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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we discussed the protestant reformation and concluded by noting that the reformers declared that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I heartily agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: In other words, faith has content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pp 109-110

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. And we are using the order presented by John Murray in his excellent book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He gives the following order: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.[1] In our session last week we finished regeneration, so, Dr. Spencer, I think we are ready to begin examining repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed. And what a glorious topic that is. As we have discussed, when a person is born again, or regenerated, by the Holy Spirit, he or she is made into a new creation. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”[2] And the first thing this new creation does is to repent and believe. And that is something that we must personally do. It is our response to God’s monergistic work of regeneration.

In fact, it would be impossible for a born-again person to not repent. The man who has been regenerated sees clearly, although not yet completely, just how vile and terrible his own sin is. He is now aware of how he has offended God and the only possible response is to fall at God’s feet and cry out for mercy. Just as a man who is dying of thirst must drink, so a man who has been born again must seek God’s forgiveness. It grieves him that he has offended God, his guilt gnaws at his soul and his longing for God, who he now sees as supremely good, draws him forward.

Marc Roby: One of the most beautiful expressions of this attitude in the Bible is Psalm 51. In that psalm, King David cries out to God in repentance after God used the prophet Nathan to convict him of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then his having her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in order to cover it up.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful psalm. It not only displays great sorrow for having offended God, it also demonstrates a great hope that God will be merciful in response to true repentance.

Let me read the first 8 verses. David cries out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”

Marc Roby: You get a great sense of the pain that David felt when he was brought to the place of seeing his sin clearly. And he understood that although he had sinned greatly against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah and even the people of his kingdom, his real problem was that he had sinned against God. And he had nothing he could plead in his defense; all he could do was to cry out for God’s mercy.

Dr. Spencer: I agree it is a wonderful psalm and I encourage our listeners to read it over carefully and apply it to their own lives. David also clearly understood that God is the only one who could take care of his sin problem. And he knew that the basis for any relief would have to be in the unfailing love and mercy of God, not in something David himself could do.

There are also a couple of much shorter, but no less poignant, expressions of true repentance given to us in the New Testament as well.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, one of them is the thief on the cross. Remember that two thieves were crucified with Jesus. And initially, they both mocked him, but then God mercifully caused one of them to be born again. That thief was immediately made able to see the truth and we read in Luke 23:40-41 that he rebuked the other thief for continuing to mock Jesus. He said, “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.”

Marc Roby: That is a simple but profound confession, he saw that he deserved punishment and that Jesus did not.

Dr. Spencer: And he then went on, as we read in Luke 23:42 to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He clearly saw that Jesus has an eternal kingdom that transcends this life and by faith he entrusted himself to Christ. We don’t know exactly how much this man knew about Jesus’ teaching, but he obviously knew enough.

Marc Roby: And he received what must be one of the most wonderful comforts ever given to any human being. We read in Luke 23:43 that Christ told him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. And that thief has been in glory for nearly 2,000 years. But there is an even shorter confession in the New Testament, which I’d like to take a little time to examine. In Luke 18 we are told the wonderful parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Marc Roby: Let me read that parable. In Luke 18:9-14 we read, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of rich teaching in that parable, but notice how succinct the tax collector’s confession is. He simply said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The brevity of this confession in no way argues against the value of confessing our sins to God in detail, this man was obviously not in a position to be making a long confession. But his confession makes it clear that what is essential is a heart that has been changed. It has been changed so that it sees God in his holy majesty and it sees how our sins, even the smallest of them, are wicked rebellion against this most glorious and gracious God.

Marc Roby: We also see the tax collector’s reverence for God in the facts that he stood at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He obviously understood that he was unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true and very important. In fact, as Luke indicated, Jesus told this parable to some “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else”. We must always guard against thinking that we are somehow worthy of salvation. The truth is that what we are worthy of is damnation. Salvation is a free gift offered by grace alone. If anyone thinks that he is worthy of going to heaven, then he is not saved and he is on his way to hell. God’s standard is absolutely perfect holiness, and no one outside of the God-man Jesus Christ meets that standard.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the reality. God is perfect. He will not bring sinners to heaven to dwell with him forever without perfecting them first. And we all need serious change, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. There is no hope for any of us if we try to stand before the judgment seat of Christ on our own merits. Our sins must be atoned for. The tax collector saw this problem clearly. He saw that God is perfect in his holiness and justice and he realized that he was a rebellious sinner. That’s why he wouldn’t come close and he wouldn’t lift up his eyes to heaven.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the very first line of John Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin wrote that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[3]

Dr. Spencer: That is very true. The tax collector had been born again and as a new creation he saw clearly the Creator/creature distinction. He knew he had a problem that he couldn’t possibly solve himself. James Boice in his book The Parables of Jesus points out that the beginning and ending of this simple prayer reveal the tax collector’s understanding of his problem.[4] The prayer begins simply by saying, “God”, and it ends with “me, a sinner.” There could not be a greater contrast than that.

