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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our last session we introduced three views about the fundamental nature of man: monism, which means that man consists of just his physical body – this is a materialistic view of man; then dichotomy, which means that man has both a physical body and a spirit; and finally, trichotomy, which means that man has a body, soul and spirit, where the spirit and soul are considered to be separate entities. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to begin our examination of this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last time I noted that the fact that man is a volitional creature argues persuasively against monism and I said we wouldn’t consider that further. But I’ve reconsidered that and would like to at least briefly present a case to show that monism is also antithetical to biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: Well, it would certainly seem to not agree with Genesis 2:7, where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [1] This verse at least strongly implies that there is an immaterial part to man.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And I think a rock-solid case can be made by pointing out that the Bible clearly teaches us that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die. For example, when Christ was crucified there were two thieves crucified with him. One of those thieves was saved even while he was hanging on the cross dying and in Luke 23:42-43 we read that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus graciously replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Marc Roby: What amazing grace. We should probably point out that the thief had demonstrated his repentance and faith when he rebuked the other thief. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to mock Christ, this thief, now saved by grace, said to him, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” So, he was saved the same way we all are, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And faith is always accompanied by repentance.

Dr. Spencer: That is the gospel in all of its glorious simplicity. But the point I wanted to make from this is that both Jesus and the thief were dying or, to be more precise, their physical bodies were dying, and yet Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” I think that is pretty clear evidence that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die.

Marc Roby: What Paul wrote to the church in Philippi also comes to mind. In Philippians 1:21-23 he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”.

Dr. Spencer: That is also very clear evidence. Paul did not think that his physical death would be the end of him. There are a number of other verses we could cite, but I think that is enough. The clear teaching of the Bible is that our soul lives on after our body is destroyed. But there is still more that we can learn from these verses.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: We can learn something about the natures of our physical body and spirit. Jesus told the thief “you will be with me in paradise”. He didn’t just say that the thief’s spirit would be with him. And Paul thought that when he died, he would be with Jesus, not just his spirit. And it is very interesting that he said, “if I am to go on living in the body”. It clearly shows that the body is not the most important thing. It is a physical vessel for our spirit. If you think about that for a minute it seems clear that our spirits are what make us who we are, they are the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality. Our physical bodies are houses for our spirits. Our bodies cannot exist independently, but our spirits can.

Marc Roby: That is interesting. But we want to avoid going too far with that idea. The ancient Greeks thought that the body was evil and the spirit was good. They envisioned the body as sort of a prison for the spirit and thought that death freed the spirit from that prison.

Dr. Spencer: And we do want to avoid that extreme. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who is well-known to all junior-high math students because of the Pythagorean theorem, was one of the philosophers that taught that view. And not only did they consider the soul good, they considered it divine. This view came from a religion called Orphism, which also taught that our souls go through reincarnation until they are sufficiently purified to return to the divine realm.[2]

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously similar to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound very similar to them. But the Christian view, or we should say the biblical view, is that both the body and soul were created good. They have both been corrupted by sin, which is most obviously evident in our physical bodies by the facts that we all get sick and we age and die. But it is also evident in our souls, or spirits. It shows up in our corrupt thinking, especially about God and eternal realities, and it shows up in all of the sinful human emotions and thoughts which plague mankind; selfishness, greed, lust, deceitfulness, arrogance, hatred and so on.

Marc Roby: Sadly, I have to agree that the corruption of sin is all too evident.

Dr. Spencer: And you can’t separate us from our bodies without loss. Our bodies are vessels for our spirits, but they are still important. In fact, we want to be careful and not imply that you can separate our bodies from our souls without changing who we are to some degree. Clearly our emotions are affected by, and have an effect upon, our bodies. We see, hear, feel, taste and smell and these all have an effect upon our emotions.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. It would seem impossible to take away our bodies without significantly impacting who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Our bodies are part of who we are as human beings. Which is why, when God redeems us, he redeems us body and soul. Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 we read, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And when Paul speaks about the body that is sown, he is using an agricultural metaphor and is comparing the burial of a body to sowing a crop.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, as Paul says, that body is raised as a spiritual body. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on this now, but let me just quickly say that by calling it a “spiritual body” Paul is not saying it is immaterial. Our final eternal state will be with our resurrected bodies and they will be physical bodies, although different from the ones we have now. The condition where our spirit lives without our body after death is a temporary condition.

Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20-21 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful destiny to look forward to. And I think we have reasonably established that monism is unbiblical and, therefore, unchristian. What do you want to say about dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by stating that a truly born-again Christian can believe in either dichotomy or trichotomy. This is not an essential doctrine. In fact, while I think that the proper biblical doctrine is dichotomy, I do have some sympathy for trichotomy. Although, in some sense I think we get into an issue of semantics as we will see and, in addition, we get into some things that we simply don’t fully understand and about which the Bible does not supply us with answers.

Marc Roby: And it is never wise to be dogmatic on any doctrine about which the Bible is not clear.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t be wise at all. But with that caveat stated, I do think the biblical teaching is clearly that man is made up of two, and only two, parts. Our physical bodies and our immaterial spirit or soul. We see this dichotomy in many places in the Bible. For example, right after telling us that God will be our Father and we will be his sons and daughters, Paul concludes, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, by saying, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” He only lists two elements here, body and spirit, and that is a common theme throughout the Bible.

Marc Roby: In fact, the words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives a couple of very good examples I’d like to share.[3] First, he notes that “in John 12:27, Jesus says, ‘Now is my soul troubled,’[4] whereas in a very similar context in the next chapter John says that Jesus was ‘troubled in spirit’ (John 13:21).”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good example. What is the second one you want to share?

Dr. Spencer: It comes from the virgin Mary’s song of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. We read in Luke 1:46-47 that she began by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Grudem points out that this is a clear example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism, wherein the same idea is repeated using different words. We discussed synonymous parallelism in Session 42 when we were going through hermeneutics. But it is a clear example to show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms.

Marc Roby: Yes, that whole song is a beautiful poem of praise and these first two verses do clearly show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms. It also makes me think of a similar Old Testament example. In Job 7:11 we read, “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” This verse also uses synonymous parallelism and again establishes that soul and spirit are used interchangeably.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem also points out a number of other ways in which the terms are used interchangeably. For example, when someone dies, we will sometimes read about their soul departing, but in other cases we read about the spirit leaving.

In Genesis 35 we read about the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel while she was giving birth to Benjamin. In Verse 18 we read, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying)” (ESV). But in John 19:30 we read about Jesus’ death, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” So, Rachel’s death is described as her soul departing, but Jesus’ death is described by saying he gave up his spirit.

Marc Roby: I noticed that you quoted the English Standard Version for Genesis 35:18, rather the the 1984 NIV that we usually use.

Dr. Spencer: I did that because the NIV translated the phrase, “As she breathed her last”, rather than “as her soul was departing”. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word used there is translated that way. The translation accurately represents the meaning of course, but is not true to the original.

Marc Roby: And I prefer the sound of “as her soul was departing”.

Dr. Spencer: And so do I. The Hebrew word used there, nephesh, is used 757 times in the Old Testament.[5] The NIV translates it as life 129 times, as soul 105 times and then with an astonishing collection of words for the other 523 times, including 5 times using the word spirit and 16 times using the word heart.

I point all of this out because it illustrates that the words for soul and spirit have a broad range of meanings as we will discuss more later. But, in general, this word refers to the essence of life. It is, for example, the word used in Genesis 2:7, which we’ve looked at before. We read there, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” When it says that “man became a living being”, the same Hebrew word, nephesh, is being translated as “being”. Both the King James and the American Standard versions, say “man became a living soul.”

Marc Roby: That does make it clear that this word is related to the essence of life. Which even in modern English is sometimes referred to as a man’s spirit, or soul, or heart.

Dr. Spencer: We do use those same words. But the main point Grudem makes here is that you never once see the Bible say that a person’s “soul and spirit departed”, or anything like that.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is pretty clear evidence that they are synonymous terms.

Dr. Spencer: And there’s a lot more. Grudem also points out man is sometimes referred to as “body and soul” and sometimes as “body and spirit”, when the clear intent of the passage is to represent the entirety of the man; in other words, both his material and immaterial parts.

So, for example, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus commands us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Clearly by referring to “soul and body”, Jesus means the whole person. And then, when the apostle Paul commanded the church in Corinth to excommunicate a man, we read in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” I have again quoted from the ESV because it makes the contrast between the flesh, or we could say the body, and the spirit clear. That contrast is lost in the NIV, but is present in the original Greek.

Marc Roby: I think you’ve made a reasonably strong case for dichotomy being taught in the Bible. Is there more to say?

