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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What problem is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: Independent of how it may sound to modern people, it is the truth. Sin is ugly and terrible and the penalty is correspondingly ugly and terrible. We can never understand who Jesus Christ is if we divorce him from his fundamental mission. Jesus Christ came for the express purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of his people. He is the unique God-man, the only possible Savior. As Peter declared before the Jewish rulers in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: And we must give all praise and thanks to God for Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings!

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

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a challenge to us all, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our last session we introduced three views about the fundamental nature of man: monism, which means that man consists of just his physical body – this is a materialistic view of man; then dichotomy, which means that man has both a physical body and a spirit; and finally, trichotomy, which means that man has a body, soul and spirit, where the spirit and soul are considered to be separate entities. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to begin our examination of this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last time I noted that the fact that man is a volitional creature argues persuasively against monism and I said we wouldn’t consider that further. But I’ve reconsidered that and would like to at least briefly present a case to show that monism is also antithetical to biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: Well, it would certainly seem to not agree with Genesis 2:7, where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [1] This verse at least strongly implies that there is an immaterial part to man.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And I think a rock-solid case can be made by pointing out that the Bible clearly teaches us that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die. For example, when Christ was crucified there were two thieves crucified with him. One of those thieves was saved even while he was hanging on the cross dying and in Luke 23:42-43 we read that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus graciously replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Marc Roby: What amazing grace. We should probably point out that the thief had demonstrated his repentance and faith when he rebuked the other thief. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to mock Christ, this thief, now saved by grace, said to him, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” So, he was saved the same way we all are, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And faith is always accompanied by repentance.

Dr. Spencer: That is the gospel in all of its glorious simplicity. But the point I wanted to make from this is that both Jesus and the thief were dying or, to be more precise, their physical bodies were dying, and yet Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” I think that is pretty clear evidence that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die.

Marc Roby: What Paul wrote to the church in Philippi also comes to mind. In Philippians 1:21-23 he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”.

Dr. Spencer: That is also very clear evidence. Paul did not think that his physical death would be the end of him. There are a number of other verses we could cite, but I think that is enough. The clear teaching of the Bible is that our soul lives on after our body is destroyed. But there is still more that we can learn from these verses.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: We can learn something about the natures of our physical body and spirit. Jesus told the thief “you will be with me in paradise”. He didn’t just say that the thief’s spirit would be with him. And Paul thought that when he died, he would be with Jesus, not just his spirit. And it is very interesting that he said, “if I am to go on living in the body”. It clearly shows that the body is not the most important thing. It is a physical vessel for our spirit. If you think about that for a minute it seems clear that our spirits are what make us who we are, they are the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality. Our physical bodies are houses for our spirits. Our bodies cannot exist independently, but our spirits can.

Marc Roby: That is interesting. But we want to avoid going too far with that idea. The ancient Greeks thought that the body was evil and the spirit was good. They envisioned the body as sort of a prison for the spirit and thought that death freed the spirit from that prison.

Dr. Spencer: And we do want to avoid that extreme. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who is well-known to all junior-high math students because of the Pythagorean theorem, was one of the philosophers that taught that view. And not only did they consider the soul good, they considered it divine. This view came from a religion called Orphism, which also taught that our souls go through reincarnation until they are sufficiently purified to return to the divine realm.[2]

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously similar to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound very similar to them. But the Christian view, or we should say the biblical view, is that both the body and soul were created good. They have both been corrupted by sin, which is most obviously evident in our physical bodies by the facts that we all get sick and we age and die. But it is also evident in our souls, or spirits. It shows up in our corrupt thinking, especially about God and eternal realities, and it shows up in all of the sinful human emotions and thoughts which plague mankind; selfishness, greed, lust, deceitfulness, arrogance, hatred and so on.

Marc Roby: Sadly, I have to agree that the corruption of sin is all too evident.

Dr. Spencer: And you can’t separate us from our bodies without loss. Our bodies are vessels for our spirits, but they are still important. In fact, we want to be careful and not imply that you can separate our bodies from our souls without changing who we are to some degree. Clearly our emotions are affected by, and have an effect upon, our bodies. We see, hear, feel, taste and smell and these all have an effect upon our emotions.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. It would seem impossible to take away our bodies without significantly impacting who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Our bodies are part of who we are as human beings. Which is why, when God redeems us, he redeems us body and soul. Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 we read, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And when Paul speaks about the body that is sown, he is using an agricultural metaphor and is comparing the burial of a body to sowing a crop.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, as Paul says, that body is raised as a spiritual body. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on this now, but let me just quickly say that by calling it a “spiritual body” Paul is not saying it is immaterial. Our final eternal state will be with our resurrected bodies and they will be physical bodies, although different from the ones we have now. The condition where our spirit lives without our body after death is a temporary condition.

Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20-21 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.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful destiny to look forward to. And I think we have reasonably established that monism is unbiblical and, therefore, unchristian. What do you want to say about dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by stating that a truly born-again Christian can believe in either dichotomy or trichotomy. This is not an essential doctrine. In fact, while I think that the proper biblical doctrine is dichotomy, I do have some sympathy for trichotomy. Although, in some sense I think we get into an issue of semantics as we will see and, in addition, we get into some things that we simply don’t fully understand and about which the Bible does not supply us with answers.

Marc Roby: And it is never wise to be dogmatic on any doctrine about which the Bible is not clear.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t be wise at all. But with that caveat stated, I do think the biblical teaching is clearly that man is made up of two, and only two, parts. Our physical bodies and our immaterial spirit or soul. We see this dichotomy in many places in the Bible. For example, right after telling us that God will be our Father and we will be his sons and daughters, Paul concludes, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, by saying, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” He only lists two elements here, body and spirit, and that is a common theme throughout the Bible.

Marc Roby: In fact, the words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives a couple of very good examples I’d like to share.[3] First, he notes that “in John 12:27, Jesus says, ‘Now is my soul troubled,’[4] whereas in a very similar context in the next chapter John says that Jesus was ‘troubled in spirit’ (John 13:21).”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good example. What is the second one you want to share?

Dr. Spencer: It comes from the virgin Mary’s song of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. We read in Luke 1:46-47 that she began by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Grudem points out that this is a clear example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism, wherein the same idea is repeated using different words. We discussed synonymous parallelism in Session 42 when we were going through hermeneutics. But it is a clear example to show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms.

Marc Roby: Yes, that whole song is a beautiful poem of praise and these first two verses do clearly show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms. It also makes me think of a similar Old Testament example. In Job 7:11 we read, “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” This verse also uses synonymous parallelism and again establishes that soul and spirit are used interchangeably.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem also points out a number of other ways in which the terms are used interchangeably. For example, when someone dies, we will sometimes read about their soul departing, but in other cases we read about the spirit leaving.

In Genesis 35 we read about the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel while she was giving birth to Benjamin. In Verse 18 we read, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying)” (ESV). But in John 19:30 we read about Jesus’ death, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” So, Rachel’s death is described as her soul departing, but Jesus’ death is described by saying he gave up his spirit.

Marc Roby: I noticed that you quoted the English Standard Version for Genesis 35:18, rather the the 1984 NIV that we usually use.

Dr. Spencer: I did that because the NIV translated the phrase, “As she breathed her last”, rather than “as her soul was departing”. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word used there is translated that way. The translation accurately represents the meaning of course, but is not true to the original.

Marc Roby: And I prefer the sound of “as her soul was departing”.

Dr. Spencer: And so do I. The Hebrew word used there, nephesh, is used 757 times in the Old Testament.[5] The NIV translates it as life 129 times, as soul 105 times and then with an astonishing collection of words for the other 523 times, including 5 times using the word spirit and 16 times using the word heart.

I point all of this out because it illustrates that the words for soul and spirit have a broad range of meanings as we will discuss more later. But, in general, this word refers to the essence of life. It is, for example, the word used in Genesis 2:7, which we’ve looked at before. We read there, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” When it says that “man became a living being”, the same Hebrew word, nephesh, is being translated as “being”. Both the King James and the American Standard versions, say “man became a living soul.”

Marc Roby: That does make it clear that this word is related to the essence of life. Which even in modern English is sometimes referred to as a man’s spirit, or soul, or heart.

Dr. Spencer: We do use those same words. But the main point Grudem makes here is that you never once see the Bible say that a person’s “soul and spirit departed”, or anything like that.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is pretty clear evidence that they are synonymous terms.

Dr. Spencer: And there’s a lot more. Grudem also points out man is sometimes referred to as “body and soul” and sometimes as “body and spirit”, when the clear intent of the passage is to represent the entirety of the man; in other words, both his material and immaterial parts.

So, for example, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus commands us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Clearly by referring to “soul and body”, Jesus means the whole person. And then, when the apostle Paul commanded the church in Corinth to excommunicate a man, we read in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” I have again quoted from the ESV because it makes the contrast between the flesh, or we could say the body, and the spirit clear. That contrast is lost in the NIV, but is present in the original Greek.

Marc Roby: I think you’ve made a reasonably strong case for dichotomy being taught in the Bible. Is there more to say?

Dr. Spencer: There are a couple of more topics to consider before we move on to examine the biblical case made by those who believe in trichotomy. But before we move on to look at them, I want to remind our listeners what we mean by spirit or soul.

Last time I quoted the theologian Charles Hodge and I’d like to repeat a portion of the quote I read then. As I read this, I want our listeners to think of spirit or soul every time Hodge uses just the word spirit. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit.”[6]

Marc Roby: He says that the spirit, or soul, is the seat of three things then: our ability to reason, our moral nature, and our free will.

Dr. Spencer: And these agree with an argument I made last time. Namely, that if you assume a materialist’s view of man, then we are just atoms in motion obeying the laws of physics, and you cannot explain volition, or free will. And you can take that argument further. Since you can’t explain volition, you really can’t explain reason in any meaningful sense of the term.

A purely materialistic view of man could certainly allow for some kind of very sophisticated reflex responses and even reflex responses that have been adapted over time, which could present fairly complex patterns of behavior. But you would never cross the threshold into having what most of us mean when we talk about reason. Adaptive machines can do many things, but they can’t really think in any meaningful sense of that term.

Marc Roby: I can imagine that it would be very difficult to precisely define the dividing line between the behavior that a very sophisticated adaptive system could exhibit and the behavior necessary to infer real intelligent reasoning.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very hard to do indeed. People have tried to define what is required to establish intelligent behavior, like the famous Turing test,[7] but I really don’t want to get into that now, so I will leave it deliberately vague.

Marc Roby: OK. You’ve mentioned free will and reasoning. By referring to our conscience Hodge also noted our moral nature. What about that?

