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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What does he say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes good sense.

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

Marc Roby: What is that?

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

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] See Session 158

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

[9] Ibid, pg. 261

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

[11] Ibid, pg. 711

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes. He was born again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: OK, let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: OK, that is rather shocking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I would have to say no one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pp 156-157

[6] Ibid, pg. 155

[7] Ibid, pg. 159

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Ibid, pg. 504

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: He does mean the Old Testament, yes. No one is able to perfectly keep the law, and so, as Paul says, by looking at our behavior in light of God’s law we become conscious of our sin. But the Old Testament also tells us about God’s promised Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. The righteousness from God that Paul refers to is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the only person to ever perfectly keep the law. And Paul then goes on, in Verses 22-24, to say, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Now, that makes if very clear how important it is to have a proper, biblical, penitent faith. And I look forward to hearing more about real, saving faith, but it will have to wait for next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to answer you.

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

[2] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg.156

[3] Ibid, pg. 159

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

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

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

[7] Ibid, pg. 116

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Okay, what is the logical argument?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What are those differences?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And what is the second difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 713

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What are those?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And why is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] E.g., see Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 404, or Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 375

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

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

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Marc Roby: After taking a week off to discuss the proper Christian response to the current corona virus pandemic, we are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, are we ready to start looking at the order of salvation, or ordo salutis as it is often called?

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed ready. In Session 141 three weeks ago we noted that salvation began in eternity past with God’s sovereign electing love. We then also noted that, as John Murray put it in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”[1] is our union with Christ.

Marc Roby: And we have spent the bulk of two sessions examining that union, which is a wonderfully edifying topic.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s an understatement for sure.

Marc Roby: I also recall that you mentioned what is often called the golden-chain of salvation in Romans 8:30 where the apostle Paul wrote that those whom God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: I did quote that verse because it is the closest thing in the Bible to a single statement of the ordo salutis. I also noted that some of the steps in the complete order, although not those in the golden chain, can be moved without serious theological consequences and that some of them are not meant to be interpreted temporally, but rather logically. And so we are almost ready to give the order.

Marc Roby: What else do you want to say before we give the order?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that because we are all by nature objects of God’s wrath, our greatest need is to be reconciled to God. We need to take a moment to appreciate God’s amazing, gracious plan of salvation.

Murray points out that God has provided for our greatest need in a way that “exhibits the overflowing abundance of God’s goodness, wisdom, grace, and love. The superabundance appears in the eternal counsel of God respecting salvation; it appears in the historic accomplishment of redemption by the work of Christ once for all; and it appears in the application of redemption continuously and progressively till it reaches its consummation in the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I look forward to the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Dr. Spencer: As do all of God’s adopted children, that is our eternal destiny. And, with all of that said, I think we are now ready to give the actual list.

Marc Roby: Should I give you a drum roll?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think that’s necessary. John Murray first lists the following five items; effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, and finally, glorification.[4]

Marc Roby: And three of those five elements are listed in that golden chain of salvation by Paul.

Dr. Spencer: They are. Paul lists calling, justification and glorification in that order. Murray then inserts regeneration and faith, in that order, after calling and before justification. Now the order of regeneration and calling could be reversed with no major problems, but they must come before justification as we will discuss in more detail later.

After giving these five basic elements, Murray then adds the other elements that are usually included in the list.

Marc Roby: And what are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first is repentance, which as Murray says is “the twin sister of faith – we cannot think of the one without the other.”[5]

Marc Roby: Well, biblical repentance is a turning away from and forsaking our sins, and biblical faith is a turning to Christ in complete trust, so what Murray says makes perfectly good sense. Repentance and faith are really two sides of the same coin; you turn away from sin and to God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. So whether you put repentance before faith or faith before repentance doesn’t really matter, although I personally like repentance first because at least logically you turn away from sin first and then you turn to God. As is often said, you need to hear the bad news before you will receive the good news. But true biblical repentance and faith always occur together. The word conversion can also be used to represent both repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: What does Murray add to the list next?