Dr. Spencer: There are a couple of more topics to consider before we move on to examine the biblical case made by those who believe in trichotomy. But before we move on to look at them, I want to remind our listeners what we mean by spirit or soul.

Last time I quoted the theologian Charles Hodge and I’d like to repeat a portion of the quote I read then. As I read this, I want our listeners to think of spirit or soul every time Hodge uses just the word spirit. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit.”[6]

Marc Roby: He says that the spirit, or soul, is the seat of three things then: our ability to reason, our moral nature, and our free will.

Dr. Spencer: And these agree with an argument I made last time. Namely, that if you assume a materialist’s view of man, then we are just atoms in motion obeying the laws of physics, and you cannot explain volition, or free will. And you can take that argument further. Since you can’t explain volition, you really can’t explain reason in any meaningful sense of the term.

A purely materialistic view of man could certainly allow for some kind of very sophisticated reflex responses and even reflex responses that have been adapted over time, which could present fairly complex patterns of behavior. But you would never cross the threshold into having what most of us mean when we talk about reason. Adaptive machines can do many things, but they can’t really think in any meaningful sense of that term.

Marc Roby: I can imagine that it would be very difficult to precisely define the dividing line between the behavior that a very sophisticated adaptive system could exhibit and the behavior necessary to infer real intelligent reasoning.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very hard to do indeed. People have tried to define what is required to establish intelligent behavior, like the famous Turing test,[7] but I really don’t want to get into that now, so I will leave it deliberately vague.

Marc Roby: OK. You’ve mentioned free will and reasoning. By referring to our conscience Hodge also noted our moral nature. What about that?

Dr. Spencer: In order to be moral creatures, there must be some ultimate standard for morality by which we are to be judged. Otherwise, all we are really talking about is our own personal ideas of right and wrong, and no one person’s ideas are any more worthy than any other person’s ideas.

The only possible source for an absolute moral standard is God. So, if you have a purely materialistic view of man, which involves rejecting God, you also have lost any possibility for an objective moral standard. In that case, Hodge’s reference to our conscience would be meaningless. It could, at best, refer to our personal ideas of what is right or wrong.

Marc Roby: OK, so we’ve established that three essential attributes of a spirit or soul are an ability to reason, a conscience and free will.

I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 60

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 473-474

[4] Grudem quotes from the ESV here. The NIV uses the word heart instead of soul, but the original Greek has the word soul (ψυχή).

[5] The numbers given here come from: Edward Goodrick & John Kohlenberger, The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 1546

[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[7] For a brief introduction, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we were discussing the question, “Why did God make man?” I think it would be good to give a brief summary of how we answered that question to set the stage for our discussion today.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, please do.

Marc Roby: Alright. We first presented the biblical answer to the question, which is that God made us for his own glory. And we then noted that we glorify God by obeying him, as Christ himself said in John 17:4. We also discussed the fact that as Christians we can have great joy even in times of suffering and that the Bible commands us to test ourselves to see if we are truly saved. Finally, we started to examine the first letter written by the apostle John to see how we are to test ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And I quoted from the Rev. P.G. Mathew’s commentary on First John, which says that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[1] We then dealt with the first of these, the doctrinal test.

Marc Roby: Although we didn’t give an exhaustive test of essential doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: Nor did the apostle John. He just gave some examples of the most important doctrines, like the full deity and humanity of Christ and the sinfulness of man.

Marc Roby: And, at the end of the session, you also mentioned Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection as essential doctrines.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. In 1 John 2:2 we read that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”[2]

Marc Roby: We probably need to point out that this verse does not lend any support to the heretical idea that all people will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t support the idea of universal salvation at all. You have to read the verse carefully and interpret it in light of the clear teaching of all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: Which is the first rule of hermeneutics; that we must use Scripture itself to understand Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And for interested listeners, we covered hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation, back in Sessions 39 through 48.

Marc Roby: I think it would also be good to point out that there is a topical index available, as well as a scripture index and an index of all references used in these podcasts. So our listeners can find where we have discussed different topics or verses in the Bible. These indexes are all available on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good reminder. And now, betting back to 1 John 2:2, notice exactly what John says in the verse. He first says that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins”, which is addressed to the original recipients of this letter. He was assuming that they were Christians, although I’m certain he was aware that non-Christians would read his letter too, so you don’t want to make too much of that point. He just didn’t want to take the time in this spot to spell out exactly who was included in the statement.

Marc Roby: Yes, our writing and speech would be pretty cumbersome if we always explained every possible exception or precisely defined every general statement.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very tiresome indeed. In any event, he then goes on to say that not only did Christ provide the atoning sacrifice for the recipients of this letter, but also, “for the sins of the whole world.”

When you see the contrast he is making you realize it isn’t at all necessary to assume that he means every single person in the world without exception. The statement makes perfectly good sense if all he had in mind were all believers everywhere, in contrast to the smaller group of believers to whom he was writing. And when you look at the rest of the Bible, it is abundantly obvious that not everyone will be saved.

Marc Roby: There is no doubt about that fact when you look at the whole Bible. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus tells us he will separate the people into two groups and in Verse 41 we read, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a terrifying verse, and it certainly shows that not everyone will be saved. I’ll cite just one more example to solidify this point. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus told us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Marc Roby: That’s another sobering verse. So the first test to know whether or not we are saved is doctrinal. If we don’t agree with the clear teachings of the Bible, we have no basis for believing we are saved.

Dr. Spencer: And in order to agree with the Bible, we must obviously know what it says. Therefore, being biblically illiterate is not an option for a true Christian.

Marc Roby: And I would say that anyone who has been born again will have a desire to read the word of God.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but let’s move on with examining John’s letter. The second kind of test John gives is moral. For example, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

I don’t know how John could have made this any clearer. The modern idea that we can have Jesus as Savior without having him as Lord; in other words, that I can be saved without any obedience, is completely contrary to the teaching of the apostle in these verses.

Marc Roby: And he was very politically incorrect in how he stated it. He says that anyone who claims to know Jesus Christ, by which he obviously means to know him as Savior, but does not obey him, he’s a liar. In other words, he is not saved.

Dr. Spencer: It goes against the grain in our culture, but our testimony about ourselves is of no value on the day of judgment. Our self-esteem and our self-evaluation will not matter. All that will matter is what Jesus says about us. If he says, “This one is mine, I died for his sins”, then we will be saved. If he says, “depart from me, I never knew you”, then we will be eternally dammed. There is no way to soft-pedal the true gospel. We do not earn our salvation nor do we, or could we, pay for it in any way. But, at the same time, the basic confession of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord, which implies that I am his bond slave. In other words, my salvation costs everything I am and have.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted in Session 95, Jesus provides the example for us to follow. We are to be conformed to his image. And John explicitly uses this as one of his moral tests. He wrote, in 1 John 2:5-6, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

Dr. Spencer: I love the biblical imagery of walking. It is far more descriptive than to say we should live like Jesus did. It implies effort and motion, taking one step after another. And the apostle Paul uses the same imagery. For example, in Ephesians 2:1-2 he wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live”. In the Greek it actually says “in which then you walked”.  The Greek word is περιπατέω (peripateō), which is the origin of our word peripatetic.

Marc Roby: And Paul uses the same word again in Ephesians 2:10. Let me quote it from the English Standard Version since it gives a more literal rendering of the Greek. It says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Dr. Spencer: And there we have the moral test in a nutshell. Paul agrees completely with John as we would expect since they were both inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is the true author of the entire Bible. We are to walk in the ways God has foreordained for us, being obedient to his revealed will. We are to walk as Jesus walked when he was on this earth.

Marc Roby: And he said, in John 8:29, that “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

Dr. Spencer: And we understand that we will not do that perfectly, but we must not use that as an excuse. We should be striving to do the will of God. I want to give a stern warning to our listeners. If you think you are a Christian, but that does not affect how you walk day by day in every area of life, then you must seriously question whether or not you have truly been born again. Read through the New Testament and note how many times it speaks of the necessity for us to live an obedient life.

Marc Roby: Yes, and how many times we are warned to test ourselves and to be sure about it.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right.

Marc Roby: But we still have one more type of test to examine; the social test.

Dr. Spencer: And we see the social test, for example, in 1 John 1:7, where we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”, which ties the moral and social tests together, and again makes use of the walking metaphor for life. If we walk, or live, as Jesus did, then we will also have fellowship with each other. That is the social test.

Marc Roby: And in 1 John 2:9-10 we read, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is, again, a common teaching throughout the New Testament. If we have been born again, we love other people. Other Christians first, but even our enemies. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” We are to love our enemies enough to do good for them, to share the gospel with them and pray for their salvation. And we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and have fellowship with them.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ told us the same thing. During the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, as we read in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, if I had to give a one-word answer to the question, “How is a Christian to live?” I would have to say “love”. But the answer is only correct when you apply a biblical definition of the word love. Jesus himself said, 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: And he also tells us in John 14:15 what it means to love God, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: And to love our neighbor as ourselves is summed up in the moral and social tests given by John. But, and this is a critically important qualification, we spoke earlier of the necessity for a Christian to be biblically literate and to agree with what the Bible teaches. This point is never more important that when you say that a Christian should love others.

