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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: 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 and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we discussed the protestant reformation and concluded by noting that the reformers declared that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that it is the word “alone” in the statement you just made that the Roman Catholic church objects to. R.C. Sproul wrote that “It is not an exaggeration to say that the eye of the Reformation tornado was this one little word.”[1]

The Roman Catholic church agrees that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. But if you say that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, then the Roman Catholic church declared at the Council of Trent in 1563 that you are eternally damned.[2] They would say that faith must be accompanied by certain works and, as we saw last time, the whole process must be mediated by the church.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, gives the church tremendous power.

Dr. Spencer: And such power often corrupts people, which I would say is certainly part of what happened with the Roman Catholic church, but that is a topic for a different day. In the last two sessions, we have seen that both the protestant reformation and many modern liberal errors are caused by not properly understanding the nature of true, biblical, saving faith.

In the case of the Roman Catholic church, they don’t understand that true faith, by itself, justifies us, so they add to what the Bible requires by including human works and the mediation of the church. In the case of modern liberal churches they subtract from what the Bible requires by teaching that a person can be saved by a faith that amounts to nothing more than intellectual assent to some basic facts. It is not a penitent faith that includes a turning away from sin. It is a faith that anyone has the power to lay hold of, you need not be born again first. And yet, we must remember that Jesus Christ himself told Nicodemus in John 3, Verses 3 and 5, that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” and “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, I would hasten to add, that even the facts to which people are expected to give their assent are sometimes sorely lacking in biblical content.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Mostly since the rise of so-called higher criticism in the 19th century, it has been very popular to deny the historicity of many of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Some will say that Jesus Christ was not really God, or that he didn’t really rise from the dead, or that he was not born of a virgin and so on. It is quite popular to deny virtually all of the miracles in the Bible and yet still call yourself a Christian.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I’m forced by the facts to agree that is true.

Dr. Spencer: J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote a marvelous book on this topic called Christianity & Liberalism, which I recommend to all of our listeners.[4]

I think the reason many people believe they have to reject miracles is that they have been convinced that if you are intelligent and sophisticated you can’t possibly believe they occur. The German liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann famously wrote that “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”[5]

Marc Roby: I think that probably sums up pretty well what many people think.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it does. And, surprisingly, it even sums up how many self-professing Christians think. But I would say if one of our listeners agrees with that statement, I sincerely hope that he or she will think more carefully and reconsider. That view, which I am going to refer to as liberalism following Machen, is an egregious error for at least three reasons.

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. What is your first reason?

Dr. Spencer: The first reason is that there are things in this universe that simply cannot be explained with reference to just the material universe. I don’t mean that they can’t be explained right now, and that maybe we will be able to explain them in 100 years. I mean that they cannot be explained at all. We discussed some of these in Session 1, which any interested listener can go back and listen to or read in our archive at whatdoesthewordsay.org, but basically, I’m thinking about four things: First, this universe is not eternal. It had a beginning. But it makes no sense to believe that this universe popped into existence out of nothing with no cause whatsoever. That is a violation of basic logic.

Marc Roby: And, if I recall correctly, your second point is that living beings can’t be produced by natural processes operating on inanimate matter.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct. You can’t mathematically say that there is zero chance, but the probability is so ridiculously low that no rational person should believe it. Again, interested listeners can go listen to or read Session 1. The third point I would give is the diversity of life. The idea that all of the vastly different life forms on this planet came about through the operation of random processes is simply irrational. You can go through the numbers and see that, again, no reasonable person should believe it. Finally, I would point out that volitional beings such as us …

Marc Roby: and by volitional you simply mean that we make real decisions …

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. In any event, volitional beings such as us cannot exist if this universe is simply matter in motion according to the laws of physics. Those laws are all either deterministic or random. There is no room for real volition. Any freedom of the will that you may think you have is pure illusion if the material universe is all that exists. Again, Session 1 contains more detail.

Marc Roby: OK. So the first reason you have for saying that liberalism is an egregious error is that there are characteristics of this universe that cannot be explained if this physical universe is all there is.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the second reason I have for saying it is an egregious error is that if you call yourself a Christian, what on earth do you mean by that? The only place we learn about Christianity is the Bible. If the Bible is an unreliable book filled with myth and superstition, then why on earth would you believe anything it says? That makes no sense.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree.

Dr. Spencer: And not only that, but Christianity is all about what happens after we die. It is about how to go to heaven rather than hell. But if the material universe is all that exists, then heaven and hell are nonsense and there isn’t anything to be saved from. When you reduce Christianity to some sort of self-help program or social program focused on making life better in this world, you eviscerate it and calling it Christianity is just nonsense.

Marc Roby: That is definitely true. So what is your third reason for saying liberalism is wrong?

