we have been born of God and we know God.

So, to recap what we have said, the purpose of life from our perspective is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to serve him all of life. If we do that, we will have eternal joy in his presence.

And the Bible commands us to test our faith and see if it is genuine. John’s first letter gives us three tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test.

Marc Roby: And we certainly hope that all of our listeners will pass these tests or cry out to God for mercy if they don’t. And with that, we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

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

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

[3] E.g., see https://reformed.org/documents/index.html

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 341

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s will. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by looking at 1 Peter 1:18-20, and in verse 20 it says that Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world” [1]. You also pointed out that he was chosen for the purpose of becoming incarnate and giving his life as an atonement to save his people from their sins. And that all of this is part of God’s decretive will.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is part, God decrees everything that happens, even our sin. Listen to what the apostle Peter said to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. We read this in Acts 2:22-24, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Marc Roby: And in Acts 4:28 we read that the believers were praying about the authorities crucifying Jesus Christ and they said, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Dr. Spencer: God’s will is wonderful. He can work directly in this universe, as he did in creation and as he does in regeneration, but he normally uses secondary agents to accomplish his purposes. In this case, he used this horrible sin of crucifying the completely innocent God-man Jesus Christ to bring about the redemption of his people. It completely boggles the mind. God used what was the worst sin ever committed to bring about the greatest good ever achieved.

Marc Roby: And yet Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was still morally culpable for his sin. And so were the Jewish leaders who conspired against him and condemned him, and so was Pontius Pilate, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, who acceded to their demands; they were all morally culpable for their sins even though they were accomplishing God’s set purpose in doing so.

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly were morally responsible for their sins. No one forced them to sin, even though God had ordained from before the creation of the world that they would do so. The theological term used to describe the fact that God’s free will and our free will can work together to accomplish exactly what God has foreordained, or decreed, is called concurrence. It is a very important concept.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the crucifixion of Christ is not the only dramatic example of concurrence. The story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt gives us another great example.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. But in order to give that example, we need to remind our listeners of some of the facts relating to Joseph’s life.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me begin. Joseph was one of the twelve Patriarchs of the Jewish people. He was the favorite son of his father Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was his father’s favorite, so they sold him to some Midianite slave traders who were heading down to Egypt and then told their father Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was later sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.

Dr. Spencer: And we read about all of that in Genesis Chapter 37. But God was gracious to Joseph in Egypt and through a long process, which included his being unjustly imprisoned for years, he miraculously became second in command in Egypt as we read in Chapters 39-41 of Genesis. We also read that there was a severe famine in the land and Joseph was in charge of Pharaoh’s storehouses of grain.

Marc Roby: And in Chapter 42 of Genesis we are told that there was also famine in the land of Canaan, where Joseph’s brothers and father lived. And because they heard that there was grain in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain for their families. In doing so, they came before their brother Joseph.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a lot that we are leaving out in order to get to our main point. This is a marvelous story of God’s grace and sovereignty and I encourage our listeners to read it if they don’t know the story. But to move on, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him because he now spoke, dressed and acted like an Egyptian, but he recognized them. I will again leave out a lot of wonderful and edifying material from Chapters 43 through 49 and just say that Joseph eventually revealed himself to his brothers and then his entire family, including his father Jacob, moved down to Egypt.

Marc Roby: And Jacob died in Egypt, which then left Joseph’s brothers worried. In Genesis 50:15 we read that “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’”

Dr. Spencer: And we finally come to the verses we want to discuss today. In Genesis 50:19-21 we read, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

Marc Roby: What a gracious response that was.

Dr. Spencer: It was incredibly gracious, but Joseph saw God’s purpose in all that had happened. I’m sure that as a human being he must have struggled with all of the trials he went through because of his brother’s hatred, and in the material we skipped over we do see him exacting a bit of revenge. But the main point here, just as we saw in Acts regarding the crucifixion of Jesus, is the concurrence between the free, sinful actions of human beings and God’s ultimate purpose and decrees.

Marc Roby: Now I suspect that that will sound very strange to many of our listeners. The idea that God would, in any way, concur with sinful acts.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that does sound strange to anyone who has not heard of this doctrine before. The word concur is often used to indicate agreement or approval, but it can also simply mean to act together toward some common goal, in which case it does not imply approval of the actions of the other person. And that is the sense in which we are using the word here.

God’s actions and the sinful actions of human beings can work together to bring about a result that God has decreed will happen, but there is no implication that God approves of the sinful actions.

Marc Roby: Louis Berkhof gives a good definition of concurrence in his systematic theology text. He writes that “Concurrence may be defined as the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of their operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great definition. We will have more to say about concurrence, which is part of the doctrine of God’s providence, when we finish with God’s attributes. But for now, let me just point out a couple of things. First, note that Berkhof talks about divine power and subordinate powers. God is in complete control of his creation. That does not mean that we are all puppets, but it does mean that we are completely subordinate. No one can thwart God’s plans. He brings about exactly what he has decreed will happen. When we sin, he uses our sin, together with other factors, to bring about his purposes.

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing thing to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It really is. But I also like the fact that Berkhof mentions the “pre-established laws” that are in operation. There are, for example, the laws of nature, which God himself established and upholds, but there are also laws, if you will, of human behavior. As we noted in Session 84 and will talk about more when we get to biblical anthropology, we do have free wills, but our wills are not absolutely free. We cannot violate our own nature. Which is perfectly logical and reasonable. It strikes me as exceedingly strange, to say the least, to think that I have the freedom to choose to do something that goes completely against all of my own inclinations and desires.

