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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our previous session we made the point that the only way a person can be saved is by being born again, and that if a person has been born again, then he is a new creation and his behavior will change. He will obey Jesus Christ his Lord and King. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue with this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, at the end of the last session we discussed the work that the Holy Spirit does for believers. First, he is the primary agent in causing us to be born again, Then, secondly, he indwells every believer to enable us to understand the Word of God. That doesn’t mean we will have every possible question answered or will understand it perfectly, but he does enable us to understand the basic gospel properly and he empowers us to continue to study and learn more and more as time goes on.

Marc Roby: I’m quite confident that our learning will continue for all eternity – God and his Word are inexhaustible topics.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they certainly are. And the next thing we discussed is a most important point in terms of practical Christian living. I noted that the Holy Spirit enables us to obey the Word of God. This is a sticking point for many professing Christians, and so it is very important for us to look carefully at what the Bible says about Christ ruling as our King even now while we are still in this world. We briefly examined Romans 8:14 last time, which the Rev. P.G. Mathew translates as, “those who are being led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are the sons of God.”[1] And we must state what I think is obvious here in context; namely, that when it refers to those who are being led it implies that they are obediently following that lead!

Marc Roby: Paul speaks of that obedience at the beginning of his letter to the Romans. In Romans 1:5 Paul wrote that “we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English Standard Version, which more literally follows the Greek, translates that part of Romans 1:5 as, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”. In his commentary on Romans, Mathew writes, “The gospel proclamation demands the obedience of faith, meaning saving faith in Jesus that issues in total obedience to Christ the King.”[3]

Marc Roby: I think a lot of people will take exception to the idea that saving faith issues in total obedience.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that by total obedience he does not mean perfect obedience. But he does mean real, observable, tangible obedience. And Mathew isn’t the only one. In his commentary on Romans the great 20th-century theologian John Murray wrote the following about this verse, “Faith is regarded as an act of obedience, of commitment to the gospel of Christ. Hence the implications of this expression ‘obedience of faith’ are far-reaching. For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel.”[4]

Marc Roby: Emotional commitments are common, and they are also commonly forsaken as is evidenced by the divorce rate in our culture. I like the comparison that is sometimes made between committing ourselves to Christ and signing a mortgage or joining the army – once you have committed you don’t have the freedom to renege on that commitment without serious consequences.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good comparison. Although in the case of committing our lives to Christ, we have God’s promise that he will not let us fail. Therefore, if someone leaves the faith permanently, we can conclude he or she was never born again and was never a true believer at all. We read in 1 John 2:19 that “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

But getting back to the obedience of faith, even more important than the view of any theologian on this verse, the Bible itself is clear that obedience is expected of true believers. We noted last time that in his great commission to the church, Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19-20 to “Go … and make disciples … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. And in John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Marc Roby: And we could add many more verses to those. For example, we are told in Luke 11:27 that “a woman in the crowd called out” to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” And then we read in Verse 28 that Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And in John 14:23 we read that Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Dr. Spencer: We are also told in John 15:10 that Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Jesus is our example, and he obeyed his Father perfectly. We are commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Now, we all have to eat and drink to survive, but these mundane tasks are listed to indicate that every single aspect of our lives is to be directed to the glory of God. And if we then ask, how do I glorify God? Jesus himself gives us the answer. We read in John 17:4 that while praying to God the Father Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

Marc Roby: And God has given all of us work to do. That isn’t just true for Jesus, his apostles and certain special people called by God for great works of service.

Dr. Spencer: You’re completely right about that. Every single Christian has work that God has assigned for him to do. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” And we shouldn’t think that this only applies to occasional big things of a so-called spiritual nature. This is speaking about our daily walk. In fact, in the original Greek, the verse uses the verb περιπατέω (peripateō), which means to walk. The English Standard Version gives us a more literal rendering of this verse, it says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I like that way of putting it. It makes it clear that we are active and that it includes everything we do, every step. And since we have been speaking about the Holy Spirit being given to believers to enable them to believe, understand and obey God’s word, the statement made by Peter and the other apostles to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5 seems to be particularly relevant.

