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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Okay, what is the logical argument?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What are those differences?

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And what is the second difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 713

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. In our session last week we were discussing regeneration, or new birth, and we made the points that it is a sovereign, monergistic, irresistible work of God. He causes us to realize that we are sinners in need of salvation and then enables us to respond to the gospel offer with repentance and faith. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to say a little more about the idea we introduced at the end of our previous session; namely, that the Puritans referred to the Word of God as the instrumental cause of regeneration. We had discussed at length the fact that when Christ told Nicodemus you must be born of water and the Spirit, the water referred to purification, and the Word of God is used by the Spirit to bring purification. It teaches us that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Marc Roby: And what else do you want to say about that now?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if you think about this for a few minutes you will realize that this view is inconsistent with the definition we have been using for regeneration. I noted before that we don’t want to get hung up on terminology, but we have been viewing regeneration, as many modern theologians do, as an instantaneous and immediate work of God in the heart of man, which makes him a new creation. John Murray clearly states how this definition is inconsistent with the Puritan view. He wrote, “If regeneration is an immediate act of creative power it cannot be said to be wrought through the instrumentality of the Word of God in the sense of the gospel.”[1] And this is because the Word of God is addressed to our minds, but if regeneration is an immediate work of God, our minds have nothing to do with it. It is something God does to us.

Marc Roby: How then does Murray explain the Scriptures we examined; for example, 1 Peter 1:23, which says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: The answer is actually quite simple. Murray points out that, “It must be that regeneration is used in two distinct senses in the New Testament: (1) in the restricted sense of recreative action on the part of God in which there is no intrusion in contribution of agency on our part; (2) in a more inclusive sense, that is to say, a sense broad enough to include the saving response and activity of our consciousness, a saving activity which is always through the Word of the truth of the gospel. In this sense it is virtually synonymous with the word conversion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term conversion refers to repentance and faith, which is the response of a born-again person to the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I had mentioned in Session 149 that theologians used to think of the effectual call and regeneration as synonymous, or they thought of regeneration as part of the effectual call. When we speak about the Word of God being an instrumental cause, we are, I think speaking about what should more properly be termed the effectual call, rather than regeneration itself.

The important thing to realize here is that when you look at the Biblical data, things are sometimes combined. It is difficult to completely separate out at all times God’s calling, regeneration and our response in repentance and faith, or conversion. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential to recognize the miraculous and gracious work that God must do to give us new hearts and enable us to respond to the gospel call. Without that monergistic, sovereign work of God, our response is guaranteed to be a rejection of God’s offer and a suppression of the truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul makes this very clear in Romans Chapters 1 through 3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. The bottom line is that the exact means by which God brings about our new birth is not explained to us and I suspect we wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway. It is not a metaphysical change, in other words, it is not a change to the nature of our being. The fall didn’t change the essence of man’s being, he is still a rational and moral creature made in the image of God.[4] Rather, sin brought about an ethical change; man became an enemy of God.

Marc Roby: And so, regeneration is also an ethical change, which is why the Bible speaks about God giving us a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. There is no physical measurement that you could make to determine whether or not someone has been born again. God’s ways are often inscrutable. But there is value in recognizing that, whatever terminology we use, God draws us to himself, which almost always involves both particular circumstances in our lives and our hearing the gospel, and then God also regenerates us, which enables us to respond positively to this gospel call in repentance and faith. The details of this process vary from person to person, but in every single case three elements are included: first, the presentation of the gospel message; second, God’s sovereign, monergistic work of regeneration; and third, the voluntary response of the person in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: Very well. What else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: I want to emphasize what a radical change regeneration brings about. This is especially important today because so many churches have watered down what it means to be a Christian and are leading people on the broad way to hell by telling them that they are saved when they aren’t.

Marc Roby: We’ve read the frightening warning that Jesus Christ gives us in Matthew 7 before. In Verses 21 through 23 he said, “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a terrifying warning, and it is meant to be. If you think about the situation from Satan’s perspective for moment …

Marc Roby: Now wait a minute, that doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to think like Satan does.

Dr. Spencer: True enough, but we need to understand our enemy in order to defeat him. In any event, if you think about this from Satan’s perspective, you realize that the place he would most like to see people is sitting in the pews of a church every Sunday morning, believing in their hearts that they are worshipping God and on their way to heaven, when in fact they are on the broad way that leads straight to hell.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. That would make Satan’s job very easy. Thinking you are already saved is a great inoculation against hearing the gospel call.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And Paul warned the church in Corinth about false preachers. They had infiltrated the church after Paul established it and in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 he writes about these false ministers. He says, “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

We have to realize that false teaching does not usually come in a form that makes it blatantly obvious. False preachers are very often smooth, they speak well, they smile, they appear to be kind and loving, they quote the Bible and have degrees and, as we read in the passage from Matthew 7, they may even appear to prophecy, to drive out demons and to perform miracles in the name of Jesus.

Marc Roby: And so how are people to recognize these false preachers?

Dr. Spencer: By knowing the Word of God and recognizing that these false teachers are perverting it. You learn how to detect counterfeit money, in part, by becoming intimately familiar with the genuine article and the same is true for false teaching about God. You must know the truth in order to recognize error.

And by far the most common perversion of the gospel in our day and age is a so-called seeker friendly easy believism.  It is a different gospel that says you can have Jesus Christ as your Savior without his being your Lord. It tells you that if you just admit you are sinner and pray a prayer you will be saved, and you don’t have to forsake your sins. You don’t have to do battle with your old nature. It says that obedience is optional. It says that you simply decide to accept Jesus. This is sometimes called decisional salvation.

But think about that carefully for a moment. If every person is able to simply decide whether or not to accept Jesus, then there is no internal change necessary and without radical internal change, no radical change in behavior is possible. There may be some self-generated moral reformation, but nothing radical. We will not be new creations. We will not be obedient. We will not be fundamentally any different than the world and we will be rejected by Christ.

Marc Roby: We must admit however, that we do have to make a decision in order to become a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well of course we do. But it is a decision which an unbeliever cannot make until and unless God has regenerated him. As Christ said in John 3:3 and 5, you must be born again to see or enter the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 2:1-5 Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Now, listen to that politically-incorrect language! We were all by nature objects of wrath, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature. We were dead in our transgressions and sins. But then, praise God, listen to the language of the true gospel message. God, because of his great love for us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead! No dead person ever decides to follow the true and living God, he must be made alive first.

Marc Roby: You were certainly right to call Paul’s language politically incorrect.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is, but it is the truth. And we need to see how radical regeneration is. Regenerate people have been given a new heart and a new Spirit as we read in Ezekiel 36:26, they have gone from being dead to being alive as we just saw in Ephesians 2, they have come from darkness to light Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8, and they have been translated from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God as we can see from Ephesians 2:2 combined with Colossians 1:13, they are new creations Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

New birth is not a result of some decision that we make, it is something done to us by God and is the cause of a radical and pervasive change in our being, which is nothing less than a new creation. And then the first work of obedience done by that new creation is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you included Verse 10 because many people leave it out. They like to hear that we are saved through faith and not by works because they think that means all they have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer. But Verse 10 makes it clear that that isn’t the case. We are God’s workmanship, in other words he has done a mighty work of transformation in all true Christians, and we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works! If we don’t have any good works, we are not God’s workmanship and we have not been born again. Our good works do not in any way earn our salvation, but if we don’t have any, then we have not been born again and any claim we make to being Christians is simply not true. We will be like the people in Matthew 7, saying “Lord, Lord” only to hear Jesus tell us to depart because he never knew us.

Marc Roby: Of course many liberal churches do help with feeding the poor and so on and they would point to those as good works.

Dr. Spencer: And those certainly can be good works. But they can also be done with wrong motives, arrogantly thinking that I am doing something wonderful and earning some reward from God, or simply being focused on being a “good person” and “making this world a better place” rather than living for the glory of God. Good works begin in the heart, by recognizing our need to put our sins to death and recognizing the Creator/creature distinction; we are just creatures, wholly dependent on God. Truly good works must be done for God’s glory, whether we are helping feed the poor or just doing our normal jobs.

Good works require complete submission to the will of God. That means living in accordance with his Word. And his Word says that we are to work six days a week, that we are to honor the Sabbath, that we are to be honest and hard working, that we should not be in debt, that sex is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, that we shouldn’t get drunk and so on.

Marc Roby: To some that sounds like a lot of rules.

Dr. Spencer: Well, people often try to dismiss any mention of holy living as mere rule keeping, or even call it being legalistic. But they should read the sermon on the mount. It was Jesus Christ himself who said, in Matthew 5:20, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And he went on to say, in Verse 22, that “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” And then, in Verse 28 he said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And in Verse 32 we read that Jesus said, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” And he goes on and on.

You can view this as just a set of rules if you like, but Jesus is explaining the true meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are still applicable to Christians. They are a summary of God’s unchanging holy law and a transcript of his unchanging character. And we are told many times in the New Testament that if we love God we will obey his commands.

Marc Roby: That’s not a popular idea today.

Dr. Spencer: And that’s why it is so important for us to bring it up! Jesus said, in Luke 16:15, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” We must abide by God’s standards, not the standards of this world. And God’s standards are very, very different than those of the world we live in.

New birth brings us into God’s kingdom and gives us an entirely new set of priorities. We are given an eternal perspective so that we are not looking for a reward in this life. In fact, we know that we will have serious troubles in this life.

Marc Roby: Jesus said, as we read in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And Paul wrote in Philippians 1:29, “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, talk about something that is unpopular! The true gospel promises us trouble in this life, but a great reward in the next. The health, wealth and prosperity movement, also called the Word of Faith movement, is a wicked sham. Jesus does care for all of his people and he does want what is best for them, but he wants what is truly best for them now and eternally, not what is most pleasurable in this short life. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” And, in 1 Peter 4:13 he told us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He also wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: Now that is not the message that the Word of Faith preachers deliver.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. They deliver a message of “hope” for pleasure in this life, but it is an empty, false hope even for this life and it is an eternal death sentence. Regenerate people want to know and do God’s will for his glory. And when you look to Christ you see the supreme example of what that can mean in this life. As he prayed the night before his crucifixion, we read in Matthew 26:39 that he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And we know what the Father’s will was. It was for Jesus to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the full on the cross, bearing the penalty that we deserved, so that we might be saved.

And while none of us are called to suffer as Christ did, we do nonetheless have many trials and troubles in this life. We trust, as Jesus did, that there is a good purpose in them, that they will all redound to God’s greater glory and that they cannot be compared with the great glory and joy that will be ours throughout eternity if we persevere to the end of this life.

Marc Roby: And all true Christians look forward to that eternal glory.  Are we done with the topic of regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: We are for now, but I’d like to close with one more quote from Murray. He wrote, “If it were not the case that in regeneration we are passive, the subjects of an action of which God alone is the agent, there would be no gospel at all. For unless God by sovereign, operative grace had turned our enmity to love and our disbelief to faith we would never yield the response of faith and love.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a perfect place to end for today.  So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 196

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 197

[4] E.g., see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed, P&R Publishing, 2008, pg. 289

[5] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 100

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Marc Roby: Well then, we are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. We have been speaking about the first item in this order, the effectual call. Dr. Spencer, what else would you like to say about this call?

