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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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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. 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 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. 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] 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: 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 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 extremely important. 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 we 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 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 too. 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 14:14 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 14:15-17, 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 we you 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[8] and so does Berkhof in his Systematic Theology.[9]

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] Grudem, op. cit., pp 177-180

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

[9] 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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Marc Roby: We are continuing our study of theology today by considering the basic message of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer, in our last session, you presented some arguments for why you think it is important for everyone to understand what the Bible teaches. How would you summarize the Bible’s message in a sentence or two?

Dr. Spencer: The best short summary I know of is 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.”

But, of course, the Bible is not just a series of doctrinal statements and bare commands. It is also a historical document that teaches us about how God has interacted with his creation from the very beginning and it is in the course of giving us this history, which includes all sorts of fascinating true characters and stories and poetry and so on, that the Bible teaches us what we are to believe and what duty God requires of us.

Marc Roby: Let’s start with what we are to believe. Can you summarize that?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The Bible begins, in the first verse of Genesis Chapter 1, by saying “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1] That is perhaps the most important thing we need to know and the statement teaches us a lot. First of all, it teaches us that everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and so on, every inanimate object and every living thing, was created by God. We are just creatures, absolutely dependent on our creator for our existence.

Marc Roby: That certainly humbles man, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. This creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible and we must understand it to be able to please God. In Isaiah Chapter 42, verse 8, God tells us through the prophet, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” And we are also told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, we must grasp this creator/creature distinction.

The first line of the first chapter of the first book of John Calvin’s famous work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,[2] reads, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

Marc Roby: And, I might add, that the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. But, what else does the first verse teach us?

Dr. Spencer: The first three words, “In the beginning”, teach us two things; first, that all of creation had a beginning – before God’s creative work, the universe simply did not exist. And, secondly, God himself did not have a beginning, he is eternal.

Marc Roby: Let me stop you there for just a moment because you will hear people ask, who created God? I tend to think this is a nonsensical question, but what do you say?

Dr. Spencer: I would say, first of all, that there must be something, or someone, that is eternal. As we noted in our first session, if there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, nothing would exist now, because nothing comes out of nothing. But our universe does not appear in any way, shape or form to be eternal. It had a beginning. It does not at all follow logically however, that God must have had a beginning. In fact, as I said, something, or someone, must be eternal. In other words, to say that we are created by an eternal God does answer the question of where we came from, because the only question that needs answering is how our universe came into existence. The universe clearly had a beginning and, if natural laws are allowed to run their course uninterrupted, will have an end, so it needs to be explained. But, on the other hand, the question, “where did God come from”, or perhaps, “who created God”, is, as you noted, a meaningless question because God is the only eternal reality that exists.

Marc Roby: Exactly. What else can we learn from Genesis?

Dr. Spencer: For one thing, we learn that God exists in more than one person.

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term “person” is problematic, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that word is often a problem for people. When we think of a person, we think of a distinct human being, who has his own mind and will and who is not in any organic sense part of, or synonymous with, any other human being. But God, we learn through the teaching of the entire Bible, exists eternally in three persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And these three persons are not three separate gods, they are three persons that comprise one God. The word ‘person’ is, as you point out, often a stumbling block here.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly seen that to be the case. So, how do you deal with this perceived problem?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is critical to make the point that God is unique and we can’t expect any term that we borrow from other relationships to fit him perfectly. The important thing is that there is no contradiction in this doctrine. We are not, for example, saying that God is, at the same time and in exactly the same sense of the term, three persons and one person. We are, rather, saying that he is one God, who has eternally existed in three co-equal persons. We can’t really grasp this, but it is not a contradiction.

There is perfect love and fellowship within the godhead and that is why, when God made man in his own image, he made us in such a way that we need fellowship. We are all made, first and foremost, for fellowship with God himself, and secondly, for fellowship with each other.

Marc Roby: And, in terms of this fellowship, the relationship between a husband and a wife – which is under severe attack in our culture – is very special.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. In fact, God himself said that it is not good for man to be alone, and so he created us male and female. Men and women are obviously different, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually as well. We are complements – spelled with an ‘e’ – to each other. Together, a husband and wife, along with their children, are the closest we can come to understanding and reflecting the unity of the three persons in the godhead. We are all of equal value, neither men nor women are inherently superior to the other, but there are functional distinctions, just like there are within the godhead itself.

Marc Roby: So, we have established that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, and that he created all things. What else does it teach us?