Dr. Spencer: In order to be moral creatures, there must be some ultimate standard for morality by which we are to be judged. Otherwise, all we are really talking about is our own personal ideas of right and wrong, and no one person’s ideas are any more worthy than any other person’s ideas.

The only possible source for an absolute moral standard is God. So, if you have a purely materialistic view of man, which involves rejecting God, you also have lost any possibility for an objective moral standard. In that case, Hodge’s reference to our conscience would be meaningless. It could, at best, refer to our personal ideas of what is right or wrong.

Marc Roby: OK, so we’ve established that three essential attributes of a spirit or soul are an ability to reason, a conscience and free will.

I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. 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] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 60

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 473-474

[4] Grudem quotes from the ESV here. The NIV uses the word heart instead of soul, but the original Greek has the word soul (ψυχή).

[5] The numbers given here come from: Edward Goodrick & John Kohlenberger, The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 1546

[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[7] For a brief introduction, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

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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 by continuing to examine the four characteristics of the Bible represented by the acrostic SNAC, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity. We’ve examined sufficiency and necessity in our last two sessions. So, Dr. Spencer, are we moving on to authority today?

Dr. Spencer: Not right away. I’m going to cover clarity first because authority is a longer topic and will lead into some other things.

Marc Roby: Alright. When we say that the Bible is clear. What do we mean?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps we should start with what we don’t mean first. We do not mean that all of Scripture is easy to understand.

Marc Roby: I’m glad to hear that!

Dr. Spencer: So am I. And we are in good company, because in 2 Peter 3:16 the apostle comments on some of the writings of Paul and says, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” [1]

It’s important to take note of two things in Peter’s statement. First, he concedes that some of the things Paul was written, which are part of the Bible, are hard to understand. And secondly, he notes that people have distorted them, along with other Scriptures, which results in their own destruction.

Marc Roby: That certainly emphasizes how important it is for us to interpret the Scriptures properly. But, at first blush this verse also seems to argue against the clarity of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. It does seem to, but only, as you put it, at first blush. That’s why I thought it would be best to address this point first. When we say that the Bible is clear, we do not mean that everything in it is easy, nor do we mean that you can read it like you might a novel or a newspaper and expect to understand it properly. We will get into proper methods of interpreting the Scriptures in a later session, but suffice it to say at this point that we must read the Bible carefully. Let me give an illustration.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: The main point I want to make is that when we are reading something that is challenging to understand, in any field, we can’t expect to read it once or twice and understand it fully. We need to do some more work.

For example, you can’t expect to understand the prophet Jeremiah if you don’t know at least a general outline of the history surrounding the writing of the book. You need to know when he was writing, to whom he was writing, and what was going on at the time.

Marc Roby: I always find it helpful to re-read the introduction to a prophetic book and go over the historical situation in my mind before I read it.

Dr. Spencer: I do the same thing. It’s important to take Bible reading seriously. You can read other things casually, but the Bible is the most important thing you will ever read. We need to study the Scriptures, not just read them. And that is true of every book in the Bible, not just Jeremiah. As you mature in your faith you will continue to learn more and more from commentaries, sermons and so on, so that you gain an understanding, for example, of some of the peculiarities of Hebrew writings and thought. You also become more and more familiar with the different people in the Bible so, for example, you will understand the impetuous nature of the apostle Peter. And you become more familiar with the historical situations and you know more about what happens before and after the section you’re currently reading. All of these details help you to pick up more and more each time you read through the Bible.

Marc Roby: I can certainly agree with that. I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years now and I learn more each time I go through it.

Dr. Spencer: I am confident that anyone who approaches the Word of God with a serious desire to know what God is saying will gain a deeper understanding every single time they read through it. We must remember that even though God used human authors, ultimately, the Bible was written by the Almighty, Sovereign Creator and Judge of the universe and it speaks about how to be saved from his eternal wrath. We need to keep that in mind as we read. It is way more serious than learning what you need to know to pass some test in college, or even to pass a medical board exam, or a CPA exam, or whatever. So, get some help. A good study Bible is a reasonable place to start, for example, in Session 23 I recommended the ESV Reformation Study Bible. I would also recommend that you follow a systematic plan to read through the whole Bible. And if you haven’t done it before, I would recommend reading all of the study notes. I also keep a timeline that I’ve made for myself handy that shows me the different kings of Israel and Judah, the different prophets, a few major events in world history and so on so that I can keep things straight in my mind as I read. I also fairly frequently refer to a good Bible Atlas, for example the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible[2] is pretty good. A good Bible dictionary is also valuable. Again, I have found the Zondervan dictionary to be very useful.[3] I also take notes every morning, which I think helps to organize my thoughts and to be sure that I have something to take away from the reading each day.

Marc Roby: Very well, you’ve made the point we can’t just read the Bible like our daily newspaper, we need to be serious about learning what it teaches and study the Word of God. I think it is now apparent that when we say the Bible is clear, we don’t mean it is easy to understand. So, what do we mean when we say it is clear?

Dr. Spencer: When we say that the Bible is clear, what we mean is that the basic message of the gospel, that which must be understood to be saved, can be understood by a child, or someone with very little education, or someone who isn’t very bright.

Marc Roby: When you say it can be understood by a child, surely you don’t mean a very young child?

Dr. Spencer: Clearly there is a limit to how young the child can be. I wouldn’t want to speculate on a specific age, but obviously a toddler who can only say a few words is not able to understand the gospel. But a normal 10-year old certainly can. I don’t know where to draw the line between those points, and I’m certain it varies a lot from person to person. But, the point is that you don’t need to be a very bright, well-educated adult to understand the gospel, the basic message isn’t that complicated.

Marc Roby: Speaking about young children raises an interesting and important question, which I’d like to address even at the risk of throwing us off topic for a minute or two. What happens to a very young child who dies? Is it possible for a that child to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: It is definitely possible for a very young child, or even an infant to be saved. We don’t want to limit God. It appears from Luke 1:41 & 44 for example that John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb. And when the son of David and Bathsheba died as an infant, David said, in 2 Samuel 12:23, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

But, we are talking about the normal situation, where a person has grown to be sufficiently mature to think about these things, in other words, people like our listeners. And, in that case, the basic gospel message is clear, which is why we are commanded to teach our children. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, right after giving the people the Ten Commandments, Moses said to them “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Now, the Bible would not command us to teach them to our children if they were too complicated for a child to understand.

Marc Roby: And yet, even intelligent adults find the Bible’s plan of salvation incomprehensible if they are unbelievers.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We must never forget the point we made in Session 23, that no one can truly understand the Bible, by which I mean understand it unto salvation, unless that person has been born again. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the cross is foolishness to the natural man because he has a moral problem, not an intellectual problem. He refuses to recognize the obvious truth that he is a sinful creature deserving of wrath and that God is the Creator of the universe and, therefore, has authority to tell us how we should live and to judge us for our failures.

Marc Roby: We noted before that in Romans 1 Paul actually says the unbeliever suppresses that truth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The problem is not one of intellectual understanding. There are many very intelligent people, some of them pastors and seminary professors, who know a great deal about the Word of God, but don’t believe it.

Remember when Jesus was speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection? He somehow prevented them from recognizing him and was asking them about what had recently happened in Jerusalem – referring, of course, to his own death and resurrection. They told him what they knew, but it was obvious they didn’t understand or believe and he said to them, in Luke 24:25-26, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Notice that he didn’t say they were stupid, or ignorant of the facts, he said they were foolish – which is a moral judgment, not an intellectual one, and he said that they were “slow of heart”. In other words, the reason they didn’t understand was a moral failure, not an intellectual one.

Marc Roby: In Psalm 14:1 the we are told that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” I think there are many people who praise God that you don’t have to be an intellectual giant to be saved.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure there are, and I’m one of them. But, think about it for a minute. If you had to be a nobel laureate to be saved, then you would have a tendency to be proud. We could argue that point of course since whatever abilities and opportunities you have are gifts from God, not something you earned, but nevertheless, there would be something about you that helped to explain why you were saved, and that would lead to pride. So, God makes sure that that is not the case. In fact, he usually chooses people who are not particularly distinguished in the eyes of the world.

Paul tells us about this. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 we read, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

Marc Roby: That is not a particularly flattering picture of believers.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But, if all believers were brilliant and accomplished, we would tend to think we have something to be proud of. So, God takes that possibility away. Paul tells us that God chose the “foolish things of the world … the weak things … the lowly things … the despised things … and the things that are not … so that no one may boast before him.” Now we can all rejoice that there are brilliant and accomplished Christians – Paul said “not many of you”, he didn’t say “not any of you.” These exceptional individuals are a blessing to the church. But, the point is that we aren’t saved because of our merit in any way. We are saved by grace alone, our good works are not in any way shape or form the basis of our salvation. And the biblical message of salvation is clear. It is clear, but it will not be received unless, and until the person is born again.

Marc Roby: And, of course, even truly born-again people don’t always agree on every detail.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and the many schisms in church history and the many different denominations in the world bear clear testimony to that fact. Sadly, Christians are still sinners. And, in addition, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is born again. Those two facts guarantee that there will always be troubles and divisions in the church that should not be there. But, even granted those two facts, there remain certain things that are not essential to saving faith about which true Christians can disagree, and there are some things about which the Bible is completely silent.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The Bible is silent about many details. For example, should we hold our worship services at 9 AM, or 10 AM, or should we have both a morning and an evening service? The Bible says nothing about that. In addition, the Bible is clear that we should not be drunk and should not be controlled by anything, but it is not clear that drinking an occasional beer or glass of wine, or smoking an occasional cigarette or cigar are sins, although some will say that they are. I think we must be mature enough to allow for differences on many issues.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, and more important, biblical! Paul wrote in Romans 14:1 that we should not pass judgement about disputable matters. But, what about the role of pastors and teachers then? If the basic message of the Bible is clear and can be understood by every believer, what role do they have to play?

Dr. Spencer: They have a very important role to play. In Ephesians 4:11-14 the apostle Paul wrote that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” So, pastors and teachers are very important. All Christians have the privilege and responsibility to know what the Word of God requires of them, and the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture says that we can all understand the essential points. But, not everyone has the natural ability or time to become an expert theologian, so pastors and teachers still fill a very important role in God’s church. We will talk more about this issue in a later podcast when we get to the reformation idea of the right to private judgment, which argued against the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that only the priests could interpret the Bible. However, this idea of a right to private judgment has often been abused. If I think I’m free to interpret the Scriptures however I want to, then I am almost certainly headed for destruction.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to discussing that issue in more depth at a later date. But this concludes our time for today, so I want to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

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

[2] Carl G. Rasmussen, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, Revised Edition, Zondervan, 2010

[3] Either the New International Bible Dictionary, Zondervan, 1987; or for a much longer version, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (in five volumes), Zondervan, 1976

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the four characteristics of special revelation, that is the Bible. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, and last time we examined the S, which stands for sufficiency. We explained that the Bible provides sufficient revelation for salvation and for life, so that a person who has been born again has all that he or she needs to be saved and to live a life that’s pleasing to God.