Marc Roby: That is indeed illogical. But, now that we have established that in order to accomplish his decretive will God works through secondary agents, including even the sinful actions of human beings, what else do you want to say about the will of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, since we have been talking about human sin and its relation to God’s will, I want to stick with that general idea and talk about what is usually called God’s permissive will. I can’t find a good definition of this term in any of my theology texts because theologians seem to not use the term. But Christians use it reasonably often, so I think we should discuss it. I think that what people usually mean by God’s permissive will is that it encompasses all those things that God allows to happen even though they are not what he desires or commands to have happen.

Marc Roby: And these actions may include sin as well as things that are not, in themselves sin.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s right. And although I can’t find a theologian speaking about God’s permissive will, Berkhof does talk about the fact that God’s eternal decree, which is basically synonymous with what we have been calling God’s decretive will, is permissive with respect to human sin.

Marc Roby: Now, that’s an interesting statement, can you explain what he means by that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. He wrote that when God decrees human sin, “It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination.”[3]

Marc Roby: This sounds like concurrence again, mixed in with God’s sovereign control of all things, including human sin. Berkhof’s point seems to be that God permits sin, but it is never outside of his control and is used by him to accomplish his own purposes.

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

Marc Roby: When people speak of God’s permissive will, it is usually in some way contrasted with his perfect will.

Dr. Spencer: That contrast is what you typically hear.[4] And what is usually meant by God’s perfect will for us is almost synonymous with his revealed, or preceptive will. It is what God has commanded us to do, although it often goes beyond that. For example, someone might talk about it not being God’s perfect will for them to marry a particular individual, whereas Scripture, of course, does not command us to marry or not marry a specific individual. It only gives us the command that as Christians, we must marry another Christian.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard that kind of talk, and it does make a valid point. We can make decisions that are not necessarily sinful, they aren’t the wisest choice. God will not usually intervene in any direct way to stop his people from making bad decisions, or even from sinning, so we need to be careful to not conclude that just because he allows us to do something, that it is the best thing to do, or even to conclude that it isn’t sin.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that is the point usually being made when people talk about God’s permissive will versus his perfect will. And it is an important point. It should scare us to know that God will allow us to make bad decisions. And it should scare us even more when we read, for example, that God allowed King David to commit adultery and murder. We would prefer to read that David was prevented from doing so. But the reality is that, for his own perfect purposes, God allows his people to sin, sometimes grievously. And we cannot take any solace in the fact that he is sovereign even over our sins and will somehow use them to accomplish his good purposes. It would always, without exception, be better for us to not sin.

Marc Roby: I completely agree. We need to seek to be led by the Word of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in order to avoid sin and even decisions that are not sinful, but that are also not the wisest choice.

Dr. Spencer: And we have a great promise from God about temptation to sin. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great promise. But it does not say that God will not allow us to be tempted. It only says that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.

Dr. Spencer: And the painful truth is that we sometimes give in to temptation in spite of God keeping it limited to what we can bear. We need to be very careful to watch our life and doctrine closely as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16. God will provide a way out of every temptation, but we must look for it and avail ourselves of it. If we don’t, we will suffer harm.

Marc Roby: Yes, and very often others will be harmed as well.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. This is why Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer to pray that God would deliver us from temptation. He also told us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10), which is obviously speaking about God’s preceptive will; in other words, we are praying that people, including ourselves, would obey God’s commands. It would make no sense for this to refer to God’s decretive will since whatever God decrees will, in fact, happen. Therefore, if this referred to God’s decretive will we would be praying that God would cause what is going to happen to happen.

Marc Roby: That certainly wouldn’t make any sense. But I doubt that many people are consciously aware that they are praying for their own obedience when they pray the Lord’s prayer. What else do you want to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is important to distinguish between what theologians call God’s necessary and free wills.

Marc Roby: We have already pointed out that there are things that God cannot do, so his necessary will must refer to those things which he must do because he is God. Things like continuing to exist and always telling the truth.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what is meant, so in a sense we’ve covered God’s necessary will already. But the important point I want to make is that God also does many things freely, and it is particularly important for us to know that creation was God’s free decision. He did not need to create this universe for any reason. Nor did he need to redeem anyone after the fall.

Marc Roby: You do sometimes here Christians talk about God creating us for fellowship, which sounds a bit like he would be lonely without us.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the view I want to oppose. It is unbiblical. God is love as we are told in 1 John 4:16, and that is an essential attribute of God. It is part of his fundamental nature. It was true before he ever created this universe. There was absolutely perfect love and fellowship between the persons of the Trinity prior to the creation of this universe. God did not need to create. Wayne Grudem states it well in his systematic theology. He wrote that “It would be wrong for us ever to try to find a necessary cause for creation or redemption in the being of God himself, for that would rob God of his total independence. It would be to say that without us God could not truly be God. God’s decisions to create and to redeem were totally free decisions.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a very important, and humbling, point. Is there anything else you wanted to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go back to the Lord’s prayer and note again that in that prayer Christ taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth, which certainly includes in our own lives. If we have surrendered our lives to Christ, we must work hard to submit our will to his will. When Jesus was crying out to the Father from the Mount of Olives prior to his crucifixion, we read in Luke 22:42 that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” That is the kind of complete submission to God that all of us should strive to achieve in our own lives.