Dr. Spencer: It also teaches us why God created. We may not be given an answer that is as full-orbed as we might like, but we are clearly told what we need to know, which is that God created all things for his own glory. For example, one of the best-known verses to express this idea is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” But there are many other verses we could cite as well. For example, in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, God is comforting his people and tells them that he will gather them from the four corners of the earth and in verse 7 God says that he will gather, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Finally, in Philippians 2, after describing the amazing humility of Christ in dying for our sins, Paul tells us, in verses 9-11, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And it isn’t just living beings that exist for God’s glory, the 19th Psalm famously opens with the line, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Over and over in the Bible we are told that God will not give his glory to another.

Marc Roby: That’s a huge disappointment to most people!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, if we’re honest, we all have a tendency to think that the world revolves around us. But the reality is that we are finite, dependent, weak, sinful creatures who haven’t been around all that long and exist only because of God’s mercy.

Marc Roby: And yet, sad-to-say, most of what passes for religion today revolves around how to make our life better. In other words, it is anthropocentric; man-centered.

Dr. Spencer: You’ve hit the nail on the head. But the Bible is very different, it is theocentric, or God-centered, from beginning to end.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve come across people who think it is somehow unseemly for God’s purpose in creating to be his own glory, how would you answer them?

Dr. Spencer: I think there are two things we need to understand about the fact that God created all things for his own glory. The first, is that creation does not in any way add to God’s glory. He doesn’t need us, or anything else in creation. He has had perfect fellowship within the godhead for all eternity and man has not been around very long, so the idea that he somehow needed us for fellowship or needed our worship is simply nonsensical.

The second thing we need to understand is that there is no better purpose for creation. If you think about God for even a moment, that he is the only eternal, infinite, independent, necessarily existent, absolutely holy, just, loving, merciful, and perfect being in existence, what purpose for creation could possibly be better than to make his own glory manifest? It will be to our eternal joy to be in his presence and to learn and experience more and more of him. So, so far from being unseemly, this is the best possible purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we are also told that God himself takes pleasure in his creation; for example, we read in Psalm 147 verse 11 that “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I like that verse. It is sometimes a bit surprising when you look at how badly sin has messed up this world, but God definitely derives pleasure from his creation, and I think that is why we also enjoy creating. We are made in God’s image, so we enjoy creating, whether it is painting, or writing, or making music, or whatever.

Marc Roby: That always amazes me to think that we have been created in God’s own image. What else does the Bible tell us about ourselves?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible teaches us that man was made perfect by God, but that he had the ability to disobey if he chose to. And, as we know, Adam did disobey God. I think this is the greatest mystery of all; it is called the mystery of iniquity. Why on earth would Adam and Eve, or Satan before them, disobey and rebel against God? They enjoyed perfect fellowship with him and lacked nothing, and yet Satan wanted to be God and fell from his exalted position, and then he led Adam and Eve into sin as well by tempting them with the prospect of being gods. And so, they sinned against God, which is called the fall. The result was exactly what God told them it would be; they immediately died spiritually – meaning that they lost fellowship with God – and they started to die physically – and eventually did die of course – and all of their posterity, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, inherited their sinful nature; in other words, we are fallen.

Marc Roby: And it is pretty easy to see the results in the morning newspaper, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. You don’t have to look too far. The reason we have keys to our houses and our cars, and passwords to our bank accounts and other things, the reason we have wars, prisons, death, sickness, all of it is caused by sin. The Bible teaches us that man is fallen and is at enmity with God and will be justly punished in hell unless something is done to redeem us. But, because we are sinful creatures, we cannot redeem ourselves.

Nothing I do is ever perfect. Even if I do something that is, in and of itself, a good thing, my motives and execution will not be perfect. So, there is absolutely nothing I can ever do to pay for my own sins. Everything I do is worthy of condemnation, not commendation. So, the idea that God will weigh my good and bad deeds on a balance at the end of my life and see whether or not the good outweighs the bad is based on a completely unbiblical understanding of the nature of man. I have no good deeds in the absolute sense, nor does anyone else.

Marc Roby: Isn’t it wonderful that God’s plan doesn’t end there?

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is wonderful beyond measure. We must praise God that there is more to the story. God chose to redeem a people for himself. Therefore, he sent his perfect Son, the second person of the holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, to live a perfect, sinless life, and then to offer himself on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement to pay for the sins of every person who will completely surrender all faith in himself and place his trust in Jesus Christ alone. That is the gospel.

Marc Roby: And the word gospel, of course, means ‘good news’… which it most definitely is. We’re just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I’ve obviously just given a bare-bones partial outline of what the Bible teaches, but I think it is important to point out that there is much more there and it includes a great deal of very practical information about how to live in a way that pleases God, which is also the best way to have a life filled with joy.

