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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. At the end of our last session we were discussing the reformed, or biblical, doctrine of God’s irresistible grace. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we have already noted that this doctrine, while it is denied by the post-reformation Roman Catholic church, Arminians and Lutherans, is biblical. It was not something that first appeared in the reformation though, it had been the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, through St. Augustine, long before the reformation. But, the most important question, in fact, the only one that really matters, is what does the Word say? And, on that score, the answer is clear.

Marc Roby: In our last session we quoted Roman 8:30 in support of this doctrine, which says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: And that passage, which is sometimes called the “golden chain” of salvation[2], is clear biblical support for irresistible grace. But there is much more.

Marc Roby: What other Scriptures would you cite in support of the doctrine?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s begin in the Old Testament. God tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11, “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.”

Marc Roby: That is a clear statement of the efficacy of God’s Word. What other Scriptures would you cite?

Dr. Spencer: In the famous passage in Ezekiel 36:26-27, God declares, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” And note that God says I will give you a new heart, I will remove your heart of stone, and I will put my Spirit in you to move you to follow my decrees.

God doesn’t just make salvation possible and hold out an invitation for us to accept or reject, he removes our old heart, gives us a new one, and puts his Spirit in us to move us to obedience. In other words, he causes us to be born again.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted last time, that metaphor of new birth is itself significant evidence that we play no role in our regeneration. It is a monergistic work of God.

Dr. Spencer: And a monergistic work means a work that is done by one person alone, in this case, God. It is the opposite of a synergistic work in which two or more parties cooperate. Just as no one is responsible for bringing about his own physical birth, so no one is responsible, even in part, for bringing about his own re-birth.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what John wrote in his gospel. In John 1:12-13 we read, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a good passage. Our new birth is not the result of human decision. This is really the crux of the issue in irresistible grace. Does God cause us to be born again, or do we cooperate? Those who want to say we cooperate are concerned with preserving the idea of man’s free will, while those who say we do not cooperate are concerned with preserving God’s sovereignty.

Marc Roby: And, of course, as you said earlier, the only question that really matters is what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Spencer: And, while we have not gone through all of the verses we could, we have adduced a number of verses to argue that Scripture teaches that God is sovereign not only in electing some to salvation, but then in bringing that salvation about by the irresistible working of his Holy Spirit causing a person to be born again.

But we must be careful to note that we still truly and freely respond to God’s call. He monergistically changes our nature through re-birth but then, in that new nature, we freely choose to repent and believe. As it says in the Westminster Confession of Faith, “All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”[3]

Marc Roby: This goes back to our discussion of free will. We do have the freedom to choose what to do, but our choice will always be consistent with our nature. Prior to being regenerated, all men are enemies of God and will not, in fact cannot turn to him in faith.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Paul wrote in Romans 8:7-8 that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And repenting and believing would please God, so they are among those things that an unregenerate person simply cannot do.

And finishing what you were saying about the fact that we do have the ability to choose what to do, once God causes us to be born again, we have a new heart. In other words, we have a new mind, will, affections and so on.

Marc Roby: I like the way Paul puts it in Romans 6:18. He says that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That expresses it very well. Before God regenerates us, we are slaves to sin and could not choose what is good, but then regeneration frees us from sin and we become slaves to righteousness. And so, as new creations in Christ Jesus, we freely choose to repent, believe and walk in obedience.

Marc Roby: What Paul calls the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The question boils down to how significant is that work that is required to save us? Is it just a matter of persuading us to the truth of the gospel? Or, as the doctrine of total depravity would indicate and as the Bible teaches, are we truly enemies of God in need of a whole new nature? The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “If regeneration is a change effected by the man’s own will; if it be due to the mere force of truth and motives, it is a small affair. But if it be the effect of the mighty power of God, it is as to its nature and consequences supernatural and divine. The whole nature of Christianity turns on this point.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that is a strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is very strong, but I think it is correct. We don’t just need a little help to be saved, we need radical change. The biblical doctrines all logically fit together. Back in Session 128 I quoted R.C. Sproul, who wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP, the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[5]