I’ve heard that people used to add the letters D.V. to statements of their intentions for the future. For example, I might write that I will visit you in Oregon this summer, D.V. The letters D.V. stand for the Latin phrase deo volente, and mean God willing.

Marc Roby: Which comes, of course, from James 4:13-15, where we read, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Dr. Spencer: I assume that is where it comes from, yes. And although I’m sure it can easily become a meaningless cliché used to try and sound godly, it is a good sentiment to have in mind at all times. As Christians, our job is to seek to know and do the will of God. As Jesus himself told us in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Marc Roby: I think that is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[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] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 171

[3] Ibid, pg. 105

[4] It shows up, for example, in a popular old daily devotional called My Utmost for his Highest by Oswald Chambers, see the entry for December 16.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 213

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed God’s love, which can be viewed as an aspect of his goodness. What are we going to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s holiness.

Marc Roby: And the root meaning of that term has to do with separation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. According to the great Hebrew scholar and Old Testament theologian E.J. Young, the root word “is generally taken in the sense ‘to separate, cut off.’”[1] And God is separate from his creation in two different senses. First and foremost of course is the awesome fact that he is the Creator and everything and everyone else are mere creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is why we have emphasized the Creator/creature distinction a number of times in these podcasts.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is the dominant sense in which the word holy is used in the Bible with respect to God. But there is also an ethical sense because God is entirely separate from sin. The prophet Habakkuk exclaimed to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” [2]

Marc Roby: That is a big problem for sinful creatures like us.

Dr. Spencer: That is not only a problem, it is the problem of the human race. It is the problem that, in one sense, defines our existence in this life. We live in a world corrupted by sin and inhabited by sinners, the effects are pervasive. In fact, the Bible makes clear that since the fall, the sole purpose of human existence, from our perspective, is to deal with this problem. Coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and thereby taking care of our sin problem, is the one thing needful as Jesus told Mary.

Marc Roby: You’re using the King James wording when you say “the one thing needful”, but you are, of course, referring to the time when Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, all of whom Jesus loved.

Martha was preparing a meal for them and was distracted by all of the preparations that needed to be made, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha then complained about this and Jesus replied, as we read in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Dr. Spencer: That is, of course, the situation I am referring to, and I like the King James wording –only one thing is needful.

We must take note that there was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing, in fact, it was a good thing. But even things that are good and necessary in this life are of no importance in comparison with coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. And this topic is particularly appropriate at this time of year. In our previous session we discussed the love of God, which was an appropriate message for our last podcast before Christmas because God’s sending his own Son to pay for our sins is the greatest possible expression of love. But today’s message is no less fitting for the first podcast after Christmas because when we are confronted with the holiness of God, our own sinfulness and need for a Savior is immediately and obviously apparent.

Marc Roby: You said last time that people must receive the bad news that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves before they can receive the good news of the gospel, that there is Salvation possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must. And considering the holiness of God brings us face-to-face with the bad news. There is a classic passage I would like to examine today as we begin to look at this extremely important topic.

Marc Roby: What passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is Isaiah 6:1-7.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing passage, where the prophet tells us about receiving his call from God.

Dr. Spencer: And in that passage we see the most glorious and awesome vision of God given to anyone in the entire Bible. It begins, in Verse 1, with Isaiah telling us, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

Marc Roby: A little history will probably help our listeners. Uzziah, who is also known as Azariah, was the king of the southern kingdom of Judah from about 792 to 740 B.C. He started out as a godly king, and served for a very long time – 52 years. But late in life he became proud and God punished him with leprosy. His reign however was a time of great prosperity for the nation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, much like the times we are living in now, which should serve as a warning to us. In any event, P.G. Mathew notes the importance of this history in his commentary on Isaiah. He wrote that “Despite Uzziah’s unfaithfulness late in life, he had been an able administrator and military leader, and the people had looked to him for protection. Now his very long reign had ended and the people did not know what to do. It was in this context that God was saying, ‘Don’t worry, Isaiah, the King is not dead.’ So Isaiah says, ‘I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted’.”[3]

Marc Roby: It is always the greatest possible source of comfort for Christians in troubling times to know that God is seated on his throne and is absolutely sovereign over everything and everyone in the universe.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is our greatest comfort. But Isaiah was given this comfort to an extreme degree by being given this vision of the heavenly throne room. Now in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 God is described as, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Therefore, E.J. Young points out that “It is not the essence of God which Isaiah sees, for, inasmuch as God is spiritual and invisible, that essence cannot be seen by the physical eye of the creature. At the same time it was a true seeing; a manifestation of the glory of God in human form, adapted to the capabilities of the finite creature, which the prophet beheld!”[4] And Young goes on to note that “He sees God as sovereign in human form, and this appearance we learn from John was an appearance of Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, he is referring to John 12:41, which we read just a little while ago in our daily readings[6], where John gives a quote from Isaiah Chapter 6 and then says, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the verse he was referring to. Isaiah saw a pre-incarnate vision of Christ. But let’s read a little more of the revelation given to Isaiah. Let me read Verses 1-4. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

Marc Roby: Just the thought of being given a vision like that gives you the chills. The word awesome is overused in this day and age, but it is completely appropriate here. I can’t think of anything that would inspire more awe than this.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. Awe means a strong feeling of fear, respect and wonder, and this vision would certainly inspire all of those things to the highest degree possible.