Dr. Spencer: I want to read a quote from John Murray. He wrote that “The sovereignty and efficacy of the call do not relax human responsibility but rather ground and confirm that responsibility. The magnitude of the grace enhances the obligation.”[1] In other words, those who think that the fact that God is sovereign in election, calling and regeneration somehow negates human responsibility are wrong. The reality is that the sheer magnitude of the grace involved in God’s having chosen, called and regenerated us increases our obligation to obey. And this obligation to obey does not end with our repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Ephesians 4:1, where the apostle Paul wrote, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a very challenging statement. Who can be worthy of such a calling? This new life begins with repentance and faith, but the obedience is to continue throughout all of life and beyond.

Murray also points out that this calling is a high, holy and heavenly calling,[3] which is a biblical statement. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” I’ve quoted from the American Standard Version here because it uses the phrase “high calling”, which is also used in the King James Version that Murray was referring to. And we see that the calling is holy by looking at what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8-9, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life”. And, finally, we see that it is a heavenly calling in Hebrews 3:1, where we are told, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Marc Roby: Well, the fact that this is a high, holy and heavenly calling makes Paul’s admonition to live a life worthy of this calling even more challenging.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly does. No one can live the Christian life in his or her own strength. The Christian life is impossible to live unless you are empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” And, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew points out in his commentary on Romans, the original Greek for this verse is better translated as, “For those who are being led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are the sons of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And praise God for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. As I said, no one could possibly live the Christian life without the Spirit.

Marc Roby: And so, are we ready to move on to examine the next item on the order of salvation?

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: Very well. The next item in the order is regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: And because of the intimate connection between the effectual call and regeneration we have already mentioned regeneration a number of times while looking at the effectual call. In speaking of regeneration itself, Murray wrote that “God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation, or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation”.[5]

In a similar vein, the great Puritan theologian Stephen Charnock wrote that regeneration “is a universal change of the whole man. It is a new creature, not only a new power or new faculty. This … extends to every part … [It] is as large in renewing as sin was in defacing.”[6]

Marc Roby: And that immediately makes me think of 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: And that new creation starts with new birth, or regeneration. We are entirely passive in our new birth, just as we were in our physical birth. We play no determining role in our conception, gestation or birth. We are the passive object. And it is the same with God’s election, calling and new birth.

Marc Roby: I’m always amazed when someone misses the obvious importance of the metaphor Jesus used. In speaking about our need to be born again Jesus was quite clearly indicating that we play no active role.

Dr. Spencer: That clearly was his point. So I want to take a few minutes to look at the verses where Jesus tells us about the new birth. In John 3:3 and 5, Jesus says to Nicodemus, beginning with Verse 3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then in Verse 5 he said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” The question I want to address is, “What did Jesus mean when he said we must be “born of water and the Spirit”?

Marc Roby: Well, there is fairly widespread agreement that being born of the Spirit refers to new birth, which is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit as you said before.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But there have been differences of opinion about what is meant by being born of water. Some take that to refer to either natural human birth or baptism, but I think those views are almost certainly wrong.

Marc Roby: What do you think it refers to?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me quote from John Murray again because I think his analysis of this verse is clear and correct. He wrote that “Jesus did not say baptism; he says water. … Now what religious idea would we expect to be conveyed to the mind of Nicodemus by the use of the word “water”? Of course, the idea associated with the religious use of water in that religious tradition and practice which provided the very context of Nicodemus’ life and profession. … the religiously symbolic meaning of water, pointed in one direction, and that direction is purification. All the relevant considerations would conspire to convey to Nicodemus that message.”[7]

Marc Roby: It makes good sense, and is exegetically sound, to say that if we want to understand what Jesus meant, we must take into account that he was speaking to a particular person and that person had a specific background and life experience. In the case of Nicodemus, we are told in John 3:1 that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council.

Dr. Spencer: And given that background, I think that Murray’s analysis is obviously correct. Nicodemus would never have thought of natural birth or Christian baptism, which hadn’t been instituted yet anyway. He would have thought of the Jewish ritual of purification. Wayne Grudem makes the same argument in his Systematic Theology.[8]

Marc Roby: We should probably provide a bit of background and point out that at the time of Jesus, the idea of bathing in water had great symbolic significance in terms of moral cleansing.[9] And this significance goes way back in the Old Testament.

We even see it directly linked with the Old Testament prophecy about being given a new heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-26 we read that God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 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.”

Dr. Spencer: That background is very relevant. There are a number of places in modern Israel, like Qumran and Masada, where you can still see the ancient pools used for ceremonial washings.[10] The mention of water would almost certainly have conveyed that meaning to Nicodemus. Murray then goes on to say that “The characteristic sin of the pharisees was self-complacency and self-righteousness. What they needed was to be convinced of their own pollution and the need of radical purification. It is this lesson that the expression ‘born of water’ would have conveyed most effectively.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is a strong argument. And it reminds me of what Paul wrote to Titus, where he also associated washing and new birth with each other. In Titus 3:4-5 we read, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”.

Dr. Spencer: That does solidify the connection. We can also look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Notice that we are to cleanse our wives by “washing with water through the word”. This is clearly speaking about moral, not physical, cleansing, and it again uses this metaphor of water, but it connects it with the Word of God. The Word of God is this cleansing “water”.

Christ himself also linked the Word with cleansing. In John 15:3 we read that he told his disciples, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The Word of God shows us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. And it then reveals Jesus Christ to us as the only Savior. We need this information to be saved. The Word then shows us how we can live in a way that pleases God.

Marc Roby: The role of the Word of God in bringing about new birth is also explicitly mentioned by Peter. In 1 Peter 1:23 we read, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse. And I think that when you look at all that we have said, it is clear that when Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”, he was making the point that we need to be cleansed of our sins and the “water” that accomplishes that cleansing is the Word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Murray wrote, “Regeneration must negate the past as well as reconstitute for the future. It must cleanse from sin as well as recreate in righteousness.”[12]

Marc Roby: Very well, what else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: That it is a completely sovereign work of God, primarily God the Holy Spirit. Theologians say it is a monergistic work of God, simply meaning that God alone is active in it. After telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Jesus went on to say, in John 3:8, that “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that in the original Greek, the word translated in this verse as “wind” is πνεῦμα (pneuma), which is the same word translated as Spirit in the earlier verses.

Dr. Spencer: That is interesting, and I’m sure the double meaning was not lost on Nicodemus, but it is clear from the context that the translation here is correct. In any event, Murray points out the significance of this statement. He wrote, “The wind is not at our beck and call; neither is the regenerative operation of the Spirit. … the Spirit’s work is mysterious. [This] All points up the sovereignty, efficacy, and inscrutability of the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration.”[13]

Marc Roby: But you mentioned in our last session that the Father is also involved in the work of regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: I did, and I said that based on the Scriptural evidence. For example, in Ephesians 2:4-5 we read that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Now the sentence clearly speaks of God and Christ as two distinct persons, which tells us that God in this verse refers to God the Father as is common in the New Testament. So the verse says that God the Father made us alive when we were dead in transgressions, which is a clear reference to regeneration. Paul says almost exactly the same thing again in Colossians 2:13, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

Marc Roby: Those are clear statements that the Father is involved.

Dr. Spencer: And Wayne Grudem uses them, along with others, to support his conclusion that “both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit bring about regeneration.”[14] Now I think it is still clear that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent in our regeneration, but these verses show that the Father is involved as well.

Marc Roby: What else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: That the Word of God is used in bringing it about; as we have discussed, we must be born of water and the Spirit, and the cleansing water is the Word of God. You could, perhaps even should, consider this to be part of the effectual call, rather than regeneration proper, but it bears pointing out that the Puritans referred to the Word of God as the instrumental cause of regeneration, meaning that the Word is the instrument used to bring it about.[15] We see this, for example, in James 1:18, which says that the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” We also see this in 1 Peter 1:23, where we read, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” And finally, let me quote from the apostle Paul. He wrote, in Romans 10:17, that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Marc Roby: And that makes sense since the Word of God is where we learn of both our need for a Savior and God’s provision of a Savior in Jesus Christ. Regeneration is what makes us able to respond to the gospel offer with repentance and faith, but the response could not occur without knowing about our need and the offer.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, the Word of God is essential for salvation. We also need to remember that the gospel offer will not be refused by anyone who has been regenerated. We spoke about the doctrine of irresistible grace in Sessions 130 and 131, but it good to remember that when God changes our nature, our positive response to the gospel call is made certain.

We see this clearly in Romans Chapter 9. After Paul has explained God’s sovereign election of some people to be saved, he then anticipates an objection that will come from sinful men and writes, in Romans 9:19, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” This objection would make no sense if Paul were not teaching that God is absolutely sovereign over our salvation. But, as we have said before, he doesn’t force anyone to accept or reject the gospel. Unregenerate people will always, without exception, willingly reject the gospel and regenerate people will always, without exception, willingly accept the gospel.

Marc Roby: Are we finished with the topic of regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: Not yet.

Marc Roby: Well, we are, however, out of time for today, so we’ll have to finish this up next time. Therefore, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 92

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 91

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

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 96

[6] Quoted in Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 474

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 97

[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, see footnote 7 on pg. 702

[9] E.g., see The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (in five volumes), Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 4, pg. 957 entry on Purification, and pg. 958 in entry on Purity, 1b. Water

[10] Ibid, Vol. 1, pg. 490 in entry on Bath

[11] Murray, op. cit., pg. 97

[12] Ibid, pg. 98

[13] Ibid, pg. 99

[14] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 700

[15] Beeke & Jones, op. cit., pg. 473

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and the “specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ”[1] according to the theologian John Murray. He lists four categories: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Last time we covered sacrifice. So, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today with the category of propitiation?

Dr. Spencer: We should begin by defining propitiation. Murray writes that “To propitiate means to ‘placate,’ ‘pacify,’ ‘appease,’ ‘conciliate.’ … Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[2]

Marc Roby: It is worth noting that you won’t find the word propitiation in the 1984 NIV Bible that we use as our primary source.

Dr. Spencer: No, you won’t. The translators shied away from using the term. You will find it, however, in four places in the New Testament of the English Standard Version.[3] Murray discusses the fact that this term has been troublesome for some. He wrote that “Perhaps no tenet respecting the atonement has been more violently criticized than this one.”[4] But he also notes that this criticism is mostly because the term is misunderstood. He wrote that “It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.”[5]

Marc Roby: That view of the atonement would certainly be at odds with the Bible. The famous verse in John 3:16 tells us plainly that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [6] And it is clear that “God” here refers to God the Father. It is he who loved the world enough to send his Son.

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right. Murray wrote that “To say the least, this kind of criticism has failed to understand or appreciate some elementary and important distinctions. First of all, to love and to be propitious are not convertible terms. It is false to suppose that the doctrine of propitiation regards propitiation as that which causes or constrains the divine love.”[7] In other words, God can love us and still need to be propitiated. It is not the propitiation that brings about his love. He loves us, but because he is holy and just, our sins still require propitiation.

Marc Roby: As a poor analogy we could note that a good human father loves his children, and yet will still be properly angry with them and need to be appeased, or we could say propitiated, when they sin.