If we are totally depraved, then we are incapable of responding to God’s command to repent and believe. Therefore, if our salvation depended on us, no one would be saved. God must work first. And the very first thing God did with regard to our salvation was accomplished in eternity past. We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Marc Roby: And that election must have been unconditional if total depravity is true since there is nothing in us, and nothing we can do, that will merit salvation in any way.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And his grace must be irresistible because, as totally depraved sinners, we would resist it to the end if that were possible. It’s interesting to note that independent of the position of the modern Lutheran church, Martin Luther himself would have agreed on this point. In his famous work The Bondage of the Will, he wrote that “now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. … Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of ‘free-will’ none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. His final conclusion is exactly what we have been saying. If it were left up to the supposed freedom of our own unregenerate will to accept God’s offer of salvation, “none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”

Dr. Spencer: And although it would be anachronistic to speak of Martin Luther having anything to say directly about TULIP, since that acrostic came more than 70 years after his death, this quote does tie in one more of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic. Notice that he said that because our salvation is under the control of God’s will, he has “the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.”

And, although I left it out of the quote the first time, he then cites John 10:28-29 where Jesus is speaking to the Jews about his followers and says that “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Marc Roby: That is marvelous comfort indeed. We are held in Christ’s hands, and in the Father’s hands.

Dr. Spencer: And it supports the fourth doctrine we want to look at from the TULIP acrostic; namely, the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: Although, as has been pointed out by many, a better name for the doctrine might be the preservation of the saints since our confidence is really in God’s sovereign power, not our ability to persevere.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. All of God’s chosen people will persevere, but only because he enables them to do so. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, as we read in Philippians 1:4-6, that “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul refers to the “day of Christ Jesus” he is, of course, referring to Christ’s second coming, which he wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where we read, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the glorious hope that all true believers have. God will complete the work he has begun in each one of us and we will be given a glorious body like that of the resurrected Christ we are told in Philippians 3:21. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also supported by Romans 8:30, which we have looked at a number of times. It says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” No one who is predestined by God for salvation is able to finally and utterly fall away. So, although true Christians can certainly backslide and fall into serious sin, they will always be brought to true repentance.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort. Paul also wrote, in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, that Jesus Christ “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Dr. Spencer: And Paul also said, in his benediction to the church in Thessalonica, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

The message in all of these verses is consistent. God is faithful and as the sovereign Lord over all creation, he will save those whom he has chosen to save. Not one of them will be lost.

Marc Roby: This does not mean, however, that everyone who professes to be a Christian will ultimately be saved.

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. That would contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:21, where he tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Marc Roby: That verse should make everyone who claims to be a Christian shudder. As Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12, we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should. We can have assurance of faith, as we will discuss later, but that is not incompatible with a careful, honest and even fearful, self-evaluation. Our confidence is based on God’s truthfulness, power and faithfulness, not on ours. He alone is unchangeable and cannot lie or be deceived. But, at the same time, we can never be presumptuous in believing that we are among God’s elect. The biblical doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints should never, ever be used in a presumptuous way. If we have been born again, we will live in a way that makes that new birth evident. If we don’t, we have no basis for personal assurance.

Marc Roby: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important principle. We must examine our own fruit. It is easy to say “I repent”, but true repentance always includes turning away from the sin. We are told in Acts 26:20 that the apostle Paul, in speaking before King Agrippa, said, “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.”

Marc Roby: And, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist, we read in Matthew 3:7-8 that he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Dr. Spencer: And, most famously of course, in James Chapter Two we have the discourse about faith without works. James asks a serious question in Verse 14, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he then goes on to explain that a faith without deeds, in other words, without proof of a changed heart, will not save anyone.

In fact, he points out that even the demons have an intellectual faith, but the result is that they shudder in abject fear.

Marc Roby: True saving faith is more than just knowing and agreeing with the facts of the gospel. We must place our personal trust in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. And we will talk about that more later, but I think we have said all that we need to for now about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: And with that we have completed four of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP. We’ve discussed total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. So that only leaves the doctrine of limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the only one left. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think we had better stop. And this podcast will be released on December 26th, the day after Christmas. So, before we sign off, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of our listeners a blessed Christmas and a victorious new year in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: I join you in that and I will also remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we would appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] e.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 143

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 10, Par. 1

[4] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg 697

[5] Sproul, op. cit., pg. 128

[6] M. Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Trans. By J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson, Fleming H. Revell Comp., 1957, pg. 314

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by briefly discussing the fact that God did not need to create this universe. Is there anymore that you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem lists God’s Freedom as one of his communicable attributes and he defines it in the following way: “God’s freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases.”[1]