Dr. Spencer: Adoption, which is an amazing doctrine. God doesn’t just forgive our sins, which is incredible enough in and of itself, he also adopts us as his children. We are told in John 1:12 that God gives to all who receive Jesus Christ, who believe in his name, “the right to become children of God”.

Marc Roby: That is a staggering privilege. We find it difficult to forgive those who sin against us in any serious way, but God not only forgives, he brings us into his family.

Dr. Spencer: That does blow your mind, doesn’t it? And we’ll talk about it in more detail later of course, but for now we just need to note that adoption must come after justification. As Murray correctly notes, “we could not think of one being adopted into the family of God without first of all being accepted by God and made an heir of eternal life.”[6]

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: Murray next places sanctification in the sequence. He wrote, “Sanctification is a process that begins, we might say, in regeneration, finds its basis in justification, and derives its energizing grace from the union with Christ which is effected in effectual calling. Being a continuous process rather than a momentary act like calling, regeneration, justification and adoption, it is proper that it should be placed after adoption in the order of application.”[7]

Marc Roby: That again sounds perfectly reasonable.

Dr. Spencer: And that brings us to the last element, which is perseverance. Murray wrote that “Perseverance is the concomitant and complement of the sanctifying process and might conveniently be placed either before or after sanctification.”[8] While I agree that it goes along with sanctification, I prefer to place it after sanctification, which is where Murray places it, simply because we must persevere to the very end of this life.

Marc Roby: Very well, the entire order then, as given by Murray, would be the following: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.

Dr. Spencer: That is the order he uses and the one we will use. And we are now ready to start with the first item on the list, effectual calling.

Marc Roby: And how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go through a few of the questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism because it does an outstanding job. Question 29 asks, “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Which makes two very important points. First, Jesus Christ is the one who accomplished our redemption. He purchased our freedom from sin with his blood. Secondly, it is primarily the Holy Spirit who applies redemption to believers. The Catechism goes on, logically, in Question 30 by asking, “How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.”

Dr. Spencer: We see several important things in this short answer. First, we again see that our redemption is accomplished, or purchased, by Christ. Second, the Spirit applies that redemption to us by working faith in us; in other words, by bringing us to saving faith, which we shall see requires that we be regenerated, or born again. And third, one result of this faith is that we are united to Jesus Christ as we have discussed in the past couple of weeks.

Then, in Question 31 the Catechism gets right to the issue we are dealing with and asks, “What is effectual calling?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very rich answer. There is a lot of information packed into a single sentence. First, we note that effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit. God is the active agent. We are passive recipients. Murray notes that “the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.”[9]

Marc Roby: In other words, salvation is God’s plan, God’s accomplishment and then he applies it to individual believers.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we do not remain entirely passive, we do respond as we’ll see. Murray also notes that “It is God the Father who is the specific agent in the effectual call.”[10] He cites Romans 8:29-30 again to support this view.[11] In Verse 29 we are told that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Since this verse speaks of “his Son” it is obvious that it is speaking about God the Father, so in the following verse, Verse 30, when it says that “those he predestined, he also called”, it is obviously saying that God the Father does the calling. Murray also cites 1 Corinthians 1:9, where we read, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Marc Roby: That again makes it clear that it is the Father who does the calling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does, so Murray’s claim is completely biblical. The second thing we see in the Catechism answer is that the Spirit convinces us of our sin and misery.

Marc Roby: Well, we obviously must recognize the problem before we are going to be interested in the solution to the problem.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. You can’t put the cart before the horse. We must first receive the bad news that we are sinners under the wrath of God and headed for hell before we will be receptive to God’s solution to that problem, the good news of the gospel. And that leads directly to the third thing we see in the Catechism answer. The Spirit enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ.

Marc Roby: And some knowledge is surely necessary for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Knowledge alone won’t save us, but true saving faith has specific content, it isn’t just some nebulous feeling or vague generality. We must know that we are sinners, deserving God’s wrath, and that Jesus Christ, who was completely sinless, took our sins upon himself, went to the cross, and bore the wrath of God on our behalf. God then raised him from the dead to demonstrate that he had accepted the offering and that death had no hold on Jesus Christ. We can’t be saved without knowing, believing and trusting in these biblical truths.