Marc Roby: And the prophet had exactly that reaction. In Verse 5 we read about Isaiah’s reaction. He cried out “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Dr. Spencer: I again like the King James wording better here, it translates the first part of Isaiah’s response as “Woe is me! for I am undone”. Somehow the word “undone” is more powerful.

Marc Roby: That is a powerful word. Being undone does not sound like a pleasant experience.

Dr. Spencer: It isn’t a pleasant experience at all. But we must ask, “Why did Isaiah say he was undone?” R.C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God provides an interesting perspective on this passage.[7] He points out that to be undone is a very descriptive term; it means to come apart at the seams, to disintegrate. It is the very opposite of being integrated, or coming together. Now we don’t say that an individual is integrated; we say that he has integrity, but it is the same root. It means to be together; or, in casual speech, to have it all together. So to be undone is to realize that you do not have integrity, you do not have it all together. And who could say anything else in the presence of a holy God? When we compare ourselves with each other we may be able to say that someone is a person of integrity, or that he or she has their act together. But when we compare any of us to God, that illusion disappears.

Marc Roby: It certainly does. God is perfect in every conceivable way and, more to the point, he is, as we have emphasized, our Creator.

Dr. Spencer: And not only is he the Creator of all, but he is also the Judge of all. And this judge does not need a prosecuting attorney, or any witnesses to be called, or any evidence to be presented because he knows everything perfectly. And no defense is possible. Whatever charges he brings against us are guaranteed to be absolutely true. That should be terrifying. Think about a courtroom here on earth. Even that can be an intimidating place.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’m sure it can be. I’ve never been a defendant in a case, but even serving on a jury gives you an idea. The judge is separated from the attorneys, jury, lawyers and audience. He sits up higher, he wears a robe, you all rise when he enters the court, and so on. There is serious decorum demanded.

Dr. Spencer: And not only demanded, but enforced by officers with guns and a judge with authority to throw you into jail for contempt of court. That is scary, and it is meant to be because they are dealing with very serious issues. But the throne room of God is infinitely more important and impressive and the issues dealt with are infinitely more important because they deal with the eternal destinies of people.

Marc Roby: Which, quite literally, does make it infinitely more important.

Dr. Spencer: And we must also think about the standard being used by this perfect judge. We are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we are to, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In this verse holiness is obviously being used in the moral sense. We cannot become God. We will always be creatures and so cannot be separate in that sense. But God does demand that we be holy in the moral sense. As we saw earlier, the prophet Habakkuk properly said to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, that “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”  Because God is holy, we must also be holy or we will not see him, which means we will not go to heaven when we die.

Marc Roby: And the only alternative is hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is the only alternative. And every single human being alive will face judgment. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Marc Roby: God’s holiness, combined with his power and perfect knowledge, are extremely bad news for anyone who faces him standing on their own.

Dr. Spencer: They are the worst possible news. Anyone who stands before God on his or her own will be sent to eternal hell. But, praise God, there is a way of escape. Going back to the revelation God gave to Isaiah, we read in the next two verses, Isaiah 6:6-7, that “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”

Marc Roby: Having a hot coal touched to your lips would be extremely painful, but nonetheless, it is wonderful news. Our sins can be atoned for.

Dr. Spencer: They can, but not by our effort. Only God is able to do that. And he has done it through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We just celebrated his birth last week, which is the pivotal point in human history, and in a few months we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter, which speak about the culmination of his work of redemption.

Marc Roby: And just in case some of our listeners do not know about Good Friday and Easter, we should point out that Good Friday is the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate his resurrection from the dead.

Dr. Spencer: And praise God for Christ and his atoning sacrifice. I quoted from Hebrews 9:27 a minute ago, but let me read all of that verse this time, along with the next. Hebrews 9:27-28 tell us that “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glorious hope of all Christians.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. And we should be extremely thankful that God’s attribute of holiness is communicable, because we are not holy, and yet as we read a couple of minutes ago, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, the Christian’s ultimate hope is that God will perfect us in Christ and we will, ultimately, be perfectly holy in his presence.

Marc Roby: And, of course, our holiness is not the basis of our salvation – that is the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. We don’t become holy in this life and then earn heaven by our holiness. Rather, having already been justified by faith, we are made holy by God through a process which begins when we are born again and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and it isn’t completed until after we die.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We will talk about that process in some detail in a later podcast, but for now let me just summarize it. All people are sinners in need of a Savior. But, praise God, he has chosen to save certain people. And those whom he has chosen to save he effectually calls, which means that he causes them to be born again, and they then respond in repentance and faith. And God then works in them to change them throughout this life. When we die, our souls are perfected and brought into the presence of God as we read in Hebrews 12:23. Then, when Christ returns, we receive our perfected resurrection bodies as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and we then begin our eternal state perfected and living in God’s presence forever.

During this life, however, this process of sanctification involves suffering, which none of us like, but it is for a good purpose. In Hebrews 12:10 we are told that “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Marc Roby: Now that is a glorious thought, to share in God’s holiness. Which then makes us fit to be in heaven with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is God’s glorious plan of salvation. The whole purpose of creation and human history is for God to redeem a people for himself. When that has been accomplished, this universe will end and God will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Marc Roby: We read about that in 2 Peter Chapter 3, which tells us, in Verse 13, that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: And because it is the home of righteousness, or we could say holiness, it is only those who share in God’s attribute of holiness who will be there. And the only way, as sinful human beings we can do that, is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: I assume we have more to say about the holiness of God, but this looks like a good place to end for today. I want to remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to respond.