Marc Roby: And his definition is completely biblical since we are told in Psalm 115:3 that “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” [2] But I think we should perhaps head off a possible objection at this point. In Session 85 we made the point that God’s will is not absolutely free, in other words there are things that he cannot do. And, in fact, we discussed God’s will of disposition and noted that his perfection constrains him to do some things that don’t, in and of themselves, please him. I can easily imagine one of our listeners thinking that there is a problem reconciling those statements with this definition of Grudem, that God does whatever he pleases.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there does appear to be a problem there. For example, we read in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” And yet people clearly die, not just temporally, but in the ultimate sense of being sent to hell. It is therefore reasonable to ask whether Grudem is right when he says that God does whatever he pleases.

I think however, that this only appears to be a problem until you look at it more carefully. Grudem’s statement is correct, but we need to realize that, ultimately, what pleases God most is to do what is perfect. And as we pointed out in Session 85, the perfect goal for this universe must be the goal that God has revealed to us, which is the manifestation of his own glory. And it must be true that to perfectly manifest that glory God has to send some people to hell, even though, in and of itself, that does not please him.

Marc Roby: I think this goes along with the idea that even God can’t make a square circle. Some desirable things are mutually contradictory. In this case, God chose the greater good of making his glorious justice manifest in judging some people.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s right. And Grudem goes on in that section to make clear that what he has in mind is that God has no externally imposed constraints on his being or actions. Nothing in creation in any way constrains God. The only constraints he has are the result of his own perfect nature; they are internal.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, very different from us.

Dr. Spencer: It is as different as you can possibly imagine. This is a communicable attribute and we do have real freedom of will, but not absolute freedom. Our wills are strictly constrained by the will of God. It is completely impossible for any human being, or even for all of humanity acting together, to change even the tiniest detail of God’s decrees. What he has decreed will, without any doubt at all, take place.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Proverbs 19:21, which tells us that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I also think of Proverbs 21:1, which says that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

Marc Roby: That verse presents a great analogy. The water in a stream still does exactly what it naturally does, it follows the path of least resistance as it moves under the influence of gravity. And yet, we can direct the water where we want it go by how we shape a ditch or a canal.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great analogy. And not only is the heart of every individual king in God’s hands, but in Psalm 2 we read about many, if not all, of the kings of earth coming together to oppose God. In Verses 2-6 we read, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’”

Marc Roby: Which is speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. God laughs at the greatest power man can muster. He has decreed that Jesus Christ redeem a people for himself, to be his eternal treasured possession, and so it will be.

Marc Roby: Praise God for that.

Dr. Spencer: Indeed, we should praise God for that. If men, or Satan and his demons, or any combination of powers were able to thwart God’s plans, then we could never trust in his promises. We are not able to keep all of our promises, even if we intend to. For example, I may promise to take my grandson to play golf on Saturday and then I may get sick or even die on Friday and not be able to fulfill my promise. But nothing can prevent God from fulfilling all of his promises, as well as all of his threats.

Marc Roby: And so, the next attribute that Grudem examines is God’s omnipotence.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it goes hand-in-hand with his freedom. Grudem writes that “God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will.”[3] We have already used the term omnipotence a number of times in these podcasts, but this is a good definition of it. We discussed in Session 85 that it does not mean that God can do anything, which is why Grudem only says that it means that God is able to do all his holy will.

Marc Roby: And the Bible clearly tells us that this is true. For example, when God told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age, Sarah laughed because she thought this was clearly impossible. She had been past child-bearing age for quite some time. But we read the Lord’s answer in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, she did have a son in the next year. We also read that God said to the prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” And when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a child even though she was a virgin, he said to her, as we read in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Marc Roby: And when Jesus told his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved, they were troubled and asked, “Who then can be saved?” To which Jesus replied, in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Dr. Spencer: And, clearly, by “all things” in that verse Jesus does not mean things that are logically impossible or things that violate God’s own nature. We have to be intelligent when we read the Bible, no less so than when reading books by human authors. As we discussed when we talked about hermeneutics, the word “all” does not always mean “all” in a completely exhaustive sense.

God’s omnipotence describes his awesome power. And Grudem then notes that “God’s exercise of power over his creation is also called God’s sovereignty.” God is the Sovereign Lord over his creation and he rules it with mighty power. He is the eternal King.