Marc Roby: And these are not metaphorical truths. For example, Christ was really, physically, raised from the dead. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Dr. Spencer: And this idea of firstfruits implies an abundant harvest to follow. That harvest is all of the elect. And now comes a key piece God’s solution to our problem. In our natural state we are all enemies of God, dead in our transgressions and sins. It is impossible for those who are God’s enemies, and who hate him, to respond to this knowledge favorably. And so the Catechism next says that the Spirit “does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ”. This is speaking about regeneration, or new birth, without which no one can or will be saved.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told Nicodemus, as we read in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then, in John 3:5 Jesus added, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Effectual calling and regeneration are very tightly linked. In fact, in seventeenth century theology they were often either spoken of as synonymous or regeneration was thought of as a part of effectual calling.[12] One way to distinguish them is to say that the effectual call is external, while regeneration is, as Murray describes it, “the beginning of inwardly operative saving grace.”[13]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the idea of God’s call being efficacious is consistent with what the Old Testament says as well. In Isaiah 55:10-11 God says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful passage. No one can thwart God’s plan. We can’t stop the rain from watering the earth and we can’t stop his call from being effectual. But there is also what is sometimes called the general call, which can be distinguished from God’s effectual call. Not everyone who hears the gospel is born again and then responds in repentance and faith. Although Murray points out that when the New Testament refers to a call with reference to salvation, it is almost always referring to the effectual call.[14]

Marc Roby: I suppose the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew Chapter 22 is a possible exception.

Dr. Spencer: Murray agrees with you. For those who don’t remember the parable, there is a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son, but the people originally invited to the banquet all make excuses and refuse to come. So the king orders his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they can find. When the banquet hall is filled with people, the king notices one man who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. We then read, in Matthew 22:13-14, “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Marc Roby: I think many people find that parable somewhat disturbing.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the idea is simple. There is a general gospel call that goes out to everyone, and salvation is free, it cannot be purchased. But, we cannot come on our own terms. Only those whom God has chosen will be granted new birth, will then repent, believe and be united to Jesus Christ. Those who do so, will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ himself as we read in Galatians 3:27, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Marc Roby: That is most glorious truth, and I look forward to spending more time on this discussion next week, but it seems like a wonderful place to close for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would enjoy hearing from you.

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

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 79

[4] Ibid, see the bottom of page 86

[5] Ibid, pg. 87

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pg. 89

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid, pg. 90

[12] Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 470

[13] Murray, op. cit., pg 93

[14] Ibid, pg. 88

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, last time we finished discussing the doctrine of unconditional election, which says that God chooses whom he will save based on his own good pleasure and not any merit in us. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I would like to take some time to examine how we, as believers, should respond to the biblical doctrine of God’s unconditional election. We know how an unbeliever will respond; he will cry out that it isn’t fair. But as we’ve indicated, we all deserve God’s wrath. It would be perfectly fair for God to condemn us all. The amazing thing is that he chooses to save anyone. And so, the question remains, how should a believer respond to this doctrine?

Marc Roby: Well, it seems obvious that we should respond with great thanksgiving and praise!

Dr. Spencer: And, I would add, all the more so because God’s election is not conditioned on anything we have done or will do or, in fact, anything we can do. Once we realize that our new birth is a free gift from God, totally undeserved – in fact, given in spite of the fact we deserve condemnation – then we should be filled to overflowing with thanksgiving and praise.

Marc Roby: And that makes me think of the phrase in Ephesians where Paul speaks about the praise of God’s glorious grace. We read in Ephesians 1:4-6 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”[1]

Dr. Spencer: And Paul repeats the same idea just a few verses later. We read in Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

The ultimate purpose of creation is the manifestation of God’s glory and the saving of his people is a marvelous part of this work and a great contributor to that glory.

Marc Roby: And it is also an incomprehensibly great blessing for us who are saved!