The next characteristic described by SNAC is necessity. So, Dr. Spencer, what do we want to say about the necessity of special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We first want to remind our listeners that the Bible is not necessary to know that God exists and to know something of his power and glory. As we noted last time, general revelation is sufficient for that purpose and is available to everyone, so no one has an excuse for not seeking God, as the apostle Paul argues in Romans 1.

But, the Bible’s revelation is absolutely necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God. Let’s talk about salvation first. In Luke 10 we read a marvelous account of Jesus having fellowship with some of his disciples as he was on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities and crucified for the sins of his people. On the way he stopped at the home of his friend Martha, in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. While Martha was distracted with the preparations for dinner, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And at one point, Martha came to them, clearly upset that Mary wasn’t helping, and said to Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  (Lk 10:40)[1] Jesus’ reply is very important. He said “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.” (Lk 10:41-42) His point is clear. We must do all sorts of things in this life, including preparing dinner, but there is only one thing that is truly needful. Life is short, and eternity never ends, so the only really essential thing in this life is to make sure that we are saved and will spend eternity in heaven, rather than hell.

Marc Roby: Alright, given that our eternal destiny is at stake, why then is the Bible necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: It is necessary because, as Peter said about Jesus Christ 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.” And the Bible is the only place we are told what we need to know about Jesus Christ and his work. We can know from extra-biblical sources of course that the person Jesus Christ lived, as we noted in Session 21. But the Bible is the only place we are told about the real meaning and significance of the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is the only place that tells us that Jesus was not just a man, but was also God incarnate. It is the only place we are told that he lived a perfect, sinless life to fulfill the law and then offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people.  And it is the only place where we are told that if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we will be saved. As Paul wrote 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.” To say that Jesus is Lord however, requires that we understand he is the unique God-man and that he is the Creator and Lord of the universe. And to believe that God raised him from the dead is a partial statement, but in the context of the whole passage, Paul is clearly referring to all of Christ’s saving work, his perfect life, sacrificial death and resurrection.

Marc Roby: The apostle Paul also notes the necessity of knowing the truth about Jesus Christ.  A bit later in Romans 10, in Verses 13 and 14 he writes “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, it is the gospel message of Jesus Christ that we are to preach. It is this message that is necessary for salvation. And the Bible is our only infallible source of knowledge. Knowledge about our own sinful nature, knowledge about God, and most importantly, knowledge about the only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Now, many people are disturbed by the exclusive nature of this claim. They think that people who sincerely hold to other beliefs will also be saved and, therefore, it is entirely possible to be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. How would you respond to that statement?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond first by pointing out a clear difference between biblical Christianity and all other religions. Christianity is the only religion that tells us the truth; namely, that we are all sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and unable to save ourselves. We need God to do something or we will certainly be lost. Every other purported way of salvation is based on man’s effort, we must do something to earn heaven. But that is impossible. We are sinners and cannot do anything to earn heaven. Sin incurs guilt, which is a debt that must be paid. If we were able to stop sinning completely, we could stop incurring further guilt, but our guilt for our previous sins would still be there. The penalty would still have to be paid. And, of course, no one ever completely stops sinning in this life either.

Marc Roby: I think many people believe that their good deeds and bad deeds will be put on a balance scale and, if the good deeds outweigh the bad, they will make it into heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly is a common view. But, it is wrong for two reasons. First, God’s standard is perfection and he judges our motives and thoughts as well as our deeds. Since nothing we ever do is perfect, we have no good deeds to balance the bad. And second, the point I was just trying to make is that every sin must be punished. And God has decreed that the payment must be a blood sacrifice. God told Moses in Leviticus 17:11 that “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Marc Roby: I suspect most modern people consider that idea somewhat barbaric.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that’s true. But we need to come to grips with just how serious sin is. It is cosmic rebellion and it must be atoned for. We recoil naturally from blood, partly because we are removed from the need to kill and prepare our own meat, but also because we intuitively understand that blood represents life. The fact that blood is required to atone for sin shows just how serious the problem really is. God cannot simply wink at sin.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some would object and point out that we are called to forgive others, so why can’t God do the same?

Dr. Spencer: God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be given some form of punishment and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right according to his own laws, and the just and right penalty for breaking any of God’s laws is death—eternal death.

But, praise God, he paid the penalty for us. In what is probably the most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, we read 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.” We must ask, “Why did God have to give his Son?” – which refers, of course, to his death on the cross. The answer is that the debt must be paid. Justice must be served. Either we must pay the debt, or it must be paid for us. But we are incapable of paying the debt, eternity in hell will not fully do it, so God chose to pay it for us. No other religion truly understands the need for an atoning sacrifice to pay the infinite penalty for our sins.

Marc Roby: And certainly no other religion reveals the truth that God has shown his incomparable love by atoning for our sins himself. It is humbling and amazing to think about God loving wretched sinners like us enough to punish his own eternal Son instead of us.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, it’s absolutely mind boggling. But, there is a flip side to this amazing love. To reject this gracious offer of God is terrible sin. People reject the offer because they don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners, worthy of punishment. And they don’t want to acknowledge that God is the Supreme Lord of the universe. But, to reject this gracious offer is to show contempt for God’s grace. It is to call him a liar as John writes in 1 John 5:10, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” That is why, if you go on in John Chapter 3 and look the next two verses, 17 and 18, you read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him 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: I remember one of our esteemed senators recently grilling a Christian nominee for public office because he had written something about people who didn’t believe in Christ being condemned already.

Dr. Spencer: I remember that questioning too. Apparently, that senator doesn’t know that our constitution expressly forbids any religious test for holding public office. But, returning to the topic of the necessity of the Bible for salvation. Given the fact that God has decreed that there is only one way of salvation, and given the fact that the Bible is the only place where we learn of Christ’s work of redemption, the Bible is absolutely essential for salvation.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question I suspect some of our listeners are asking at this point. Since we must know what the Bible says about Jesus Christ to be saved, what about people who lived prior to Christ? How were they able to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Salvation was available to the people who lived prior to Christ on the same basis it is available to us today, by faith in Christ. We look back on Christ and his completed work, but they were saved by looking forward to the promised Messiah. Remember that the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Χριστός (Xristos), from which we get our word Christ, both mean anointed one. We spoke about the progressive nature of revelation in Session 6. We noted then that God gave the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message, to Adam and Eve right after the fall. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Marc Roby: And, as the term progressive implies, over time God revealed more and more about this Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And those whom God enabled by regeneration repented of their sins, placed their trust in the promises made to them, and lived their lives in humble, albeit imperfect, obedience to please God.  In Hebrews 11 we are told about a number of great Old Testament believers and, in verse 13, we read that “these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” In other words, they knew that they had an eternal home and they were looking forward to it. Their focus was not on this life, but on the life to come, and they fully trusted in God’s promise to provide a Savior.

Marc Roby: And God is always faithful to keep his promises. You mentioned that the Bible is also necessary for us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. But, many people today think that they are pleasing God by simply doing what they think is right. What would say to those people?

Dr. Spencer: If they are not explicitly seeking to know and do God’s will in his way for his glory, then he is not pleased with them, even if and when what they do is, in itself, good. We must remember the creator/creature distinction. God alone has the authority to tell us what is right and wrong. We need to remember what I said in Session 23 when we discussed the sufficiency of the Bible, our consciences can be desensitized by sin, and they can also be corrupted by our own reason when it operates independently. It is not our place to decide what is sin and what isn’t sin. That is God’s prerogative alone. Our consciences must be informed by the Word of God. Our reason is a wonderful tool and we must use it to understand and apply God’s Word. But, our reason can also be a terrible enemy, especially when we allow it to be influenced by Satan and the world.

Marc Roby: What you’re saying reminds me very much of Martin Luther. He is famous for his stand at the Diet of Worms of course when he was commanded to recant his teachings and faced possible death if he refused. He said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason …, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I find it interesting that when people cite that statement, they often omit the first part and simply quote the part that says “it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience”. But Luther had it completely right. It is only unsafe to go against conscience if our conscience is captive to the Word of God. The Bible must be our ultimate authority. If I find myself disagreeing with something I’ve read in God’s Word, I must first be sure that I am understanding it correctly. But, if I am understanding it correctly and still find myself disagreeing with it, then I must change. I am wrong.

Marc Roby: At this point it seems that you have started to speak about a different attribute of the Word of God, its authority.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, I have sort of moved into that territory. But, it is impossible to treat these things completely independently. When we say the Bible is necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God, we have to presuppose its authority. It obviously can’t be necessary if it has no authority to speak on these topics.

Marc Roby: That makes sense. So, if we simply assume for the moment that the Bible does have authority, can you give us an example of how to apply this idea that the Bible must define what is right?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of important and current issues in the church where the authority of Scripture to define what is right is of critical importance. For example, many professing Christians today have given up on the idea of eternal hell. They will either say that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it isn’t eternal. The basic rationale for believing either one of these two theses always boils down to human reason saying that it is somehow not fair. There is no cogent biblical argument in favor of either of these positions. I don’t want to get into in detail now because our subject is the necessity of the Bible, but let me give a quick summary of a couple of arguments.

In Matthew 25:31-32 Jesus told us about the Day of Judgment, when he will come to judge all people. He said that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He then goes on to describe the judgment and with regard to those who have rejected him he says, in Verse 41, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then again, in Verse 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In all three places where the word “eternal” is used in the NIV translation of those verses, the Greek word is αἰώνιος (aionios), which means eternal, or without beginning or end.[3] We could cite other evidence, but the Bible could not be more clear about the eternal nature of both heaven and hell.

Marc Roby: And for those of us looking forward to heaven, that is a wonderful thought. But, we are out of time for today, so are we done with examining the necessity of the Bible, that is special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We are. But, I’d like to make a summary statement I think. The Bible is necessary for living a life pleasing to God precisely because it is God alone who has authority to say what is sinful and also to tell us how we are to worship him.

Marc Roby: Very well, that concludes this session. But, I want to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

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

[2] As quoted on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_Worms

[3] A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of the Word of God, which is the Bible. Dr. Spencer, last time you discussed general and special revelation and then briefly defined four characteristics of Scripture, which can be remembered by the acrostic SNAC; sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity.