Marc Roby: Grudem then closes his discussion of God’s attributes by looking at what he calls the “summary” attributes.

Dr. Spencer: And he tells us why he calls them summary attributes. He wrote that “Even though all the attributes of God modify all the others in some senses, those that fit in this category seem more directly to apply to all the attributes or to describe some aspect of all of the attributes that it is worthwhile to state explicitly.”[4]

I like that statement because it reminds us of God’s simplicity. He is not composed of parts and we dare not think of his attributes that way. They all work together all the time. We list them individually as an accommodation to our own inability to think about God on a higher plane.

Marc Roby: And the first of these summary attributes that Grudem lists is God’s perfection, which we have already discussed a number of times in dealing with the other attributes.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we have mentioned God’s perfection a number of times, precisely because it is so important. Grudem defines it this way: “God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.[5]

Marc Roby: We have previously noted Matthew 5:48, where Jesus tells us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Dr. Spencer: And in the Old Testament there are a number of places where we are told that everything God does is perfect. For example, in Psalm 18:30 King David writes, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” The Hebrew word translated as perfect in that verse means to be complete, or without blemish or defect.[6]

John Frame ties this idea in with the fact that God is the ultimate standard in many ways,[7] which is something we have discussed. We have, for example, mentioned a number of times that God is the ultimate standard for truth, and in Session 73 we noted that he is also the ultimate standard for what is good. We judge all other things as being true or good based on how they compare with God.

Marc Roby: And that leads us to the next summary attribute Grudem presents, which is blessedness, which means to be happy in a very deep and meaningful way. He cites 1 Timothy 6:15 where Paul calls God, “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords”.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem goes on to define this attribute by writing that “God’s blessedness means that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character.”[8] We have noted before that for a human being to delight in himself more than anything else would be incredibly arrogant and unseemly. But the same is not true of God.

I like how Grudem puts it. He wrote that “It may at first seem strange or even somewhat disappointing to us that when God rejoices in his creation, or even when he rejoices in us, it is really the reflection of his own excellent qualities in which he is rejoicing. But when we remember that the sum of everything that is desirable or excellent is found in infinite measure in God himself, then we realize that it could not be otherwise: whatever excellence there is in the universe, whatever is desirable, must ultimately have come from him, for he is the Creator of all and he is the source of all good.”[9]

Marc Roby: That is a great statement. And he quite properly backs it up by quoting James 1:17, which says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” And he also quotes 1 Corinthians 4:7, where Paul writes, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, we are no better than anyone else, and we have nothing good that we have not received from God, so we should not boast in ourselves. We need to remember that we are creatures. God takes pleasure in us, but it is to some extent analogous to the pleasure an artist takes in a painting or sculpture he has made. The pleasure is in the artist’s accomplishment and his abilities, it is not pleasure brought about by the canvas, or the paints or the marble themselves.

Marc Roby: That analogy has clear limitations though. Obviously, God has created sentient beings with some degree of free will and he takes pleasure in our willing obedience to his commands.

Dr. Spencer: Very true, but let’s move on. The next summary attribute that Grudem lists is beauty. He writes that “God’s beauty is that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities.” King David wrote, in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Marc Roby: What a glorious thought that is. To see God face to face. We are told in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Dr. Spencer: And John Murray argues, I think successfully, that the apostle is speaking of God the Father when he writes that “we shall see him as he is.”[10] In Revelation 21 and 22 we are told about heaven, and in 22:3-4 we read, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face”. What a glorious future we have. To be able to see God as he truly is.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thing to think about. And that brings us to the last summary attribute that Grudem presents, the glory of God.

Dr. Spencer: And, as Grudem himself notes, this is not really an attribute of God in the normal usage of that term. We have used the term glory a number of times in these podcasts without stopping to define it because I think most people have a reasonable sense of the meaning of the term. In one sense it refers to praise, honor, or fame. And, as Grudem says, it “describes the superlative honor that should be given to God by everything in the universe”. We have noted multiple times that the Bible tells us God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. The great Puritan William Perkins defined God’s glory as “the infinite excellency of his most simple and most holy divine nature.”[11]

Marc Roby: But there is another meaning of the term as well. It can just mean brightness.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and it is biblical. The Bible certainly talks about the glory of God in that sense. But, as Grudem notes, in that sense God’s glory is a created thing, it is “the created light or brilliance that surrounds God as he manifests himself in his creation.”[12] We see this, for example, when the angels announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. In Luke 2:9 we read that “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

Marc Roby: It is amazing to consider that God promises us that we will share in his glory. We read in Romans 8:17 where the apostle wrote, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a wonderful promise. And it is not the only place we see that promise. We also read in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” And later in that same letter, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: I can’t wait for that day. But we should emphasize that our glory is a reflection of God’s glory. The only glory we have is by virtue of being created in his image.