Dr. Spencer: That analogy is readily understandable and useful. Murray says that “The wrath of God is the inevitable reaction of the divine holiness against sin. Sin is the contradiction of the perfection of God and he cannot but recoil against that which is the contradiction of himself. … To deny propitiation is to undermine the nature of the atonement as the vicarious endurance of the penalty of sin. In a word, it is to deny substitutionary atonement.”[8]

Marc Roby: And that is how you very quickly end up with a deviant form of Christianity that views Jesus Christ as just being a good moral teacher and example, rather than the unique God-man who loved us enough to take our sins upon himself, bear the wrath of God, and die to save us.

Dr. Spencer: And such an aberrant form of Christianity is also a false Christianity that cannot save anyone, which is why this topic is so important. I understand the modern thought that it is somehow vulgar and unsophisticated for God to require a propitiatory sacrifice to atone for sins, but we simply must recognize how vulgar and offensive sin itself is. It isn’t just that we are not always as nice as we should be, or that we are sometimes a little selfish or anything like that. We must recognize that, at its core, sin is rebellion against God. It is a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. We are, in essence, saying that God has no right to tell us how to live.

Marc Roby: Yes, we see that clearly in the Genesis account of the fall of man. God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. They were allowed to eat from every other tree, they were only forbidden to eat from that one. But we read in Genesis 3:4-5 Satan came in the form of a serpent and said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Dr. Spencer: And when Eve allowed herself to consider that statement, which directly contradicted God, she was, in essence, rejecting her position as a creature and assuming that she had the right to decide who was telling the truth. It was a rejection of God’s authority and it implicitly accused him of lying to them and not treating them well, in other words, of denying them something good.

Marc Roby: It is not pleasant to think seriously about sin. The more you think about it, the worse it appears.

Dr. Spencer: And we never fully comprehend in this life how bad it really is. But let’s move on with discussing propitiation as being one of the categories the Bible uses to describe Christ’s atoning work.

Murray notes that in the Old Testament, the concept of propitiation is “expressed by a word which means to ‘cover.’”[9]

Marc Roby: And that makes perfect sense. If something is offensive, we can cover it up so that the offense is no longer visible.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. God is offended by sin. It needs to be covered. We noted last week that in the Old Testament period the high priest would go in to the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the cover of the ark. The ark contained the law of God, which the people had broken and which, therefore, testified against them. The symbolism was that when God, who appeared above the cover, looked down toward the ark, his view of the law would be blocked by the blood. In other words, the blood covered the tablets of the law, which testified against the people.

Marc Roby: One of the uses of the law identified by theologians is to drive us to Christ since it is evident that we have not, and indeed cannot, keep it.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in use at the time of Christ, called the Septuagint, the Greek word used for the atonement cover is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which can be translated as the place of propitiation.[10]

We see this word used in the New Testament. In Romans 3:25 the apostle Paul wrote that God presented Christ as a “sacrifice of atonement”, which is how the NIV translates the Greek word hilastērion. The ESV translation[11] is better and uses the word propitiation.

Marc Roby: I think that clearly establishes that propitiation is one of the categories in terms of which the Bible speaks of the atonement.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but before we move on to the next category, I want to read one more short quote from Murray. He wrote that “the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice of Christ if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered.”[12]

Marc Roby: That argument makes good sense. And now I assume we are ready to move on and examine the next category, which is reconciliation.

Dr. Spencer: You assume correctly. Murray writes that “Reconciliation presupposes disrupted relations between God and men. It implies enmity and alienation. This alienation is twofold, our alienation from God and God’s alienation from us.”[13] People often object to the idea that there is enmity, or hostility between us and God or God and us, but this is a completely biblical statement. In Colossians 1:21 Paul wrote, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” And in Romans 8:7 he wrote that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

Marc Roby: Those verses certainly make the case that sinners are hostile enemies of God.

Dr. Spencer: And there are others we could use as well, but I think those suffice. But in addition to looking at the attitude of sinners toward God, we also need to look at God’s attitude toward sinners. In Romans 2:6-8 we read that “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” If you reject the truth – that is you reject Jesus Christ and his gospel, you will experience God’s wrath and anger. In fact, by my count the word wrath is used 28 times in the 1984 NIV translation of the New Testament to refer specifically to the wrath of God that will be poured out on sinners.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is also the difficult verse we have looked at before in Romans 9:13 where Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Malachi and tells us that God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I think the reason people have such a hard time dealing with the idea of God hating anyone is that they don’t realize that our hatred is almost always sinful, so you can’t think of God hating the way a human being hates. But there is a kind of hatred that is devoid of sin. Murray writes, “If we dissociate from the word ‘enmity’ as applied to God everything of the nature of malice and malignity, we may properly speak of this alienation on the part of God as his holy enmity toward us.”[14]

Marc Roby: That is a bit hard to do – to think of enmity without malice or malignity. But God does not wish to do harm to anyone just for the sake of doing harm. When he hates someone and subjects them to his wrath, it is because their sin is, as you noted earlier in a quote from Murray, “the contradiction of the perfection of God”.

Dr. Spencer: It is difficult to remove our sin from the idea of hatred and anger, but we must try. God’s anger, hatred and wrath are holy and perfectly justified.

And in making our point so far, we have only quoted from the New Testament because many people incorrectly think that God is not wrathful in the New Testament. But God has not changed. As Paul tells us in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. He is merciful to those whom he chooses to save, but he sends the rest to eternal hell, which is treating them justly for their sins. As Jesus himself tells us in John 3:18, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: And Christ’s atoning work reconciles those who trust in him to God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. Paul wrote about Christ in Colossians 1:19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Now, when it says that was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things”, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved. Taken in context and interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture, it is obvious that it means all of those whom God has chosen to reconcile.

Marc Roby: There is a question though of whether we are speaking about God changing us to take away our enmity against him, or whether the reconciliation is referring to God’s enmity toward us being removed.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in the verses I just read from Colossians it may well be God changing us, but Murray notes that when you examine the Scriptures carefully, “It is not our enmity against God that comes to the forefront in the reconciliation but God’s alienation from us.”[15] He makes a lengthy argument to support this contention, but I’m only going to give part of it here because I think it is sufficient. Interested listeners can examine the original reference for more details. So, let’s take a look at two passages, beginning with Romans 5:8-11.

Marc Roby: Okay, well let me read those verses. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Dr. Spencer: Let me point out two of the things Murray notes about this passage. First, we were reconciled to God when we were God’s enemies. That makes no sense unless the word “reconciled” is referring to God’s attitude toward us. Secondly, we see that we have “received reconciliation.” In other words, it is a gift given to us. It is not something accomplished by us.

But the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 is even more powerful in making Murray’s point.

Marc Roby: And in those verses Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: I will again summarize only a portion of Murray’s argument. Note that it is God who is working in this passage, not us. He has reconciled us to himself and he made Christ to be sin for us. Also note that the passage says God is “not counting men’s sins against them.” That is clearly speaking about his attitude toward us. And it speaks about what we have called the double imputation; namely, that God imputes our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. Verse 21 says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The fact that this is speaking about imputation makes it clear that it is not speaking about a real change in our attitude.

Marc Roby: Although if we are born again, there certainly will be a change in our attitude.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, that’s very true, but Murray’s point is simply that the emphasis is placed on the removal of God’s enmity toward us, which flies in the face of much of the modern view about God being so nice and loving that he is never angry with anyone.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have now made the case that the atoning work of Christ is categorized as a sacrifice, a propitiation and a reconciliation. That leaves just the fourth category mentioned by Murray, that of redemption. But that will have to wait for next week because we are out of time for today. So I’ll take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will respond as soon as possible.

[1] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[2] Ibid, pg. 30

[3] Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10

[4] Murray, op. cit., pp 30-31

[5] Ibid, pg. 31

[6] 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.™.

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 31

[8] Ibid, pp 32-33

[9] Ibid, pg. 30

[10] W. Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 375

[11] i.e., the English Standard Version

[12] Murray, op. cit., pp 29-30

[13] Ibid, pg. 33

[14] Ibid, pg. 33

[15] Ibid, pg. 34

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[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Last week we discussed the fact that Jesus Christ is our example and we are to imitate his life of perfect obedience to God. Dr. Spencer, what would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to finish our study of Christology and transition into a study of soteriology.

Marc Roby: Which is the doctrine of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Last time we discussed Jesus Christ as our example, which is a completely biblical idea. For example, Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:1-2 to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [1]

Marc Roby: And when you say that Paul commands us, it is because the verbs used in the original Greek are, in fact, in the imperative mood. He is commanding us to imitate God and to live a life of love as Christ did.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in the Greek the second of those commands actually says to walk in love as Christ did, which I think is a more vibrant and active way of putting it.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree.

Dr. Spencer: But, even though this idea of imitating Jesus Christ is biblical, it can be a dangerous concept if it is absolutized. In other words, if we reduce Christianity to nothing more than the modern-day bracelet with the initials WWJD, standing for “What Would Jesus Do?,” we completely miss the true gospel message. This is an example of the fact that you don’t have to say anything that is unbiblical to preach a heretical brand of Christianity. All you have to do is leave out certain parts of God’s Word.

Marc Roby: Yes, like sin, wrath and hell.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. People don’t like hearing about sin, or wrath, or hell, but they are essential to the true gospel. Many professing Christians today think of Jesus Christ as nothing more than an example. But that ignores his greatest work, which is that of being our atoning sacrifice.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that it was not appropriate for us to emulate Christ in everything he did. And, in the case of his sacrifice, we can say something even stronger. It is not possible for us to emulate that work, at least not in the ultimate sense.

Dr. Spencer: That is completely true. We may be called to die for the gospel, but the death of any mere human being cannot atone for the sin of anyone. We can’t take care of our own sin problem, let alone the sin problem of anyone else. Whereas, we are told in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Marc Roby: And, as we labored to show in Sessions 114 and 115, Christ is the unique God-man, the only one capable of being an efficacious sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: Which is a critically important point. But getting back to the modern view of Jesus as nothing more than a good example, such a view completely eviscerates Christianity of all serious meaning, and any so-called gospel based on this minimization of Jesus is not good news, it is terrible news, because it leaves people unsaved.

Marc Roby: In other words, it leaves them subject to God’s eternal wrath in hell.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the terrible truth. We are told in Matthew 1:21 that an angle told Joseph that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” But we need to understand what that means. We are told in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death”, and we read in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. We are all sinners. We have all rebelled against God. In the language of the Bible, we are all under a curse because of our sinful rebellion. And Jesus himself said in Matthew 25:46 that the cursed “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one”. It would, therefore, seem as though eternal life is unattainable for human beings, since only the righteous receive eternal life.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a logical conclusion, but once again, what is impossible with man is possible with God. We must first acknowledge however, the bad news. We are all sinners. We all begin life cursed. No one is righteous in himself. We begin life destined for eternal hell. But, praise God, the story doesn’t end there. In Romans 3:21-22 Paul wrote, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And that is the gospel in a nutshell.

No one is righteous in himself. So no one will receive eternal life if he is judged on his own merits. But there is a righteousness from God that is available to us. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. He is not just our example. He is our Savior. He is our Lord. He is our God.

Marc Roby: And if someone preaches a so-called gospel that does away with sin, wrath and eternal hell, he is preaching a false gospel.