I see yard signs all around our town that say love, but the clear message of these signs is that it doesn’t matter how a person lives. The message is that same-sex couples or transgender couples or whatever are all equally right. That is absolutely not the teaching of the Bible. I’m not saying that we should treat such people disrespectfully or attack them, but we dare not pretend that God approves of their conduct or that it doesn’t matter, that is not loving them. It matters eternally because they are rebelling against Almighty God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure we’ll spend more time on human sexuality later in our discussion of biblical anthropology, but do you have more to say about the social test?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. This is a point on which many modern churches fail miserably. I remember years ago a young woman in our church was away at law school and attended a different church while she was there. That church had a series of teachings on hospitality, but even after several weeks of such teaching no one even bothered to introduce themselves to her, find out about her, or ask her over to lunch. They sat next to her in the pew and then got up and went on about their own lives. That is not true Christian fellowship. We must care about other human beings. There are no Lone-Ranger Christians, but there also should not be Christians who only have their set group of friends and never reach out to anyone else.

Marc Roby: And we have to admit that we all have that tendency. But the bottom line is that love must be other oriented; it must look outward.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it must. It is often said that there are three marks that characterize a true church. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession deals with these marks. It says, “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.”[3] But our pastor, the Rev. P.G. Mathew has proposed there should be a fourth mark, and I think that’s completely biblical, and that fourth mark is community life.[4]

Marc Roby: We read about the earliest days of the church in Acts 2:42 where it says that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Dr. Spencer: It’s interesting to note that fellowship was listed second after only the apostle’s teaching. We need each other to live the Christian life. We need accountability, we need encouragement and sometimes we need physical help. And it isn’t just that I need help from others, I need to use my gifts and resources to help others as well. It isn’t healthy to live a self-focused life.

Marc Roby: And this admonition to love one another or serve one another is common in the New Testament. Paul wrote in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” And then again, in Romans 13:8 he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And Peter said much the same thing. We read in 1 Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

Marc Roby: And in John’s first letter, which we’ve been examining, we read the phrase “love one another” five times. In 1 John 3:11 we read, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” And then in Chapter 3 Verse 23 we read, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Dr. Spencer: And in 1 John 4:7 we are told, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Which again tells us that this is a good test of our salvation. If we love the way the Bible commands us to love, we have been born of God and we know God.

So, to recap what we have said, the purpose of life from our perspective is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to serve him all of life. If we do that, we will have eternal joy in his presence.

And the Bible commands us to test our faith and see if it is genuine. John’s first letter gives us three tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test.

Marc Roby: And we certainly hope that all of our listeners will pass these tests or cry out to God for mercy if they don’t. And with that, we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

[1] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

[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://reformed.org/documents/index.html

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 341

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed God’s love, which can be viewed as an aspect of his goodness. What are we going to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s holiness.

Marc Roby: And the root meaning of that term has to do with separation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. According to the great Hebrew scholar and Old Testament theologian E.J. Young, the root word “is generally taken in the sense ‘to separate, cut off.’”[1] And God is separate from his creation in two different senses. First and foremost of course is the awesome fact that he is the Creator and everything and everyone else are mere creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is why we have emphasized the Creator/creature distinction a number of times in these podcasts.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is the dominant sense in which the word holy is used in the Bible with respect to God. But there is also an ethical sense because God is entirely separate from sin. The prophet Habakkuk exclaimed to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” [2]

Marc Roby: That is a big problem for sinful creatures like us.

Dr. Spencer: That is not only a problem, it is the problem of the human race. It is the problem that, in one sense, defines our existence in this life. We live in a world corrupted by sin and inhabited by sinners, the effects are pervasive. In fact, the Bible makes clear that since the fall, the sole purpose of human existence, from our perspective, is to deal with this problem. Coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and thereby taking care of our sin problem, is the one thing needful as Jesus told Mary.

Marc Roby: You’re using the King James wording when you say “the one thing needful”, but you are, of course, referring to the time when Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, all of whom Jesus loved.

Martha was preparing a meal for them and was distracted by all of the preparations that needed to be made, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha then complained about this and Jesus replied, as we read in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Dr. Spencer: That is, of course, the situation I am referring to, and I like the King James wording –only one thing is needful.

We must take note that there was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing, in fact, it was a good thing. But even things that are good and necessary in this life are of no importance in comparison with coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. And this topic is particularly appropriate at this time of year. In our previous session we discussed the love of God, which was an appropriate message for our last podcast before Christmas because God’s sending his own Son to pay for our sins is the greatest possible expression of love. But today’s message is no less fitting for the first podcast after Christmas because when we are confronted with the holiness of God, our own sinfulness and need for a Savior is immediately and obviously apparent.

Marc Roby: You said last time that people must receive the bad news that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves before they can receive the good news of the gospel, that there is Salvation possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must. And considering the holiness of God brings us face-to-face with the bad news. There is a classic passage I would like to examine today as we begin to look at this extremely important topic.

Marc Roby: What passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is Isaiah 6:1-7.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing passage, where the prophet tells us about receiving his call from God.

Dr. Spencer: And in that passage we see the most glorious and awesome vision of God given to anyone in the entire Bible. It begins, in Verse 1, with Isaiah telling us, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

Marc Roby: A little history will probably help our listeners. Uzziah, who is also known as Azariah, was the king of the southern kingdom of Judah from about 792 to 740 B.C. He started out as a godly king, and served for a very long time – 52 years. But late in life he became proud and God punished him with leprosy. His reign however was a time of great prosperity for the nation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, much like the times we are living in now, which should serve as a warning to us. In any event, P.G. Mathew notes the importance of this history in his commentary on Isaiah. He wrote that “Despite Uzziah’s unfaithfulness late in life, he had been an able administrator and military leader, and the people had looked to him for protection. Now his very long reign had ended and the people did not know what to do. It was in this context that God was saying, ‘Don’t worry, Isaiah, the King is not dead.’ So Isaiah says, ‘I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted’.”[3]

Marc Roby: It is always the greatest possible source of comfort for Christians in troubling times to know that God is seated on his throne and is absolutely sovereign over everything and everyone in the universe.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is our greatest comfort. But Isaiah was given this comfort to an extreme degree by being given this vision of the heavenly throne room. Now in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 God is described as, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Therefore, E.J. Young points out that “It is not the essence of God which Isaiah sees, for, inasmuch as God is spiritual and invisible, that essence cannot be seen by the physical eye of the creature. At the same time it was a true seeing; a manifestation of the glory of God in human form, adapted to the capabilities of the finite creature, which the prophet beheld!”[4] And Young goes on to note that “He sees God as sovereign in human form, and this appearance we learn from John was an appearance of Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, he is referring to John 12:41, which we read just a little while ago in our daily readings[6], where John gives a quote from Isaiah Chapter 6 and then says, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the verse he was referring to. Isaiah saw a pre-incarnate vision of Christ. But let’s read a little more of the revelation given to Isaiah. Let me read Verses 1-4. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

Marc Roby: Just the thought of being given a vision like that gives you the chills. The word awesome is overused in this day and age, but it is completely appropriate here. I can’t think of anything that would inspire more awe than this.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. Awe means a strong feeling of fear, respect and wonder, and this vision would certainly inspire all of those things to the highest degree possible.

Marc Roby: And the prophet had exactly that reaction. In Verse 5 we read about Isaiah’s reaction. He cried out “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Dr. Spencer: I again like the King James wording better here, it translates the first part of Isaiah’s response as “Woe is me! for I am undone”. Somehow the word “undone” is more powerful.

Marc Roby: That is a powerful word. Being undone does not sound like a pleasant experience.

Dr. Spencer: It isn’t a pleasant experience at all. But we must ask, “Why did Isaiah say he was undone?” R.C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God provides an interesting perspective on this passage.[7] He points out that to be undone is a very descriptive term; it means to come apart at the seams, to disintegrate. It is the very opposite of being integrated, or coming together. Now we don’t say that an individual is integrated; we say that he has integrity, but it is the same root. It means to be together; or, in casual speech, to have it all together. So to be undone is to realize that you do not have integrity, you do not have it all together. And who could say anything else in the presence of a holy God? When we compare ourselves with each other we may be able to say that someone is a person of integrity, or that he or she has their act together. But when we compare any of us to God, that illusion disappears.

Marc Roby: It certainly does. God is perfect in every conceivable way and, more to the point, he is, as we have emphasized, our Creator.