But, before we begin today, I think it would be good to suggest some reading material for those listeners who want to follow along in our study in a little more depth.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea. The first, and by far most important, book I recommend is the Bible itself. Every Christian should be reading the Word of God every day. Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [1] The Word of God is food for a Christian. And you should read all of it, not just your favorite Psalms and stories. I strongly recommend having a good reading list and going through the entire Bible every year. It isn’t like a novel, which you usually read only once. The Bible should be read over and over again throughout the Christian life. Just like we need to eat real, physical food regularly, so we also need a regular diet of the Word of God. The reading list we use in our church, which I think is a good one, is available online as a pdf file that you can download, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[2] In addition, I would recommend that you use a good study Bible, like the ESV Reformation Study Bible. The notes are a big help, especially for a Christian who is not yet extremely familiar with the Bible. Just remember that the notes are not inspired.

Marc Roby: I wholeheartedly agree that daily reading of the Word of God is a necessary discipline for a Christian to be able to have what the Puritans used to call an overcoming life. In other words, a life that overcomes sin, the world and the devil. What books do you recommend in addition to the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with theology books. If you have never read much theology before, I suggest beginning with James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith.[3] It is an excellent book, very readable, not too long, readily available and not very expensive. You will also find it valuable even if you are already familiar with theology. If you want something a bit longer and more detailed, I would suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[4] If you want to go even further, I would suggest Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology[5] and, of course, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[6] Finally, in addition to the Bible and systematic theology, I would also suggest reading commentaries to help you with specific books of the Bible. Pastor Matthew’s commentaries, available at graceandglory.pub, are all outstanding.[7] Also, the classic Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the complete Bible is wonderful and is available both online and in book form.[8] The detailed references for all of these are in the transcript.

Marc Roby: That list should keep people busy for a while. What do you want to begin with today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start fleshing out the characteristics we mentioned last time; sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we going to look at them in that order?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at the first two in order, yes. So, let’s go ahead and begin with sufficiency.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said last time that the Bible provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. What else do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I want to do is contrast the Bible with general revelation. Remember that by general revelation we mean all of creation, including our own conscience, our sense of right and wrong, and our intuitive sense that there is more to a person than just their physical body. As we noted last time, that revelation is sufficient to leave people without excuse before God. We read in Psalm 19:1-4 that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Just as Paul declared in Romans 1, which we quoted last session, general revelation is sufficient for every person to realize that God exists, and it should cause us all to give thanks to him for this life and to seek to know him. But, that knowledge is not sufficient for salvation, or to tell us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will bother some people, because they wonder about the fairness of someone who has never heard the gospel being sent to hell.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly understand that objection. It was one that I had before I was saved. But the answer given to us in Romans 1 is that all people have sufficient information to leave them without that excuse. They know that God exists, but they refuse to give him thanks and truly seek him. That is why they are condemned. God tells us in Deuteronomy 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The problem is that no one does that until and unless God himself draws us, as we are told in John 6:44.

Marc Roby: The fact that our salvation is based on a gracious work of God is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read 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.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is not deserved. We all deserve hell. What is surprising is that God chooses to save some. And he does that through his word, the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Also, in James 1:18, the Lord’s brother wrote that God the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:23, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” All three of these Scriptures show us that God uses his Word, the Bible, to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But, as you shared from 1 Corinthians 2:14 last session, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When we say that the Word of God is sufficient for salvation, we mean that it reveals all of the information necessary to be saved, but we need more than just information. The devil has all of the information, and he also knows it’s all true. But intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible will not save us, which is why in James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” To be saved, we must first be born again. Without that, we will never repent and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Remember last session I quoted from James Boice’s book, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He said that “special revelation has three stages. First, … redemption in history. … Second, … revelation in writing.” And third, “the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit.” [9] That application by the Holy Spirit begins with new birth, or regeneration. Without regeneration, knowledge of the Bible simply adds to our guilt.

Marc Roby: So, when we talk about the sufficiency of the Bible, we are not saying it is sufficient for salvation all by itself.

Dr. Spencer: Right. It contains all of the information necessary, but the Holy Spirit must do a work in us to allow us to receive that information with faith.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we now know what it means to say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, what about the fact that we also said it is sufficient to guide us in living the Christian life?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we can again contrast special and general revelation. God has given every human being a conscience. And even in people who have not been born again the conscience mediates against many of our most wicked impulses. For example, most people are not going to murder someone just because they get angry at the person. Nor are most people willing to mug someone and take his money because they want it. But, we all know that there are many exceptions to this rule. Our conscience can be a good guide, but if we repeatedly violate it the Bible tells us it can stop working properly. In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul writes about “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” For example, if you keep lying over and over, you reach a point where your conscience no longer objects. It has ceased to function properly.

Marc Roby:  At that point I think you’re eligible to become a politician.

Dr. Spencer:  You might be right about that. But in addition to becoming seared, our conscience can also be corrupted. People can, for example, use their reason to convince themselves that something is alright when, in fact, it is clearly not alright. A good example of this might be sex before marriage. People may argue that since God made sex it is good and natural and that waiting for marriage is just an old-fashioned idea that was part of the culture at the time of the Bible, but is not true anymore, especially since we have birth control now. But, if we examine the Bible carefully, we see that sex outside of marriage is clearly a sin and will always be sin. The point is that we need to train our conscience using the Word of God, in other words, using special revelation.

God is the one who defines what is sin and what is not sin. And God is the one who tells us what we are to do to live a life pleasing to him. The only objective place we can turn for that kind of moral guidance is the Bible. And the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we need to know to please God. In Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses had told the people God’s commands and then said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The Bible tells us in many places that we will be blessed if we obey the commands of God, which are given to us in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:2 we are told that “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God”, and this statement is then followed by a lengthy listing of the many blessings of God. The same message is in the New Testament. For example, in John 13:17, Jesus tells us, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the commands given to us in the Bible are sufficient for the purpose of living in a way that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 1, where we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a classic passage to make this point and, of course, in that passage, when he talks about the ‘law’ of the Lord, he’s talking about the whole of the Bible. Or we can look in Matthew 7:24-25 where Jesus tells us that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This parable is again telling us that if you put Jesus’ words into practice you will be blessed.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that the Bible, when heard or read by someone who has been born again, is sufficient for salvation and to direct us in how to live. Is there anything else to say about this characteristic of the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. The sufficiency of the Bible makes clear that we don’t need any new revelation from God, either for salvation or for life. This speaks powerfully against the Roman Catholic church’s view of tradition. The Roman Catholic church places the traditions of the church on an equal footing with Scripture. Which, in practice, really means that they trump scripture. But, even if they didn’t, there is a clear problem. If any of the teachings of the church were necessary for life or doctrine, what can we say about the people who lived prior to the time the church came up with that teaching? The Bible would not have been sufficient for those people.

This also speaks against the Mormon cult. I had some Mormons come to my door one day who said that Mormonism was just like the reformation. Their claim was that just as Martin Luther and the other reformers corrected the abuses that had developed over time in the Roman Catholic church, so Joseph Smith corrected abuses that had developed since the time of the reformation. But that is complete nonsense. The reformation did not introduce any new revelation from God, it went back to the Word of God itself, which had been there the whole time. The existing errors were errors in interpretation and application of the existing revelation. Whereas Joseph Smith introduced a whole new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible at many points. Knowing that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and life guards against our being deceived by any new so-called revelation.

Marc Roby: The Bible itself tells us in many places to not add to the words of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the people “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And similar warnings are given in Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Marc Roby: That raises and interesting question though. How do we reconcile these statements with progressive revelation? If we consider the statement I quoted from Moses, I can imagine someone might object and say that if Moses told the people not to add to his commands, what are we to say about the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which were revealed after the time of Moses?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem talks about this in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, which is on the sufficiency of the Bible. He points out that to say that man can’t add to the Scripture is not the same thing as saying that God can’t add to it. Now, of course, the Mormon’s for example, would say that God did add to it with the Book of Mormon. But, I think that view is impossible to accept for two reasons. One, the Book of Mormon contains so many counterfactual elements and, two, there is no need for further revelation. Let me quote Grudem on this second point because I think he says it very well, and his explanation tells us both why there was more revelation after the time of Moses, and why there hasn’t been more after the time of Christ. He wrote that “At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history”[10]. “After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (…) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.”[11]

Marc Roby: That certainly is a powerful argument that we have no need for further revelation. And I think that is a good place to stop for today. I again want to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

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

[2] See http://gracevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/ReadScheduleNonLpYr.pdf

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

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 (3-volume set)

[6] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson, 2008

[7] https://graceandglory.pub/

[8] E.g., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, New Modern Edition in six volumes, Hendrickson, 1991 and https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/

[9] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

[10] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 130

[11] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by beginning a study of systematic theology. Dr. Spencer, I think it would be a good idea to define what systematic theology is.

Dr. Spencer: That would certainly be a good place to start. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (θεός), which means God, and logos (λόγος), which can mean word, or statement, or reasoning.[1] It is the origin of our English word logic, for example. But it is also the root of a suffix in many words, like anthropology or archaeology, where it has come to mean the study of something. So, theology is the study of God.

There are different kinds of theology and the modifiers aren’t always used in a consistent way. In our podcast introductions we have been saying that we are studying “biblical theology”, by which we mean theology according to the Bible. But, according to the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge, biblical theology would, strictly speaking, be a compilation of the facts presented in the Bible.[2] In contrast, systematic theology looks for the relations between these facts and seeks to draw conclusions from them. He uses geology as an illustration. You can simply compile a list of facts; for example, the locations, size shape and so on of different rivers. Or you can study the causes and relations between different geological facts, which is, in general, more useful.

Overall, I like the definition given by Wayne Grudem the best. In his book Systematic Theology, he writes that “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”[3]

Marc Roby: Now, I have to point out that that definition originally came from John Frame.

Dr. Spencer: OK, I knew you’d been itching to get a reference in to one of your favorite theologians. And you’re right, the definition comes from Frame and Grudem does gives him credit in a footnote.

Marc Roby: Just wanted to make sure the record was straight.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s straight. And it is a good definition. What we are interested in doing is seeing what the whole Bible teaches us, specifically about we are to believe, and how we are to live our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do we want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We want to begin, as Wayne Grudem and many others have done, with the Word of God itself.