Dr. Spencer: And he is preaching a false Jesus. Because he is preaching a Jesus who is nothing more than a good example. There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. We are told in Acts 4:12 that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And in John 3:18 we read that “Whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: You often hear something to the effect that Jesus came down to show us what true love and sacrifice look like. God is all about love and the whole Christian life and gospel are summarized by love.

Dr. Spencer: Which is in one sense true of course. And that is what makes the lie all the more dangerous. We are, in fact, told in 1 John 4:8 and 16 that “God is love”. And we also read in Matthew 22:37-40 that Jesus Christ himself told us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” But we create a completely heretical view of Christianity when we divorce these statements from the rest of Scripture and impose our own definition of “love” on them.

Marc Roby: As always we should use Scripture to interpret Scripture, which is the first rule of hermeneutics.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. God is love. But he is also holy and just. He is too pure to look on evil. He is angry with sin and he must punish it. That is why Jesus had to come and die a terrible death on the cross, and endure the wrath of the Father for our sins. I read 1 John 4:10 a few minutes ago, which gives us the biblical definition of love. It says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Love is not what we define it to be. It is not that we loved God. God’s love required that the second person of the Holy Trinity become incarnate, live a perfect life of obedience, and then take our sins upon himself, be nailed to the cross, bear the wrath of God on our behalf and die. That is love. It must be defined in light of God’s hatred of sin and the need for sin to be punished. Love is self-sacrifice for the benefit of another.

Marc Roby: And it is all the more amazing when you consider who Jesus died for. It was not for people who loved him, or were noble and worthy in some way, it was for his enemies. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Dr. Spencer: That is an amazing truth to consider. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The verse is so familiar that I think we often fail to be astounded by what it says. God gave his one and only Son! In other words, Jesus bore God’s wrath and died so that we might have eternal life. That fact alone tells us all we need to know about how horrible our sin is. It required the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to take away our curse. God hates sin. The same God who is love also hates sin. We can never forget that.

Marc Roby: And a so-called gospel that only speaks about God’s love, while not necessarily saying anything unbiblical, can be completely heretical by not saying all that must be said. It makes me think of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders. We read in Acts 20:26-27 that Paul said, “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”  The clear implication is that he would have been guilty of the blood of others if he had not proclaimed the whole will of God.

Dr. Spencer: That is a clear implication. And a bit later in his address to these elders, we read in Verses 29-30 that he said, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” This is what we see happening today in many churches. They are so interested in church growth, in having large numbers, that they water down the gospel to do away with the offense of the gospel. But, in the process, they also do away with the power of the gospel to save.

Marc Roby: In fact, if you never present the bad news that there really is an eternal hell and that by nature we all deserve to go there, you have to wonder what it is that we need to be saved from.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the problem. You end up with a social gospel. All it can “save” me from is feeling bad about myself. It can make me feel good about myself, it can encourage me to be kind to other people and to help feed the poor and so on, but it can’t save me from the guilt and power of sin.

J. Gresham Machen was a great 20th-century theologian who left Princeton Seminary when it got taken over by liberalism and he founded Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in order to continue to proclaim biblical truth. He wrote a marvelous book called Christianity & Liberalism, which even though it was first published in 1923, is extremely relevant today. In that book he wrote the following: “Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of ‘salvation’) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God.”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a great statement. My salvation requires an act of God. If I could be saved by doing my best to follow the example of Jesus Christ, then I would, in the end, be responsible for saving myself.

Dr. Spencer: And that would be impossible according to God’s infallible Word. Machen went on to say that “According to Christian belief, Jesus is our Saviour, not by virtue of what He said, not even by virtue of what He was, but by what He did. He is our Saviour, not because He has inspired us to live the same kind of life that He lived, but because He took upon Himself the dreadful guilt of our sins and bore it instead of us on the cross.”[3]

Marc Roby: He paid the penalty that I owed and could never pay. Praise God!

Dr. Spencer: Machen explains in this book why we need more than just a good example. He wrote that “an example of self-sacrifice is useless to those who are under both the guilt and thralldom of sin; … an exhibition of the love of God is a mere display unless there was some underlying reason for the sacrifice.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice is God’s just wrath toward sinners and the fact that we can’t ever pay the penalty we owe. Once God chose to save anyone, he had to solve our sin problem. Which he did through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely what many professing Christians today find offensive. The very idea that God is wrathful toward mankind and that his wrath needs to be appeased is offensive to the natural man. Therefore, he makes up a religion that does away with that offense. He may still call it Christianity, but it is an empty shell completely devoid of truth and power.

Machen wrote, “So modern liberalism, placing Jesus alongside other benefactors of mankind, is perfectly inoffensive in the modern world. All men speak well of it. It is entirely inoffensive. But it is also entirely futile. The offence of the Cross is done away, but so is the glory and the power.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. There is power in the true gospel. I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Dr. Spencer: And when Paul used the double negative – saying he is not ashamed of the gospel – he was using a literary device called a litotes to emphasize that he was proud of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Machen wrote that “Jesus was not for Paul merely an example for faith; He was primarily the object of faith.”[6]

Marc Roby: As he is for all true Christians. We place our absolute trust in him when we make the declaration that Jesus is Lord.

Dr. Spencer: And whenever anyone makes that profession truly, he or she is also giving up all pretense to autonomy. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, in the context Paul was speaking about sexual immorality, but the application of the principle is much broader than that. If we have been really born again, we belong to God, we were bought at a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We have no right to think or act in any way we want. We are to walk in obedience to God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: And no one can do that in his own power. We must be born again to repent and believe and we must be born again and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to be enabled to walk in obedience. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:5-8, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 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.”

Marc Roby: And the only way out of that terrible position of hostility toward God is to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: And that will be the topic of our next series of podcasts; soteriology, the biblical doctrine of salvation. But we are finished, at least for the time being, with what I want to say about Christology.

Marc Roby: Well I look forward to getting into the glorious topic of soteriology next time. But before we sign off, I want to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d be pleased to hear from you.

 

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

[2] J. Greshem Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009, pg. 99

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] Ibid, pp 104-105

[6] Ibid, pg. 70

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[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are beginning our third year of this podcast by resuming our study of biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, at the end of the last session, you said that we could define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct.

Marc Roby: If we use this definition, what would say about the higher animals. Do they have a soul?

Dr. Spencer: I would have to say that I don’t know for sure. It may be that there is no immaterial part to animals, which would require that their abilities to reason are very limited and that they are not truly capable of making real, free-will decisions. Whatever “decisions” they do make would then have to be comparable to “decisions” made by a very complicated machine. They are entirely determined by the nature of the machine. But I find that idea a bit hard to swallow given animals I have known well in my life.

Marc Roby: They do have personalities, and it is hard to think of them as being just biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And so, I’m certainly open to the possibility that there is some immaterial aspect to the higher animals, but the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. If there is, then perhaps you could call it a soul or spirit, but it would be of an entirely different nature than our spirit because it is not made in the image of God and is not capable of fellowship with God. The Bible is clear on that much.

Marc Roby: And so, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing about our nature. We are made in the image of God and are able to have fellowship with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely the most important thing, yes.

Marc Roby: There is one other question about higher animals that I find intriguing, although obviously not of critical importance. Are they morally accountable? In other words, do they know the difference between right and wrong and will they in any way be held to account for their actions?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the animals I’ve owned certainly seemed to know when they had done something wrong! But I only know of one Bible verse that speaks to the issue, although I’m open to having our listeners point out others. In Genesis 9 we read about God’s blessing Noah and his family after the flood was over. In Verse 5 God says to them, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” [1]

Marc Roby: Now that’s very interesting. God will demand an accounting from every animal.

Dr. Spencer: Now I haven’t studied this verse, and this may just be a way for God to make clear how sacred human life is, but it is possible that it literally means animals will be called to account in some way as well. There are obvious problems with that view though. First, does that mean that animals go on living in some sense too? There is no indication of that that I know of in the Bible. And second, there is no distinction here between higher and lower forms of animal life. What if someone dies from a spider bite? I simply cannot believe that spiders make moral choices and will be held accountable. At the end of the day, I think we simply have to say that we don’t know.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to say about dichotomy and trichotomy, or the soul and spirit?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to point out the obvious fact, which we have noted before, that the word spirit gets used in different ways and those who believe in dichotomy sometimes use the word in a way that is more consistent with trichotomy.

For example, when we say that an unbeliever is spiritually dead, we don’t mean that the immaterial part of the person has ceased to exist or function. If that were the case, the whole person would be dead as we have noted. I don’t think this causes any great difficulty for most people, but it is worth pointing out.

Marc Very well. But before we wrap up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, there is one passage relating to men and animals that we didn’t examine, but which I think it would be good for us to comment on because it speaks about the spirits of animals as well as men.

Dr. Spencer: What passage do you have in mind?

Marc Roby: In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 we read the following: “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Now, what would you say about those verses?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that they come from the book of Ecclesiastes, which relates to us the attempt of a man, called the Teacher, most likely Solomon, to understand the meaning of life in the face of life’s trials and troubles and the fact that everyone dies, no matter how good or noble the person is. In much of the book he examines the questions from what appears to be a purely materialistic point of view.

I like what J. Vernon McGee said about this book, he first noted that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs and then wrote that “In Proverbs we saw the wisdom of Solomon; here [in Ecclesiastes] we … see the foolishness of Solomon.”[2]

Marc Roby: That statement brings to mind 1 Corinthians 1. In Verse 20 Paul wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Dr. Spencer: That fits Ecclesiastes perfectly, although in the end the Teacher does conclude that you need God to make sense out of life. In fact, in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible it says that “Ecclesiastes is really intended to be a tract for the conversion of the self-sufficient intellectual”.[3]

Marc Roby: I’m sure the book has other uses, but I do like that statement. Human beings should never think of themselves as self-sufficient.

Dr. Spencer: No, we shouldn’t. But, returning to the verses you read. Solomon is relating to us his own thoughts here, as he tells us in Verse 18. And, while this biblical account of Solomon’s thinking is infallible, his thinking was not. In other words, you don’t want to build any doctrine from these statements.

If you read the whole book you get the point clearly. Thinking about the meaning of life apart from God leads to vanity, or meaninglessness. In these verses Solomon is allowing his thoughts to roam; he is considering the fact that all men, like animals, die. And when he speaks about the “spirit of the animal”, I take it to simply mean the life of the animal as opposed to the physical body.

Marc Roby: Which again illustrates the fact that the words soul and spirit have a wide range of usage.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, and it also illustrates that we need to be very careful with our biblical hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Are we finished then with our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: What are we going to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at what is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall; which is our sin.

Marc Roby: Why do you say it is the most important aspect of our nature?

Dr. Spencer: Because sin is the cause of all of the trouble we experience in life, including death itself, and it is the cause of our being under the wrath of God and needing a Savior. If our sin is not dealt with, our eternal destiny is hell. But if our sins are forgiven, our eternal destiny is heaven.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anything that comes even close to that in importance.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I, because there isn’t anything that comes even close. Jesus himself said that there is only one thing needful in this life[4], and that one thing is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is how our sin can be dealt with. We also read in Mark 8:36 that Jesus asked his disciples the rhetorical question, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to this question is, it does him no good at all since the soul lives on after the body dies, and our eternal state is, literally, infinitely longer than our time in this life. Therefore, even if someone truly became the ruler of the whole world and had all of the world’s riches at his disposal, if that cost his immortal soul it would, in fact, be the worst possible thing.