He stood before God, albeit at a distance and with his head bowed in shame, as a guilty sinner deserving God’s wrath and unable to pay the debt himself. But he knew much more than that. In our English translation the prayer reads, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But in the Greek, the word translated here as “have mercy” is ἱλάσκομαι (hilaskomai), which means to propitiate.[5] And, as John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[6]

Marc Roby: It’s also interesting that hilaskomai is the verb form of the Greek word used for the mercy seat, or atonement cover, in the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament in use at the time of Christ. The mercy seat was called the ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) in the Septuagint.

Dr. Spencer: Boice makes that point also, and even offers an interesting translation of the tax collector’s prayer. He correctly says that it could be rendered, albeit quite awkwardly, as “God, be mercy-seated toward me, a sinner”.[7] Now Christ had not yet died, so the tax collector still had in mind the Jewish sacrificial system, in which the high priest would go into the holy of holies once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. But the New Testament makes clear, particularly in Hebrews 9, that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing toward Christ. He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as John the Baptist declared in John 1:29.

And so, the tax collector’s prayer, while very short, was also very profound. He had a deep understanding of his problem and of the solution that God offers. And he came to God in true repentance for his sins and faith in the solution God offers in the gospel. And that is why Jesus said he went home “justified before God.”

Marc Roby: We will be talking about justification soon since it is the next item in the ordo salutis, but for now we should probably note that it is a legal declaration wherein God declares a sinner to be righteous in his sight.

Dr. Spencer: And we should add that the declaration is made on the basis of our being united to Christ by faith. As you said, it is a legal declaration. God is not saying that we are righteous in ourselves, that would be a lie. But, because we are united to Christ by faith, his righteousness is counted as ours. He took our sins upon himself and paid for them on the cross and, in return, he gives us his perfect righteousness. This is the double transaction, or double imputation that we have mentioned a number of times and which Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where we read that “God made him who had no sin” which, of course, refers to Jesus Christ, “to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glory of the gospel in one verse. It doesn’t get any better than that. We give God the filth of our sins and he gives us the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is the best deal anyone could ever possibly imagine getting. But we are getting off topic a bit since we are considering conversion, or repentance and faith, today.

Marc Roby: Well, it’s not really off topic since we are united to Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let’s get back to finishing what it truly means to repent. The tax collector had true repentance, but there can also be a repentance of sorts that does not lead to salvation.

Marc Roby: I assume you are referring to what Paul calls worldly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:10, where we read, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Often, when people say they repent of something they have done, or more likely they just say that they are sorry for something, all they really mean is that they are sorry for the circumstances it has produced. When we sin, we pay in some way. It isn’t always immediate, nor are the consequences in this life always proportional to the sin, but we do pay.

So, for example, if we look at a young man who has been lazy all through school and as a result ends up working in some menial job for minimum wage, he may say that he is sorry for not having applied himself in school, but what he really means is that he is unhappy about the fact that he can’t get a job with higher pay. In other words, he is sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the sin itself.

Marc Roby: And that kind of worldly sorrow is very common. But that is a far cry from the biblical idea of repentance.

Dr. Spencer: It is very different. True repentance would require that the young man see that his laziness was a sin against God. That God gave him the ability and the opportunity to learn and that he was being rebellious against his Creator by not applying himself. He would not just feel bad because the consequences of his sin are unpleasant, he would feel deep sorrow at having offended God and, more importantly, he would forsake his laziness and start working hard to improve himself!

Marc Roby: That’s a very important aspect of true repentance. We can’t go back and undo the past, but we can certainly work hard to not repeat the same sins in the future. In speaking about the new life a truly repentant person will live, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Dr. Spencer: That does illustrate the difference made by regeneration very clearly. There is a false teaching in the world that is quite common in churches and individuals that call themselves Christian. It is the idea that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord. In other words, you don’t have to repent and forsake your sins, you just have to acknowledge Jesus as Savior.

Now, we must agree that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. No one will ever be saved because he repented and forsook his sins. Our repentance is not the cause of our salvation, nor is our faith a cause of our salvation. They are the response of someone who has been born again. And you cannot have true faith without true repentance. They are inextricably linked together.