Dr. Spencer: And we are to live for the praise of his glory as Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:12. And Jesus showed us how we can bring glory to God. In John 17:4 Jesus said to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And in Ephesians 2:10 we are told that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Therefore, it is really very simple. The way we glorify God is by obeying him and doing the work he has prepared for us to do.

Marc Roby: Are we now finished with God’s attributes?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we could spend the rest of our lives on them and not exhaust them, but we are done with what I hope is a reasonable short summary of them, yes.

Marc Roby: Very well. Then let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 216

[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] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 216

[4] Ibid, pg. 218

[5] Ibid

[6] See Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 176 or Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 403

[7] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pp 405-409

[8] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 218

[9] Ibid, pg. 219

[10] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 310

[11] Quoted in Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pp 120-121

[12] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 221

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s spirituality, which is the first of his communicable attributes we are considering. Last time we established that spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. Dr. Spencer, what else do you want to say about spirits and God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: Since we are talking about God’s spirituality, I want to look at what is unique to God. We examined our spirituality last time because it helped us come to a better understanding of what is meant by spirit, but as always there is a significant difference between the Creator and the creature. God’s spirituality is qualitatively different from ours.

Marc Roby: In what ways?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, he is the only eternally existing spirit. We sometimes talk about the fact that we will spend eternity with God in heaven, which is true. But we are being a bit sloppy with our language. Only God is eternal in the fullest sense of that term, so perhaps we should talk about eternity past and eternity future, or say that our spirits are everlasting. We all had a beginning, and that includes our spirit as well as our body, but God had no beginning. He has always existed as we have discussed several times. He exists necessarily. He alone has the power of life within him as part of his essential being, and his essence is spirit. So, we could say that spirit is the only absolutely necessary essence that exists. Our physical universe of matter and energy is unnecessary and contingent. It exists only because God chose to create it and chooses to sustain it.

Marc Roby: That is indeed a very significant difference. What else do you want to say about God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: I think that Wayne Grudem is right to connect God’s spirituality with the Second Commandment. We read that commandment in Chapter 20 of Exodus. Verse 4 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” [1] Grudem writes the following about this commandment, “The creation language in this commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, his essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created.”[2] God is spirit and so it is obvious that he cannot be represented by anything we can make out of the material universe.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense. And you noted last time that God’s spirit is qualitatively different than all created spirits. And, now that I’ve said that, I realize it’s a tautology; of course a created spirit is different from the Creator!

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. We can’t escape the creator-creature distinction. Even angels, who are spirits and don’t have physical bodies, are so radically different from and below God that they are not to be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10 the apostle John tells us about his wanting to worship an angel, he writes, “I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’”

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. But let’s get back to God’s spirituality.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. There is another passage of Scripture that we should look at because it tells us something about the spirit of God. In Isaiah 11 the prophet speaks about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who we must remember is a descendent of King David, whose father was named Jesse. In Verse 1 the prophet says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” And then, in Verse 2 he tells us that “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD”. From this verse we learn first that the spirit of God is a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power and knowledge. These five things can all be considered communicable attributes of God. The last thing mentioned seems a bit strange though, we are told that the Spirit of the LORD is a spirit of the fear of the LORD.

Marc Roby: That does sound strange when you put it that way. Why would the LORD fear himself?

Dr. Spencer: He obviously wouldn’t. But we are told three times in the Bible that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. For example, Proverbs 9:10 says that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” I think it is useful to see what the great Old Testament theologian E.J. Young said about these verses.

Marc Roby: What does he say?