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is certainly true. And the doctrine of unconditional election is also a great comfort to believers. In Romans 8:28-30 the apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Marc Roby: That is comforting. Paul writes in the past tense even though our glorification is still in the future. He is letting us know that it is absolutely certain.

Dr. Spencer: And the first verse of this passage, Verse 28, where Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, should provide tremendous comfort for all of God’s children.

Let me quote the theologian Wayne Grudem. He wrote the following about these verses; “If Paul looks into the distant past before the creation of the world, he sees that God foreknew and predestined his people to be conformed to the image of Christ. If he looks at the recent past he finds that God called and justified his people whom he had predestined. And if he then looks toward the future when Christ returns, he sees that God has determined to give perfect, glorified bodies to those who believe in Christ. From eternity to eternity God has acted with the good of his people in mind. But if God has always acted for our good and will in the future act for our good, Paul reasons, then will he not also in our present circumstances work every circumstance together for our good as well?”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion, and a great comfort. But the apostle Paul goes on in that chapter to say even more about the comfort this provides to us.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, he most certainly does. In fact, he begins right way by asking the question we are dealing with now, in Romans 8:31 we read, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” In other words, given God’s amazing plan of salvation and the certainty we have that all whom he has predestined for salvation will be called, justified and ultimately glorified, how should we respond? And he begins his answer by asking a rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to that question is that no one can successfully oppose us. And then Paul goes on to draw another wonderful and comforting conclusion in Verse 32. He writes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great and logical deduction. In God’s unconditional election he chose us to be saved. But that salvation, while free to us, was unbelievably costly to God. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, had to become a man and die for us. And, as Paul correctly reasons, if God didn’t spare his own Son, we can be confident that he will give us everything we truly need for life and godliness. God never leaves work unfinished.

And so Paul goes on at the end of Romans 8 to ask some more rhetorical questions and to conclude that we who are in Christ are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: And we need that comfort given the trials and tribulations that come with this life in a fallen world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. I don’t want to go off track too far from discussing soteriology, but it is obvious to anyone who looks at this life honestly that we have many troubles. God does not promise his children a trouble-free life. Quite the opposite. We read in John 16:33 that Jesus himself told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And that is why we who are in Christ are promised that we will overcome the world as well.

In his commentary on this passage at the end of Romans Chapter 8, the Rev. P.G. Mathew notes that Paul lists seventeen enemies that Christians face; hardship, persecution, famine, danger, death and so on. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:37, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Rev. Mathew notes that “Troubles make us trust only in Christ. We hope not in this world but in the world to come. Sufferings for Christ’s sake cause the things of this world to grow strangely dim. These sufferings focus our spiritual eyes on Jesus.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is great encouragement. As God’s children we know that even the troubles and pain we go through in this life have a good purpose.

Dr. Spencer: And it will all be used by God to redound to his greater glory. But there is one more thing I want to say about how we should respond to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is that?

Dr. Spencer: It should be a great encouragement to us to share our faith.

Marc Roby: You usually hear people say that this doctrine discourages evangelism. So I think you need to explain that comment.

Dr. Spencer: It’s actually quite simple. If everyone has the power to either accept or reject the gospel message, then I can easily be afraid that my evangelism will fail to bear fruit. And, not only that, but it may be that my inept presentation is the reason someone doesn’t put his faith in Christ. Just think about how terrible that would be to have to live with.

Marc Roby: I’d rather not. I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s eternal damnation.

Dr. Spencer: Nor do I. But the doctrine of unconditional election gives me confidence to tell others about Christ. My witnessing absolutely matters, God has ordained the means as well as the end. But at the end of day, I can be absolutely confident that all those whom God has chosen will, in fact, come to true saving faith. We are the means, but any success we have is not based on our own efforts, it is based on God’s eternal election.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And it sounds like we are done discussing the Christian’s proper response to the doctrine of unconditional election. Before we move on, perhaps I should briefly summarize the points we’ve made so far with respect to soteriology.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a good idea, so please proceed.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have shown that man’s greatest need, in fact his only real need, is for salvation, because every human being will, after this short life, spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Secondly, we have shown that because all men are sinners and enemies of God, they will not and, indeed, cannot, accept his offer of salvation until and unless God causes them to be born again. Thirdly, we have shown that God sovereignly chooses whom he will save, not based on anything in them, or anything he foresees they will do, but solely based on his own free sovereign will.