Dr. Spencer: Well, my third reason applies to those liberal professing Christians who at least believe that God exits and created this universe. This reason was stated by the apostle Paul almost 2,000 years ago. In defending himself before King Agrippa we are told in Acts 26:8 that Paul said, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”

Paul’s point is obvious. If you accept that there is, in fact, a God who created all things, then why on earth should you find it incredible that he raises the dead? Or does any other miracle for that matter? If he is capable of creating all things, wouldn’t it seem ridiculous to assume that he is incapable of doing things that violate the normal laws of physics, which he himself put in place? Raising someone from the dead should be easy compared to creating life in the first place. And the same argument applies to any miracle.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a powerful argument. We got into this discussion about the miracles in the Bible because you said, correctly, that it is popular at this time to deny the miracles in the Bible and still call yourself a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: And the point I want to make is that if your “faith” is like that, if you say you believe in Jesus Christ but you deny that he was born of a virgin or truly raised from the dead, then your faith is deficient and it will not save you. It is not biblical faith. There is content to faith and biblical faith must assent to the truth of the Bible.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense. We have now seen that faith can be deficient by subtraction – either not requiring repentance or not assenting to the truth of the Bible, and it can be deficient by addition – in other words, requiring something more, like works or the sacraments of a particular church.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Real, biblical faith, the faith that will save you when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, has three components, often listed by their Latin terms: notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia simply means information. Faith must have an object. If you tell me that you have faith and end your sentence there, you haven’t told me anything meaningful. I would want to ask you, faith in what?

Marc Roby: In other words, faith has content.

Dr. Spencer: Yes; faith has to have an object. And biblical faith has content that comes from the Bible. You aren’t saved by receiving a high enough score on some theology exam, but at the same time if your faith is in something other than the biblical Jesus, it will not save you. The second Latin term, assensus, simply means assent, or agreement. In other words, you agree that the information, the notitia, is true. That is necessary for real saving faith, but it is not sufficient.

Marc Roby: D. James Kennedy famously illustrated what is lacking in “mental assent” faith. He would ask people, “Do you believe that this chair will hold you up?” And if they looked at it and said something like, “Well, yes. It looks like a solid chair.” He would then say, “But it isn’t holding you up now. You have mental assent to the fact that it can hold you up, but you haven’t really believed that fully until you place your trust in it and sit down.”[6]

Dr. Spencer: And that is the third element in true, saving faith. The Latin word fiducia means trust. It is the source of our English word fiduciary. We speak about the fact that someone, like a financial advisor, has a fiduciary responsibility to his clients. That means that the clients are placing trust in him and he is legally responsible to act in certain ways as a result.

Saving faith means that we have placed our trust in Jesus Christ. This necessarily requires that we renounce all trust in ourselves, which goes along with our having repented of our sins. We see our own unworthiness and, when we see that, it is unthinkable that we would trust in ourselves. We can look at Jesus, like the chair, and say that we agree he is trustworthy, but we must sit down. In other words, we must actively place our trust in him.

Marc Roby: And, of course, doing that requires simultaneously renouncing all trust in this world for our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. On the one hand, we all trust other people and institutions every day for mundane things, we have no choice. But we dare not trust in anything in this world for our eternal salvation.

John Murray wrote that “Faith … is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like that statement even though the English is a bit awkward. We must commit ourselves with our whole soul, in other words, with our whole being. We must not have any reservations or back-up plans.

Dr. Spencer: And Murray speaks about the warrant we have for faith, in other words, what grounds do we have for thinking that Christ will accept us or that he is able to save us?

Marc Roby: Those are obviously great questions. It wouldn’t make much sense to commit myself fully to Christ if he wouldn’t accept me or couldn’t save me. How does Murray deal with those questions?

Dr. Spencer: He first points out that the gospel offer is universal, the offer of the gospel is, he says, “full, free and unrestricted.”[8] This offer is also not something that started with the New Testament. God calls out in Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” And the same offer is given by Christ. We read in Matthew 11:28 that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Marc Roby: That is a gracious offer indeed. And I love what Jesus said in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me”, he said, “I will never drive away.”

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is clear in teaching that anyone who humbles himself, repents of his sins, and turns to God seeking salvation will, in fact, be saved. We are told in Romans 10:13 that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And so this universal offer of salvation gives us reasonable warrant to place our faith in Jesus Christ. And, in addition to that, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ is fully able to save his people.

Marc Roby: In that context I immediately think of Hebrews 7:24-25, where we read, “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

Dr. Spencer: Those are great verses to show that Christ is fully able to save his people. He has accomplished redemption. He took our sins upon himself on the cross and bore the wrath of God in our place. He died a substitutionary sacrificial death, was buried, and was raised from the dead for our justification. In 2 Corinthians 4:14 the apostle Paul told the church in Corinth that “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful news. By his incarnation, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ did the work necessary to be the only Savior of mankind. And now, by sitting at the right hand of the Father and interceding for us he actually secures that salvation for all who believe in him.

Dr. Spencer: And Murray notes that “We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved.”[9]

Marc Roby: That is an important statement, and a great place to end for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer you.

 

[1] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 66

[2] The Council of Trent, The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), (see https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent.html), the Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, CANON IX says, “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

[3] 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.™.

[4] Machen, J. Gresham, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009

[5] R. Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, translated by Schubert M. Ogden, Fortress Press, 1984, pg. 4

[6] See D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion: Equipping Churches for Friendship, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Healthy Growth, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996, pg. 94

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 107

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pp 109-110

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