 

[1] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Vol. 3, 1972, pg. 242 (fn 19)

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

[3] P.G. Mathew, Isaiah: God Comforts His People, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2018, pp 49-50

[4] Young, op. cit., pg. 235

[5] Ibid, pg. 237

[6] Our church’s daily reading schedule is available from the home page of our website: https://gracevalley.org/

[7] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Living Books, 1985, pp 42-44

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today with a special Christmas message based on God’s communicable attribute of love, which we saw last time can be considered an aspect of his goodness.

But before we begin I want to let our listeners know that we also have a Christmas present to offer to you. If you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of the book Rediscovering the True Meaning of Christmas, by Rev. P.G. Mathew. It is filled with great encouragement and hope for the people of God. This book will be available for free from now until the end of the month.

Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by introducing the context for what may be the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did start looking at that, and I pointed out that the first word in that verse is often ignored. That first word “for” tells us that this verse is providing some explanation for the verses that preceded it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven and concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining these verses.

In his commentary on John’s gospel, Mark Johnston writes this about John 3:16, “Why did the sinless Son of God have to suffer in such a way? John supplies the answer, and his answer is more staggering even than the brutalities of the cross. In what must be the best known words of Scripture, John says, ‘For God so loved the world…’”.[2]

Marc Roby: That statement is, as he put it, staggering. But Verse 14 mentions Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, and I suspect many of our listeners may not know that bit of history.

Dr. Spencer: You’re probably right. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader in Jerusalem, so he knew that Nicodemus would be familiar with the history, but we should give the background for those of our listeners who don’t remember.

Marc Roby: Alright, well let me begin. Jesus’ mention of the snake in the desert refers back to events that took place during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert after God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. We read in Numbers 21:4-6 that “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

Dr. Spencer: And we see, as always, that sin brings trouble. And their sin was great. God had delivered them from slavery, was providing food daily in the desert and had previously provided water miraculously, so they had no good reason to doubt that he could do so again. Nevertheless, they weren’t satisfied with God’s provisions and grumbled against God and his representative, Moses.

Marc Roby: I fear that we too often think we somehow deserve more and fail to appreciate God’s blessings as well.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the people got one very important thing right; they properly understood that these snakes were sent by God as judgment against them for their sin. So, in Verse 7 we read, “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”

And God was very gracious to them, although he didn’t simply take the snakes away. It is often the case that God does not take our troubles away, but he gives us grace to bear up under them and uses them to discipline, purify and strengthen us.

Marc Roby: The Bible often uses the metaphor of gold being refined by fire.

Dr. Spencer: And no one likes the fire of troubles, but even the secular world has an expression that admits the truth, there is no gain without pain.

Marc Roby: An unpopular truth.

Dr. Spencer: So it is. Numbers 21 goes on to tell us, in Verses 8-9 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Marc Roby: That is a great display of God’s mercy to his people.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. But we must recognize that there certainly wasn’t any magical power attached to the bronze snake itself, this was just God’s way of making the people realize that they had sinned and pointing them to the fact that they needed to look to him for forgiveness and healing.

Marc Roby: And yet, even though there wasn’t any power in the bronze snake itself, it is interesting to note that it later became a snare to the Israelites. Sometime in the late eighth century before Christ, during the reign of the godly King Hezekiah, we read in 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Dr. Spencer: It is a manifestation of man’s sinful nature that he seems to constantly be looking for a God that can be manipulated. We want some simple ceremony, or something we can do that is supposed to obligate God to bless us with a particular response. In other words, we want a vending machine god; you put in your 1-minute prayer, or you perform a particular religious ceremony and he is obligated to bless you in some way. But God will not be manipulated by us. He does offer unimaginable mercy and blessings, but we must be conscious of the Creator/creature distinction. God makes the rules, not us.

The original purpose of the bronze snake was to cause the people to see their sin and their need for God. The snake itself was only a symbol. And God was gracious in not simply removing the snakes from the people. Had he done that, it would have been much easier for the people to forget that God delivered them from this pain.

Marc Roby: We are all too quick to forget God’s mercies. It is also important to note that the snake was a type of Christ, meaning that it was a symbol that pointed to Christ in some way. We talked about typology like this in Session 44.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did. And this is one of the clearest examples of typology in the Bible. Jesus himself tells us that this event in the desert pointed to his sacrifice on the cross in the verses we’ve been examining. Remember that John 3:14-15 say, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. And then, immediately after those verses, we read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And we now have the necessary background to understand that verse correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. This is the gospel message, the good news. This is the real reason for celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ is an amazing event, but the reason God sent his eternal Son into the world to be born of a poor virgin in the backwater town of Bethlehem was so that he could live a sinless life and then willingly go to the cross, bearing the wrath of God and dying to pay for the sins of everyone who will believe in him. As Jesus himself said in contemplating his crucifixion, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible. Christ’s willingness to die, and to endure the wrath of God in our stead, that’s something I will never understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.