Dr. Spencer: And not only is he the Creator of all, but he is also the Judge of all. And this judge does not need a prosecuting attorney, or any witnesses to be called, or any evidence to be presented because he knows everything perfectly. And no defense is possible. Whatever charges he brings against us are guaranteed to be absolutely true. That should be terrifying. Think about a courtroom here on earth. Even that can be an intimidating place.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’m sure it can be. I’ve never been a defendant in a case, but even serving on a jury gives you an idea. The judge is separated from the attorneys, jury, lawyers and audience. He sits up higher, he wears a robe, you all rise when he enters the court, and so on. There is serious decorum demanded.

Dr. Spencer: And not only demanded, but enforced by officers with guns and a judge with authority to throw you into jail for contempt of court. That is scary, and it is meant to be because they are dealing with very serious issues. But the throne room of God is infinitely more important and impressive and the issues dealt with are infinitely more important because they deal with the eternal destinies of people.

Marc Roby: Which, quite literally, does make it infinitely more important.

Dr. Spencer: And we must also think about the standard being used by this perfect judge. We are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we are to, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In this verse holiness is obviously being used in the moral sense. We cannot become God. We will always be creatures and so cannot be separate in that sense. But God does demand that we be holy in the moral sense. As we saw earlier, the prophet Habakkuk properly said to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, that “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”  Because God is holy, we must also be holy or we will not see him, which means we will not go to heaven when we die.

Marc Roby: And the only alternative is hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is the only alternative. And every single human being alive will face judgment. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Marc Roby: God’s holiness, combined with his power and perfect knowledge, are extremely bad news for anyone who faces him standing on their own.

Dr. Spencer: They are the worst possible news. Anyone who stands before God on his or her own will be sent to eternal hell. But, praise God, there is a way of escape. Going back to the revelation God gave to Isaiah, we read in the next two verses, Isaiah 6:6-7, that “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”

Marc Roby: Having a hot coal touched to your lips would be extremely painful, but nonetheless, it is wonderful news. Our sins can be atoned for.

Dr. Spencer: They can, but not by our effort. Only God is able to do that. And he has done it through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We just celebrated his birth last week, which is the pivotal point in human history, and in a few months we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter, which speak about the culmination of his work of redemption.

Marc Roby: And just in case some of our listeners do not know about Good Friday and Easter, we should point out that Good Friday is the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate his resurrection from the dead.

Dr. Spencer: And praise God for Christ and his atoning sacrifice. I quoted from Hebrews 9:27 a minute ago, but let me read all of that verse this time, along with the next. Hebrews 9:27-28 tell us that “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glorious hope of all Christians.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. And we should be extremely thankful that God’s attribute of holiness is communicable, because we are not holy, and yet as we read a couple of minutes ago, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, the Christian’s ultimate hope is that God will perfect us in Christ and we will, ultimately, be perfectly holy in his presence.

Marc Roby: And, of course, our holiness is not the basis of our salvation – that is the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. We don’t become holy in this life and then earn heaven by our holiness. Rather, having already been justified by faith, we are made holy by God through a process which begins when we are born again and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and it isn’t completed until after we die.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We will talk about that process in some detail in a later podcast, but for now let me just summarize it. All people are sinners in need of a Savior. But, praise God, he has chosen to save certain people. And those whom he has chosen to save he effectually calls, which means that he causes them to be born again, and they then respond in repentance and faith. And God then works in them to change them throughout this life. When we die, our souls are perfected and brought into the presence of God as we read in Hebrews 12:23. Then, when Christ returns, we receive our perfected resurrection bodies as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and we then begin our eternal state perfected and living in God’s presence forever.

During this life, however, this process of sanctification involves suffering, which none of us like, but it is for a good purpose. In Hebrews 12:10 we are told that “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Marc Roby: Now that is a glorious thought, to share in God’s holiness. Which then makes us fit to be in heaven with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is God’s glorious plan of salvation. The whole purpose of creation and human history is for God to redeem a people for himself. When that has been accomplished, this universe will end and God will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Marc Roby: We read about that in 2 Peter Chapter 3, which tells us, in Verse 13, that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: And because it is the home of righteousness, or we could say holiness, it is only those who share in God’s attribute of holiness who will be there. And the only way, as sinful human beings we can do that, is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: I assume we have more to say about the holiness of God, but this looks like a good place to end for today. I want to remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to respond.

 

[1] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Vol. 3, 1972, pg. 242 (fn 19)

[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] P.G. Mathew, Isaiah: God Comforts His People, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2018, pp 49-50

[4] Young, op. cit., pg. 235

[5] Ibid, pg. 237

[6] Our church’s daily reading schedule is available from the home page of our website: https://gracevalley.org/

[7] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Living Books, 1985, pp 42-44

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.

Dr. Spencer, we finished God’s attribute of truthfulness last time. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: We’re going to continue following the treatment of God’s attributes in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and he treats God’s goodness next.

Marc Roby: How does Grudem define God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: He writes that “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.”[1] And I think it is important for us to remember that Jesus himself said, in Luke 18:19, that “No one is good—except God alone.”[2] Which certainly agrees with the point Grudem makes that God is “the final standard of good”. No one but God fully meets the standard that he himself sets.

Marc Roby: This idea that God is the standard of what is good is also a repeat of what we saw with regard to truth; that is, God is the ultimate standard for truth as well.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is the same idea, and for the same reason. If we say that God is good, the statement implies that we have some standard by which we evaluate what is good and that we have compared God to that standard and have found him to pass the test. But there is no such standard outside of God. In fact, the final statement in Grudem’s definition, that “all that God is and does is worthy of approval” could be confusing if we don’t allow him to explain what he means by it.

Marc Roby: What does he mean?

Dr. Spencer: I want to let him speak for himself. Remember the first part of his definition says that “God is the final standard of good”. And so he wrote that “Here, ‘good’ can be understood to mean ‘worthy of approval,’ but we have not answered the question, approval by whom?” He then writes that in an ultimate sense, “we are not free to decide by ourselves what is worthy of approval and what is not. Ultimately, therefore, God’s being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval. He is therefore the final standard of good.”[3]

We must realize that if we don’t accept God’s revelation of himself as our standard for what is good, the only other possibility is that we use a human standard, either our own, or someone else’s, or a consensus, or whatever.

Marc Roby: That again sounds exactly like what we said regarding both our ultimate standard for truth and our ultimate standard for morality. Which means that if we choose the human standard, we again have the problem that not all human beings will agree.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the problem. If you and I disagree about whether or not something is good, how do we determine who is right?

Marc Roby: Well, I think I’ll go with my view. … But, being serious, I think the popular view is that we should just “agree to disagree.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the modern way to handle it, yes. And it works if we are talking about something like whether or not the San Francisco Giants should trade Madison Bumgarner. We can disagree about that and there are at least two good reasons why it doesn’t matter. First, it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that serious Giants fans will disagree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they will too, but even they will have to agree that it has no cosmic or eternal significance. And then secondly, I don’t think there is any rational and fool-proof way to find out who is right.

But, when it comes to far more serious issues, for example, whether or not abortion should be legal, I don’t think that agreeing to disagree is an appropriate response. Some decision has to be made. Now of course, the decision has been made for our country at this point in time, but it is just a legal decision and is not something that is irrevocable.

Marc Roby: Which is why there was so much furor over the recent confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, it was all about abortion, gay rights and a few other hot topics. So, my point is that when it comes to things like that, as Christians we have no right to think for ourselves because we have made the declaration that Jesus is Lord. God’s word must be our standard. It is our standard for morality and it is our standard for what is good in every situation. And the Bible is our standard because God himself is the ultimate standard and the Bible is his infallible revelation to us.

Marc Roby: And, of course, as with truth, God has implanted his image in us, so what the Bible says is good should, in general, resonate with our own idea of what is good.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is very important that you said it should resonate “in general”, because it certainly will not agree in every instance. Every aspect of our being is still tainted by sin. And it is when we disagree with God’s standard that we must recognize that it is our view that must change, not God. Whenever I hear someone make a statement like, “My God would never say such and such” or, “My God would never disapprove of such and such” I get very nervous.

Marc Roby: Why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because very often when someone makes that kind of statement it is not based on a careful analysis of the biblical data, it is based on their own ideas of what God should be like. In other words, they are changing God in their minds to make him conform to their ideas. But, as we discussed in Session 71 with regard to metaphysical truth, God does not need to conform to our ideas of what he should be. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. He alone has the authority and power to define what he should be like and he alone has the authority and power to define what is good. So, when someone says something like, “My God would never say such and such”, if the statement is not based on a careful analysis of the biblical data, it is very likely to be wrong.

Marc Roby: I see your point. But can you give us an example?