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish ruling council and they dragged the apostles in to question them because they were preaching the gospel in spite of having been commanded not to. In Acts 5:29 they gave the well-known reply, “We must obey God rather than men!” But then they went on to speak of Jesus’ resurrection and said, in Verse 32, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse for our present topic. There is a circularity here of course. We need the Holy Spirit to believe and obey, but we are told that God has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. The circularity is really more of an upward spiral though. God grants us new birth through the action of the Holy Spirit, which causes us to repent and believe, which causes us to be united to Jesus Christ by faith, which justifies us in the sight of God. We are also enabled by our new nature and the indwelling Spirit to obey, which results in our being given more of the Holy Spirit and so on. It is a glorious upward spiral if we live an obedient life.

Marc Roby: That is indeed a marvelous upward spiral. God initiates it, God empowers it, God guides it and, in the end, God rewards it with eternal pleasures in his presence.

Dr. Spencer: All very true. But getting back to this point that Christians are called to obey, we see a very explicit statement in the doxology at the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In Romans 16:25-27 Paul closes his letter by writing, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Now, we must pay very careful attention to what Paul wrote about the reason for God commanding that this mystery be revealed, it was, “so that all nations might believe and obey him”. Or as the English Standard Version phrases it, which is more faithful to the original Greek, “to bring about the obedience of faith”. The expression “the obedience of faith” is the exact same expression in the Greek as we saw in Romans 1:5 a few minutes ago.

Marc Roby: That is a very explicit statement about the purpose of the gospel. In terms of the lives of God’s people here and now, the purpose is to bring about the obedience of faith.

Dr. Spencer: And God’s people bring him glory through their obedience. Let me finish this point by quoting a very important statement. In Hebrews 5:8-9 we are told that “Although [Jesus Christ] was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. The limiting clause at the end of that statement is exceptionally important. Jesus is not the source of eternal salvation for everyone, or even for those who pray a prayer and call him their Savior or Lord, he is the source of eternal salvation “for all who obey him”, and we could add, for no others.

Marc Roby: We should probably circle back and address directly the argument against requiring obedience. You will hear some professing Christians say something like this, “If you claim that obedience is necessary for salvation, you are adding to the biblical message, which says that ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ In other words, you are denying that we are saved by grace alone.”

Dr. Spencer: I have heard that exact argument. And it is fallacious for several reasons. You were quoting directly from Romans 10:9, so the statement is certainly biblical. But as always, we must interpret the Bible according to the first rule of hermeneutics, which says that the Bible itself must be used to interpret the Bible. God never contradicts himself. So, for example, when we read in Romans 10:9 that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, we cannot interpret that to mean simply that you have said “Jesus is Lord” and that you think you truly believe. Your declaration is not definitive on this point or else Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:21 makes no sense. He said there that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And the passage goes on to tell us that these people told him about many things they had done in his name. They all thought they were saved, but Jesus says they were not. Therefore, we have to be careful in how we understand Romans 10:9. It must be consistent with Matthew 7:21.

Marc Roby: And in that statement Jesus clearly said that only those who do the will of his Father will enter heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. It boils down to obedience. So, the first reason the argument you presented is wrong is that it doesn’t interpret the gospel in a way that is consistent with the teaching of the entire Bible. The second reason it is wrong is that it misunderstands the role of obedience in our salvation. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again in different words. Our obedience is not the basis for our salvation, it is the proof of our salvation. We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. But the faith that saves must be an obedient faith or it isn’t real.

Marc Roby: And the Lord’s brother, James, very famously deals with this point in his letter.

Dr. Spencer: He does, yes. In James 2:14 he asks the question, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” And he then goes on to discuss the question and concludes in James 2:26 by saying, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

Marc Roby: That’s a graphic picture. It makes me think of a dead person lying on a table in the morgue. The body is there, but there is no life.

Dr. Spencer: And that is exactly what faith without works is like. It may have the outward form, but it is missing the power, the movement, the energizing life force. It is a very sad fact that this describes many professing Christians. They may be very nice people. They may give to the poor and help serve food at a homeless shelter. They may do all sorts of things that are good. But their lives lack obedience to God. When God says that you shouldn’t be in debt, they make up some reason why that rule doesn’t apply in our modern society. When God says that he hates divorce, they reply that no one could live with their ex. When God says that marriage is between a man and woman, they come up with some contrived answer about that only being true in an ancient culture. When God says not to be drunk, they say that only means not to be habitually drunk and so on.