Marc Roby: Perhaps I should remind our listeners that we have already covered this topic to some extent. In Session 4 we discussed the fact that the Bible itself claims to be the very Word of God and that it alone is the ultimate standard, or authority, for a Christian. Then, in Sessions 5 and 6, we discussed the Bible’s authority and its progressive revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior. So, what else do want to say about the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: I want, first, to stress the importance of the Word of God. Although it is not the only revelation we have from God, it is the only revelation we have that tells us what we must do to be saved. Theologians often speak of both general and special revelation. General revelation refers to creation itself, including man, our conscience, reasoning and entire being. While special revelation is often used to refer to the Bible, although we’ll see in a few minutes there is more to it.

General revelation is so named because it is available to everyone in general. We are told about it in Romans 1:20-21, which say that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”. [4] This is a very important point. General revelation is sufficient for the purpose of leaving men without excuse. We should know that there is a God, we should give him glory and thanks, and we should seek to know him and please him. But, in our natural state, we do none of those things.

Marc Roby: And, of course, because men reject God, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-19 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is where special revelation comes into the picture. It is called special revelation because it is not available to every single person. And it is only in special revelation that God reveals to us how we can be reconciled to him and have the sentence of his wrath removed from us.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, by being united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: Right. That’s the core of the gospel message. In his natural state, man is a sinner who has rejected God and is under his wrath. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, we’ll be saved.

It is the unique job of God’s special revelation to give us this gospel message.

Marc Roby: But it gives us a lot more than just the bare gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. It gives us everything we need for life and doctrine. In other words, it tells us everything we must believe and everything we must do. Not only to be saved, but to live a life pleasing to God. And not only does it tell us these things, it is our only infallible, objective guide for salvation and the Christian life. Remember in Sessions 2 and 3 we examined the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That is the same as saying it teaches us doctrine and life.

Marc Roby: Now I can hear some Christians objecting at this point, because they will say that God reveals to them directly, by his Holy Spirit, what they are to do.

Dr. Spencer: I believe that God does reveal things to his people by his Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible, and God cannot lie, and he cannot change or contradict himself. So, the subjective revelation that a Christian may get from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. And we need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or to thinking the Holy Spirit is speaking when, in fact, it is either our own sinful nature welling up, or a suggestion even of the devil. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes”. In the Greek, the word the NIV translates here as “schemes”, and which the ESV and other versions translate as “devices” is noama (νόημα), and the root meaning is really “thoughts”. So, the verse could perhaps be better translated as “we are not unaware of Satan’s thoughts.” In other words, Satan puts thoughts into our minds. And we need some objective standard for distinguishing between our own sinful thoughts, the thoughts of Satan, and the thoughts the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is that objective standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, which is why we have said a number of times in these podcasts that the Bible must be the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because they can simply be wrong. And there is no way for anyone else to help me if my subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Suppose, for example, I tell you that God has spoken to me and told me that I should do something, if my subjective experience is the ultimate standard, then you can’t say much at that point. Who are you to contradict God? So, if you think I’m wrong, your only options would be to leave it alone or call me a liar. But, if I tell you that I think God spoke and told me to do something, you can speak to me if what I think God wants me to do is unbiblical. You can, and should, say to me, “Richard, I don’t think that is the Holy Spirit speaking. Let’s look at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scripture.”

Marc Roby: And I think we all need that kind of correction from time to time.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. Which is why being a member of good church and having good Christian fellowship is so important.

Marc Roby: It reminds me of the apostle Paul rebuking and correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example. We aren’t told the entire conversation, but I’m confident that if Peter didn’t immediately recognize he was wrong and repent, Paul would have argued from the Scriptures to show him that he was wrong.

Marc Roby: Of course, the apostles had the advantage of having heard Jesus himself speak.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly was a great privilege. But, I think that in many ways we are far more privileged today.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Because God has provided us with a written record of all the words and deeds of Jesus that it is important for us to know about. We don’t have to rely on our memories.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a good thing, especially as we get older!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. My memory is sometimes pretty bad. But, we have an even greater advantage because not only do we have the written record, we have nearly 2,000 years of scholarship and exhortations from godly men and women to help us understand and apply the Word of God, and to encourage us to hold firmly to the faith.

Marc Roby: That is a tremendous benefit indeed. And it is sometimes astounding, as well as humbling and edifying, to read the insights of some of the great saints of the past.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. But, I also want to point out that the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless and until that person is born again. What I mean by “properly understood” here is that the message is received and responded to with saving faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That is so true.

Dr. Spencer: The fact that the Bible cannot be properly understood without the Holy Spirit working in us is why I said there was more to special revelation than just the Bible itself. Since the whole point of the term “special revelation” is to talk about what is needed for salvation and living the Christian life, we need to keep in mind this necessary work of the Holy Spirit even if we say that special revelation is the Bible, as is frequently done.

I think James Boice makes a good point in his wonderful book called Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “special revelation has three stages. First, there is redemption in history. This centers in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in the place of sinners and rose as proof of their divine justification. Second, there is a revelation in writing. This is the Bible. God has provided interpretive records of what he has done for our redemption. Finally, there is the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit. As a result the individual is born again, receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and is enabled to follow him faithfully until life’s end.”[5]

Marc Roby: It is clear from my own experience that we need the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives.

Dr. Spencer: My experience is the same. Not only must we be born again, we must also be walking in humble obedience and be filled with the Spirit or our reading of the Bible will not be as useful as it could be. God refuses to speak to someone who is sinning and refusing to repent. But, when we are right with God, his Holy Spirit causes the Bible to come alive. When we read it we see ourselves, and it brings us to repentance, greater faith, a deeper understanding of God, and a clearer understanding of what he wants us to do.

Marc Roby: I find it amazing how you can read a passage you’ve read many times before and yet, because of your different situation, God shows you something completely new and different in the passage.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve had the exact same experience. But, as I’ve been saying, this standard is an objective standard. And one of the things that means is that I’m not free to run off and go crazy with my subjective interpretations of what the Word of God says. That is part of the reason it is so important that this revelation be in written form. If I have misinterpreted it, I need to be able to sit down with someone and have him show me where I went wrong.

Marc Roby: That, of course, requires that we agree on how to read the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must agree on how to properly read and understand the Word. The science of properly interpreting the Word of God is called Hermeneutics, and we will get into that in a later session. For now, I want to move on to mention four key characteristics of special revelation.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: They are sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity.

Marc Roby: I’m sure at least some of our listeners are not familiar with the word perspicuity.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right. Perspicuity means clarity. So, perhaps, we could say that the word perspicuity is not particularly perspicuous.

Marc Roby: Maybe it would be better not to have said that.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, perhaps you’re right. In any event, I thought it was important to at least introduce the term since it is used in theology and since the acronym you will sometimes hear for these four characteristics is SNAP, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity. But, if you like, we can change the acronym to SNAC, standing for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Why are these terms so important?

Dr. Spencer: They are important because they tell us some very important things about the Word of God given to us in the Bible. First, it is sufficient, which of course begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” And the short answer is, that it provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. The Bible is also necessary, which again begs the same question, “Necessary for what?” And the short answer is also the same, it is necessary for salvation and a proper Christian life. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But, the only place we learn who Christ is, what he did, and how we can be saved is the Bible. So, either a person has to read it for himself, or he has to be told what it says by someone sent to preach the gospel to him. Thirdly, the Bible is authoritative, which again begs the question, “Authoritative for what?” This time the answer is more comprehensive. The Bible is authoritative for everything it speaks about. As we have pointed out several times, it is a Christian’s ultimate authority. And, finally, we come to clarity, or using the old term, perspicuity. What this means is that the Bible is clear about those things for which it is necessary and sufficient. In other words, the basic message of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to God is clear. You don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to be exceptionally bright in order to understand the basic message of the Bible. A child is able to understand it sufficiently to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there is so much more there as well. Even a very intelligent and learned person can spend a lifetime studying the Word of God and never fully plumb the depths.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true. There is always more that we can learn about from the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I look forward to exploring the Word of God further, but we are out of time for today. I want to close by reminding and encouraging our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] E.g., see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pp. 477-478

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 1-2

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 21

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

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by finishing our examination of extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. We ended last time by looking at few Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to first refer to the discussion we had back in Session 7, where I pointed out that the New Testament is the best attested book from antiquity by a huge margin. We have extremely good manuscripts for every part and that, combined with the science of textual criticism, which I also discussed in that session, allows us to have great confidence that we know what the original manuscripts said. Also, I want to lay to rest a notion that is, unfortunately, not uncommon today.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: It is the nonsensical view of some professing Christians that the New Testament does not have to be historically factual for the Christian faith to be meaningful. Some will say that it doesn’t even matter if Jesus actually lived or not, all that matters is the good moral teaching that is credited to him. If you put that teaching into practice, then you are a Christian. But, to claim that the good moral teachings of Jesus, or of some mythical figure called Jesus, are all that matter is to completely eviscerate the gospel message.

The Christian faith is founded on historical fact. Let me quote the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15:14 he wrote that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” [1] In other words, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a real historical event, the Christian faith is useless. And you can extend this argument very easily. If the New Testament is not true in every detail, then our faith has no solid objective foundation. We are left with pure subjectivism.

Marc Roby: I couldn’t agree with you more.

Dr. Spencer: But, praise God, the reality is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. He came to earth in the man Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life of obedience and willingly gave himself as a sacrifice of atonement on the cross to pay for the sins of his people, and he was raised from the dead on the third day as foretold in the Bible. He then appeared to many people. And after he ascended into heaven he sent his Holy Spirit down on the apostles and they preached the good news of the forgiveness of sins in his name, which is called the gospel. Through that preaching, the Christian church was started and grew rapidly.

And what was true then is still true today; unless and until we come to know the real, historical Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and bound for eternal hell. But, if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we are saved and bound for heaven. Although, as we discussed in Sessions 12 through 16, that simple statement of faith is loaded with meaning and we must guard against a false, easy type of faith.

So, what I want to do today is to provide a sampling of the extra-biblical evidence we have that corroborates the New Testament.

Marc Roby: OK. What would you like to examine first?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to note that Dr. Stephen Meyer, in his video series “Is the Bible Reliable?[2] does a good job of presented a significant amount of detailed evidence showing that the New Testament is historically accurate. For example, it gets the names of places and people just right. We have noted before that getting details right is a significant sign of historical accuracy and is not as easy as one might suppose. Let me give just one example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In Romans 16:23, which the apostle Paul wrote from Corinth, he sent greetings from a man named Erastus, whom Paul said was the “city’s director of public works”. Now, this is not some major figure in history, so it is quite surprising that an inscription was found on an old Roman road in Corinth that names him.[3] F.F. Bruce, in his excellent, but somewhat old, book “The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?”, mentions this same inscription.[4]

Marc Roby: That is pretty incredible to find such a minor figure from so long ago.