Dr. Spencer: Sure, if you say that your God would never lie or cause someone to sin, that’s fine because those statements are based on what God tells us about himself in the Bible. But, if you say, as I’ve heard people say, that your God would never send anyone to hell, or would never condemn homosexuality, then you have a serious problem because neither of those statements agree with what God himself tells us in the Bible. In fact, they are opposed to what God tells us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Of course, people would usually defend such statements by saying that “God is love”, or something like that.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is the common defense of statements like that. And, of course, the Bible does tell us that God is love. But you then need a biblical definition of what love is. A good place to start would be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Now think about that for a minute. It means that God’s love was the cause of his sending his eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, to humble himself and become a man, and then to give himself as a sacrifice for our sins. It also means that it was God’s will for Jesus Christ to be brutally flogged, nailed to a cross and hung up to die. And while he was on the cross, God the Father poured out his wrath upon him as the just punishment for the sins of his chosen people.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t conform very well to any modern idea of love.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. But it does conform to God’s perfect idea of what love is, and that’s all that really matters. We have talked over and over about God’s simplicity …

Marc Roby: The idea that his attributes all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Right. So, in the case of John 3:16 we have to realize that God’s love is a just love. By which I mean that his love does not somehow trump his justice. His love for his people, because it must be a just love, does not allow him to simply wink at and excuse their sin, their sins must be paid for, otherwise God would no longer be just. The problem is that we are not capable of atoning for our sins, the required price is too high.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of Psalm 49, where it says that “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, when the psalmist says that “no payment is ever enough”, he is speaking about payments that could be made by mortals like us. But, praise God, in his infinite wisdom and love he devised a plan to redeem the people he loves. And that plan required his eternal Son to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, and then give his life as an atoning sacrifice to pay for the sins of his chosen people. Jesus Christ himself told us in Mark 10:45 that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Romans 3:25-26 the apostle Paul tells us that “God presented him [referring to Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: That truly is an amazing passage to demonstrate God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together. He sent Jesus Christ to pay for our sins so that, as Paul says, he can “be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: It is one of the most wonderful examples of God’s simplicity. His plan allows him to “be just”, as Paul puts it, because justice is satisfied. Our sins are paid for. And yet, his plan also allows him to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which means that he declares us to be legally just because our penalty has been paid by another. And so, in that context, John 3:16 makes perfect sense, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And praise God for his amazing, wise and just love.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we absolutely must praise him. And this is the core of the gospel message. There is a legal transaction taking place, or you could think of it as an accounting transaction. It is often called the double transaction, or the double imputation. Our faith unites us with Jesus Christ so that God puts our sins into Christ’s account and then places Christ’s perfect righteousness into our account. As a result, when Christ died on the cross, our sins were paid for. And, even more, when God looks at us, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This whole transaction is described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, which 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 indescribable grace and mercy shown to us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And it is good. Getting back to our discussion of the goodness of God, the whole plan of salvation, like everything else God is or does, is good. People may not like it, they may find the idea of a sacrifice of atonement to be offensive, but it is good! We need to adjust our thinking to agree with God, not the other way around. In Isaiah 55:8 we read, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.”

Marc Roby: I think there is a question that we should address in relation to this idea that God defines what is good and then, based on that definition, we say that God himself is good. There is a circularity to that reasoning that will disturb many people.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. We noted the same kind of circularity in Session 71 when we discussed God’s truthfulness, and we looked at it in more depth way back in Session 4 where I argued that circular reasoning is inescapable when you’re dealing with the ultimate standard for truth.

John Frame points out the same thing in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. In discussing defending the Christian worldview he writes that “no system can avoid circularity, because all systems … – non-Christian as well as Christian – are based on presuppositions that control their epistemologies, argumentation, and use of evidence. Thus a rationalist can prove the primacy of reason only by using a rational argument.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is a clear presentation of the problem. Ultimate standards can only be defended by referring to themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. But Frame goes further. He notes that “Circularity in a system is properly justified only at one point: in an argument for the ultimate criterion of the system.”[5] And he then goes on to argue that using a circular argument to defend your ultimate standard in no way commits you to allowing circular arguments to be used at other points.

Marc Roby: That is an important observation.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And he also deals specifically with the circularity in the argument for God being good in his book The Doctrine of God. He begins by noting that the problem exists for many of God’s attributes. And he then writes that “When we ascribe an attribute to God and also make him the standard for identifying and evaluating that quality, the two statements generate a kind of circularity.”[6] But, as we just noted, this problem exists for all ultimate standards.

Then, in reference to God’s goodness in particular, he writes that “We believe that God is good, then, because God tells us that he is good. So the circularity is present. But it is a broad circularity, not a narrow one. It is a circularity loaded with content, full of evidence, and richly persuasive. We are literally surrounded by evidence of God’s goodness.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like that statement. And it reminds me of what Grudem said about God’s truthfulness, that God “has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” It seems that Frame is arguing something similar here. God has created us with a sense of what is good so that when we look at all that God is and has done, we recognize it as good.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly what Frame is getting at. But, of course, we need the proper perspective, meaning a biblical perspective, in dealing with some of the things that God has done. For example, you need the right perspective to see that it was good for God to allow sin and the suffering it brings to enter into his creation.

It has been argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. But that argument assumes an unbiblical idea that the purpose of creation should be to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Can you explain how a biblical perspective helps to reconcile God’s goodness and omnipotence with the presence of sin and suffering?

Dr. Spencer: The biblical perspective provides two key pieces of information to help understand how the presence of sin and suffering can be good. The first thing you need to understand is that human beings are made for eternity. When you take an eternal perspective, you realize that if you endure painful trials for 100 years, it is of no great consequence after you been in heaven for 10,000 years, let alone an eternity.

Marc Roby: That’s a very hard thing for us to grasp. What is the second key thing you need to know?

Dr. Spencer: That God’s ultimate purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. We discussed this in Session 67 in relation to God’s wisdom, but it is absolutely critical here. Allowing sin into this world allows God to display his own judgment, mercy, justice and love to a fuller degree than would have been possible otherwise. In other words, God allowed sin into his creation for his greater glory. So, when you put that together with an eternal perspective, it helps to resolve the apparent contradiction between God being good and omnipotent and yet allowing sin into his creation.

Marc Roby: That perspective certainly helps. But we are out of time for today. So I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 197

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

[3] Grudem, opt. cit., pg. 197

[4] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, P&R Publishing Company, 1987, pg. 130

[5] Ibid

[6] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 405

[7] Ibid, pg. 409

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s omnipresence, which means that he is present everywhere. We ended last time by reading a few verses from Psalm 139, in which the psalmist poetically expresses God’s omnipresence by declaring to God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[1] So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed with this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by reminding everyone that we have to guard against thinking of God in terms of spatial dimensions at all. When we speak of God’s omnipresence, we aren’t saying that God is so huge that he won’t fit in this universe, what we are saying is that he cannot be described by spatial dimensions at all. God is a Spirit as we are told in John 4:24. And, as a Spirit, he is present everywhere in our universe in his totality all the time. We aren’t told exactly what spirits are, and we probably couldn’t understand it anyway, but they are not physical. They are not confined to the four dimensions of space and time that we experience, although they can certainly interact with us in space and time.

Marc Roby: God’s omnipresence is a concept that blows the mind, and Psalm 139 probably describes it as well as it can be expressed.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Sometimes poetry can express a complicated idea better than simple prose. But, we are still to exercise our minds and to do the best we can to understand the nature of God as he has chosen to reveal it to us. It may help us gain a better understanding of God’s omnipresence to realize that it is related to his eternity and immutability, both of which we have already discussed.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: We noted last time that God’s eternity can be called his infinity with respect to time and his omnipresence can be called his infinity with respect to space. And we noted in Session 58 that God’s immutability implies his eternity. One way to see that is to realize that we experience the passage of time precisely because we change. I have forgotten some things I used to know and I’ve learned some things I didn’t used to know. I don’t remember what happened in the past perfectly and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and so on. If none of those changes and limitations were true, then we would cease to experience time the way we do now.

The English puritan theologian Stephen Charnock explains the connection between God’s eternity, his omnipresence and immutability well in his large volume called The Existence and Attributes of God. He writes, “As eternity is the perfection whereby he has neither beginning nor end, immutability is the perfection whereby he has neither increase nor diminution, so immensity or omnipresence is that whereby he has neither bounds nor limitation.” (English updated)[2]

Marc Roby: It is interesting that all three of these attributes are described negatively. Eternity is the lack of a beginning or end, immutability is the lack of change, and omnipresence is the lack of boundaries.