Marc Roby: What the apostle Peter called joy inexpressible and full of glory.

Dr. Spencer: Amen.

Marc Roby: That ends our time for today. Let me summarize what we have covered so far; we have seen that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, that he created all things, that he created for his own glory, that man fell by sinning against God, and that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem sinful men through faith in him.

Dr. Spencer: I think that sums it up.

Marc Roby: Great, I look forward to seeing you 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] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

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Marc Roby: We are beginning our study of theology today by considering why you should be interested in what the Word says.

Dr. Spencer, I’m guessing that at least some people are wondering about the title of this series, “What does the Word Say?” Why was that name chosen?

Dr. Spencer: That name was chosen because the purpose of these podcasts is to examine what God himself says we should believe and what he says about how we should live. But in order to know what God says, we need to turn to the Bible, which is the very Word of God. Therefore, the name is short for “What Does the Word of God Say?”, which is equivalent to asking, “What Does the Bible Say”. In other words, these podcasts are going to cover systematic theology, which is simply the study of what the entire Word of God says about any particular subject.

Marc Roby: For a lot of people today the Bible doesn’t seem particularly relevant. Why should they care about what the Bible says?

There are several answers that could be given to that question. Some people, of course, would say that the Bible is only of interest because it is great literature and there are many allusions to it in modern literature, art, and even in our language. For example, when we say that the writing is on the wall, or that there is a fly in the ointment, or we tell someone to go the extra mile, these expressions all come from the Bible.

Marc Roby: And so many universities have a course called “The Bible as literature”, or something similar.

Dr. Spencer: Right. But, there is also a far more important reason why everyone should be concerned about what the Bible says. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. It tells us that in the beginning God created this universe, including all living beings, and it tells us that in our natural state we are estranged from him and, therefore, we need to be reconciled to him. It also tells us that there is an eternal heaven and an eternal hell, and it tells us that so long as we remain estranged from God we are headed for hell. But, praise God, it also tells us what we need to do to be saved; in other words, to be reconciled to God and admitted into heaven.

Marc Roby: I agree that this is of the utmost importance, but a lot of people are going to say that the Bible has been outdated by what we now know to be true from science. I mean… scientists now say that the universe started with the big bang, a little less than 14 billion years ago, and all living beings are the result of natural processes—evolution. So, many people would argue, we don’t really need God anymore, do we?

Dr. Spencer: I think we absolutely do need God to explain the universe. In fact, I think that modern science provides us with tremendous evidence for the existence of God. I’m not saying that you can prove the existence of God, or that true saving faith is founded on external evidence, but I am saying two things: First, true biblical saving faith is perfectly consistent with a proper understanding of modern science, and, secondly, atheism is not.

In fact, it is hard for me to understand how an intelligent, well educated person can be an atheist given all that we now know about this universe and about life. I just don’t think it is intellectually tenable to be an atheist any more, it takes far more faith than I have.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: I say that for a number of reasons, but the four most important are: First, that without God you simply cannot explain the existence of this universe. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now. There is a Latin phrase that expresses this basic tenet of philosophy, ex nihilo, nihil fit, which simply means, out of nothing, nothing comes. And since we have very strong evidence that this universe is not eternal, but had a beginning, the obvious question is, where did it come from? And the answer is that there must be something, or someone, who is eternal and who created this universe.

Marc Roby: I always find it interesting that most people want something to be eternal, not someone. What’s your second reason?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason I have for saying that I don’t find atheism to be intellectually tenable is that it is essentially impossible for life to be created by purely random processes. We now know enough about the nature of living organisms to be able to calculate some of the relevant probabilities, and the numbers are staggering. Let me just give a very quick summary. Proteins are the building blocks of life, and proteins are made up of a sequence of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that comprise proteins, but an unimaginably small percentage of the possible combinations form functional proteins. For example, a relatively small protein might comprise a sequence about 150 amino acids long, and roughly only one sequence out of every 10164 sequences forms a functional protein.[1]

Marc Roby: 10 to the 164th power is meaningless to most of us non-scientist types…

Dr. Spencer: Trust me Marc, that number is very hard for engineers and scientists to grasp too, but let me try to explain it. First, 10 to the 164th power means a one followed by 164 zeros. As one example, the odds of winning the Powerball lottery on any given ticket are about one in 292 million, so getting a working 150-amino-acid-long protein by a random combination of these 20 amino acids is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 19 times in a row when buying just one ticket each time. (see Note 1 at the end of this file for the math)

Marc Roby: That certainly is unlikely, but given billions of years and all the possible planets in the universe doesn’t it in fact become quite likely?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. First, generating a single functional protein is a long way from having a living organism. It is estimated that the simplest possible living cell would require at least 250 proteins. If we ignore for the moment that these would have to be 250 very specific proteins – which is a lot to ignore by the way – and just ask how likely it is to get any 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids, we have to multiply that number, 10164, by itself 250 times. The result is that we have one chance in 1041,000 of getting those 250 proteins! That number is a one followed by 41,000 zeros!