Dr. Spencer: Before I quote Young, we must first notice that “The Spirit of the LORD” does not refer to God’s essence, it refers to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Second, we must remember that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. It was in his humanity that he had to obey God’s laws perfectly and suffer the penalty due us for our sins. In order to accomplish that, the man Jesus Christ needed the help of the Holy Spirit. And we are told in John 3:34 that the Holy Spirit was given to him without measure.

Then, with regard to the fear of the Lord, Young wrote, “The phrase itself is the practical equivalent of true piety and devotion. True religion is a reverent and godly fear, for it recognizes that the creature is but dust before the holy Creator, and it prostrates itself in His presence, expressing itself in reverential awe. … Even the Messiah will be imbued with the fear of the Lord in order to accomplish His mighty work.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is very sobering. If Jesus Christ, the only perfect, sinless human being who has ever lived, if he needed the fear of God and God’s help to do his work, how much more should we fear God and seek his help!

Dr. Spencer: We definitely should both fear God and seek his help all the time.

Marc Roby: I think it would be useful to explain the shift you just made though. You went from talking about God’s spirituality as an attribute of God to talking about the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: I should explain that shift. As we have noted, in John 4:24 Jesus tells us that “God is spirit.” So, that statement is true of all three persons of the godhead, in other words, it is true of the triune God in his essence. Nevertheless, the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes clear that even though all three persons of the godhead are equal and are all fully God, they nonetheless have different functional roles. That is called the economic trinity as we discussed back in Session 28.

Marc Roby: And the term “economic” here has nothing to do with money.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t, it refers to the organization of the Trinity. In other words, how the persons of the Trinity work together. In Session 52 we presented clear biblical evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person, and in Session 55 we presented equally clear biblical evidence for the fact that the Holy Spirit is God. But, because all three persons of the Holy Trinity are of the same essence, whatever is said about the Holy Spirit’s essence is also true of the Father and the Son. So, the shift from speaking about an attribute of God to speaking about the person of the Holy Spirit is not as significant as one might think.

Marc Roby: Alright, but getting back to the verses in Isaiah 11. What does it mean when it says that “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him”? That is an interesting expression independent of whether the spirit refers to God’s essence or the third person of the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: Before I answer that question, I want to point out that there are other similar expressions used in the Bible as well. For example, in 1 Samuel 10:6, and Luke 1:35 we read of people having the Holy Spirit come upon them. And in Isaiah 63:11 we are told that God “set his Holy Spirit among” his people. In Matthew 3:11 and Mark 1:8 we read about being baptized in the Holy Spirit and in Luke 1:15, 41 and 67 we read about people being filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, in Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. And in 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” This list of verses is just a sampling of the different ways in which the Bible describes the Holy Spirit being sent to human beings to influence them. In fact, in Romans 8:14 we read that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful thing to be led by the Holy Spirit. But we also read about evil spirits coming upon people or even possessing them. What do all these references to being filled, or led, or having the Spirit come upon us, what do they mean?

Dr. Spencer: We need to be very careful here to not go beyond what Scripture explicitly teaches or what can be properly deduced from Scripture. Certainly, all of these expressions tell us that our spirit can be strongly influenced or even controlled by other spirits, which shouldn’t be surprising since our physical bodies can be strongly influenced or even controlled by other physical bodies, especially those who are stronger than we are. We can also say for certain that none of what happens in the spiritual realm is outside of God’s control, just as nothing that happens in the physical realm is outside of his control.

Marc Roby: A great example of that is given in Job Chapters 1 and 2 where we read about Satan receiving permission from God to test Job, but where we also see God setting clear limits on what Satan is allowed to do.

Dr. Spencer: That is, in fact, the classic biblical example. But we also read in a number of places in the New Testament of Jesus casting demons out of people and there are a number of clear indications that those demons all recognize Jesus’ absolute authority over them.

Marc Roby: I’m thinking that this topic, more than most, disturbs modern people. Talk of angels and evil spirits seems very mythological to most people in our culture.

Dr. Spencer: I understand that this topic can be disturbing. I spent the first 38 years of my life thinking that angels and evil spirits belonged in the same category with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But the entire worldview presented in the Bible makes good sense and no materialistic worldview is able to explain all that we observe to be true.

The world laughs at people who really believe the Bible, but I would say that we should laugh at the world for believing in a purely material universe. In order for God to not exist and materialism to be true, it would have to be true that this universe popped into existence out of absolutely nothing with no cause whatsoever. It would also have to be true that living beings came into existence out of inanimate matter and that self-conscious moral beings came from purely physical animals governed by the laws of physics. All of these are impossible as we clearly showed way back in Session 1.