Dr. Spencer: That is interesting. When we are discussing God’s incommunicable attributes, we often have to use negative terms. It is easier to say what he is not than it is to say what he is because God is unique. We usually describe things in terms of other things, and when you have a being that is unique in his essence, you lose that ability to some extent. As God himself says in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?”.

If a person is unique simply because he is the largest, or oldest, or smartest, or strongest or whatever, we can still describe him easily in terms of other people. Differences like that are only quantitative as we discussed last time. But God is unique in his essence, the difference is qualitative, not quantitative. And, as a result, we often end up using negative statements to describe his incommunicable attributes. When it comes to his communicable attributes, we can use positive statements and make comparisons, although we have to resort to superlative statements. So, for example, we have knowledge and God has knowledge, so there is a point of comparison. But God’s knowledge is exhaustive and perfect, and ours is not. The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge has an interesting discussion about this in dealing with how we classify the divine attributes.[3]

Marc Roby: That is useful in understanding the problem inherent in trying to describe God. I also noticed that Charnock referred to God’s “immensity or omnipresence”, which seems to indicate that he uses those two terms synonymously.

Dr. Spencer: They are often used as near synonyms. The difference between immensity and omnipresence is one of perspective and I think it will help us to read what Charles Hodge said about this. He wrote that God’s “immensity is the infinitude of his being, viewed as belonging to his nature from eternity. … His omnipresence is the infinitude of his being, viewed in relation to his creatures. He is equally present with all his creatures, at all times, and in all places.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is helpful. The idea that God is equally present with all his creatures at all times and places reminds me of what Moses said to the Israelites just before he died, which was also just before they were to cross over the Jordon to take possession of the Promised Land. He wanted to encourage them and in Deuteronomy 31:8 he said to the Israelites, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great encouragement for God’s people. And that same idea, that God will never leave nor forsake his people, is stated twice by Moses in Deuteronomy 31 and is then repeated by God in speaking to Joshua to strengthen him in Joshua 1:5. It is also used as a request by King Solomon in his prayer of dedication for the Temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8:57 and is then quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews 13:5. But we must also remember that God is not only present to bless his people, he is also present to punish his enemies, which is terrifying.

Marc Roby: And yet, hell is often portrayed as being a place where the sinner is shut out from the presence of God.

Dr. Spencer: It is often described that way. But what is meant is that those in hell are shut out from God’s merciful and beneficent presence. He is present in hell, but he is present there to pour out his wrath on those who have rejected him. We are told in Hebrews 10:31 that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And the reason why it is terrible is stated in Hebrews 12:29, where we read that our “God is a consuming fire.” Revelation is even more terrifying. In Revelation we read several times about a lake of burning sulfur. Now this is a figurative description of course, not a literal one, but sulfur burns at over 800 degrees Fahrenheit, so the imagery is certainly terrifying.

Hell is an unpopular topic, but the Bible is very clear in its teaching about hell because God wants to warn us about the eternal consequences of rejecting him.

Marc Roby: Of course, most non-believers would deny that they have rejected God. They would claim that either he has never shown himself to them or that he doesn’t exist, or something like that.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that you’re right about that. But the Bible tells us the truth in Romans 1. In Verses 18-21 Paul writes that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For 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. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

This truth is extremely unpopular, but it is simple. The Bible is telling us that everyone knows in his or her heart that God exists, but people suppress that truth and because of that God gives them over to futile thinking and foolishness, particularly with regard to the things of God.

Marc Roby: And Psalm 14:1 tells us that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. To be a fool in the biblical sense does not mean that you aren’t intelligent in worldly matters, it means that you have denied the existence of God; your Creator, Sustainer, Judge and the only self-existent, necessarily-existent, completely independent being in existence. You can be a fool biblically and win a Nobel prize in physics.

That is why Paul goes on in Romans 2:5-8 to write, “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Marc Roby: A most terrifying thought. To experience the wrath and anger of God Almighty and to know that it will never end and there is no escape.

Dr. Spencer: It is absolutely terrifying. But I think it is important for us to discuss here because while God is present everywhere, he is not present everywhere to bless everyone. Stephen Charnock wrote that “there are several manifestations of his presence; he has a presence of glory in heaven, whereby he comforts the saints; [and] a presence of wrath in hell, whereby he torments the damned”.[5]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted earlier, he is a consuming fire.

Dr. Spencer: And he knows absolutely everything. So the people in hell will know that they are being justly punished. They will know that they did, in fact, reject God in this life. They chose to focus on earthly riches and pleasures rather than God. And, if they heard the gospel, they will have the added guilt of knowing that they rejected God’s offer of grace.

Marc Roby: We are told about that in 1 John 5:10, which says that “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

Dr. Spencer: There is truth in the saying that the only people who go to hell are those who chose to go. But don’t misunderstand what that means. I’m not saying that anyone is given a simple choice between everlasting punishment and everlasting bliss with no other difference. If that were the case, I can’t imagine anyone choosing punishment.

But the choice is between standing on your own in the judgment, in other words, trusting in yourself, verses acknowledging that you are a wretched sinner deserving of wrath and acknowledging Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord, in which case you become a bond-slave to Christ. That is what it means for him to be Lord. He now has an absolute claim to your obedience in thought, word and action. So, although you cannot in any way earn your salvation, it is a free gift, it nonetheless costs you everything because receiving this gift makes you recognize that you are a dependent creature who is totally under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We should point out that those who have not surrendered to Christ as bond slaves are not free, they are slaves of sin and Satan.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The choice is not between autonomy and the lordship of Christ. Autonomy is an illusion. Those who think they are autonomous are being deceived. Paul tells us in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” When we are outside of Christ we can only sin, so we are slaves of sin. But, don’t think that Satan has to force people to sin. We all start off with a sinful nature, so that is our natural proclivity. All Satan has to do is provide the opportunities and make suggestions, we quite naturally take care of the rest ourselves. The paradoxical truth is that it is only when we surrender to become slaves of Jesus Christ that we experience true freedom.

Marc Roby: And what a glorious freedom that is! But it seems that we have once again gotten off topic. We were discussing God’s omnipresence.

Dr. Spencer: I’m not sure that we have been off topic. It is important to make the point that no one will escape God’s presence, his omnipresence is not always a pleasant thing. He will either be your Savior and Lord and, therefore, your greatest joy, or he will be your worst nightmare. But no one can avoid him. He created all things, he sustains all things and he will judge all things.

Marc Roby: OK, so we have been on topic then. What Scriptures can you adduce to show that God is omnipresent?

Dr. Spencer: The classic verse is Jeremiah 23:24, which asks a couple of rhetorical questions. We read, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” The obvious answers to these rhetorical questions are that no one can hide from God, there are no “secret places” he cannot see, and yes, God “fills” heaven and earth in the sense that he is present everywhere.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Ephesians 1:22-23, which ascribe this incommunicable attribute of omnipresence to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement, which also provides evidence for the deity of Christ. Another good passage is Acts 17:27-28 where we read that God “is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” Which is again a poetic way of saying that God is everywhere. Also, in King Solomon’s prayer of dedication to the Temple in Jerusalem he asks and answers his own question about God; we read in 1 Kings 8:27, “will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

Marc Roby: That is a great verse. We need to remember that God is not some stone or wood idol. The temple in the Old Testament was not a place for God to dwell in the normal sense of that word, it was just a building. But its purpose was to remind the people of God and his law and to provide a place for them to come and worship him.

Dr. Spencer: Stephen Charnock makes an interesting comment on this verse, specifically about the statement that “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain” God. He writes that as God’s “power is not limited by the things he has made, but can create innumerable worlds, so can his essence be in innumerable spaces; for as he has power enough to make more worlds, so he has essence enough to fill them, and therefore cannot be confined to what he has already created.”[6]

Marc Roby: All very true, and impossible to grasp fully. And I think we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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

[2] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Two Volumes in one, Baker Books, 1996, Vol. I, pg. 367

[3]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pg. 375

[4] Ibid, pg. 383

[5] Charnock, op. cit., pg. 370

[6] Ibid, pg. 376

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology by examining a new topic today—the nature of true saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer, our listeners might be surprised by the fact that we are not continuing our examination of extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the Bible, why are we stopping that series?

Dr. Spencer: We aren’t stopping, only pausing for a bit. I want to shift gears for a short time to restore some balance. I do want to present a reasonable summary of the evidence to corroborate the Bible, and the engineer in me would like to complete that topic before moving on, but we have already done five podcasts in a row on it and there is a danger of over-emphasizing its importance.

Marc Roby: But, of course, it is important.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, of course it is, and we will return it. But, evidence that supports the Christian faith can be over-emphasized. Christians can get caught up in presenting evidence and neglect the heart of the gospel. As I noted in Session 1, this kind of evidence has, I think, two uses: first, it bolsters the faith of believers, and second, it challenges unbelievers by showing them flaws in their own worldview, which helps them see that they are, as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1 verse 20, suppressing the truth they know, which is that God exists and created this universe, including you, me and everyone else.