Dr. Spencer: It is incredible, and getting such a minor detail right is strong evidence of historical reliability. There are two others items that Meyer brings up in his video that I think it is worthwhile to mention, even though they are both disputed. They are both ossuaries, which are boxes the Jews used to re-bury bones after the body had decayed.

Marc Roby: That sounds a bit macabre.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it does. In any event, this process of digging up a grave and re-burying the bones was only practiced for about a hundred years, from roughly 20 BC to 70 AD. One of the ossuaries was found in an official archaeological dig in 1990, so there is no question about its being authentic, the question is about whether or not the person named is the person from the Bible. The ossuary is very ornate and the inscription, when translated, reads “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”, which many think is the High Priest Caiaphas mentioned, for example, in Matthew 26 in connection with Jesus’ trial.[5]

Marc Roby: That would be pretty incredible if true, and given the time period, the location and the fact that it was such an ornate ossuary, it certainly seems probable.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But the other ossuary is potentially even more incredible. It is a very simple one that came to light from the antiquities market, so no one knows for sure when or where it was found or by whom. No one doubts that it is a first-century piece, the question is whether or not the entire inscription is first century, or whether some of it is a modern forgery. The inscription reads, when translated, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” and so this is called the James ossuary. If the entire inscription is legitimate, this would almost certainly be the ossuary for James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, because all three names are correct, the period is correct, and you wouldn’t name a brother unless he was extremely prominent.

The evidence for this inscription being entirely legitimate has gone back and forth over the years as different types of testing have been done. The most recent testing was in 2008 and seems to confirm that it is genuine.[6] One thing is certain, if the inscription has been added to by a modern forger, the person who did it was extremely good and very, very knowledgeable. So, over all, I’d have to say I think it is most likely genuine.

Marc Roby: That would be amazing. But, even if it turns out to be a forgery, we don’t need to worry too much, because we have a lot of other extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was crucified by the Romans and whose followers started the Christian church.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly do. In fact, I would say that there is no serious basis for anyone to doubt the existence of Jesus Christ, or the fact that he was crucified, or the fact that his disciples said he was raised from the dead. For example, the Jewish-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, whom we’ve talked about before, mentions Jesus twice in his Antiquities in Books 18 and 20, and he also mentions John the Baptist in Book 18.[7] The Antiquities was written near the end of the first century AD, which is only about 60 years or so after the death of Christ. The account about Jesus in Book 20 also mentions his brother James, it says that the high priest Ananus “assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”[8]. Now listening to that quote without being able to see the commas might be a bit confusing. James is called the brother of Jesus, and it is Jesus, we are told, who was called Christ.

Marc Roby: What about the other reference to Jesus?

Dr. Spencer: That one is a bit more problematic. We have several copies of it and the most famous one has pretty clearly, and regrettably, been modified by Christians, it has Josephus, who was certainly not a believer, calling Jesus the Christ, which is not believable. However, in 1971 a 10th-century Arabic version came to light, which still has the same basic material, but with a few key word changes. For example, instead of saying Jesus “was the Christ”, it says Jesus “was believed to be the Christ”. Since this version was in Arabic hands, there is no reason to suspect that it was modified to be better evidence for Christianity, so most scholars think it is genuine, and it still provides clear evidence for Jesus.

Marc Roby: Do we have other extra-biblical sources mentioning Jesus Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote a history of the reign of Emperor Nero in about 112 AD, and in that history he notes that it was rumored that Nero himself started the great fire in Rome in 64 AD and then he writes that, in order to stop the rumor, Nero “substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor; and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time, only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself”.[9]

Marc Roby: Wow. Tacitus was clearly not a friend of Christians! He said that they were “loathed for their vices” and called Christianity a “pernicious superstition” and a “plague”.

Dr. Spencer: It is pretty clear alright that he didn’t think much of Christianity. But that makes this quote all the more valuable. I’m confident that he would not have wanted to provide evidence that would support Christianity! But, I suppose that since he knew what had happened, he probably didn’t think there would come a time when people would try to deny the basic facts.

Marc Roby: Well, if you’re right about that, he could not have been more wrong. But, I guess he can be forgiven for not foreseeing the deep animosity of modern anti-Christian, so-called scholars.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly can be forgiven. The great fire of Rome and Nero’s resulting persecution of Christians is also mentioned by Suetonius.[10] And all of this is written within less than 100 years of the crucifixion of Christ, so we are not talking about oral traditions being blown up into a legend.

Marc Roby: Alright. What else do you have?

Dr. Spencer: F.F. Bruce, in the book I mentioned before, quotes from a letter written by a man named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son, also named Serapion.[11] The letter was written sometime after 73 AD, and, although we don’t know the exact date, most scholars think it was fairly soon thereafter.[12] In any event, this man was in prison and wrote to his son to encourage him to pursue wisdom. In doing so he mentions three wise men who were put to death; Socrates, Pythagoras, and – although he doesn’t name him – Jesus. He wrote, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. … Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.” It seems clear that since this letter was written not long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD it is referring to Christ. Meyer also mentions this letter in his video.[13]

Marc Roby: It sounds like this man was very modern – he viewed Jesus solely as a great philosopher!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, as with Tacitus, the fact that he carried no brief for Christianity makes his comments more valuable. They show us that the basic facts about the life, death, resurrection and following of Christ were widely known.

Marc Roby: That is an important point. What do you want to present next?

Dr. Spencer: The next thing I want to mention is very important. Around 156 AD a man named Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity to the Roman Emperor Pius.[14] F.F. Bruce notes a very important detail in this defense. Martyr wrote that “the words, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,’” are “a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the ‘Acts’ which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.” Notice that last statement! Martyr knew that there had been a record of these events made, which he calls the “Acts” and that this record was available to the emperor! This is again clear evidence that what happened to Jesus was well known. And it is not credible to claim it was a legend that grew because this letter was written less than 130 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and it bears witness to the fact that there were written descriptions of what had happened that were available from the original timeframe.

Marc Roby: Very interesting. What else do you have for us?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to present just one more quote that makes it clear that even secular scholars who do not believe at all in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, if they are being honest, find the New Testament to be a reliable presentation of history. In a book called Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, published in 1963, the British academic Mr. Sherwin-White, who very obviously does not believe in Christ, wrote the following about the book of Acts in the New Testament; “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. … any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.”[15]

Marc Roby: That is a rather strong statement. Are you done with the evidence you want to present?

Dr. Spencer: Yes I am. We could go on for a very long time talking about the evidence we have and the fact that we have so many things written so close to the time of the events they describe. We can clearly put to rest the different wrong ideas people have about Jesus of Nazareth. The idea, for example, that there is only a tiny core of truth in the New Testament and the rest is legend that developed over time is simply preposterous and unbelievable. Sherwin-White points out in the book I just mentioned that legends take time to develop and there simply was nowhere near enough time between the events and the written descriptions we have of them for a legend to develop.

There is just so much more that could be said, and I again encourage those who are interested to look into some of the resources I’ve mentioned. But, the bottom line is that there really is no evidence, none, that clearly demonstrates any part of the Bible to be in error. Which should strike any reasonable person as a complete miracle given that the Bible is over 2,000 years old and has had many serious enemies for that entire time! It simply could not be true unless the Bible is exactly what it claims to be, the word of the sovereign Lord of the universe. The main reason people have for rejecting the Bible is very simple; they don’t want to accept the fact that there is a Creator who is going to hold them accountable for how they have lived their lives.

Marc Roby: I completely agree with that assessment. So, what do you have planned for our next session?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start going over systematic theology; which is an examination of what the entire Bible teaches us about different topics.

Marc Roby: I look forward to starting on that. I also want to remind our listeners that they can send a question to us by sending an email to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

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

[2] Is the Bible Reliable?, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[3] Ibid

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?, Eerdmans, 6th Ed., 1981, pg. 96

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caiaphas_ossuary

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ossuary

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

[8] Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1, from The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, Translated by William Whiston, 1737, see also Bruce, op. cit., pg. 109

[9] Bruce, op. cit., pp 120-121, see also Meyer, op. cit., and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus_on_Christ

[10] Bruce, op. cit., op. cit., pp 121-122

[11] Ibid., pg. 117

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara_bar_Serapion_on_Jesus

[13] Meyer, op. cit.

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Apology_of_Justin_Martyr

[15] A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1963, pg. 189

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you noted that because of total depravity, we must be born again to be saved. You then went on to point out that God’s grace is continually given to all who are born again and that grace gives us the power to live the Christian life. You ended by quoting Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul commands us, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” [1] So, why does a Christian need to work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: We must make certain that we are saved because there is nothing more important in this life! Our eternal destiny is at stake, which is also why we should do it with fear and trembling. We are in serious trouble if we just go through life assuming we are saved, but never carefully examining ourselves. Christ warned the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

The whole purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to live according to his commands, being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and thereby being prepared for eternity in God’s presence. And God makes it quite clear that it is not enough to just say “I believe in Jesus and therefore I’m saved.” Or, “I prayed to receive Christ twelve years ago, so I’m saved.” We must not trust in such superficial pronouncements.

In addition to the verses you just read, Philippians 2:12-13, we also have 2 Corinthians 13:5 where Paul commands us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” We must receive the warning implicit in this statement, Paul leaves open the possibility that we may, in fact, fail the test. And then in 2 Peter 1:10-11 we read, “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Notice again the conditional nature of the statement, “if you do these things, you will never fall”. The stakes could not possibly be higher. We can afford to be wrong about many things in life, but the penalty for being wrong about our salvation is missing out on heaven and suffering eternal hell instead.

Marc Roby: I remember that when we began this recent group of podcasts on the nature of true saving faith in Session 12, you quoted Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That prospect should produce some fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it should. My claim to be a Christian will not save me. I will only be saved if Jesus Christ owns me as his on that day. This passage in Matthew 7 goes along with the verses I just quoted as part of the biblical warning to be very careful in this regard. Salvation is a free gift, and we do not and cannot do anything to earn it, but we must be certain that we have actually received it. It’s easy to fool ourselves, and eternity is a very, very long time. So, as I said, this is the most important thing in life. Nothing else in this life even comes close to being as important as our eternal salvation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many modern churches help people along in deceiving themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. There is absolutely nothing in this world I can do to another human being that is worse than to call myself a minister of the gospel and then to tell him that he is on his way to heaven if I have no valid basis for saying so. And it isn’t only bad for the person being deceived, it is also quite bad for the so-called minister doing the deceiving.