Marc Roby: And why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because true conversion is the result of regeneration, which causes us to see that our own best works are like filthy rags in God’s sight. It causes us to realize that we can do nothing to save ourselves and that we have offended the holy God. We see our own sin as odious and we see Christ as glorious and wonderful and we naturally turn away from our sin with great disgust and turn to Christ in joyful, loving faith. We cannot turn to Christ and lay hold of him as Savior without simultaneously letting go of our sin and turning from it. It is an impossibility. In 1 John 3:9 we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

Marc Roby: I look forward to your completing that biblical case to support the contention that repentance and faith are linked together, but we don’t have much time left for today, so this is a good place to stop. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 87

[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] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 1.1.1 (pg. 4)

[4] James Boice, The Parables of Jesus, Moddy Press, 1983, pp 83-91

[5] E.g., see Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 404, or Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 375

[6] Murray, op. cit., pg. 30

[7] Boice, op. cit., pg. 90

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Today, we are resuming our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. In our last theology session, which was Session 144, we presented the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, as given by John Murray. He lists the elements in the following order: effectual call, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. We then started to examine the effectual call, by which God’s elect are brought into his kingdom.

Today I want to say a few more things about the effectual call and use them as a segue into our discussion of regeneration. We noted in Session 144 that the effectual call and regeneration are intimately linked and that in the past some theologians have treated them as being synonymous, or have thought of regeneration as a part of the effectual call.

And, while we want to be as precise in our theology as we can be, I don’t think there is any benefit in getting too hung up on the exact terminology that is used. We just want to be careful to define what we mean by the terms we use and, more importantly, to present the clear biblical teaching on the subject.

I personally have a hard time seeing how you can fully separate effectual calling and regeneration since the power that makes the call effectual is God’s power to regenerate us. In fact, in Session 144 I deliberately avoided talking about a difference between what the Westminster Shorter Catechism said and what John Murray said.

One of the questions we looked at from the Catechism was Question 31, and the answer given there is, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” Notice that the answer began by saying that “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit”.

Whereas, in the following discussion we presented biblical support for Murray’s view that “God the Father [] is the specific agent in the effectual call”.[1] For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”[2] That verse clearly distinguishes God from his Son, meaning that, as is often the case in the New Testament, God refers to the Father. And then the verse explicitly says that it is the Father who calls his people into fellowship.

And so we have a difference in the sense that the Catechism says the effectual call is a work of the Holy Spirit, while Murray says that the Father is the specific agent in calling his people. We presented Murray’s view because it agrees with the Bible, as the verses we examined bear out. Wayne Grudem also agrees with this view and provides further scriptural support in his Systematic Theology.[3] One reason I think it is important to be clear that the Father calls us is to oppose the unbiblical idea that the Father is a distant, angry God who doesn’t want to save anyone but somehow gets convinced by the pleadings of his Son, who is thought of as being more merciful and loving. Which is, unfortunately, a trap into which some of modern evangelicalism falls. And that’s why this issue is important. We must always remember that there is only one God, who exists in three persons, and that God is unchangeable. The common idea that God is somehow different in the Old and New Testaments is completely unbiblical.

But we must also remember that God is triune and the different persons of the godhead are clearly presented to us in the Bible as having different roles in salvation. We honor God and worship him correctly when we believe, pray and worship with these biblical distinctions properly kept in mind. So, that leaves us with the question of how to resolve this difference between the Catechism and Murray and Grudem.

Let me make two important points before we deal with this difference though. First, it isn’t absolutely necessary for us to resolve the difference. Neither the Catechism nor Murray nor Grudem are inspired; only the Bible is the inspired Word of God. So if theologians disagree with each other our duty is simply to determine who is correctly interpreting the Bible. We don’t need to find a way to reconcile them. And then, secondly, this is far from an essential issue in the faith.

But, with that said, in my mind I resolve the issue by realizing that the call is made effectual by regeneration, which is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. And so both Murray and the Catechism are right, they are just using slightly different definitions of the phrase effectual calling.

The fact that regeneration, or new birth, is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit is seen explicitly in Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus. We read in John 3:5-6, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” According to this statement by Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit that gives new birth, in other words, that regenerates believers.

Therefore, the biblical answer, which is the one that matters, is that the Father is the specific agent in calling, as Murray said, and the Holy Spirit is the primary agent in regeneration, which we will see later Murray also says. Therefore, when Murray criticizes the Catechism for not saying the Father is the agent in the effectual call, he has a point, although I think a minor one.[4] The Catechism does not separate the effectual call from regeneration as Murray and most modern theologians do. And, I should add, that the Bible itself never uses the phrase “effectual call”, it simply speaks about a call.