Dr. Spencer: It is unimaginably bad in fact. We, as finite human beings, have a serious problem in understanding eternal issues. We simply cannot grasp eternity. It is something we have to work at very hard.

Marc Roby: I’m always reminded of that fact when we sing the hymn Amazing Grace. The last verse speaks about heaven and says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That blows your mind. But that lyric is not just poetic, it is mathematically true. The Bible tells us we will spend all eternity in heaven with God. That is infinitely long. It never ends. And so when we’ve been there ten thousand years, we have, quite literally, been there zero percent of the time we will be there!

Marc Roby: And the same is true for those miserable souls who reject God’s offer of salvation and find themselves in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is, most regrettably for them, true. It isn’t a popular topic in this day and age, but it is true nonetheless. And so, the topic of human sin is extremely important. If we don’t properly understand our problem, we cannot properly understand the cure.

Marc Roby: A proper diagnosis is essential to getting the right cure even when dealing with physical ailments.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obvious to everyone. If I have a serious skin cancer and my doctor misdiagnoses it as a harmless rash, I’m not going to get the proper treatment and I am likely to die as a result. So, a proper diagnosis is critically important.

In the same way, if we misunderstand the true nature and extent of our sin problem, we will not take advantage of the only cure available. We may be satisfied with some other supposed cure, which won’t really take care of our problem and will lead us to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: And the nature of human sin has been a constant source of heresies since the beginning of the church.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly has. It was the fundamental issue that divided Saint Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century. It was the central issue that divided Luther and Erasmus in the sixteenth century, it was central to the reformation of the sixteenth century, it was at the core of the controversy between Arminians and the reformed church in the early seventeenth century, and it is still a common point of contention today.

Marc Roby: How do you want to approach this topic of sin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by spelling out as clearly as I can the biblical doctrine. There are three main components to the doctrine of sin. The first is the cause of sin, the second is the nature of sin, and the third is the definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Alright, what do you want to say about the cause of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, let’s look at what God said when he finished his creative work. We read in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In other words, there was no sin in the original creation. Therefore, we must say that when God finished creating this universe, it was entirely good. God is not the author of sin.

But, at some point, Satan, who was an angel, became proud and tried to usurp God’s authority. As a result, he was cast down and a number of other angels who had followed him were also cast down. The Bible tells us very little about this and I want to stay focused on anthropology for now, so I’m not going to say any more about it at this time.

Marc Roby: There is great mystery involved in Satan’s fall. How could a perfect being in perfect fellowship with God become wicked and rebel?

Dr. Spencer: That is an unanswerable question I think, but it happened. And, after Satan fell, he became God’s enemy and came and attacked God’s greatest creation, man. He attacked man by tempting him to also sin by desiring to be god. And, tragically, Satan succeeded. Adam and Eve sinned. And, when they sinned, they died, just as God said they would. They died in all three senses of the term as we noted in our last session: spiritually, physically and they became subject to eternal death.

Marc Roby: And to be explicit in remembering what we covered last time, by spiritual death we mean that they were separated from fellowship with God, by physical death we mean that they immediately started the process of physically dying, which culminates in the temporary separation of our body and spirit, and by eternal death we mean that they came under God’s wrath and, had he not saved them, would have been separated from God’s blessings in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true.

Marc Roby: And the first thing they did after sinning was to try and clothe themselves and then to hide from God.

Dr. Spencer: Sin always brings guilt and shame and causes us to want to hide from God, who is holy and just.

But the tragedy is much deeper than just Adam and Eve becoming sinners, because when Adam sinned, he did so as the representative of all mankind. When he died in the three senses we just spoke about, his nature changed. We noted last time that Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that unbelievers are alienated from God and are enemies in their minds because of their evil behavior. In other words, Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature. And everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits that sinful nature. This is the doctrine of original sin.

Marc Roby: And that doctrine is repulsive to natural man and has itself been the cause of a number of controversies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it has definitely been the cause of a number of controversies. But the biblical teaching about it is quite clear as we will see. The controversy only arises because man, in rebellion against God, refuses to accept God’s testimony about what happened.

Marc Roby: I look forward to hearing about this, but we are nearly out of time for today, so this is probably a good place to stop. Let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

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

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, Vol. III, pg. 105

[3] Zondervan, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 188

[4] See Luke 10:42

[5] Quoted from: Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, Hymn 460

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s attribute of immutability, which means that he cannot change. Dr. Spencer, last time we laid out a biblical case for this incommunicable attribute, but you said that you wanted to discuss some implications of it and objections to it. So, how would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to deal with a common misunderstanding of what it means for God to be unchangeable. I think Louis Berkhof says it very well, so let me quote from his Systematic Theology. But before I do that, let me define a word that he uses. He mentions an anthropopathic way of speaking and we need to know that an anthropopathism ascribes human emotions to a non-human subject, in this case to God. With that definition in hand let me read what Berkhof wrote about God; “There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises. … [when] Scripture speaks of His repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent, we should remember that this is only an anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”[1]

Marc Roby: I think it would be good to point out that when Berkhof says that Scripture speaks of God repenting, he is referring to the King James translation, where the word is used in the sense of changing your mind. There is never any suggestion that God has done something morally wrong.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not, that is unthinkable. Let me give a couple of examples of the passages he is referring to. In Exodus 32:9-10 God tells Moses, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”[2] But in Verses 11-13 we read that Moses sought the Lord’s favor on behalf of the Israelites and then, in Verse 14, we read that “the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Marc Roby: And where the translation you just read said “the LORD relented”, that’s one of the places where the King James Version says he “repented”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But we need to think about this exchange for a minute. Did God really change his mind? To say that would be an unwarranted conclusion and would violate the first rule of hermeneutics, which we covered in Session 39. Remember that that rule, which is also called the analogy of faith or the analogy of Scripture, says that we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Meaning that we should never pit one part of the Word of God against another. Since the whole Word of God is the infallible truth, we must understand every passage in a way that is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Word of God cannot contradict itself.

Marc Roby: And therefore, to understand this passage as teaching that God truly changed his mind would contradict what we are told, for example, in Numbers 23:19 as we saw last time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would contradict that passage and others as well. But it isn’t that hard to see how to interpret this exchange between God and Moses. God was angry with his people and had determined beforehand, in fact from all eternity, how he was going to deal with it. He told Moses that he was angry enough to destroy them, but that he would still make Moses into a great nation. He did this knowing that Moses would plead for the people in prayer and also knowing that he would respond to Moses’ prayer by showing mercy to his people. The whole passage redounds to the glory of God’s great mercy. It is not at all necessary to say that God actually changed in any way and so the first rule of hermeneutics prohibits us from doing so.

Marc Roby: And of course, as you pointed out when we were discussing the first rule, we should even read things by human authors with the assumption that they have not contradicted themselves.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. That is the only fair way to read anything. Of course, with human authors it is all too often the case that they have contradicted themselves, but that cannot happen with God, who is perfect in every way.

Marc Roby: And with regard to this specific example, the interpretation you gave is perfectly reasonable and even agrees with how human beings deal with each other on some occasions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Think about a father dealing with a child. When he does something wrong, the father gets angry and disciplines him. But, if he then sincerely acknowledges that he did wrong and seeks his father’s forgiveness, the father forgives and he is restored to a place of favor. The father doesn’t change in any meaningful way during this whole process, he is being perfectly consistent in how he deals with the child. What changes is the child’s status with the father. He goes from being in his father’s favor, to being out of favor, and then back into favor again. But these changes are predicated on the actions of the child, not on some change taking place in the father. In fact, quite the opposite is true, the father’s behavior is entirely consistent and unchanging, but his attitude toward the child changes with the child’s behavior. That is exactly what Berkhof was referring to when he said that “In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”

Marc Roby: Of course there is an even larger issue here as well; namely, how God’s unchangeable sovereignty and the efficacy of Moses’ prayer for his people can both be true at the same time.

Dr. Spencer: That is the same issue. And we must admit that there is mystery involved in trying to comprehend how God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency can both be true. I hope to get into that at a later date, but for now I think it is sufficient to point out that God ordains the means as well as the end.

Marc Roby: OK, can you explain what you mean by that?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that God not only ordains what happens, he ordains the means by which it happens. So, for example, let’s say that God has ordained to heal someone of a particular disease, let’s call this person Joe. It may well be that one of the means he has also ordained is that you and I should pray for Joe to be healed. God is not changing in any way when he then answers our prayers by healing Joe, but it is still reasonable to say that our prayers were efficacious in helping to bring about Joe’s healing.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God makes a great promise to his people. He says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great promise and it clearly states God’s unchanging intention to change his external behavior based on our behavior. The Bible has many wonderful promises in it, along with some terrifying threats. And all of them are true. God does not change. If we do what he has threatened to punish, we will be punished. But, if we sincerely repent and cry out for mercy, we will receive mercy. God does not change, but our status before God can change, just like the child’s status with his father changed.

But, by the way, saying that we will receive mercy when we repent doesn’t necessarily mean that we will not suffer the consequences for our sins in this life. God does not promise to remove all temporal consequences, in fact, he warns us that our sins will have consequences. In Leviticus 26:40-42 God says, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

Marc Roby: That passage is frightening and should cause us to be very careful to not sin, but it is also comforting because it contains the same basic promise as 2 Chronicles 7:14; namely, that God will remember his covenant and will remember the land, which means he will deal with them favorably.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must be careful to state clearly that when it says we will pay for our sin, it is not talking about atonement. Jesus Christ is the only one who can atone for our sin. This is speaking strictly about our circumstances in this life. In the ultimate sense, we can’t pay for our sin, but our sins will be covered by the blood of Christ on the Day of Judgment.

Marc Roby: We should certainly praise God for that unchangeable promise. Before we leave the topic of God’s immutability, let me ask you about the modern view that is usually called Process Theology. This view states that God is constantly changing. According to this view he is, for example, learning all the time because he doesn’t know what I’m going to do until I actually do it.

Dr. Spencer: That view is completely unbiblical. Wayne Grudem deals with it briefly in his Systematic Theology and points out that it is based on two false assumptions.[3] First, they assume that for our lives to be meaningful in any way it must be true that what we do can somehow change God. But that assumption has no biblical basis and any real Christian, for whom the Scriptures must be the ultimate authority, will reject it.

Marc Roby: I would also add that the assumption doesn’t really make sense anyway. If you take away the God of the Bible, who says that human life actually does have any significance?

Dr. Spencer: I agree with you completely. The second error that process theologians make is that they assume God must be changeable because change is somehow seen as an essential part of real existence. But, as Grudem points out, the Bible emphatically denies this view. We read Psalm 102 Verses 25-27 last time and they bear repeating. They say, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Marc Roby: That does put the kibosh on the idea that God changes.

Dr. Spencer: It does. We have to remember the point we made way back in Session 4 and have referred to a number of times since. Namely, that everyone has an ultimate standard for truth, either human reason, which is fallen, or God’s propositional revelation, which is infallible and found in the Bible. The assumptions of process theology come from human reason, not the Bible, and they must be rejected because they contradict God’s truth given to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: I think that is enough said about process theology. There is another question raised about God’s immutability, at least implicitly, by the modern idea that the God of the New Testament is somehow kinder and gentler than the God of the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common view now. In fact, many self-professed Christians seem to think that the Old Testament has almost no applicability to us at all, other than being a source of ancient history. The reality is however, that a careful reading of the Bible shows that God has not changed at all.