In Acts 20:26-27, when Paul is saying goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he says, “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.” Notice the reasoning he used. Paul said he is “innocent of the blood of all men”, because he proclaimed the whole will of God. So we can reasonably conclude that had he failed to proclaim the whole will of God he would have been guilty of their blood!

Marc Roby: And, of course, the whole will of God includes the commands to repent, believe and love one another as we are told in Acts 17:30 and 1 John 3:23.

Dr. Spencer: Right, we can’t pick and choose what to preach, we must preach the whole counsel of God. And we must point out that the command to love another in 1 John 3:23 is being used as a figure of speech called a synecdoche – which means to use a part of something to represent the whole. For example, when we refer to putting “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan or somewhere else, we’re not talking about just putting boots there, we’re talking about putting troops and all of their equipment there. In the same way, the command to love another is being used to represent the whole law of God. Paul tells us this explicitly in Galatians 5:14, where we read that “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus himself emphasized the need for Christians to obey. In the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” But, how does this all tie back into the admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because we must realize that if we have been born again we are new creations, and new creations are evident for all to see. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” There must be a radical change evident in our lives or we have no sound basis for believing that we have been saved. The old must be gone, and the new must be there.

Paul gives an example of this in Ephesians 4:28 where he says that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” If a thief is saved by God’s mighty work of regeneration, then he will not only believe, he will also repent, stop being a thief and will do useful work and, even more, he will be generous in helping others in need.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we aren’t talking about perfection are we? We’re still sinners saved by grace.

Dr. Spencer: Of course we are. We don’t look for perfection to make our calling and election sure. But we do look for radical change, and for continual change throughout life. I saw a good illustration of this when my wife and I went on a road trip this past summer. Here in California our roads are in terrible condition and, for the most part, road work consists in putting patches over the holes and cracks. But we saw a number of places east of the Mississippi where they had completely dug out miles of road down to bare dirt a couple of feet or more deep, and were completely building new roads. That is the kind of work we should see in our lives if we are born again; not some little patching of a few symptoms of the underlying sin problem, but a radical digging out and removing of the sin and replacing it with a new nature. If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.

And this work will go on throughout all of life, although not always with the same intensity. But the point I am trying to make is that the work should be a deep, radical work in the core of our being. And if there is some huge besetting sin in a person’s life; like drug addiction, adultery, being a thief or whatever, you would expect there to be a very dramatic shift in the person’s life immediately. Not perfection, but an immediate radical change.

Marc Roby: Now I know that many people will voice two objections to this idea: First, that only God knows the heart, and second, that you are adding the requirement of works when the Bible says we are saved by grace alone.

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, it is true that only God knows the heart. But the Scriptures that we have cited about the importance of making our salvation sure must be dealt with. If there was no way at all for us to know, then these admonitions would not make any sense. They also would not make any sense if all we had to do was have some warm fuzzy feeling in our heart for someone we call Jesus, or some desire to be a better person. We have to be extremely careful to avoid the sentimental, feeling-based pseudo-Christianity that is so common today. The passage in Matthew 7, which you read earlier, makes clear how dangerous that is.

Secondly, it is not true that we are adding a requirement for works to be saved. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone just as the Bible and the reformers declare. When we talk about examining our works, we are not talking about the basis of our salvation, we are talking about the evidence of our salvation. As we discussed in Session 3, we don’t want to have a shallow view of the work that God is doing to sanctify us, obedience is necessary. He is changing us in a radical and serious way and such changes cannot be hidden. It isn’t just a warm feeling in my heart and then I go on living the same old way.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the first of John’s letters, where he makes this same point. In 1 John 2:3-4 we are told that “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.”

Dr. Spencer: That whole letter is a great one to read in this regard. He gives us a number of tests for true faith. But, he also points out near the beginning that we are still sinners, so no one can think he is talking about sinless perfection. In 1 John 1:8 we read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There is a wonderful balance being maintained here that we should work to develop in our own thinking. Yes, we are sinners saved by grace. But, that does not mean that there is no change. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship with [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” And in Chapter 2 Verse 29 he writes that “If you know that [God] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He says much the same thing in Chapter 3 Verse 9 where we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

You see, if we have been born again, there should be some visible similarity between us and our heavenly Father and our older brother Jesus Christ. God is holy and he will have a holy people. He does not save us so that we can go on sinning just like before. This verse is not speaking about sinless perfection or it would contradict his earlier statement in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that all sin. Rather, this verse is speaking about Sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. This process necessarily follows regeneration in the life of every true believer.

Marc Roby: As our Pastor likes to say, children look and act like their parents.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And if there is no visible similarity between my life and Christ, then you have a perfect right to conclude that I am not born again. That is why the Bible tells us to work out our salvation, God is warning us to avoid presumption and self deception.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that in 2 Peter 1:10-11, which you cited a few minutes ago, we are told to make both our “calling and election” sure. I can imagine someone asking, “How can I be sure about my election? That occurs in the mind of God.” What would say in response to such a question?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I would say is that the problem is even worse than the person thinks. Not only did my election occur in the mind of God, but it did so before the creation of the universe! We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So, when Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure we must conclude that there is some evidence we can look at that will indicate we were chosen. He certainly can’t mean that we are to peer into God’s eternal counsel! No one can do that.

But notice he does not just say make your election sure, he says your “calling and election”. There are different calls in the Bible, there is a general call, meaning that someone has been told the gospel, and there is what theologians call the Effectual Call, which means that it is a call that God, by the working of his Holy Spirit, makes effectual for salvation. In other words, it produces regeneration, or new birth. And, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 a few minutes ago, if we have been born again we are new creations.

The logical chain of reasoning here is completely clear. If I have been born again, I am a new creation. If I am a new creation, the old me is gone and there is a new me. And this new me is different. Not perfect, but different. And the difference should be evident to anyone who knows me reasonably well. Look again at Ephesians 1:4, it says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God has a purpose in calling us. It is to make us holy and blameless and fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful purpose. But we also have work to do here on earth, don’t we?

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is all part of God’s perfect, eternal plan. He doesn’t need any of us, but he chooses to use us. We are to tell others about the gospel and we are to live changed lives that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. If my life is a mess, you aren’t going to be too interested if I start to tell you about Jesus Christ. But, if you look at me and see someone who is full of joy, cares about other people, is honest, does what is right and so on, then you would be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.

Marc Roby: And, I might add, I would be even more inclined to listen if I knew you before you were saved and then saw a dramatic and desirable change in your life.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, of course. If I used to waste time at work, speak ill of the boss, go to a bar and get drunk every Friday night, tell off-color jokes and so on, and then all of a sudden I start working hard, I’m respectful of the boss and others even when they aren’t around, I clean up my language and spend Friday evenings with my family, you would probably want to know what happened.

Marc Roby: The changes are not always so dramatic though.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Many of us have our worst sins hidden pretty well from other people. But there should still be some change evident in my life, even if it isn’t as obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well. And there certainly shouldn’t be obvious open sin in my life or you aren’t going to want to listen to what I say at all.

Marc Roby: I also think it is important to talk about the changes that others may not be able to see.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. There is a lot that goes on inside that isn’t evident to others, but is important evidence when we examine ourselves to make our calling and election sure. For example, what do I think about? What do I desire? What are my motives? These are questions I have to ask myself. If I profess to be a Christian, but I’m only thinking about the affairs of this world and have no concern for what God says, no desire to pray and worship him, or to read and study his Word, or to have fellowship with other Christians, then I had better seriously question my profession of faith.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve met people who claim to be Christians, but when you ask where they go to church they hem and haw around and finally admit that they don’t go very often and don’t belong to any particular church.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’ve met people like that. And the bottom line is that they are not Christians. A real Christian will want to be a vital member of a church so he can worship with other Christians and hear the Word of God preached. The idea that if you have been baptized and go to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe a couple of other times a year you’re a Christian is nonsense. Christianity is not just a minor addition to life, it is new life in Christ Jesus. It is a new creation. And we are all part of the body of Christ, there is no solo Christianity. We “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” we read in Ephesians 2:22.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned reading and even studying the Word of God. But I dare say that most professing Christians have not read the entire Bible, do not read it very often at all, and have never actually studied it. They would probably say that is for people who want to be ministers. How would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would say two things. First, you must seriously question whether you are really a Christian at all. And, secondly, if you are a Christian, you are living an impoverished Christian life and I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to start reading the Bible every day. Follow a reading plan that will get you through the whole Bible and then do it over and over again. Read the study notes, get a Bible dictionary, pay attention to what you read and even take notes. You will find your life greatly enriched.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree. What else would you like to say about making our calling and election sure?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps the most important thing is to realize what great peace and assurance we can have as Christians, and how that can make us able to go through trials in this life with great joy. If we see evidence that God has begun a work in us to change us, in other words, solid evidence that we have been born again, then our trust and hope are not in ourselves, they are in God’s promises and God’s power. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is doing a mighty work in me, I don’t need to worry about whether or not he will complete it, he has promised that he will.

Marc Roby: And we can be certain that God will keep his promises.

Dr. Spencer: Amen! And I think that we have now completed a reasonable first-pass treatment on the nature of true saving faith, so in our next session I want to return to the topic of external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that concludes this session and I look forward to next time.

[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.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to consider the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you spoke about living in union with Christ, and made the point that the most important thing we need to know is that Jesus Christ is the supreme Lord of all. You ended by saying that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in us. I’d like to explore that statement today.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The first point is that we must be born again. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” [1] This is speaking of a radical change in our inmost being.

Marc Roby: But, many would say that this change is the result of our having decided to follow Jesus. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: That idea has the cause and effect backwards. It’s true that a Christian has decided to follow Jesus. But, remember what we said last time about our nature. No one can choose to do something that is completely contrary to his nature. So, no one will choose to follow Jesus Christ unless his nature has been changed first. And that is what being born again is all about.

God must do a miraculous work in us first, and only after God has done that work will we respond in repentance and faith. We make a free-will decision to follow Jesus, but we are only able to make such a decision after God has given us a new nature. And, further, if God has given us that new nature, we certainly will respond in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: I want to make sure this point is clear to our listeners, because much of the modern church world has this important point backwards. Many would say that when we repent and believe we are born again. But, that is not the order presented in the Bible, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t the biblical order at all. And it doesn’t make sense. Just like you can’t do anything to cause yourself to be born physically, so also you can’t do anything to bring about your rebirth. That is the point of the metaphor. We read in Romans 8:5-8 that, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires … The mind of sinful man is death, … the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And, in speaking about the “sinful mind” here, Paul is talking about unbelievers; people who have not been born again. The sinful nature we are born with affects the mind and prevents an unbeliever from willfully submitting to God’s law, or from doing anything to please God. The unbeliever is hostile to God. So how can he choose to follow God?