As we noted in Session 144, some theologians have considered regeneration to be a part of the effectual call, or have considered the two to be essentially synonymous. And that is the case with the Westminster standards, by which I mean the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism all together. The Confession doesn’t have a separate chapter on regeneration, that topic is covered by the chapter on the effectual call.[5]

I would say the biblical testimony supports the idea that the Father is the specific agent in the call, and the Holy Spirit is the primary, but not sole, agent in regeneration, which is what makes the call effectual. I should mention that the Father is also presented as being active in regeneration, but I will hold off on saying more about that until later, the primary agent is clearly the Holy Spirit.

We always want to be careful to not go too far and make distinctions that are not made in the Bible itself. The bottom line is that the same sermon can be given to two people and for one of them it is only the general call and does not lead to salvation, while for the other it is accompanied by the Spirit’s regenerating work and leads to conversion and salvation. In that case we could say that it was the effectual call. The difference is found in whether or not God works in the heart of the person who hears the gospel.

We need to remember what Paul said. He wrote to the church in Corinth about preaching the Word of God in Troas and said that through his preaching God was spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. Then, in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 he wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

These statements by Paul make clear what the difference is between the general call and the effectual call. It is the power of God that makes the call efficacious in some and not in others.

We also need to realize that God’s effectual call cannot be ignored. As the name “effectual” clearly states, we cannot refuse this call. Just as no one can accept God’s offer of salvation unless he causes the person to be born again, so also no one whom God has chosen to save can possibly reject this call. Jesus himself said, as we read in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

We have spoken about this verse several times before and pointed out that the Greek word translated as “draws” is ἑλκύω (helkuō), which could also be rendered as drag. In fact, the same word is used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and it is used in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. Therefore, John 6:44 argues persuasively that when God draws people, he does so in such a way that their response is certain.

And the way that he does that is through new birth, or regeneration. When we are born again, our nature is changed. In that new nature we are enabled to see the wretchedness of our sin and the loveliness of Christ. We are able to appreciate the graciousness of God’s offer of salvation and, as a result, we freely make the choice to repent and believe. So, it would not be biblical to say that God forces us to repent and believe, we do that willingly. But he does change our nature in such a way that it absolutely guarantees we will freely respond to his call with repentance and faith. That is why the call is effectual.

We could say that God does not force us to do something we don’t want to do, but he does change us in such a way that we want to do what he wants us to do. Or we could say that he does not force us, which by definition implies doing something against our will, but rather, he changes our fundamental nature so that our will is different and we willingly do what he desires.

In Romans 4:17 Paul wrote about Abraham and said, “He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” God takes sinners, who are dead in their transgressions and sins as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 and makes them alive in Jesus Christ. He calls things that are not as though they are. He gives us new hearts as we read in Ezekiel 36:26. We’ve gone over this before so I don’t want to repeat too much, but the point is that we must, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John Chapter 3 Verses 3 and 5, be born again in order to be saved. And more to the point in our present discussion, once we have been born again, we are absolutely certain to respond favorably to God’s call to repent and believe.

And this call is a command, not just an offer. In Acts 17:30 we read that “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” And John wrote, in 1 John 3:23 that this is God’s command, “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” But, in our natural state we cannot obey God’s commands to repent and believe. Paul wrote in Romans 8:7 that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

Nevertheless, the effectual call comes with power and is guaranteed to enable us to obey by repenting and believing. And this is God’s purpose as we read in Romans 8:28-30. In Verse 28 we are told, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And then Verses 29-30 go on to tell us what that purpose is. We read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

What a glorious and gracious purpose! God’s purpose is nothing less than the complete salvation of his people. He has predestined a certain group of people from eternity past to be called, justified and glorified in his sight.

And to be glorified, as we will see in a later session, means that we will be made perfectly sinless and will be given an imperishable body fit for living in heaven with God and each other for all eternity.

The effectual call also has specific content. While God can certainly work in people’s lives in many different ways to draw them to Christ, at some point the gospel must be presented to them and the normal way for that to happen is for another human being to present it.

Paul tells us this explicitly in Romans 10:13-14, where we read that “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

There is specific information that must be known for a person to be saved. Wayne Grudem does a good job of discussing this fact and he lists three elements that must be present in the gospel call: first, an explanation of the facts concerning salvation, second, an invitation to personally respond to these facts in repentance and faith, and third, God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life.[6]

With regard to the facts concerning salvation, Grudem first says that all people have sinned. And Paul tells us this clearly in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Second, we must tell people that the penalty we owe because of our sin is eternal death. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death”, and in Matthew 25:46 Christ told us that the unsaved “will go away to eternal punishment”. These two points together comprise the bad news that we are all sinners deserving God’s wrath.