There are, I think, three main things that have changed and which affect the life of a believer significantly. The first is that we have much greater revelation now, we’ve talked about the progressive nature of revelation before. The second is that Jesus Christ has come. Old Testament believers looked forward to the promised Messiah, and we look back on his historical appearance. The biggest significance of that change for believers, besides the increased revelation involved with it, is that the Old Testament ceremonial system was completely done away with. For example, we no longer perform animal sacrifices because Christ was the final, efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice that obtained eternal redemption as we are told in Hebrews Chapter 9. In addition, we no longer have just one temple, there is no longer a separate priesthood, we are all a royal priesthood as we are told in 1 Peter 2:9.

Marc Roby: Alright, you said that there were three main changes, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third thing that has changed is that we no longer live under the same civil government. God had given the Israelites a number of civil laws when they lived in a theocracy and, while those laws certainly reflect God’s nature and how he wants us to live, we are no longer bound by them and the punishments prescribed by them. In fact, as Paul clearly tells us in Romans 13:1-2, we are bound to keep the laws of the civil government in the place where we live so long as those laws do not tell us to sin[4]. And we would have to violate our civil laws to do some of the things commanded under the civil laws of the Jews in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: That is certainly true. Can you explain what these three significant changes in the lives of believers have to do with the question of whether or not the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: At one level they have nothing to do with it, since God is who he is. But, the point I was preparing to make is that because of these three changes, some people have jettisoned the Old Testament, thinking that it is no longer relevant. The truth is that God has not changed at all and so the Old Testament is absolutely relevant today.

We do consciously reject the ceremonial laws, which served the purpose of pointing forward to Christ and were abrogated when he came, but the principles they elucidated are still important. In a similar manner, we are not bound by the civil laws that were in place at that time, although they also inform us about what is important in God’s sight. But the moral law, which the Old Testament summarizes by the Ten Commandments, is still every bit as applicable to Christians today as it was to believers in the Old Testament. And God is every bit as angry with sin and wrathful toward it today as he was during Old Testament times, and he was every bit as gracious in the Old Testament times as he is today. Those things have not changed.

Marc Roby: In fact, you pointed out at the end of Session 54 that in Revelation 6:16 the wrath of God is actually called the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is Jesus Christ himself who has prepared hell for the devil, his demons, and all who follow him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. If you think that Jesus was always smiling and nice to everyone, you should read the New Testament all the way through and it will disabuse you of that false idea. Just look at Matthew Chapter 23 where Jesus calls the teachers of the law and Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, snakes and vipers. He pronounces woes on them and asks, in Verse 33, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” In Matthew 7:23 he says how he will deal with false Christians, he says “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” The Greek word translated here as “evildoers” is ἀνομία, which literally means lawlessness, in other words, a person who does not keep the law. And the Old Testament moral law is referred to over and over again in the New Testament as being the law, there isn’t some entirely new law presented in the New Testament. Although Jesus Christ did expansively interpret the moral law in his Sermon on the Mount. But, never once did Jesus even hint, nor did any other New Testament author, that the moral law has been abrogated.

So, the conclusion is that God has not changed at all. That should be a great comfort to us as believers, and a great warning to all who have not yet surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think this is a good place to stop for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 59 (I changed “if” to “when” to be consistent with a modern way of phrasing his statement). Note:This book can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996

[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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 166-167

[4] See Acts 5:29 for the principle that we must respectfully disobey if commanded so sin.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the Doctrine of the Trinity. We are following the outline in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[1] which states that to firmly establish this doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. Now, we have shown that God exists in three persons and that each person is fully God. So, Dr. Spencer, I assume you want to begin by making the biblical case that there is only one God, is that right?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The fact that there is only one true and living God is an absolutely undeniable and consistent teaching of the Bible. And it has not been a controversial point either, so I don’t think we need to spend much time on it. But, there are some things it will be useful to point out.

In Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel we read about a teacher of the law asking Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” [2] And we read Jesus’ famous answer in Verses 29-31, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” I want to focus on the first thing Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Marc Roby: Well, it would be hard to be clearer than that, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think you can be any clearer than that. And Jesus was quoting the famous Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4. The word Shema is the first word of this verse in the Hebrew and means “hear”. It has been called the greatest confession of the Jewish faith and is recited daily by devout Jews even today. In fact, it is also recited at the climactic moment of the final prayer of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and traditionally as the last words before death.[3] But, there is also something very interesting to say about the Shema given that we are discussing the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: When it says “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, the Hebrew word translated here as “one” is echad, and James Boice says it “means not one in isolation but one in unity. In fact, the word is never used in the Hebrew Bible of a stark singular entity. It is the word used in speaking of one bunch of grapes, for example, or in saying that the people of Israel responded as one people.”[4] The same word is used in Genesis 2:24 where we are told “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” When it says “one flesh”, the Hebrew word translated as “one” is again echad.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting, God is one, but not, as Boice puts it, “a stark singular entity”. What other biblical evidence do we have for the fact that there is only one God.

Dr. Spencer: In Isaiah 45:5-6 God tells us, speaking through the prophet, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Marc Roby: That is again perfectly clear.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. There really is no doubt that the Bible reveals that there is one and only one God, the Creator of this universe. And as we labored to explain earlier, the fact that there is only one God does not in any way, shape or form contradict the fact that he exists in three persons. It also makes perfectly good sense that God exists in three persons when you consider his personal nature, God is love, but it doesn’t make sense to speak of love if there is only one person. Obviously, we can talk about loving ourselves, but that is not the deepest or truest sense of the word. God exists in three persons and those three persons have had perfect mutual love and fellowship for all eternity. God didn’t somehow become loving when he created this universe and the animate creatures that inhabit it.

Marc Roby: Well, it appears that we have now demonstrated all three of Grudem’s points: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. So, have we finished with the Doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. We’ve finished with making the biblical case in support of it, but I would like to add a couple of comments for those who really struggle with this.

There is a principle in science known as Occam’s razor, which says that all else being equal, we should always prefer the simpler of two competing theories. Now I happen to think this principle is a good one, but we need to be very careful to remember the “all else being equal” part. Whatever theory we choose must explain the observable facts. This is the Platonic idea that our theory must preserve the phenomena. The great English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once famously said that “The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, ‘Seek simplicity and distrust it.’”[5]

Marc Roby: That sounds like a good approach, things are not always simple, so we must be sure that a simple answer does, in fact, explain all the observable facts, as you noted.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an extremely important point. The truth of the matter is that the world we live in abounds with evidence of complicated phenomena. There is no doubt, for example, that Newton’s law of gravitation is simpler than the theory of general relativity; but, there is equally little doubt that Newton was wrong and the theory of relativity is either correct, or at least much closer to being correct. You can ignore some of the data and think that Newton had it completely right, but when you seek to explain all of the observable data, you find that Newton’s simple theory won’t work.

So it is with the Trinity. The Bible provides us with ample evidence that the doctrine is true, even though it is extremely difficult to understand. You can ignore some of the data, or twist and distort the data as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do, but you aren’t being honest in seeking to understand the data when you do that. The Word of God is too important to treat that way, we must seek to know the truth to the best of our abilities, even if it is beyond us to fully comprehend that truth.

Let me close with a statement that sums it up well. I want to be clear that this isn’t entirely original, I’m modifying a statement attributed to a Dr. South, which was quoted by the 19th-century theologian William Shedd. [6] Anyone who denies the doctrine of the Trinity will lose his soul, but anyone who tries to probe beyond what Scripture teaches may lose his mind.

Marc Roby: Now that is a good statement! And it reminds me of Psalm 131:1, where David declares that “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

Dr. Spencer: That is good counsel. There are some things that we either don’t have sufficient information to fully understand or are simply not capable of fully understanding. We are not called to believe anything that is truly contradictory, but it doesn’t follow that we should reject the truth of things we can’t fully understand. And in Deuteronomy 29:29 we are told that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Marc Roby: And I would say that a full understanding of the Trinity would certainly qualify as one of those secret things.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. So, I think we are now done with the Trinity.

Marc Roby: Great. What do you want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Before we move on, let me very briefly review what we have already covered. We are covering the topic of theology proper; in other words, the nature of God as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible. We noted that God’s attributes can be loosely divided into his incommunicable attributes, that is those which we do not share, and his communicable attributes, which are those we share to some degree.

We also noted what is called the simplicity of God; that is, that he cannot be thought of as an assemblage of parts. We should never think of any attribute of God in isolation, he is all of them, all of the time, in every relationship. God’s simplicity is also sometimes called his unity.[7] We also noted that we can only know what God chooses to reveal about himself and that we cannot relate to God as anything other than our Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is, I hasten to add, an extremely important point. We are not equals!

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not even close. The Creator/creature distinction is, as we’ve noted multiple times, critically important. I keep harping on this because the modern church has lost sight of this fact; if not in theory, then at least in practice. You see that by the casual and careless way most professing Christians approach worship and the Word of God.

In any event, continuing with our brief review, we started with God’s incommunicable attributes and discussed his aseity, which means his self-existence. Then, most recently, we discussed his triune nature, which we noted is sometimes not considered an attribute, but is part of the nature of God’s being.

Marc Roby: Alright, I assume we are going to go on to look at other incommunicable attributes. Which one do you want to discuss now?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at the unchangeableness of God, which is also called his immutability. This is an extremely important attribute and it should provide great comfort to the Christian. We can be absolutely certain that God’s promises are true and unchangeable and that he himself is unchangeably capable of fulfilling them.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort. And it is certainly taught in the Bible, which passage would you like to look at first?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s start with Numbers 23:19, where we read, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” These are obviously rhetorical questions, so the point is that when God speaks, he will also act. And when he makes a promise, he will fulfill it, because he is unchangeable.

Marc Roby: It is fascinating to note that it was the false prophet Balaam whom God used to speak those very words.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting point, and it is a demonstration of the fact that God is sovereign over all, even his enemies.

But, getting back to God’s immutability, we learn about it in many other places as well. In Psalm 33 for example we are given a clear contrast between the plans of men and the plans of God. In Verses 10-11 we read, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” In other words, God is unchangeable. His plans and his purposes stand firm.

We see a similar contrast in Psalm 102, this time the contrast is between the changeable nature of the inanimate creation and the immutability of God. In Verses 25-27 we read, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Marc Roby: That is hugely comforting. Our sun and earth will one day perish, but our God and his promises to us will not, which means that we will not!

Dr. Spencer: That is great comfort. We will spend eternity with God in a new heaven and a new earth. The Lord’s brother, James, speaks about the unchangeable nature of God as well. In James 1:17 he wrote that “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 God spoke through the Old Testament prophet Malachi saying, in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

Marc Roby: Hallelujah! We are not destroyed because God’s eternal purpose of saving a people for himself will not change.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it will not change. In Isaiah 14:24[8] the prophet tells us that “The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Which should be a great comfort to all who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But, God’s unchangeable nature is a double-edged sword; it is also true that God will not fail to punish the wicked who refuse to repent and trust in Christ. In fact, the verse I just read is really directed to that end. The next verses, Isaiah 14:25-27,[9] say, “‘I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.’ This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” When it says that his hand is stretched out, you should picture a hand raised up getting ready to strike.