And, most importantly, when God says that we are to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, they demonstrate by their almost total inattention to his Word and their lack of prayer and worship that they don’t love him at all. They love this world. And yet, John wrote in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, that doesn’t mean that there are no legitimate pleasures in this life, but our focus is not to be on this life. And the letter you just quoted from, 1 John, talks about how we can make sure that our faith is real. In 1 John 2:3-4 he wrote, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Dr. Spencer: And he gives us a number of specific tests in that letter that we can apply. In fact, we are commanded in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure. And in 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul tells us to, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” And in Philippians 2:12 he told us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”. These admonitions make no sense unless our inward faith can be tested by looking at our outward actions.

Marc Roby: And those outward actions must be evaluated based on the Word of God, not our own ideas of what is good.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are to examine whether or not we are obedient to God. Not whether or not we are “nice” people who do “nice” things by the standards of our society. You can’t say someone is a Christian just because he smiles all the time and never has an unkind word to say. In examining ourselves we must be very careful to use the Word of God. If we have been born again, we have been transformed. There is always much more work to be done of course. None of us will ever reach perfection in this life. But there must be observable change and there must be a desire to obey God and some measure of success in doing so or we have no basis for believing that we have been saved. In Matthew 7:13-14 we read that Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Marc Roby: That is a scary verse.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But if we are truly saved, then Jesus Christ is our King. He is our Lord. And we desire to obey him. And he gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to obey him. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

And God’s Word gives us a number of tests that we can apply to see whether or not we are born again. No one will receive a perfect score on these tests, but the only rational basis for having any confidence that we are born again is our present obedience to the will of God as found in his Word.

Marc Roby: I look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll get back to you.

[1] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 536

[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] Mathew, op. cit., pg. 11

[4] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965, pp 13-14

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the attributes of God. We have been discussing God’s immutability, which means that he does not change. Are we done with that topic Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. It is such an important issue in the modern church that I want to really drive home the point that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the very same God, he has not changed.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to say to support this view?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that there has never been a time when anyone was saved by keeping the law. Salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Immediately after the fall God promised a redeemer. And the only way of salvation in the Old Testament times was by faith in that promised redeemer just as it is today.

Marc Roby: When you say that God promised a redeemer immediately after the fall, you are of course referring to Genesis 3:15, sometimes called the protoevangelium, which tells us that when God pronounced his curse on Satan he said to him, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what I was referring to. Jesus Christ is the offspring of the woman and he figuratively crushed Satan’s head when he died on the cross to pay the penalty owed by all of his chosen followers. And no one was saved in the time before Jesus Christ except by believing in this promised Messiah. And yet, God established both an elaborate system of sacrifices, which pointed forward to Christ and ended when he came, as well as the moral law, which is summarized by the Ten Commandments. So, in order to fully understand that God has not changed, we need to ask what role the law played in the Old Testament, and then we will see that it functions in exactly the same way today.

Marc Roby: What role then did the law play in Old Testament times?

Dr. Spencer: The law played three roles in the Old Testament, just as it does today. John Calvin wrote about the threefold use of the law in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.[2] The first use of the law is that it shows us where we fall short of meeting God’s standard of righteousness. That standard has not changed since Old Testament times and there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that indicates that God has relaxed his standard in any way. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we must, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of Paul’s introduction to his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 he wrote, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (emphasis added).

Dr. Spencer: Paul also wrote in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” And Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” And Peter was quoting from Leviticus 11:44 where God said to his people, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” This demonstrates the continuity of God’s requirement that his people must be holy.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to add that being holy requires obedience.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. Our obedience doesn’t earn anything from God, salvation is by grace, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that the requirement to be holy is only referring to our being united with Christ and clothed with his perfect righteousness. If we have been born again, it will be evident in our lives. We must have obedient lives or our claim to be a Christian is false.

As it says in Hebrews 5:8-9, Christ “learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. So, Christ’s obedience in suffering made him the perfect sacrifice required and as a result he is the source of eternal salvation “for all who obey him”. It doesn’t say that he is the source of eternal salvation for those who call themselves Christians.