The third point Grudem mentions is the good news that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. In Romans 5:8 Paul wrote that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is absolutely incomprehensible love, especially when you consider that Christ died for people who were his enemies.

And then, after presenting these basic facts, Grudem’s second element is obviously necessary. We must call on people to personally repent of their sins and place their trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice. And his third element must also be there; we must tell people of God’s promise that if they will repent and believe they will be saved from eternal hell and will instead go to heaven based on the merits of Christ.

I can’t imagine a better promise than that. And with that, we are out of time for today. So, let me remind you that you can email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 89

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

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 692

[4] He does not explicitly criticize it in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, but he does on pg. 165 of his Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977

[5] Note: The effectual call and regeneration are separate topics in in Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Later in his career however, he changed his mind about whether or not the topic of the call should be defined in any way by the response it elicits from the believer. See his Chapters on The Call and Regeneration in Vol. Two of his Collected Writings, especially footnote 2 on pg. 167. On page 172 of his Collected Writings, in the chapter on regeneration, which represents his older view, he wrote, “God’s call is an efficacious summons and therefore carries with it, carries as it were in its bosom, the grace that ensures the requisite response on the part of the subject.” It is unclear to me exactly how this grace is related to regeneration itself, they do not appear to be synonymous. So, perhaps, it is this grace that in Murray’s view makes the call efficacious and yet distinguished from regeneration itself? I’m not sure.

[6] Grudem, op. cit., pp 694-695

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Marc Roby: After taking a week off to discuss the proper Christian response to the current corona virus pandemic, we are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, are we ready to start looking at the order of salvation, or ordo salutis as it is often called?

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed ready. In Session 141 three weeks ago we noted that salvation began in eternity past with God’s sovereign electing love. We then also noted that, as John Murray put it in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”[1] is our union with Christ.

Marc Roby: And we have spent the bulk of two sessions examining that union, which is a wonderfully edifying topic.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s an understatement for sure.

Marc Roby: I also recall that you mentioned what is often called the golden-chain of salvation in Romans 8:30 where the apostle Paul wrote that those whom God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: I did quote that verse because it is the closest thing in the Bible to a single statement of the ordo salutis. I also noted that some of the steps in the complete order, although not those in the golden chain, can be moved without serious theological consequences and that some of them are not meant to be interpreted temporally, but rather logically. And so we are almost ready to give the order.

Marc Roby: What else do you want to say before we give the order?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that because we are all by nature objects of God’s wrath, our greatest need is to be reconciled to God. We need to take a moment to appreciate God’s amazing, gracious plan of salvation.

Murray points out that God has provided for our greatest need in a way that “exhibits the overflowing abundance of God’s goodness, wisdom, grace, and love. The superabundance appears in the eternal counsel of God respecting salvation; it appears in the historic accomplishment of redemption by the work of Christ once for all; and it appears in the application of redemption continuously and progressively till it reaches its consummation in the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I look forward to the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Dr. Spencer: As do all of God’s adopted children, that is our eternal destiny. And, with all of that said, I think we are now ready to give the actual list.

Marc Roby: Should I give you a drum roll?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think that’s necessary. John Murray first lists the following five items; effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, and finally, glorification.[4]

Marc Roby: And three of those five elements are listed in that golden chain of salvation by Paul.

Dr. Spencer: They are. Paul lists calling, justification and glorification in that order. Murray then inserts regeneration and faith, in that order, after calling and before justification. Now the order of regeneration and calling could be reversed with no major problems, but they must come before justification as we will discuss in more detail later.

After giving these five basic elements, Murray then adds the other elements that are usually included in the list.

Marc Roby: And what are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first is repentance, which as Murray says is “the twin sister of faith – we cannot think of the one without the other.”[5]

Marc Roby: Well, biblical repentance is a turning away from and forsaking our sins, and biblical faith is a turning to Christ in complete trust, so what Murray says makes perfectly good sense. Repentance and faith are really two sides of the same coin; you turn away from sin and to God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. So whether you put repentance before faith or faith before repentance doesn’t really matter, although I personally like repentance first because at least logically you turn away from sin first and then you turn to God. As is often said, you need to hear the bad news before you will receive the good news. But true biblical repentance and faith always occur together. The word conversion can also be used to represent both repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: What does Murray add to the list next?