Marc Roby: Very well, so you want to discuss the nature of true saving faith today. I suspect a lot of people, who identify as Christians, would say that it is very simple; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. What needs to be added to that?

Dr. Spencer: A great deal needs to be added to that statement. That statement, of course, is a quotation from the answer the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailer in Acts, Chapter 16. But, we need to look at that account in context to know how to understand it. True, saving faith has content, and that content matters very much. If someone says that he has put his faith in Jesus Christ, he may be saved, but he also may not be. There are many different so-called gospels out there, and many different ideas of who Jesus Christ is.

Marc Roby: And, of course, this is not a new phenomenon. The apostle Paul had to deal with this in his letter to the church in Galatia, didn’t he?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, In Galatians 1:6-7 he wrote that “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.”[1] Remember that the word gospel simply means good news, and the good news is that God has provided us with a way of being redeemed from our sin. A way of having the guilt of our sin done away with, the punishment due to us for our sins taken away, and even of having the pollution and presence of sin removed.

But, as Paul wrote, not every message that claims to be the gospel is true; some of them are “no gospel at all”, they are not good news, but very bad news. In fact, they can damn people to eternal hell. In Matthew 7:21-23 we read what I think are the most terrifying words our Lord ever spoke. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Marc Roby: That is a frightening passage.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s meant to be. These people thought they were Christians, and not just run-of-the-mill ordinary Christians, they had driven out demons and performed miracles. And yet, Christ tells them to go away. And you have to stop and ask yourself, “go where?” The answer is, to hell. Christ was telling them that their so-called faith was useless, that he would not own them as his, and that they were going to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, many people who call themselves Christian today do not believe in an eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: I know that’s true, and I don’t like the idea any more than anyone else does; although I can intellectually see the need for hell. But, whether we like it or not, the Bible clearly teaches there is an eternal hell. Jesus Christ himself spoke about hell more than anyone else.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us about the final judgment and, in verse 41 he says that the king, who is Jesus himself, “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” And, just in case people think this isn’t really speaking about eternal punishment, look at verse 46, where Christ speaks about those who are not saved and says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The Greek word translated as eternal in that verse is the same in both places. So, if the punishment is not eternal, then neither is the eternal life referred to, which is heaven. We can deal with the doctrine of hell at greater length in the future, but for now I’d like to return to discussing the true gospel.

Marc Roby: Alright, you have so far made the point that there are different gospels, and that false gospels cannot save. So, what is the true gospel?

Dr. Spencer: The true gospel is the one presented to us in the Bible. So, anyone who takes exception to anything I say here can look in the Bible and see whether or not what I say is consistent with the Bible. But, I must warn people to not be deceived! You have to be careful how you read the Bible. For example, people are tempted to look at 1 John 4:8, which tells us that “God is love”, and then declare that a loving God would not send anyone to hell and think that they have settled the matter.

Marc Roby: I’ve definitely heard that view expressed.

Dr. Spencer: So have I. But, there is a serious problem with the view. It is taking one three-word phrase out of context, importing a non-biblical definition of the word “love” into it, and then making it into an absolute statement that is used to overrule the rest of the Word of God completely, so that wherever the Word of God opposes this wrong idea of love, the Word of God is ignored.

Marc Roby: OK, you’ve made the point that we need to interpret the Word of God carefully. Now let’s get back to the question at hand, “what is the nature of true, saving faith?”

Dr. Spencer: Let’s go back to the Philippian jailer to find the answer to this question. In Acts Chapter 16 we are told that a crowd of people in Philippi were opposed to the gospel message and made false charges against Paul and Silas. As a result, they were severely beaten and put into stocks in the prison. Let me read a passage from Acts about what happened next.

Starting in verse 25 of Chapter 16 we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing story. It also shows how different the times were; the jailer knew that if all the prisoners had escaped on his watch, he would be killed. It didn’t make any difference how it happened. So, he was ready to kill himself to avoid a more unpleasant death.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing story, but it is also true. And I want to draw our attention to a few things. First, it is obvious that the Philippian jailer had heard about Paul and Silas, and knew something of the message they had been preaching, otherwise it makes no sense for him to fall trembling at their feet and ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The question implies that he had heard there was a judgment coming, and that he knew he was a sinner and needed to be saved. And, because the prisoners were all still present, in spite of having been miraculously freed by the earthquake, he realized that the message Paul and Silas were preaching was, in fact, true. Perhaps some of the prisoners were converted that night also, but, whatever the case, they were so fascinated by Paul and Silas that they did not take the opportunity to escape. Therefore, the jailer had every good reason to believe that Paul and Silas could tell him what he needed to do. His actions clearly indicate that he knew he had something to fear and that he wanted to be saved.

Marc Roby: So, when the context is considered, the message spoken to this jailer was not quite as simple as just “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. A.W. Pink wrote about the need to be careful in our understanding of this passage in terms of evangelism, he wrote, “It was no giddy, careless, unconcerned person, who was exhorted to ‘simply’ believe; but instead, one who gave clear evidence that a mighty work of God had already been wrought within him. He was an awakened soul. In his case there was no need to press upon him his lost condition, for obviously he felt it; nor were the apostles required to urge upon him the duty of repentance, for his entire demeanor betokened his contrition. But to apply the words spoken to him unto those who are totally blind to their depraved state and completely dead toward God, would be more foolish than placing a bottle of smelling-salts to the nose of one who had just been dragged unconscious out of the water.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a vivid image of futility, to try and use smelling salts to resuscitate a drowned man!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I like his illustration a lot. But, the main point he is making, which I am trying to make as well, is that the true gospel message is not simply “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

Marc Roby: How then would you summarize the gospel message?

Dr. Spencer: I would say, as many have said before me, that there must be bad news before there is good news. No one is going to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” if he doesn’t think he is in any danger. So, the first thing we must do is tell people that there is a holy and just God, who is absolutely sovereign over the entire universe. And that we have all rebelled against this God and are under his just judgment. We should all fall to our knees trembling and cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Marc Roby: That is not a pleasant message to deliver to people.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t, but it is what we all need to hear. People don’t like being told that they have cancer either, but if it is the truth, it would be cruel to not tell them. They can only seek treatment if they know they have the disease.

Marc Roby: And the gospel is the treatment for the deadly disease of sin.

Dr. Spencer: And it is the only treatment possible. As Peter tells us in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Christian faith is unashamedly exclusive. There is only one God who created this universe and he has made one, and only one, way of salvation. And that way of salvation is through Jesus Christ. No man is able to save himself. We must humble ourselves, acknowledge that we are sinners, rebels against our Creator, and cry out for mercy.

Marc Roby: But, I’m sure some will ask, why is Jesus Christ and his death on the cross necessary? Why doesn’t God simply pardon all those who humble themselves and ask for mercy?

Dr. Spencer: That is a great question, and the Bible gives us a clear answer. In Romans 3:22-26 the apostle Paul tells us that, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot in that passage.

Dr. Spencer: There is too much for us to go into all of it in the time we have left, but I want us to notice four things: First, all have sinned. We all need a Savior. There is no exception. Second, God redeemed us through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent as an atonement for our sin. In other words, Christ paid the penalty that we owed, and God the Father has agreed to accept that payment on our behalf. Third, God did this to demonstrate his justice. You see, God is absolutely just, so he must punish sin. It is simply not possible for him to wink at sin and say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I see that you are sorry for it, so I forgive.” No, his justice must be satisfied. But, because he is also loving and merciful and wants to save his people, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for us. The fourth point is that in this way, God’s justice is satisfied and his people are saved. That is why Paul writes that God can “be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” He is just, in other words completely righteous and holy, and yet, he can justify those who have faith in Jesus, which means he can declare them just, in spite of their sin, because Jesus Christ has paid the demands of God’s holy law.

Marc Roby: Now, that truly is good news! And it makes me think of perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: Amen. That is the most amazing truth. In spite of my sin and rebellion, I will spend eternity with God in heaven. But, there is still more to be said.

Marc Roby: I’m looking forward to hearing what that is, but we are out of time for today.

[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] A.W. Pink, Signs of the Times, Studies in the Scriptures, December, 1937, No. 12, pp 20-25 (http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/sis/sis-37-12.pdf)

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God and should therefore submit to its authority.