If some of our listeners don’t like this idea of obedience being necessary, I encourage them to look up the word obey in a concordance and look at the New Testament verses that use the word. There are quite a few that speak about the need for Christians to obey. For example, anyone who is interested should at a bare minimum look at John 14:15 and 15:10, Acts 5:32, Hebrews 13:17 and 1 John 2:3, but there are many, many more.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think that is enough to establish that God’s standard for us in both the Old and New Testament times is that we be holy, which means that we obey God’s commands. And, of course, it is obvious to any reasonable person that none of us are holy. So, you said that the first use of the law is to show us that very fact.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Calvin wrote that our being convicted by the law of God “is necessary, in order that man, who is blind and intoxicated with self-love, may be brought at once to know and to confess his weakness and impurity.”[3] He also wrote that “the Law is a kind of mirror. As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both.” In other words, we must conclude from the fact that we don’t measure up to God’s standard that we have a serious problem, which should drive us to cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Marc Roby: That is the rational response. What is the second use of the law as elucidated by Calvin?

Dr. Spencer: The second use is to restrain moral evil in this world. Calvin wrote that “The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”[4] The fact that there are serious punishments threatened for disobeying God’s law is a strong incentive for people to not break that law. This is the function of the law that Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, where he said that “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

This is why properly functioning civil governments should have laws that mirror God’s laws. Not all people will respond to God’s threats – although they are far more consequential and serious than anything man can do to us. And because not all people will respond to God’s threats, our civil governments have the responsibility of imposing sanctions on those who violate God’s laws. That is the basis of any proper legal system.

Marc Roby: That idea is not very popular today.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t, because people have an unbiblical worldview. That worldview ignores what the Bible teaches us about human nature. This false worldview says that man is basically good. The idea is that people only steal because they need something. And people only do terrible things to other people because somewhere along the line someone did something terrible to them.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly come across that view as well. But all of human history, and any honest evaluation of our own hearts, argues quite strongly against it.

Dr. Spencer: The facts argue very strongly against that view. The human heart harbors tremendous evil. Fortunately, most people keep it under wraps most of the time, and I don’t think that we are all capable of the same depths of evil and depravity, but to deny the existence of real evil in human beings is to put your head in the sand and ignore the obvious. And to think that people only do bad things because bad things have happened to them ignores the obvious problem of how did all these bad things get started? And why are they many people who do terrible things who have never had any terrible thing done to them?

Marc Roby: That is a good question.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. I remember just a few years ago there was a young man in our town, who hadn’t had anything terribly unusual happen to him, but he brutally murdered an elderly couple in their bed with a knife just because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill people. Now that depth of depravity and wickedness is, admittedly and thankfully, quite rare. But, any theory of human behavior has to take that sort of thing into account because it is not so exceptionally rare that it can be explained away as some extreme aberration. And when you include actions like rape, assault and robbery, which while certainly less wicked are, nonetheless, still wicked, you have a serious problem defending the idea that people are basically good at heart.

Marc Roby: OK. We’ve established two uses of the law: first, to show us that we ourselves do not meet God’s standard and need a Savior, and second, to moderate evil in society. What is the law’s third use?

Dr. Spencer: The third use that Calvin listed, which he called “the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end”[5], only applies to believers and was to show God’s people how we can please him. Every child who loves his parents wants to know what he can do to please them. And every true child of God will want to live a life that is pleasing to God. But, no one can do that if we aren’t told what pleases God. The law serves that purpose, and every single person who has been born again will lead a changed life; a life that is characterized by obedience to God’s law.

Marc Roby: But, we must be clear that we are not saying that our obedience earns salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Our obedience is never perfect in this life, and God’s standard is perfection. Therefore, it is fundamentally impossible for us to earn our salvation. Nevertheless, a born-again person has a new heart and desires to please God and will strive for holiness. We must be different than the rest of the world or we are not truly God’s people.

Marc Roby: And that has not changed since Old Testament times.

Dr. Spencer: No, it hasn’t changed at all. And we can now see that these three uses of the law are the same today as they were at the time of Moses, or King David, or any other Old Testament saint. As we noted in Session 57 there are three things that have changed since the Old Testament: First, we have much greater revelation than even Moses had; Second, the promised Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so the ceremonial law has been done away with because its only purpose was to point to the coming Redeemer; And, third, we no longer live under the same civil government.