Dr. Spencer: Christ’s love is impossible to fathom. And John 3:16 gives us the reason that God gave his one and only Son, it was because he, meaning the Father, “so loved the world”. It was the love of the Father that necessitated Jesus humbling himself and becoming incarnate, and then giving his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Marc Roby: Modern people don’t like this idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. But God is just and holy and cannot simply forgive sin by winking at it. His eternally perfect justice requires that sin be paid for, and that requires a sacrifice. There is an important word in John 3:14 that it is easy to overlook. The verse says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”. That word must is critically important. It is the Greek word δεῖ (dei), and it means that it was necessary for this to be done. There was no other option. It was a divine necessity to satisfy God’s justice.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul tells us about this divine necessity in Romans 3:25 and 26. He wrote that “God presented him [speaking of Christ,] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the best verse to demonstrate this necessity. In order to be just, in other words to fill the demands of his own eternally perfect justice, and yet to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which here refers to a legal judgment that they are ‘not guilty’, it was necessary that Jesus Christ be presented as a sacrifice of atonement. The Greek word translated here as “sacrifice of atonement” is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which means propitiation. As John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[3]

Marc Roby: People also don’t like the idea that God is justifiably displeased with us and wrathful toward us.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. This is the bad news that we must acknowledge before we can receive the good news of the gospel. We are sinners and cannot save ourselves. God is justifiably angry with us and we are, therefore, subject to his wrath. When people reject this bad news, they unwittingly reject the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ along with it.

Marc Roby: Most people seem to think that God should simply forgive our sins without anyone being punished.

Dr. Spencer: That does seem to be the case. But P.G. Mathew explained the biblical idea of justification as presented in Romans 3, he wrote, “Justification is not amnesty, which is pardon without principle. It is not seeing bad people as good people. Justification is based on God’s justice demonstrated in the life and death of Christ. The wrath of God against elect sinners was poured out on God’s innocent Son, the spotless Lamb of God. Without the cross, the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and impossible.”[4]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t like to admit that we are wretched sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a serious problem. Our society tells us from the cradle on up that people are all basically good at heart. But that is a lie, which even a quick glance at the morning newspaper will confirm. That lie leads to people thinking of Jesus as just a good moral teacher. Christmas then becomes a time to celebrate the birth of this good moral teacher who gave us an example of a humble life. But that is not what the Bible tells us. It is not the truth. The truth is, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and as he wrote in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. And because of these facts, we need a sacrifice of atonement.

Marc Roby: And Jesus Christ is that sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he is. But I think people sometimes view God the Father as this mean and angry God of wrath and then they picture Jesus as kind and gentle person and think that he comes along and cajoles the Father, perhaps even somewhat against the Father’s will, to not destroy his people. But that picture is completely and totally unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of the Father that is the ultimate cause of our salvation. It is the Father who gives his Son, so it is the Father that is referred to when John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world”.

Marc Roby: Now that is an amazing fact. That God would love rebellious sinners. And, of course, it is not just the Father, Jesus also loves us. In fact, he told us in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. And Romans 5:5 tells us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So we conclude from this verse and the unity of the godhead that the Holy Spirit also loves us. We also know that it is the particular work of the Holy Spirit to apply to us the redemption which God the Father planned and God the Son accomplished on the cross. All three persons of the godhead are involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: Now, when we celebrate Christmas we properly focus on Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, but we also need to remember the triune nature of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let me go back to the verse you read from John 15 and put it in context. In Verses 12 through 14 Jesus tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

I want us to note that we can’t think of Jesus Christ as a helpless baby in a manger, or just as a dying Savior on the cross. We need to remember that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and he commands us to love each other as he has loved us.

Marc Roby: That’s an impossibly tall order.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible for us in this life because we still have the vestiges of our sinful nature with us. But that is the standard to which we are to aspire. And notice that Christ said we are his friends if we do what he commands. Obedience is not optional. Our obedience does not earn our salvation in any way, but it is necessary to prove that we do, in fact, belong to Jesus.

Marc Roby: It’s a good thing that our obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, because our obedience is never perfect in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why the great theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “As portrayed in Scripture, the inward life of the people of God to the end of their course in this world, is a repetition of conversion. It is a continued turning unto God; a constant renewal of confession, repentance, and faith; a dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness.”[5]

In other words, we don’t just confess and repent once, professing faith in Christ and then go on living the same old way. If we have been born again, we see our sin more and more clearly as time goes on and we see even more than before those things we need to repent of, and our need for faith, and we strive to put our sin to death and live righteous lives that please God.

Marc Roby: Just like the Israelites in the desert would see their need for God when they were bitten by a snake, and then they would then acknowledge that need by looking to the bronze snake on the pole.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. That look demonstrated their confession, repentance and faith in God to heal them. And notice that when God brings trouble into our lives it is a great mercy if it causes us to see our need for God more clearly.

Marc Roby: And then, if we turn to him in repentance and faith, he shows us even greater mercy by forgiving our sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he does all of that on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. God is loving and merciful, but he is also just and holy. Our sins must be paid for; either by us, or by Christ. Most people focus on giving and receiving gifts at Christmas, but the real meaning is that God has offered to us the greatest gift that can ever be given to anyone, the gift of salvation. But we must see our need for it. If we think that our good works, or even our faith, will save us, we are as lost as Nicodemus was before Christ explained to him that he, and we, must be born again.

We need to receive the bad news that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” as the prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9. If we acknowledge that fact, repent and turn to Jesus Christ, trust in him alone as our Savior and obey him as our Lord, then God, in his rich mercy, will adopt us as his sons and daughters and bring us into his glorious presence for all eternity. That is the Christmas gift that God offers to us. And it’s my prayer that God will grant that gift to everyone who listens to this message.