Marc Roby: And no one can stand when God strikes, so that should be every bit as frightening to the unbeliever as it is comforting to the Christian.

Dr. Spencer: It should be. In Isaiah 40:6-8, the prophet wrote that “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

Marc Roby: And that, of course, is why we are doing this podcast. Because what the Word of God says does not change and is of eternal importance. Are we finished with looking at God’s immutability?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite, I have one more point to make. God’s immutability is a necessary consequence of his perfection. All change is either change for the better, or for the worse. For example, if your knowledge changes you either learned something new or you forget something. And if your moral purity changes you either become more pure or less pure. Therefore, if God is perfect, and the Bible clearly says that he is, for example in Psalm 18:30 and Matthew 5:48, then you can conclude that he cannot change. Because if he changes, it either means that he wasn’t perfect before and then somehow attained perfection, or he was perfect and now, having changed, he is no longer perfect. James Boice makes a similar argument in his Foundations of the Christian Faith[10] and so does Berkhof in his Systematic Theology.[11]

Marc Roby: That is an example of how all of God’s attributes work together in a consistent and complementary way to describe his being. Are we finished with God’s immutability now?

Dr. Spencer: We are finished with making the biblical case for it, but I want to consider some of the practical ways in which this attribute affects us and also answer some of the objections people raise to it.

Marc Roby: I think that will have to wait for our next session. In closing, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 231

[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] E.g., see https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-shema/

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 111

[5] From the Tarner Lectures, e.g., see https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/213548-the-aim-of-science-is-to-seek-the-simplest-explanations

[6] William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888, pg. 250

[7] Wayne Grudem, op. cit., pp 177-180

[8] In the audio version I reference Isaiah 14:14, which is an error (corrected 4/19/20)

[9] In the audio version I reference Isaiah 14:115-17, which is an error (corrected 4/19/20)

[10] Boice, op. cit., pg. 242

[11] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 58 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996)

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by examining why we should believe that the Bible is, in fact, the very Word of God.

Dr. Spencer, in Session 1 you argued that being an atheist is intellectually untenable and everyone should be concerned to know what the Bible says because it claims to be the Word of God. I’d like to spend some time today examining that claim. How can we know that the Bible is the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: We can know because the Bible claims to be just that, the Word of God.

Marc Roby: But isn’t that circular reasoning? You’re saying, in essence, that because the Bible is the Word of God, you believe it when it says it is the Word of God. Most people think circular reasoning is invalid. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: Let me defer answering that question for a moment. We need to establish an important principle first. Namely, that all human beings, whether we are aware of it or not, have some ultimate standard for determining what we believe to be true. Of course, we all have many different ways of determining if a particular statement is true.

For example, if you ask me whether or not some mathematical formula is correct, there are techniques I have learned that I would apply to determine whether or not I think the formula is right. And, if you ask me whether some theological statement is true or not, I would use different criteria to evaluate it.

But, independent of the many different ways we have for determining the truth or falsehood of a particular statement, we all have some ultimate standard to which all other standards or methods are subservient. And the really surprising thing is that when you sit down and consider the possibilities carefully, there are really only two possible ultimate standards; human reason, or divine revelation.

Marc Roby: Now when you say human reason, do you mean that each of us sets ourselves up as the ultimate standard?

Dr. Spencer: Not necessarily. When I say human reason, there are different possibilities. It may be that you have a particular person that you hold in such high regard that he or she is your ultimate standard, at least in a particular area. More commonly, it is human reason in the abstract that we hold as the ultimate standard. What I mean by that is that although we realize that any individual person is fallible and might be wrong, we may have faith that the collective wisdom of mankind can determine what is true, at least in the end. But, of course, it is hard to find a meaningful question for which all of humanity will agree on the answer. So, if human reason is your ultimate standard, you either have to go with certain individuals, or a majority opinion, or you must trust your own ability to decide which answer is right, those are your three choices.

Marc Roby: Sounds like the famous Greek saying, “Man is the measure of all things!”

Dr. Spencer: I think that expresses it fairly accurately. The other possible ultimate standard though is divine revelation. And if God, who is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable and perfect creator, chooses to reveal to us what he determines we need to know, then clearly that revelation should be our ultimate standard for truth.

Marc Roby: But, don’t we still have to use our reason to determine that we believe something to be divine revelation and to understand that revelation?

Dr. Spencer: Of course we do. We can’t escape the use of our reason, nor should we try to do so. God gave us our minds for a purpose and we must use them. The Bible is full of admonitions to use our minds. Perhaps the most famous is in Chapter 1 of the book of Isaiah, in verse 18 God tells his people, “Come now, let us reason together, … Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” [1] So, we must use our reason. In fact, we should apply our reason most carefully to the Word of God since it is the most important thing we can possibly think about.

But, our reason should not be our ultimate standard. Martin Luther made a distinction between the magisterial and ministerial uses of human reason.[2] The magisterial use of reason is to have it serve as the magistrate, or judge, presiding over God’s Word. In other words, it is to set up human reason as the ultimate standard. And that we should never do. Who are we to stand in judgement over the Word of God? The ministerial use of reason, on the other hand, is as a servant of God’s Word. The word minister comes from the Latin word for servant. So, the ministerial use of reason refers to our using our reason to understand and apply the Word of God properly.

But, there is a problem here, and the problem has to do with sin. Sin affects every aspect of our being, including our thinking. In our natural state, we are in rebellion against God and, because of that rebellion, we do not think correctly. Our fundamental problem is a moral problem, but it affects every aspect of our being. So, God must draw us to himself and change our hearts or we will not accept the truth presented to us in the Word of God.

Marc Roby: And that change happens when we are born again.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. There is a radical change that takes place, which changes our mind, our will and our affections. We are no longer in rebellion against God and we accept his Word as our ultimate standard for truth. Theologians talk about the internal witness of the Holy Spirit as being the greatest evidence we have. God opens our eyes so that when we read the Bible we see that it is true. It is true about things that we can verify in other ways, and it is also true in things that we can’t possibly verify. When I read in the Bible, for example, that there is no one who does not sin, I know that the statement is true. I don’t need to be able to examine the life of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live to be able to confirm the statement. I know it is true because God, who knows all things, has told me it is true.

Marc Roby: But, of course, it also is seen to be true in our own experience. I’ve certainly never met anyone who was perfect.

Dr. Spencer: Nor have I. So, we see that our own experience – when it is correctly understood – corroborates the truthfulness of what the Bible tells us, but the Bible is the ultimate standard, not my reason or my experience.

Marc Roby: And that brings us right back to my original question. We’ve taken a slight detour to discuss ultimate standards, but let me ask again, “Why should we believe the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God?” If you answer that you believe it because the Bible is your standard and it claims to be the Word of God, you are using circular reasoning. And we don’t want to engage in that kind of circular reasoning, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the truth is that we can’t avoid circular reasoning when it comes to justifying our ultimate standard. If I claim that human reason is the appropriate ultimate standard, how can I justify that position? I must use human reason to justify that choice. So, the reasoning is always going to be circular when we justify our ultimate standard precisely because we must use our ultimate standard to justify our ultimate standard.

Marc Roby: Can that ultimate standard be tested or verified to be true?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it absolutely can be tested. I believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, but that faith is buttressed to a huge degree by external evidence. I want to be clear that I am absolutely not saying that we must subject the Bible to external proofs in order to trust it as our standard. I am simply saying that it would be irrational to put your trust in a standard that was obviously wrong. But that is certainly not the case with the Bible. In fact, quite to the contrary, there is a massive amount of evidence to corroborate the truthfulness of the Bible, and we will get to some of that evidence in upcoming sessions.

But for now, I want to consider what the Bible itself says. If it is our ultimate standard, then it must be the ultimate source for all of our doctrines, including our doctrine about the Bible itself.

Marc Roby: And the Bible quite emphatically does assert that it alone is God’s word.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. The Bible claims from beginning to end, both implicitly and explicitly, to be the very Word of God. For example, the Old Testament uses the phrases “God said”, “The Lord says”, and similar statements over 3,800 times according to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[3], and these expressions are clearly an explicit claim to being, at least in part, the Word of God.

In addition, there are implicit claims. For example, in Genesis 1 we are told things about creation that no mere man could know unless God revealed them to him. Similarly, in Job 1 and Zechariah 3, to name just two places, we are told about events in heaven that no man on earth could possibly know about unless God revealed them to him.

Also, it is clear that Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament considered the Old Testament to be the infallible Word of God. For example, in John 10 we read about an exchange between Jesus and some Jews who gathered to hear him speak. In that exchange, Jesus said that he was one with the Father, and, as a result of that statement, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy. He then quoted from a psalm and, in the midst of the quote, made an interesting statement. He said, “and the Scripture cannot be broken”. The point he was making was that the Scripture, even the psalms, which are certainly not historical narrative, are infallible. In other words, he was saying that the Bible, in its entirety, is infallible. Not one word of it can fail to be true. So, when it speaks of future events, we can be certain that they will come to pass.

Marc Roby: I also think of Christ’s responses when Satan came to test him.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly one of the best examples. Jesus said “it is written” over and over and the clear implication of that statement was that since it had been written in the Scriptures, it was absolutely true and binding on all beings. Then again in Mark 14:49, when he was speaking to those who came to arrest him, Jesus said that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” We can also look at Matthew 26:56 where Jesus said that what had been happening had “all taken place [so] that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” And the gospel accounts are filled with examples, like Matthew 2, verses 15, 17 & 23, and many other places, where we are told that what happened with Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we have the most classic statement of all in 2 Timothy 3:16, where the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that verse is probably the first you think of. And, of course, Paul was speaking about the Old Testament there, since the New Testament had not yet been written. And the Greek word used there is θεόπνευστος (theo-pneustos), which is well translated by the NIV as “God-breathed”. The Scriptures were breathed out by God himself, no less than if he were speaking directly to us.

Marc Roby: And we also read in many places that the Holy Spirit is directly speaking in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. For example, in Acts 4:25, after Peter and John had been released from jail, they joined with the other disciples in prayer, and in that prayer they said to God, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’” Which is a clear statement that the Holy Spirit was the author of what was written by King David in Psalm 2. In fact, in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, although we don’t know precisely how the writers were “carried along”, it is clear that the Holy Spirit was somehow guiding the process and ensuring the infallibility of the result. The Holy Spirit is, ultimately, the author of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we have adduced a number of Scriptures to show that the Bible claims the Old Testament to be the very Word of God, but, what about the New Testament?

Dr. Spencer: We can also firmly establish that the New Testament is the Word of God. First, notice that, in John 14:25-26, Jesus told his disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” And, in John 16:13 he said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” So, we see that Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them.

Marc Roby: So, we again see that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And the apostle Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians Chapter Two. He tells his readers that he is speaking about the secret wisdom of God, and in verse 10 he says that “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Then, in verse 13 he says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”

Marc Roby: And we also know that the Spirit is also necessary for someone to be able to understand the Bible correctly.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In the very next verse, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul wrote that, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And the only people who have the Holy Spirit are those in whom God has done a radical inward work, what the Bible calls being born again. And in light of that fact, everyone should cry out to God with the plea of the tax collector in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Dr. Spencer: So true.