Dr. Spencer: And if we go back to the acrostic TULIP, which to remind everyone stands for the biblical doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints, we have now covered the first two of these; Total depravity and Unconditional election. But rather than cover them in the order they appear in the acrostic, I now want to move on to examine Irresistible grace.

Marc Roby: Which we have briefly mentioned before. It is the doctrine that says that we cannot resist God’s saving grace. In other words, if he causes us to be born again, we will necessarily respond in repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: That is the doctrine. When Paul dealt with the objection to the biblical doctrine of unconditional election, he wrote in Romans 9:19, as we read last time, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” The expected answer is, of course, that no one can resist God’s sovereign will. So, this verse expresses the idea of the irresistible nature of God’s efficacious call.

We also see irresistible grace in the verse we read earlier today, Romans 8:30, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” It is clear that Paul is spelling out an unbreakable chain of events. If God has predestined us for salvation, he will call us. And if he calls us, we will be justified and glorified.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Paul is not listing every step in the process here. As I’m sure we will discuss in more detail later, justification, for example, is based on conversion, in other words on our having repented of our sins and placed our faith in Jesus Christ. And our repenting and believing can only occur if we have been born again, or regenerated. So it is evident from these verses that God’s call is effectual in bringing about our regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Jesus gave us a great illustration of God’s effectual call when he called Lazarus forth from the tomb. Lazarus had been dead for several days and yet, when Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!” He came out of the tomb still wrapped in the grave clothes.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great illustration.

Dr. Spencer: This doctrine of irresistible grace is not something new with the Protestant Reformation either. It goes all the way back to St. Augustine. Let me quote the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge; “Augustine, holding as he did that man since the fall is in a state of spiritual death, utterly disabled and opposite to all good, taught that his restoration to spiritual life was an act of God’s almighty power; and being an act of omnipotence was instantaneous, immediate, and irresistible.”[3]

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. As we have said before, dead people don’t make themselves come alive.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, one of the arguments Hodge uses to support this doctrine, which is a very strong argument I might add, is that the metaphors used in the Scriptures are important. He wrote that “As the blind could not open their own eyes, or the deaf unstop their own ears, or the dead quicken themselves in their graves; as they could not prepare themselves for restoration, or cooperate in effecting it, so also with the blind, the deaf, and the dead in sin. The cure in both cases must be supernatural.”[4]

Marc Roby: And we see all of these metaphors in the Bible. For example, in John 12:37-40, the apostle speaks about the unbelief of some of the people and says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common metaphor. In fact John is quoting from Isaiah 6:10 where God commands the prophet to “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Marc Roby: It is a paradoxical truth that the same gospel message brings life to some and hardens others against it.

Dr. Spencer: And it is precisely because of sinful man’s depraved condition. I’m sure some of our listeners have heard the analogy that the same sunlight which softens wax also hardens clay. The different responses to the sun’s heat are caused by the inherent differences in the materials.

Paul speaks about this in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 he speaks about the different responses people have to the gospel. And he wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” Note that we are to God always the aroma of Christ. There is no ambiguity or difference in the message itself. But this one message is the smell of death to those who will not, and indeed cannot accept it because of their sinful natures. While to those who have been born again it is the fragrance of life.

Marc Roby: And Hodge also spoke about the metaphor of being dead. He said that the dead cannot “quicken themselves”, which is an old-fashioned way of saying bring themselves back to life. And we see the metaphor of death most famously in Ephesians 2:1 where Paul tells the Ephesian believers that “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”, referring to their lives before they were regenerated.

Dr. Spencer: And he keeps the same metaphor going when he says in Verses 4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Marc Roby: Well, I’m sure there is more to say about the doctrine of irresistible grace, but I think it will have to wait for our next session. Let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our very best to answer.

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 705

[3] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, vol II, pg. 712

[4] Ibid, pg. 692

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