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray gave a lengthier version of the question that I think it would be well worth our time to read. He wrote, “Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that quote will rile up some of our listeners!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will too. But it is completely biblical. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 2:1-2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, calling us dead in trespasses and sins is a direct quote from the Bible. Murray next said that the natural man is “at enmity with God”, which is also straight from the Bible, we just quoted Romans 8:7 a minute ago and it says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God”, in the King James version the word enmity is used instead of hostile. Murray next says that the natural man has a mind that is “darkened and depraved”. And in Romans 1:21 & 28 Paul wrote that unregenerate people have hearts that are darkened and minds that are depraved. So, if someone wants to take exception to what Dr. Murray wrote, he needs to take it up with God, not Dr. Murray.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone will get very far taking the issue up with God. And, perhaps it would be good to point out now that the fact that man is hostile to God and unable to do anything that pleases God is part of the doctrine called Total Depravity.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, although the name total depravity can be misleading, so some have suggested giving the doctrine a different name, something like Radical Corruption. The doctrine does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. There is no doubt, for example, that many unbelievers do many things that are, in themselves, good things. We are not all serial rapists or murderers or anything of the sort. What the doctrine does mean is that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin. And that is why we cannot, in our natural estate, respond to God’s offer of salvation in the gospel. We mentioned Ephesians 2:1 before, where Paul wrote that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins”. And dead people don’t reach out and lay ahold of a lifesaver that is thrown to them. Dead people do nothing.

Marc Roby: The point you are making, that natural man cannot choose to follow Christ, also fits perfectly with what Paul wrote in Romans 3:11, where he said that there is “no one who seeks God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Unless God works first, no one will turn to Jesus in saving faith. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. And the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about a mere wooing or even coercion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. So, this is not describing God gently wooing people.

Marc Roby: At this point I’m pretty sure that some, if not many, of our listeners are objecting strenuously!

Dr. Spencer: I’m again sure that’s true. And I clearly remember this being one of the points that I found most disturbing before God mercifully saved me. I can remember objecting that the gospel was not a legitimate offer of salvation if I didn’t have the power to accept it.

Marc Roby: That is a very common argument.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. It’s a common argument because the unregenerate mind does not think biblically. The bottom line is that before I was born again, I was responsible before God. He created me, and yet I was a rebellious sinner who rejected him and, therefore, deserved his wrath. And the reason I wouldn’t accept his offer of salvation was not because there was any fault in the offer or the One making the offer, it was because there was a fault in me. I could not humble myself and acknowledge God to be just and true. I could not seek God until he started to draw me unto himself. My sinful nature made me incapable of accepting his offer.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that at this point many people will want to ask the question, “Why would God choose to draw you, but not some other person?”

Dr. Spencer: I would say that is an outstanding question. And I am perpetually astounded that God would choose to draw me! But, the bottom line is that we aren’t given the answer to that question in the Bible. What we are told, is that God did not choose me because of anything I have ever done or will do. In Romans 9:16 the apostle Paul speaks about God’s electing some and not others and writes that it “does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” In other words, the reason for his choice was not based on anything worthy in the person chosen, it was based on his own good pleasure. This is called the doctrine of election.

Marc Roby: And Chapter 9 of Romans, which you just quoted, has a clear presentation of the biblical doctrine of election.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. Paul uses the twin sons of the patriarch Isaac, Jacob and Esau, as an example. He writes, in verses 10-13, that “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult doctrine for most of us to accept.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But we can’t determine what is true based on what we like or don’t like. There are many things in this life I don’t like. I don’t like getting sick, I don’t like getting old, I don’t like it when I can’t do something as well as I want to and so on. But I’ve never noticed any real correlation between what I would like to be true and what is true.

Marc Roby: Nor have I.

Dr. Spencer: So, as we noted in Sessions 4 and 7, a Christian’s ultimate standard for truth is the Bible. If there is something taught in the Bible that I don’t like, then it is not the Bible’s problem, it is my problem. First of all, what is taught there is true. And secondly, since it is God’s word and all that he does is perfect, I need to change. I need to try and understand why the truth that I don’t like is displeasing to me and I need to take action to correct my thinking and my feelings.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how do you deal with this doctrine of election?

Dr. Spencer: As I noted before, we all begin with a sinful nature handed down to us from our parents. And, because of that sinful nature, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor can we accept his free offer of salvation because we are, in the core of our being, hostile to him. Therefore, if God had only chosen to make salvation possible for everyone through Christ’s death on the cross, but left it up to us to choose, no one would be saved. We would all reject the offer because of our sinful natures. Therefore, given God’s desire to save a people for himself, it was necessary for him to change our natures so that we can accept his offer.

Marc Roby: And we are first told of this monergistic work of God in the Old Testament, aren’t we?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, for example, we read about this in Ezekiel 36. But, before I read that passage, let me point out that the word you just used, monergistic, simply means that regeneration is a work of God alone. It is not a work in which we cooperate, it is a work in which we are entirely passive. But we must emphasize that as we saw in the quote from John 6:44, God does work to draw us to him, which is certainly something we’ll be very aware of and participate in, and then, once he has regenerated us, we are also active in repenting and believing. So, saying we are passive in regeneration does not in any way imply that we are passive in coming to faith in Christ. We may go through a great deal as God draws us to himself and then we each must individually repent of our sins, trust in Christ, and walk in obedience. God does not do these things for us.

Marc Roby: That is an important point.

Dr. Spencer: But, now let me get to the passage in Ezekiel. In Chapter 36, verses 26 and 27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is speaking of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. It is a work that has been done in every true Christian. And note that three times in this short passage God says “I will”; this is his work in us. We must have our hearts of stone removed and be given new hearts of flesh, and we must be given God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and empower us to keep God’s laws.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful passage. But let me summarize what we’ve covered so far. You’ve argued that in his natural state, man is not able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ because man hates God. Then you argued that God chose to save some people, for reasons known only to him, and that he then draws these people to himself and regenerates them, or we could say causes them to be born again, so that they then repent and believe and are saved. Is that an accurate summary?

Dr. Spencer: It is an accurate summary. And the particular doctrine of election we have been discussing, which is the biblical doctrine, is called Unconditional Election. It is unconditional in the sense that God’s choosing someone does not in any way depend on what that person has done or will do in the future. And this doctrine necessarily follows from a proper understanding of the pervasive and profound effects of sin in us, which we noted earlier is called the doctrine of total depravity. And it is because of total depravity that we must be born again in order to be saved. Our nature must be changed so that we are able to respond to God’s offer of salvation. But, praise God, he causes all those whom he has chosen to be born again.

Marc Roby: But how should one of our listeners deal with this if he or she hasn’t been born again. Are they just to sit around and wait for God to act?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not! That is a common charge made against this doctrine, that it leaves people without hope. But that is the opposite of the truth. If God only made salvation possible, but it depended on us to respond, then we would be without any hope because, as we have argued before, no one would respond and be saved.

But given the possibility of new birth there is hope. So, my counsel to anyone who is not yet born again, or isn’t sure, is to cry out for God’s mercy. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So, don’t let yourself be concerned about the fact that you can’t cause yourself to be born again. If you are becoming conscious of your sin and your need for a Savior, it may very well be the sign that God is drawing you. So don’t resist. God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) So, don’t delay, don’t waste time probing into the mystery of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, simply cry out “Have mercy on me a sinner!” Order a copy of the book we offer at the end of each podcast, read it, believe it, and then look for a good church to join.

Marc Roby: Alright. I’m sure we will come back to this critically important topic again, but for now let’s move on. We started this session by looking at the statement you made last time, that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in him. We have discussed the first part, the need to be born again, but let’s address the second part. What do you mean by saying that we need God’s grace working in us to obey God?

Dr. Spencer: Being born again is a radical transformation, but it does not remove sin from us. We have a new nature, which desires to please God, and we have a new ability to obey, but we also still have our sinful nature, which wars against us, as we’ve said before. We also have powerful external enemies. Satan does not stand idly by and let God rip someone out from under his dominion. The minute we are born again we also enter into spiritual warfare. Satan will come and try to destroy our faith.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was confident that God, having begun a good work in us, would “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” But, even though the ultimate victory is certain, the war still needs to be fought, and we must fight it. Our enemies are powerful. We must oppose Satan and his demons, the world itself, which is opposed to God’s kingdom, and the indwelling sin that rises up as a traitor within us.

Marc Roby: And that is why you are saying we need God’s grace. So, perhaps it would be good to define what is meant by grace.

Dr. Spencer: People often define it as the unmerited favor of God, which is true. You could go further and say that it is God’s favor granted to those who deserve his condemnation. But, even that doesn’t fully grasp the New Testament usage of the term. To understand the full meaning of the term you need to see how it is used throughout the New Testament. I like how Louis Berkhof defines it in his systematic theology. He says that the most common meaning is that “it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit. … it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit.”[3] So, perhaps we could say that the grace of God is the source of a Christian’s power to overcome sin, Satan and the world, and to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And I certainly know that I need help to live that life.

Dr. Spencer: We all need help to live that life. But God gives us the help that we need. In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul calls himself the least of all the apostles because he had persecuted the church prior to his conversion. He then compares himself with the other apostles and writes, in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” And, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is exhorting them to fulfill their promise to give generously to the church in Jerusalem and he writes, in 2 Corinthians 9:8, that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. But how does one go about obtaining this grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first thing of course is that we must be born again as we have been discussing. Then, secondly, we need to make use of what are called the means of grace. The 88th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with this, although it doesn’t use the word grace. The answer reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption [or we could say, the means of grace] are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” There isn’t any magic incantation or anything like that, we are to read God’s Word, seek him in prayer, and join a proper church that preaches the Word faithfully, and which faithfully administers the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not stated in the answer, but certainly included in the scope of belonging to a good church, is the idea of Christian fellowship. In addition to needing God’s help, we need each other in order to faithfully live out the Christian life.

Marc Roby: I find John Calvin’s statement about this encouraging, he wrote the following; “What God demands from us by his word he likewise bestows by his Spirit, so that we are strengthened in the grace which he has given to us.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement of God’s promise to us in his Word.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes there is. An important part of the Christian life involves examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith and to see how we need to change to progress in that faith. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12-13 to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice in this verse we see both our activity, we are the ones who are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we also see God’s activity, we can work out because he is working in us. In our next podcast I want to explore this aspect of the Christian life.

Marc Roby: Alright, that certainly gives us something to look forward to.

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

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

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996 (combined edition of Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology), pg. 427

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Calvins Commentaries, Vol. XXI, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 208

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