Dr. Spencer, we have been addressing the Bible’s testimony about itself, and last time we discussed the fact that a central issue in this regard is authority. God has ultimate authority and, therefore, his Word has ultimate authority. We ended by noting that Jesus himself spoke with authority and not only affirmed the Ten Commandments, but gave us a deeper understanding of them. What else do we need to say about this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I think the main point is that the Bible speaks with authority and we need to take its claim seriously; it is God speaking. Jesus Christ himself spoke clearly about the authority of the Old Testament as we discussed in Session 4. We noted then, for example, that in John 10:35 Jesus said that, “the Scripture cannot be broken”. [1] But, there are many other verses we could cite. For example, in Luke 22:37 Jesus said that “what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

His point was that the Old Testament was a completely reliable witness to future events, and more specifically, that it had in many places and in many details prophesied his coming and what would happen to him in some detail. When Jesus spoke with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, we are told, in Luke 24:27, that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The main topic of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament tell us about sin, and about God’s plan to deal with sin. There is a progressive revelation of God’s eternal plan of salvation in the Bible.

Marc Roby: And that revelation begins in Genesis 3, right after the fall, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In Genesis 3:15 we have what it is sometimes called the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message. Most people have heard the story, but before I tell it I want to emphasize that this story is factual, not mythological.

After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But, when God called to them and they confessed their sin, he then pronounced the curse that would fall on them and their posterity as a result of their sin. That curse was death, both spiritual death and physical death here, and eternal hell hereafter. Adam and Eve immediately lost communion with God, which is the result of spiritual death, and they immediately started to age and move inexorably toward their physical death as well. And, finally, and worst of all, they, and all their natural descendants became subject to eternal punishment in hell.

But, God also pronounced a curse on Satan, who had appeared as a serpent. And, that curse included the gospel, which means, “Good news.” In verse 15 God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This statement that the offspring of Eve would crush Satan’s head is a reference to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he would defeat Satan totally by freeing his people from their bondage to sin and Satan. So, when God pronounced his curse on man, he gave them the gospel of salvation at the same time. There was hope.

Marc Roby: And, as you said, there is a progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: There most definitely is. This isn’t the time to go into it in detail because we want to stay focused on what the Bible claims about itself, but I think this deserves mention now, and it provides an important piece of evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. What needs to be mentioned at this point is that this progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament includes dozens of detailed prophecies about the Messiah, or Savior.

Messiah is a Hebrew word, which means anointed one. And, while a person can be anointed for various different offices, such as a priest or a king, the Old Testament also speaks of the Messiah, who is God’s anointed savior of the world. For example, we read about him in Psalm 2, where we read, in verses 1 and 2, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” The “Anointed One” in this verse is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good for some of our listeners to explain who “the LORD” is in that verse. I think most have heard Jesus called “the Lord Jesus Christ”, so there may be some who are confused when we hear the LORD being spoken of one person and “his Anointed One” being spoken of another person.

Dr. Spencer: The word LORD in this passage, which is in all capital letters in our English Bibles, is the Hebrew tetragrammaton, which simple means four letters. Biblical Hebrew writing did not use vowels, so we aren’t sure how to pronounce the word, but it is usually rendered as either Jehovah, or Yahweh. In any event, it is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”, and so we can translate it, if spoken by God, as “I Am”, or if spoken about him, as “He is”. In either case, the point is clear. God is the only one who can say “I am” in an absolute sense. He is eternal and unconditional. We, on the other hand, like all creatures, have not existed eternally, nor do we exist independently. We will cover the nature of God in later sessions, but the Bible reveals to us that God is triune; meaning that he exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, but it is absolutely not a contradiction, and it is a clear teaching of Scripture as we will see later on.

Marc Roby: Alright, so you were speaking about the Messiah, or God’s Anointed One, who is referred to in Psalm 2.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And my point was simply that the Greek word for anointed is Χριστός (Xristos), which is transliterated into English as Christ. So, when we speak of Jesus Christ, we are speaking about Jesus, the Anointed One, or, in other words, the Messiah. All of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the son born to a young virgin named Mary, who was engaged to be married to the carpenter Joseph. And the Old Testament revelation includes more than just a lot of details about his birth, life, death and resurrection, it also includes a tremendous amount of information about the justice of God and how the death of Jesus can serve as an atonement to pay for the sins of his people. This is, again, not the time for us to get into that in detail, but I want to clearly make the point that the Old and the New Testaments are part of one revelation. They are not two separate revelations. It is all the revelation of God, telling us who we are, where we came from, what our problem is, and how God has solved that problem.

And, in speaking about the detailed prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ve always thought that they are truly amazing evidence for the fact that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. How else could you explain the detailed fulfillment of these prophecies about Christ? Only God can accurately tell us about the future. And we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that these prophecies were truly written long before the time of Christ. No reasonable argument can be made, as it used to be, that someone cooked the books to make it look that way.

Marc Roby: Certainly, predicting the future requires authority!

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And thank you for bringing us back to our topic of authority. Only God has the power and authority to bring about what he intends, and so only God has the ability to accurately tell us about the future.

Marc Roby: I notice that you didn’t say God can accurately predict the future!

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right, and that was – as you surmised, deliberate. To predict the future would imply that God can look ahead and see what will happen, which is certainly true. But the Bible goes much further and tells us that God has ordained what will happen. But we’ll leave that for a future session and get back to this issue of authority.

We have been making the case that the Bible claims authority, and have extended that case to show that Jesus himself claimed authority. In fact, one of the most wonderful examples of this is the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. The story is told to us Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5. There is a paralytic who has four wonderful friends. These friends have heard about Jesus and have seen him perform miracles, so they want their friend to be healed. They carry him to the village of Capernaum, at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is teaching and healing. But, there is such a crowd gathered that they can’t get near Jesus. So, they go up onto the roof of the house Jesus is in and they make a hole in the roof and lower their friend on his mat so that he is in front of Jesus. Just imagine how everyone’s attention would be riveted on this man! This was certainly a pretty bold maneuver. And what did Jesus say to the man? We are told, in Luke 5:20 that Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Marc Roby: I’m going to hazard a guess that this was not the response he and his friends were looking for!

Dr. Spencer: I think your guess is a good one. Jesus often surprised people, but always with a purpose. And we quickly find out what the purpose was in this case; it was to reveal his authority, that he is God. We read in the very next verse that, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” And, of course, that was precisely the point. Then, in verses 22-25 we read, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”

Marc Roby: I would say that Jesus made his point pretty clearly.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking and, far more importantly, he has authority to forgive sins. So, the Bible has authority because it is the Word of God, and Jesus has authority because he himself is God. And Jesus gave authority to his apostles to preach the gospel and to rule the church.

Marc Roby: OK, now you’re treading on thin ice with many modern Christians again. They don’t like the idea of the church having any real authority. What would you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would turn to the Word of God, as always. After Jesus’ resurrection he gave his disciples what is called the Great Commission. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, that “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” And he goes on to say “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”

Notice that Jesus didn’t make suggestions, he commanded. And the church is to teach people to obey these commands. And the church is clearly given authority by God to do so. For example, we are given a command in Hebrews 13:7, which says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” This clearly establishes that this section in Hebrews 13 is speaking about leaders in the church. Then, in verse 17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We are to obey our church leaders and submit to their authority. But, notice that they are men who must give an account. And it is God to whom they will have to give an account. So, they should lead for the benefit of those who are under them. And that is why the writer says it would “of no advantage” to us if we don’t obey.

Marc Roby: And, of course, it isn’t just church authority that we should obey. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul wrote that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we need to remember that he wrote this while living under the very wicked rule of the Roman Empire! As that passage notes, there is “no authority except that which God has established.” God has given us clear lines of authority. A husband has authority over his wife, a father and mother have authority over their children. Church leaders have authority over the members of their church. And civil leaders have authority over their citizens.

Marc Roby: Since this idea of authority is so alien to our society, I think it would be good to remind everyone of one thing you said earlier; biblical authority should always be exercised for the benefit of those who are under you.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Our culture has a problem with authority, but authority is necessary, and it is good if it isn’t abused. Someone has to have the final say. Think about a company for example. If you get all the managers together to make some decision and they cannot come to a consensus, someone has to have the authority to make the final decision. And, if the company is operating properly, the others will all get behind that decision and do everything they can to make it work.

I think we are near the end of our time, so I’d like to read a passage from the book I mentioned last time, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is called Authority, and on page 60 he has a wonderful summary about the progressive revelation we have discussed in the Old Testament, and the gifting given to the apostles and others for writing the New Testament. He says,

“Here is God’s revelation of Himself, given in parts and portions in the Old Testament with an increasing clarity and with a culminating finality, coming eventually ‘in the fulness of the times’ to the perfect, absolute, final revelation in God the Son. He in turn enlightens and reveals His will and teaching to these apostles, endows them with a unique authority, fills them with the needed ability and power, and gives them the teaching that is essential to the well-being of the Church and God’s people. We can build only upon this one, unique authority.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful summary to end our discussion of the Bible’s teaching about itself.

[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.™.

 

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