Marc Roby: I join with you in that prayer. And that concludes this week’s podcast. As always, we encourage our listeners to email their questions or 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] Mark Johnston, Let’s Study John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, pg. 50

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

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 130

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 247

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, we saw the goodness of God in providing us with Jesus Christ as our Redeemer in our previous session. What more do you want to say about God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s mercy, grace and patience. These three things are sometimes presented as separate attributes and sometimes as aspects of God’s goodness, which is how Wayne Grudem does it in his Systematic Theology, and I want to follow that plan as well.

Marc Roby: God’s mercy, grace and patience are a wonderful topic. And it makes me think of God’s response when Moses asked to see his glory. In Exodus 33:19 God said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great passage. And the fact that God will have mercy on whom he chooses, which certainly implies that he doesn’t show mercy to everyone, clues us in to the important fact that mercy, grace and patience are not something we, as God’s creatures, deserve. They are all examples of God treating us in a way that we don’t deserve. They are closely related aspects of God’s goodness, and notice that God first said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”.

Marc Roby: How does Grudem define these terms?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem says that “God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. God’s grace means God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. [and] God’s patience means God’s goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.” [2]

If we look at the definition he gives for God’s grace, that it is “God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment”, we see that God’s mercy and patience are both gracious acts of God as well. After all, if God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery and distress, we have to ask, “Why are they in misery and distress?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that they are in misery and distress because of sin. Sin is the cause of all misery and distress in this life.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And then we must ask, “Whose fault is it that men sin, is that God’s fault or man’s fault?”

Marc Roby: And the answer to that would be that it is man’s fault. It certainly isn’t God’s fault.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right again. So, if misery is our fault, and God’s mercy is his showing goodness to us in our misery, it is certainly a gracious act. We deserve punishment for our sin, but God helps us in our resulting misery instead.

Marc Roby: I see your point. God’s mercy is certainly gracious.

Dr. Spencer: And so is his patience. Using Grudem’s definition, God’s patience is his “goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.” But clearly, sinning deserves punishment and so it is gracious of God to be patient. God himself emphasized his gracious nature in his self-disclosure to Moses. In the verse from Exodus 33 that you read a couple of minutes ago God emphasized his gracious nature and he went on to do so even more. He told Moses to chisel out a couple of stone tablets and come up on Mt. Sinai to meet with him.

Marc Roby: We should point out for those who don’t remember the history that these stone tablets were the ones on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. They were needed to replace the original ones that had been given to Moses, which he had thrown down and smashed in anger at the sin of the people, who were worshipping a golden calf.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that God was willing to give the law again, after the terrible sins of his people, is a great demonstration of his mercy and grace. A.W. Pink took note of this fact and wrote that “The particular character in which Jehovah was about to reveal Himself to Moses is best perceived by noting the place and circumstances of this gracious manifestation of Himself. It was upon Sinai, in connection with the giving of the Law.”[3] God’s law is a revelation of God’s character and a guide for his people. The fact that he would do this after their horrible apostasy is an amazing demonstration of his mercy, grace and patience.

Marc Roby: He would certainly have been justified in simply destroying them all.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he would have been fully justified. But let’s move on with what happened. Moses chiseled out the tablets and went up on Mt. Sinai to meet with God. And in the next Chapter, Exodus 34, we read of God’s fulfilling his promise to show Moses his goodness. In Verses 5 and 6 we read, “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”. Now we’ll get to the rest of what God said in a moment, but for now let’s take a look at this opening statement. It begins with God saying “The LORD, the LORD”. And the word LORD there is in all capital letters in our English Bibles.

Marc Roby: Which means that the Hebrew word is the tetragrammaton, the holy covenant name of God. Usually represented in English as Jehovah, or Yahweh.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We discussed this name in Session 6. It comes from the Hebrew word that means “to be” and if spoken by God could be translated as “I Am”. This name emphasizes God’s self-existence – he is the only one who can say “I Am”. All other beings are dependent on him. But it is also the covenant name by which God revealed himself to Moses, so it speaks of his being the covenant Lord of his people. In any event, after repeating this covenant name twice for emphasis, the first thing God says about himself is that he is “the compassionate and gracious God”, or at least that is how our NIV renders it.  Other translations use the word mercy instead of compassion. For example, the ESV says “a God merciful and gracious”. According to Vine’s expository dictionary, the root Hebrew verb means “to have compassion, be merciful, [or] pity.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, the response he got, as we saw earlier, was this, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you” (Ex 33:19), and then in that revelation God says that he is merciful and gracious. It certainly looks as though the Bible would agree that mercy and grace are aspects of God’s goodness.

Dr. Spencer: I think it would. And the very next thing God said was that he is “slow to anger”, which is another way of saying patient. So it would be reasonable to conclude that the biblical teaching is that mercy, grace and patience are aspects of God’s goodness. Then Verse 6 ends by saying that God is “abounding in love and faithfulness”. The Hebrew word translated as love here is hesed, which is a very important word in the Old Testament. It refers primarily to God’s covenant love for his people. According to Vine’s it can be translated at various times as “loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; [and] devotion”.[5]

The overall message is quite clear. When God showed his goodness to Moses, he showed him his gracious, merciful, patient, faithful and devoted love. God then finishes the sentence by saying “maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” And the “thousands” here is probably thousands of generations, as in Exodus 20:6. The emphasis is again on God’s faithfulness. And then the sentence ends by mentioning the extremely important fact that God is forgiving.

Marc Roby: What a wonderful self-revelation by God.

Dr. Spencer: It is very wonderful. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also read the rest of the verse. Verse 7 goes on with another sentence. God says about himself, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Marc Roby: I’m afraid that most people would not consider that good.