Dr. Spencer: Adoption, which is an amazing doctrine. God doesn’t just forgive our sins, which is incredible enough in and of itself, he also adopts us as his children. We are told in John 1:12 that God gives to all who receive Jesus Christ, who believe in his name, “the right to become children of God”.

Marc Roby: That is a staggering privilege. We find it difficult to forgive those who sin against us in any serious way, but God not only forgives, he brings us into his family.

Dr. Spencer: That does blow your mind, doesn’t it? And we’ll talk about it in more detail later of course, but for now we just need to note that adoption must come after justification. As Murray correctly notes, “we could not think of one being adopted into the family of God without first of all being accepted by God and made an heir of eternal life.”[6]

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: Murray next places sanctification in the sequence. He wrote, “Sanctification is a process that begins, we might say, in regeneration, finds its basis in justification, and derives its energizing grace from the union with Christ which is effected in effectual calling. Being a continuous process rather than a momentary act like calling, regeneration, justification and adoption, it is proper that it should be placed after adoption in the order of application.”[7]

Marc Roby: That again sounds perfectly reasonable.

Dr. Spencer: And that brings us to the last element, which is perseverance. Murray wrote that “Perseverance is the concomitant and complement of the sanctifying process and might conveniently be placed either before or after sanctification.”[8] While I agree that it goes along with sanctification, I prefer to place it after sanctification, which is where Murray places it, simply because we must persevere to the very end of this life.

Marc Roby: Very well, the entire order then, as given by Murray, would be the following: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.

Dr. Spencer: That is the order he uses and the one we will use. And we are now ready to start with the first item on the list, effectual calling.

Marc Roby: And how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go through a few of the questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism because it does an outstanding job. Question 29 asks, “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Which makes two very important points. First, Jesus Christ is the one who accomplished our redemption. He purchased our freedom from sin with his blood. Secondly, it is primarily the Holy Spirit who applies redemption to believers. The Catechism goes on, logically, in Question 30 by asking, “How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.”

Dr. Spencer: We see several important things in this short answer. First, we again see that our redemption is accomplished, or purchased, by Christ. Second, the Spirit applies that redemption to us by working faith in us; in other words, by bringing us to saving faith, which we shall see requires that we be regenerated, or born again. And third, one result of this faith is that we are united to Jesus Christ as we have discussed in the past couple of weeks.

Then, in Question 31 the Catechism gets right to the issue we are dealing with and asks, “What is effectual calling?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very rich answer. There is a lot of information packed into a single sentence. First, we note that effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit. God is the active agent. We are passive recipients. Murray notes that “the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.”[9]

Marc Roby: In other words, salvation is God’s plan, God’s accomplishment and then he applies it to individual believers.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we do not remain entirely passive, we do respond as we’ll see. Murray also notes that “It is God the Father who is the specific agent in the effectual call.”[10] He cites Romans 8:29-30 again to support this view.[11] In Verse 29 we are told that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Since this verse speaks of “his Son” it is obvious that it is speaking about God the Father, so in the following verse, Verse 30, when it says that “those he predestined, he also called”, it is obviously saying that God the Father does the calling. Murray also cites 1 Corinthians 1:9, where we read, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Marc Roby: That again makes it clear that it is the Father who does the calling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does, so Murray’s claim is completely biblical. The second thing we see in the Catechism answer is that the Spirit convinces us of our sin and misery.

Marc Roby: Well, we obviously must recognize the problem before we are going to be interested in the solution to the problem.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. You can’t put the cart before the horse. We must first receive the bad news that we are sinners under the wrath of God and headed for hell before we will be receptive to God’s solution to that problem, the good news of the gospel. And that leads directly to the third thing we see in the Catechism answer. The Spirit enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ.

Marc Roby: And some knowledge is surely necessary for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Knowledge alone won’t save us, but true saving faith has specific content, it isn’t just some nebulous feeling or vague generality. We must know that we are sinners, deserving God’s wrath, and that Jesus Christ, who was completely sinless, took our sins upon himself, went to the cross, and bore the wrath of God on our behalf. God then raised him from the dead to demonstrate that he had accepted the offering and that death had no hold on Jesus Christ. We can’t be saved without knowing, believing and trusting in these biblical truths.