Marc Roby: But what about angels and evil spirits?

Dr. Spencer: I think the arguments I just outlined are sufficient to show that this material universe is not all there is and I encourage any of our listeners who are interested to go back and listen to Session 1, it is available in our archive at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

There are clearly entities, which the Bible calls spirits, that are real even though we can’t normally detect them in any direct way. And, given that fact, why on earth would anyone think it impossible for God to create intelligent spirit beings in addition to intelligent physical beings? I can’t think of a single reason what this should be troubling. And since it is only spirits or beings with a spirit that are moral beings, evil is obviously only possible for them. I said last time that you can’t blame your feet for carrying you into sin and I’ll go even further and say that purely physical things, in other words things that do not have a spirit, cannot be evil in and of themselves. My wife may disagree, but a spider cannot be evil.

Marc Roby: I think a number of people would disagree with that. But your point is a serious one, there are living things that are not moral beings and cannot, therefore, be evil. We may not like them, but they are not evil.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And I think it would be good at this point to define evil. Evil can be used as an adjective or a noun and it refers to actions or things that are morally reprehensible, which of course immediately begs the question of what moral means. Moral can again be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it describes whether an action is right or not. A moral action is one that is right, or good, and an immoral act is one that is wrong, or bad. But that again begs the question; right or wrong according to whom? Any real Christian must answer that question by saying that it is God who establishes the standard of conduct. He determines what is right and what is wrong. Doing something God defines as wrong is sin, and failing to do something he requires is also sin.

I wanted to go over this even though it is a seemingly obvious point because I wanted to establish clearly that when we talk about evil or morality, we cannot escape talking about God.

Marc Roby: It really gets back to our ultimate standard for truth doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And as we discussed in Session 4, there are only two possible ultimate standards for truth; either revelation from God or human beings. So, getting back to our topic of spirits. Since it is only spirits that make moral choices, it is only spirits who can be morally good or morally bad, which we call evil. The Bible tells us that God created beings called angels who are pure spirits. But they are still created beings, so they are not the same as God himself. They are not omnipresent, omniscient and so on, although they are far more powerful than we are. The Bible also tells us that some of these angels rebelled against God and became his enemies, what we call demons. The head of these demons is Satan. This is all reality, not mythology.

Marc Roby: And a most unpleasant reality I might add.

Dr. Spencer: The existence of Satan and his demons is a very unpleasant reality. But we must remember that all sin is evil. It is wicked rebellion against God. We tend to minimize the seriousness of sin, but it is so serious that Jesus Christ had to come and die to redeem people from it. And we aren’t just talking about murder and other sins that people think of as serious. We are also talking about sins that most people think of as being minor, like laziness, or disrespecting authorities and many other sins. These are all rebellion against God. Outside of Christ we are all slaves of sin as Paul tells us in Romans 6.

Marc Roby: I think we have gotten off topic again, can you tie this all back in to the attribute of God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because human beings are made in the image of God and have spirits so that we can have fellowship with God. And, as we noted, the Bible clearly speaks in many different ways about our spirits being influenced or even, in some extreme cases, controlled by other spirits. And those spirits can be good or evil. When we become Christians, we immediately have some real and very powerful enemies, Satan and his demons. That is why we are told in Ephesians 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Marc Roby: That verse of course does not imply that we don’t also have flesh and blood enemies, but it is emphasizing the spiritual nature of the warfare.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We can be influenced by evil spirits and by the Holy Spirit. They can plant thoughts in our minds and we must judge all of those thoughts by the objective word of God. We are told in 1 John 4:1, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” These false prophets are speaking things given to them by evil spirits, but the evil spirits can also put ideas in our minds directly. So, we must always test these ideas. We are told in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we should “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Marc Roby: Very well. In the last two sessions we have established that spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. We’ve established that God is pure spirit, but he also created angels, who are spirits, and human beings, who have both body and spirit. We have shown that the Bible tells us that our spirits can be influenced by other spirits. You have also established that our spirits can live independently of our bodies and that our spirit is the seat of our personality, our decisions and our morality.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary.

Marc Roby: And we are out of time for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 187

[3]E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Vol. 1, 1972, pg. 383

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