Dr. Spencer: I’m pretty sure that you’re right about that. But we have to remember that God defines what is good, not us. And we also need to be careful to understand what is meant by God punishing. It could be that the punishing here primarily refers to God’s punishment of unrepentant sinners, which is what John Calvin thought.[6] That would certainly be good because it would comport with God’s justice. Or, it could be that this includes God’s punishing his people, in which case it is referring to his disciplining us in love, for our good, as a father disciplines his children, as we read in Hebrews 12:10, which says, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Marc Roby: You also mentioned that in Session 75, that suffering can produce good fruit in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it can. It keeps us humble, it causes us to look to God and pray, it makes us more capable of comforting others, it drives out sin, it helps us to fix our eyes on Jesus and our heavenly home, and that is just a partial list of its benefits. A life of uninterrupted pleasure is not the best life. God loves us too much, and is too good, to allow that for his children.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting to note that these verses from Exodus 34 are quoted in part at least seven times in the Old Testament.[7] For example, in Psalm 103:8 it says, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” And, in Joel 2:13, the prophet says, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, these verses are quoted that many times because God’s goodness is so important. But we must also remember the warning that “he does not leave the guilty unpunished”. I think the primary reason that is mentioned here, including the fact that our children and grandchildren will reap the bitter fruit of our sins, is to prevent us from presuming upon God’s love. Far too many professing Christians today seem to think that personal holiness is an old-fashioned Puritan idea and is not important at all. But the Bible is very clear, as we are told in Hebrews 12:14, that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” And it is absolutely impossible, given all that the Bible teaches on this subject, to interpret that as referring solely to the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Marc Roby: We must remember the simplicity of God again. We can’t think of any of his attributes in isolation. Therefore, his goodness to us, in terms of his mercy, grace, patience and forgiveness, must be considered in the light of his holiness and justice.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they absolutely must be. The great Puritan John Owen wrote that “There is no imagination wherewith man is besotted more foolish, none so pernicious, as this, that persons not purified, not sanctified, not made holy, in this life, should afterwards be taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God.”[8] And Joel Beeke and Mark Jones wrote that “If God is so concerned about holiness, and we have such need of it, then, dear friends, you will not feel at home in a holy heaven if you did not strive for holiness on earth.”[9]

Marc Roby: Those are serious warnings.

Dr. Spencer: They are very serious, but they are also necessary. Many modern Christians seem to think that they can be totally absorbed with this world, completely in love with its pleasures, and completely indifferent to the promises and demands of the Bible, and yet be saved. But the apostle John tells us, in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Now John is not telling us that we are not allowed to enjoy the legitimate pleasures that God gives us in this life, that is not at all his point. But if earthly pleasure is what you treasure most, if there is no desire in your heart to be free from sin, to please God in this life and to see God face to face, you are not born again.

Marc Roby: That is, again, a very serious warning.

Dr. Spencer: And I think the seriousness of our sin problem is part of why we are told in Exodus 34:7 that God “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” However you interpret that verse, it is certainly a fact that my sin affects my children, grandchildren and so on.

If a man is a drunk, that definitely affects his family. If a man commits a crime and goes to jail, that definitely affects his family. And even if you take something much less drastic and look at a man who is lazy and uninvolved in raising his children and managing his home, that affects his family. This is an indisputable fact. And it should cause us all to be far more careful with how live our lives. Our sin affects those we love.

Marc Roby: And we should appreciate God’s goodness. His calling us up to holy living is really nothing more than calling us up to do what is best for ourselves and those whom we love.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And when we fail, and we all do in many ways, we can come to God in repentance and faith, and he is merciful, gracious and patient in his dealing with us. We must not presume upon his mercy, but it is still a great comfort. Our God is good.

Marc Roby: Are we done now with God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there is one more aspect of God’s goodness that we have yet to look at, and that is God’s love. This is also sometimes treated as a separate attribute, as Grudem does, but it doesn’t really matter whether we consider it as a separate attribute or not, in either case we need to spend some time looking at it.

It is interesting to notice that the Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions God’s goodness, but not his love, in its definition of God. Question 4 asks, “What is God?” And the answer is, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” I haven’t looked into this, but I assume that the Westminster divines were including love under the rubric of God’s goodness.

Marc Roby: Alright, how do you want to proceed with examining God’s love?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, I need to say that I can’t imaging a more appropriate topic for this time of year. The greatest expression of God’s love by far is his sending his own eternal Son to become incarnate and to be an atoning sacrifice to redeem his chosen people. Grudem defines God’s attribute of love this way; “God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others.”

Marc Roby: And God has given more than we can imagine. One of the most famous verses in the Bible of course is John 3:16, where we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an amazing statement. And people often forget that it begins with the word “for”, which implies it has something to do with explaining the verses that comes before it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. He concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining why everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Marc Roby: And that is a wonderful message for Christmas, which is good, because we are out of time for today and we can look at that next time, which is our last session before Christmas. Let me remind our listeners that they can send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 200-201

[3] A.W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, Moody Press, 1981, pg. 350

[4] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 43

[5] Ibid, pg. 142

[6] Calvin, John, The Four Last Books of Moses, In the Form of a Harmony, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. III, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 387

[7] See also Nu 14:18, Ne 9:17, Ps 86:15, 145:8 and Jonah 4:2

[8] quoted in Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 528

[9] Ibid, pg. 535

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