Marc Roby: And these are not metaphorical truths. For example, Christ was really, physically, raised from the dead. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Dr. Spencer: And this idea of firstfruits implies an abundant harvest to follow. That harvest is all of the elect. And now comes a key piece God’s solution to our problem. In our natural state we are all enemies of God, dead in our transgressions and sins. It is impossible for those who are God’s enemies, and who hate him, to respond to this knowledge favorably. And so the Catechism next says that the Spirit “does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ”. This is speaking about regeneration, or new birth, without which no one can or will be saved.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told Nicodemus, as we read in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then, in John 3:5 Jesus added, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Effectual calling and regeneration are very tightly linked. In fact, in seventeenth century theology they were often either spoken of as synonymous or regeneration was thought of as a part of effectual calling.[12] One way to distinguish them is to say that the effectual call is external, while regeneration is, as Murray describes it, “the beginning of inwardly operative saving grace.”[13]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the idea of God’s call being efficacious is consistent with what the Old Testament says as well. In Isaiah 55:10-11 God says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful passage. No one can thwart God’s plan. We can’t stop the rain from watering the earth and we can’t stop his call from being effectual. But there is also what is sometimes called the general call, which can be distinguished from God’s effectual call. Not everyone who hears the gospel is born again and then responds in repentance and faith. Although Murray points out that when the New Testament refers to a call with reference to salvation, it is almost always referring to the effectual call.[14]

Marc Roby: I suppose the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew Chapter 22 is a possible exception.

Dr. Spencer: Murray agrees with you. For those who don’t remember the parable, there is a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son, but the people originally invited to the banquet all make excuses and refuse to come. So the king orders his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they can find. When the banquet hall is filled with people, the king notices one man who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. We then read, in Matthew 22:13-14, “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Marc Roby: I think many people find that parable somewhat disturbing.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the idea is simple. There is a general gospel call that goes out to everyone, and salvation is free, it cannot be purchased. But, we cannot come on our own terms. Only those whom God has chosen will be granted new birth, will then repent, believe and be united to Jesus Christ. Those who do so, will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ himself as we read in Galatians 3:27, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Marc Roby: That is most glorious truth, and I look forward to spending more time on this discussion next week, but it seems like a wonderful place to close for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would enjoy hearing from you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 170

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 79

[4] Ibid, see the bottom of page 86

[5] Ibid, pg. 87

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pg. 89

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid, pg. 90

[12] Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 470

[13] Murray, op. cit., pg 93

[14] Ibid, pg. 88

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and in our last session we addressed the objection raised by some that this doctrine prevents the gospel from being an honest offer of salvation for everyone. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at another objection brought against the doctrine of limited atonement. Arminians and others will insist that we must affirm th at natural man has free will in the sense of being able to accept or reject God’s offer. This is really the same objection, just expressed from a different perspective, but it is worth discussing because the different perspective leads the discussion in a slightly different direction.

Marc Roby: Our discussion last week centered on showing that we can be justly held accountable for decisions we make even though those decisions are, at least in part, a result of our own nature, which is not something we ourselves chose or caused.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good short summary. And the core issue was whether or not our ability limits our responsibility. And that is again the core issue in saying that we must affirm man’s free will but, as I said, the free will perspective leads us in a slightly different direction.

To be precise, the objection assumes that it is unfair of God to judge someone for not responding to the gospel in repentance and faith unless the person is able to do so. In its most extreme form people are viewed as having what is called libertarian free will, which means that their decisions are entirely uncaused. Not only are they not controlled by God, but they are also not controlled by our nature, in other words our desires. They are absolutely free.

Marc Roby: We discussed this topic before and you pointed out, in Session 84, that this view of human free will is really illogical. Unless our decisions are just random events, there must be some reason why we choose one thing as opposed to another.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. And not only that, but if our choices were completely uncaused, how could we be held morally accountable for them? They would really just be random events, there wouldn’t be any intention, good or bad, behind them. In a very real sense, we would not be responsible for our choices. In fact, I don’t think you could legitimately call them choices, they would just be events that occurred, and events that involve us but are not deliberately chosen by us. So, far from ensuring that we can be justly held accountable for rejecting the gospel, the idea of libertarian free will destroys human accountability.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting point.

Dr. Spencer: The theologian John Frame makes essentially the same argument. He has a very good short discussion of free will in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord. He wrote that “if human action were completely uncaused, divorced from our character and desires, it would be a random accident, not a responsible choice. … So, in my judgment libertarian freedom is not the ground of moral responsibility; indeed, it destroys moral responsibility.”[1]

Instead of libertarian free will Frame argues in favor of what is called compatibilist freedom. As the name implies, this is a kind of freedom that is compatible with divine sovereignty. It is also, I would say, a freedom that is compatible with reason and experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, can you explain what this freedom is?