Marc Roby: OK – now that number is truly incomprehensible. Can you do anything to put it into perspective?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t know if it’s possible to put a number that large in perspective, but I’ll do the best I can. Scientists have estimated that there are about 1080 electrons, protons and neutrons in the visible universe.[2] This number is unimaginably larger than that. So, finding one particular electron out of all the subatomic particles in our universe would be massively more likely than this.

Marc Roby: That’s a little hard to wrap your mind around when you look out at the night sky and try to think of all the protons, neutrons and electrons present. And you’re saying it is vastly more likely to find one particular electron out of all of those than it is to get 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids.

Dr. Spencer: Right; and not only is it more likely, but the comparison is so far off I hesitate to give it because it is misleading, but it is hard to come up with examples that are not misleading. In fact, if we have 1080 universes each with 1080 particles, we would only have a total of 10160 particles, so it would still be unimaginably more likely to find one specific electron out of all the electrons, protons and neutrons in those 1080 universes than it would be to get 250 functional proteins by random combinations of amino acids! Or, perhaps it will help some people to point out that one chance in 1041,000 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. (See Note 2 at the end of this file for the math)

Marc Roby: Now you’ve gone completely past the bounds of my imagination.

Dr. Spencer: And mine as well. To talk about these kinds of numbers at all gets very hard when you can’t see them written out, even for those who like math and work with large numbers a lot. So, for those who are interested, there is more information available if you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and look at the transcript for this session. But for our purposes today I’ll just note that this number is so insanely large that if we increase the number of universes by a trillion, trillion, and increase the number of planets in each universe by a trillion, trillion, and make each universe a trillion, trillion times older, we don’t change the overall probability of generating the proteins needed for a single living cell by random combinations of amino acids by enough to even bother mentioning. (See Note 3 at the end of this file for the math)

So, people should not be swayed when someone says that there may be billions, or even trillions, of inhabitable planets out there, it simply doesn’t help.

Marc Roby: I must admit I didn’t know just how improbable it is to have life arise by chance… like impossible! And you even have a third reason why atheism is unreasonable?

Dr. Spencer: The third reason is similar to the second. We’ve been talking about just one cell, but it takes an enormous amount of information to build a living being, much of which is needed to describe how to make the proteins, but there are other things as well. That information is stored in the DNA. Now, I believe there is plenty of evidence to support the idea of micro evolution; that is, for example, that bacteria can evolve into anti-bacterial resistant strains, or horses can evolve into different kinds of horses.

But the idea of macro evolution, that all living organisms evolved from some prototypical life form by natural processes is, again, impossible for me to believe. There is a vast gulf between horses changing size or color or how hairy they are, which just involves changes to existing characteristics, and saying that the horse is directly related to the horsefly biting his neck. The horsefly has an entirely different body plan with different complex structures, like wings. There simply is no reasonable chance of both of them evolving from the same ancestor by undirected natural processes.

Marc Roby: We probably don’t even need a fourth reason to put the lie to atheism, but let’s hear it.

Dr. Spencer: The fourth reason is the impossibility of explaining the existence of volitional creatures like you and me.

Marc Roby: And, by “volitional” you just mean creatures that make real decisions, right?

Dr. Spencer: Right. If there is no God, and no such thing as a spirit, then this universe is simply matter and energy under the rule of physical laws.

Now I don’t have any problem believing that the behavior of a fly, for example, can be explained in a purely materialistic way. The behavior of creatures as simple as flies can be understood as purely instinctive. But when it comes to being able to make real choices, you have a serious problem to overcome if you assume the world is limited to mass, energy and the physical laws of our universe.

All physical laws are either purely deterministic or random. Deterministic laws are like Newton’s laws, which govern, for example, the movements of billiard balls when you strike them. Randomness comes in because of quantum-mechanical effects, for example, the decay of radioactive substances is a random process. But neither deterministic laws nor randomness, nor any combination of them, can account for a being that makes real free-will decisions.[3]

Marc Roby: I see what you mean when you say that atheism is intellectually untenable. But this leads me to ask you an important question… does atheism’s failure prove the existence of God? Is that the basis for our faith?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly, any argument against an atheistic worldview is also an argument in favor a theistic worldview, but these arguments are absolutely not the basis for our faith. I don’t believe that you can prove the existence of God in any formal sense of the word proof.