Marc Roby: What other evidence do we have that the New Testament claims to be the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would also look at 1 Thessalonians 2:13, where Paul, Silas and Timothy wrote, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” So, we see that the words these apostles spoke to the church, which certainly includes the letters we have, were the Word of God.

Also, a very important verse is 2 Peter 3:16, wherein the apostle Peter wrote specifically about the letters of the apostle Paul and said, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So, Peter clearly considered Paul’s letters to be Scripture.

Marc Roby: Alright. Let me ask you about a verse that is sometimes used to argue that Paul did not consider himself to be writing words that carry the same authority as God’s own words. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 he prefaces some remarks about marriage by saying, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord) …”, and then, in verse 12 he prefaces some other remarks by saying, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord) …”. How would you explain these remarks?

Dr. Spencer: I actually think these are excellent evidence that Paul’s writings are the inspired Word of God! If you look at the passage you will notice that in both sets of comments he uses imperatives, the word “must” appears several times. There is no difference in tone nor is any indication given that there is a difference in the authority of the two passages. All that the apostle is doing is noting in passing that the first comments dealt with an issue about which Jesus Christ himself had spoken while he was here on earth, while in the second instance Paul was dealing with a situation that Jesus had not explicitly addressed himself. Nevertheless, Paul spoke with equal authority both times. And, if you look at Chapter 14 of this first letter to the Corinthians, in verse 37 Paul wrote, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” Which is a pretty explicit claim to authority.

Marc Roby: Well, we are out of time for today, but I look forward to continuing this discussion next time.

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

[2] Noted in W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Crossway Books, 1984, pg. 36

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, pg. 50

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing with our summary of the Bible’s teaching.

In our last session, Dr. Spencer, you gave a very short outline of what the Bible teaches by quoting the answer to Question #3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

So, have we covered the Bible’s teaching about what man is to believe concerning God?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. The Catechism includes the gospel itself under the broad topic of what we are to believe concerning God. In other words, it includes all that we discussed last time, including the fact that man is sinful and can’t save himself, and that God has a plan to redeem some of his fallen creatures to spend eternity in his glorious presence. And that plan involved God sending his eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus Christ, to live a perfect sinless life and then offer himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all those who will put their trust in him.

That plan then becomes effectual in our individual lives when we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and trust in his saving work on the cross to redeem us from our sin. And it continues throughout life as God works with us to transform us to be more and more like Jesus.

Marc Roby: So, when the Catechism talks about what man is to believe concerning God, it is not referring to mere knowledge about God, it is talking about saving faith; which includes repentance and a personal commitment to Christ.

Dr. Spencer:  Right. In fact, if we don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ, we are disobeying God’s commands and further demonstrating our sinful rebellion. In Chapter 17 of the book of Acts, in verse 30, we read that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”[1] And, in 1 John 3:23 we read that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ”. And so, part of our duty as God’s creatures is to repent of our sins and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which means to abandon all trust in ourselves and to trust in Christ alone.

Marc Roby: Alright, that seems like a great segue to the second half of the Catechism’s answer, which says that the Bible teaches us what duty God requires of man, and you’re saying that part of that duty is to believe in Jesus Christ. What else are we duty-bound to do?

Dr. Spencer: When I quoted 1 John 3:23 a moment ago, I only gave you the first half of the verse, so let me give all of it now. It says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” This idea that we are to love one another is the biblical summary of God’s commandments as they relate to our relations with one another. Jesus himself, when asked what the greatest commandment in the law is replied, in Matthew 22:37-40, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Marc Roby: Let me stop you for a moment. It is interesting that 1 John 3:23, in giving us God’s commands for us, didn’t say anything about loving God.

Dr. Spencer: The idea of loving God is implicit in that verse since, as John labors to point out in the letter, and says explicitly in 1 John 5:3, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” Therefore, if we obey his command to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, we are demonstrating our love for God.

Marc Roby: Now that raises an issue that is very controversial in the modern church; this whole idea of obedience. As protestants, we believe that we are saved by grace alone, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: OK. But given that truth, many modern Christians say that obedience, while it may be nice, is not in any way necessary for a Christian. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond by first quoting a few representative Scriptures. In John 14:15 Jesus said that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And in John 14:23 Jesus said that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching”. Then, in the very next verse Christ states the case negatively by saying “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” In Luke 11:28 we read that Jesus said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Also, in Romans 1:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “Through him [meaning Jesus Christ] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

Marc Roby: I think it is safe to say that most modern Christians do not think of obedience and faith as being intimately linked.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. In fact, I’ve been told that the minute you say a true Christian must be obedient, or even that there must be a visible change in the person’s life, you are abandoning the Reformation principle of salvation by faith alone. But Romans 1:5, and many other Scriptures we can look at, make it abundantly clear that this is not the case. The reformers did not believe that you can be saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. The standard line about that is that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.

Marc Roby: 2 Corinthians 5:17 comes to my mind, which says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is one of the best verses. In fact, as you know, our senior pastor, Pastor Mathew, has pointed out that if you look at Ephesians 2:2 in the original Greek it speaks about those who have not been born again and it calls them sons of disobedience, while in 1 Peter 1:14, in talking about those who have been born again, it calls them children of obedience. So, when someone has been saved, they are transformed from being disobedient children to being obedient children. It is a manifestation of the fundamental change that has taken place.

If we are new creations, that must be evident. Ephesians 2:8-10 also come to mind. Verses 8 and 9 are very well known, they state that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And, when you stop there, the verses are consistent with the prevailing view that works are unnecessary. But, if you go on and read verse 10, it says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Now, if God has prepared good works for us to do, and we have been created in Christ Jesus to do them, it seems abundantly clear that doing these works is expected of us, and that is what the whole of the New Testament teaches.

Marc Roby: But, we must guard against the idea that our works are in any way meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: True. That is the distinction that we must uphold. The basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. And we become partakers of that righteousness by faith alone. But, the proof that we are truly saved, which means that we have been born again and are new creations in Christ Jesus, is that we do the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Our works are absolutely necessary to demonstrate that we have been born again. So, without works, we have no reasonable basis for making the claim to having been born again. But, our works are in no way at all meritorious.

Marc Roby: I think it would be good at this point to make completely clear exactly why our works can never be meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that’s a good idea. Our works can never be meritorious because, as I said in an earlier session, they are all tainted by sin and not perfect, and therefore, in-and-of themselves merit condemnation, not commendation. But, nevertheless, when someone has been born again and with a sincere heart desire to please God does what he requires in his Word, God graciously accepts that imperfect work.

Marc Roby: Much like a parent accepts a child’s attempt to do something that pleases them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are pleased when our young children learn to make their own bed, or clean their own room. We may still point out where their efforts were not up to standard, so that they can improve, but we are pleased with the effort. I think one of the best illustrations I’ve heard of this idea is the following: When a five-year old child draws a picture for us we may put it on the door of the fridge. And why do we do that? Is it because our five-year-old has produced a piece of art that has intrinsic merit as art? That certainly isn’t the case with any five-year-old I’ve ever come across. No, the reason we display it on the fridge is that it was an honest, but obviously imperfect, attempt by our child to draw something pleasing to us.

Marc Roby: We don’t want to run too far with the idea that flawed good works are acceptable to God though, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, of course not. If we do not make an honest attempt to give our best effort to God, then we should not think it will be accepted. Going back to our previous example, if a child is angry about something and grabs a crayon and scribbles something on the paper and tries to tell us it is a picture, we are not pleased. And we wouldn’t be pleased if a normal 15-year-old produced a drawing that looked like it was done by a 5-year-old either. We need to grow during our Christian life and our obedience should improve as we do so. And that growth should be evident to others.

Marc Roby: But, it matters where we start from doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Oh, absolutely it matters where we start. If someone who has been a profligate drunk and thief becomes a Christian, we expect radical change, but we don’t necessarily expect that person to be as outwardly conformed to God’s standard as someone who was a hard-working, honest and basically decent person before coming to faith. The standard for all of us is the same; we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is perfection. But, although no one achieves that goal in this life, we do start from different places and the rate of progress is not the same for everyone, nor is it completely consistent for anyone.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve established that works are important as proof of our salvation, so now let’s return to the answer in the WSC about what duty God requires of man. What exactly is that duty?

Dr. Spencer: Let me begin by quoting from the WSC again. The answer to question 39 states that “The duty which God requires of man, is obedience to his revealed will.”

Marc Roby: Even though we just discussed the necessity of good works for a Christian, I am still compelled to point out that the answer uses two words that modern people – even many who call themselves Christians – really don’t like; duty and obedience.

Dr. Spencer: Unfortunately, you’re right. But when we go back and consider who God is; namely, the eternal, self-existent creator of all things, and when we consider who we are; namely, sinful, rebellious creatures utterly dependent on him for everything, it is perfectly reasonable to speak of our duty and our obedience.

Marc Roby: Which brings us back to our need to have a proper understanding of who God is and who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And we are back to the conversation we had in our last session about what we can learn from Genesis 1:1. This fundamental distinction between the creator and the creature is so important. If we have that right, then the words duty and obedience make perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Right. So, our duty is obedience to the revealed will of God. Which begs the question, what is God’s revealed will?

Dr. Spencer: The answer that the Catechism gives is that God’s revealed will is his moral law, and it then goes on to say that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

Marc Roby: Well, we again have a problem with many modern professing Christians, don’t we? I mean, the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament and we are told in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” So, many modern professing Christians would say that the Old Testament Law no longer applies.

Dr. Spencer: I know many would say that, but they are wrong and they don’t get that idea from the Bible itself. When Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Christ is the end of the law, he did not mean that the law was being done away with. Rather, he meant that Christ was, as Pastor Mathew put it in his book on Romans, the goal of the law[2]. He was the one that the law pointed to. He alone kept it perfectly so that he could give his perfect righteousness to those who trust in him for their salvation.

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, wrote that “The design of the law was to lead people to Christ. The moral law was but for the searching of the wound, the ceremonial law for the shadowing forth of the remedy; but Christ is the end of both.”[3] The moral law of God shows us our sin and our need for a redeemer because we are incapable of keeping it ourselves. So, Christ kept it on behalf of all who will trust in him. In fact, in Matthew 5:17, Christ himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Marc Roby: In other words, as you said earlier, the basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. When we see our sin and need, and we renounce all trust in ourselves and place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith. Our sins are put in his account and his righteousness is put in our account.

Marc Roby: What is often called the double transaction, or double imputation.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 teaches it clearly, that verse says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing idea, that we become the righteousness of God. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think it would be good if you could summarize the main points we’ve covered about the duty God requires of us.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. First, it is absolutely clear from the Bible that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformation declared. It is the righteousness of Christ that saves us, not our own. But, here is where modern Christianity has gotten very far off the mark. It is equally clear from the Bible that we are not saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. Such a faith is, at best, mental assent. It is the faith of demons James tells us in James 2, and it will not save anyone. If we have been born again, then we are new creations in Christ Jesus and we will live differently. So, our good works are necessary proof of our salvation. Paul said, in Acts 26:20, that he “preached that [people] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Marc Roby: We will certainly return to these topics in more detail later, but I think that concludes our brief summary of the Bible’s teaching. I think I’ll close by quoting again the answer to Question three of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states it very well, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pp 125-131 (available on our Website: https://graceandglory.pub/)

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 6, pg. 354

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