So there have been changes, and they are significant. But God has not changed. His standard of holiness has not changed, and the way of salvation has not changed. The Old Testament is still relevant today, but we have to be intelligent in applying it. We no longer stone adulterers for example because that was part of the civil law in effect at that time. But adultery is still a terrible sin and a properly functioning government will have some kind of penalty in place for people who commit that sin.

Marc Roby: But we as individuals do not have authority to punish anyone for their sins, even if the civil government fails to.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God has only given that power to the state, not to individuals or to the church. As we’ve said, unless we are commanded to sin, we should obey the civil authorities. The church, of course, still has the power of the keys and must exercise authority in disciplining people who sin and refuse to repent.

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

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: What’s next then?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s eternity. I want to discuss it next because it is related to God’s immutability. Wayne Grudem defines God’s eternity as meaning that “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.”[6]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a difficult definition to wrap your mind around completely.

Dr. Spencer: It is, especially for our listeners who aren’t following allowing in the written transcript. But, I think it will become clearer as I explain how it is related to God’s immutability.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: If God is immutable as we have claimed, then it follows that his knowledge does not increase or decrease from one moment to the next. In other words, as Grudem said, he has no “succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly”. This is a very difficult thing for us to grasp because we experience only the present vividly. We experience the past less vividly and the further we go back in time the worse our memory becomes in general.

Marc Roby: Although we all have particularly memorable events or experiences that we remember better than others.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But the point is that God sees all times equally well. It is as if everything were the present to him. There isn’t some particular moment in time that God sees or experiences more clearly or vividly than others. If that were not the case, he would not be immutable. Grudem notes that when Jesus said, in John 8:58, that “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” He used the present tense verb in referring to his existence prior to the time of Abraham, which in Greek indicates something that continues to be true.[7] Therefore, Jesus’ statement suggests that every moment in our history is, essentially, the present to God.

Marc Roby: That is extremely hard for us to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. In fact, it is impossible for us to grasp fully. But it is a necessary conclusion based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. Many of the Scriptures that we cited when we discussed God’s self-existence, or aseity, are also applicable here. For example, the fact that God existed prior to this universe, which is clearly taught in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, is evidence that he is not subject to the succession of events that occur in this universe, which is what we think of as defining the passage of time.

Marc Roby: The fact that God can predict the future also requires that he does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And God uses that fact to mock idols. For example, in Isaiah 41:22-23 God says to his people, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.”

Marc Roby: And this contrasts with God himself. He tells us, in Isaiah 46:9-10, to, “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

Dr. Spencer: I think this is the hardest thing for us to grasp, that what we think of as future is equally vivid in God’s sight as our present. And yet, as Grudem’s definition says, “God sees events in time and acts in time.” Which means that he understands how we perceive time as a succession of events. He knows that we can’t see the future and he is able to interact with us in time.

Marc Roby: I think a good part of the reason why we can’t understand God’s knowing the future is that the future seems to us to not yet be determined. It depends on exactly what we and billions of other people and animals do, which seems to us to be fundamentally unknowable until it happens.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point. God’s eternity and immutability are difficult to reconcile with man’s free will or the free actions of animals. But, I want to leave that topic for later. For now, let me cite one other verse that is very interesting to examine. In 2 Peter 3:8 the apostle wrote that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” The second part of this statement, that “a thousand years are like a day” is the same point made in Verse 4 of Psalm 90, which says that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by”. In other words, God doesn’t have trouble remembering things from a thousand years ago, they are just like yesterday. And this is, of course, a figurative way of saying that he knows all of the past perfectly.

But, the first part of Peter’s statement, that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” is new and very interesting. Let me quote from Grudem here. He notes that “since ‘a thousand years’ is a figurative expression for ‘as long a time as we can imagine,’ or ‘all history,’ we can say from this verse that any one day seems to God to be present to his consciousness forever.”[8] In other words, every moment of human history is like the immediate present to God.

Marc Roby: It is clear from these verses that God does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is clear but it is also impossible for us to grasp completely.

Marc Roby: It certainly is, and I think we need to end here for today. But I look forward to continuing this discussion next time. I would like to 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] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 2.7.6

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 2.7.10

[5] Ibid, 2.7.12

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 168

[7] Ibid, pg. 169

[8] Grudem, pg. 170

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