But, at the same time I want to emphasize what the Bible itself declares, which is that what we observe in nature is sufficient for us to know that God exists. In the book of Romans Chapter 1, verse 20, the apostle Paul wrote that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”[4] He says that men suppress this truth and exchange the truth for a lie because they are in rebellion against God and his rule. In our natural state, we do not want God. We want to live as though we are the ultimate authority and judge.

Marc Roby: I’ve noticed that. So, what do these arguments accomplish?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would say that these kinds of arguments accomplish two things: First, they help to strengthen the faith of true believers by showing our faith to be completely rational and reasonable. Second, for unbelievers, they help to bring to the fore their suppression of the truth that they know.

But, I’ll say again that these arguments are not the basis for true saving faith. Anyone who “comes to faith” by virtue of such arguments alone has at best an intellectual assent, not true saving faith. In the book of James, Chapter 2, verse 19, he tells us that even the demons believe there is a God and shudder.

The only foundation for our faith is the truth of the gospel, that Jesus Christ died for sinners, such as us, and that if we will repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved.

Marc Roby: That’s a perfect place to stop for today. I think you’ve provided some very sound reasons for why all people should be interested in finding out what the Word of God says.

 

Extra material for those who want to see some math:

Note 1: Dr. Spencer said that one chance in 10164 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 19 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. Here is how you can calculate this number:

The probability of winning the Powerball lottery on any one ticket is about 1 in 292 million[5], or, if we call that probability p we have

Similarly, one chance in 10164 yields a probability of

If you have N attempts at the lottery, your probability of winning every time is the product of the probabilities; that is,

Finally, we set these probabilities equal and solve:

Taking the base-10 logarithm of both sides yields

 

Note 2: Dr. Spencer said that one chance in 1041,000 is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery 4,842 times in a row buying just one ticket each time. Here is how you can calculate this number:

We again have the probability of winning the Powerball lottery on any one ticket is about 1 in 292 million, or, if we call that probability p we have

Similarly, one chance in 1041,000 yields a probability of

If you have N attempts at the lottery, your probability of winning every time is the product of the probabilities; that is,

Finally, we set these probabilities equal and solve:

Taking the base-10 logarithm of both sides yields

Note 3: Here is another way of thinking about this. If you take all of the electrons, protons and neutrons in the observable universe and let them interact as fast as it is physically possible for them to interact , and let them do that for 15 billion years  – roughly what we think the age of the universe to be – you have less than 10141 possible interactions (, where the number of seconds has been rounded up to 1018). This number has been called the probabilistic resources of the universe.[6]

Given that many combinations, which is obviously way more chances than we have for amino acids to combine, you can ask how likely it would be to get the 250 functional proteins. All you do is subtract 141 from 41,000, so your chance is now one in 1040,859 of creating 250 functional proteins. In other words, having that many chances doesn’t appreciably increase the odds at all. In fact, let’s get really ridiculous here, and give ourselves way more chances; remember that a trillion is a million millions, which is 1012, or a 1 followed by 12 zeros. Now, if you have a trillion universes and each one of them has a trillion times more particles than ours, and each one is a trillion times older than ours, the number of interactions only increases by 1012 times 1012 times 1012, which is 1036, so instead of subtracting 141 from 41,000 we now subtract 141 + 36 = 177 from 41,000, so the chance of getting the 250 proteins with this many tries is one in 1040,823, which is really not much different at all. In fact, you can increase the number of universes by trillions of trillions many times over and make them trillions of trillions of times larger and trillions of trillions of times older and the chances will not change by an appreciable amount. I know these numbers are insane, but the point is that even though we can’t say the probability is zero, it is so small that no rational person should believe it.

That is why many modern scientists believe that there are potentially an infinite number of universes. You need an infinite number of attempts to make this seem at all plausible!

 

[1] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, Harper One, 2009, pp 204-213

[2] See, for example, “Is the Total Number of Particles in the Universe Stable Over Long Periods of Time?”, Frank Heile (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/is-the-total-number-of-pa_b_4987369.html)

[3] This argument is also made in the excellent and thought-provoking book Modern Physics and Ancient Fatih, by Stephen Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003

[4] 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.™.

[5] That number was taken from their official website (http://www.lotteryusa.com/powerball/) on February 14, 2017

[6] See Meyer, Signature in the Cell, again; pages 216-217 (although his number is smaller because he rounds the number of seconds in the age of the universe down, rather than up)

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