Dr. Spencer: It is the freedom to do what you want to do, within the obvious limits of what is physically possible of course. This is more or less what Jonathan Edwards had in mind in his treatise on free will, which we also discussed in Session 84. In this view, my desires and my logical thinking about consequences and so forth all come into play in my decision making, and when all the factors are considered, I do that which I most want to do.

This freedom is logically compatible with God’s sovereignty because my decisions are not random and God, with his perfect exhaustive knowledge of me and all of my circumstances, can predict with absolute certainty what I will freely do. He can then also change my circumstances or put thoughts in my mind as needed to bring about exactly the end he so desires. But in no case does the Bible teach that God forces me to do anything, I do have compatibilist freedom.

Marc Roby: Very well. Do you have anything more you want to say on the topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The topic is so important that I want look at it in a slightly different way. And John Frame has a more in-depth treatment of human responsibility and freedom in Chapter 8 of his book The Doctrine of God and I think he makes a helpful distinction there between two different uses of the word responsibility.[2]

Marc Roby: What two uses are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we sometimes use the word responsibility to refer to accountability, and sometimes to refer to liability. Accountability assumes that there is an authority who is going to judge us and hold us accountable, while liability has to do with our incurring a debt of some sort because of the actual results of our actions. But the results of our actions can depend on things outside of our control and we are not, therefore, always fully liable for them. So, for example, if I am in a traffic accident, I am accountable for my own actions, but if wrong actions by others contribute to the accident making it much worse than it would otherwise have been, I am not fully liable for all of the damages.

Marc Roby: How does that distinction apply to the issue of human freedom?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, we are fully responsible, in the sense of being accountable, for our actions. God is the ultimate judge of all and will hold everyone accountable. We are even responsible for our moral nature. Frame correctly says that “We are responsible for what we are. We did not individually make ourselves evil by nature, but we are responsible for that evil anyway. Our inheritance from Adam is not the result of our individual choice, but we must bear the guilt of it.”[3]

Marc Roby: I agree that that is the biblical teaching, but it is still hard for people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it definitely is hard for us to accept, but it is true. Therefore, if we are Christians, we must embrace it as the truth. And as we’ve noted before, none of us would have done any better than Adam did anyway. God chose the perfect representative. Therefore, there is nothing unfair about it.

In fact, to give a silly example, but one that helps to illustrate the point, imagine some perverse dictator who decides to have a one-on-one basketball game to determine whether or not I get to go on living. I’m much better off if Lebron James plays for me than I would be if I play for myself. Similarly, I think it is safe to assume that Adam was a better representative than I would have been.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a silly, but nonetheless interesting, illustration. And so we are responsible for our actions in the sense of being accountable, even if those actions are determined by our inherited nature. But what about responsibility in the sense of liability? How does that fit into the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Frame points out correctly that it is biblical to say that ability may, to some extent, limit responsibility in terms of liability. Let me give a biblical example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: After God gave his people the Ten Commandments, he had Moses give them a number of specific examples for how to apply those commandments. For example, in Exodus 22:2-3 we read that “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” [4]

Marc Roby: The second half of that statement makes it obvious that in the first case, it is assumed that the thief broke into the home during the night. And it would seem that this specific application takes into account the fact that I am more capable of a measured response in the daytime than I would be at night.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly the case, yes. If someone breaks in at night you can’t see as well and may have been awakened out of your sleep and not know if the person is just trying to steal something or is a danger to your person or your family, whereas in the daytime you are better able to properly assess the danger to yourself and your family and to respond in a less drastic way. So, the Bible recognizes that while I am accountable for my actions in both scenarios, I am not equally liable for the results of my actions at night because I am not as capable of properly assessing and responding to the situation.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting example.

Dr. Spencer: And let me give just one more, this time from the New Testament. In Luke 12 Jesus told us about two different servants. In Verses 47-48 we read that he said, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Marc Roby: That short parable makes a clear point that being given more knowledge or ability or whatever increases our responsibility.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in terms of our liability, but not in terms of our accountability. Notice that both servants were punished, so both were held accountable. But the one with greater knowledge was punished more severely. His liability was greater because his knowledge was greater.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how does this apply specifically to the case of limited atonement?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, without God, there would be no ultimate accountability at all. Therefore, Frame wrote that “Without God’s control over the universe, there could be no human responsibility.”[5] And he was specifically speaking about responsibility in the sense of accountability in that passage.

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. The whole concept of accountability requires that there be someone to whom we are accountable. But what about liability?

Dr. Spencer: Well, when it comes to liability, I think it is clear biblically that people will be judged differently based on how much revelation they have received. For example, in Hebrews 10:26-29 we read that “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Marc Roby: That should be terrifying to anyone who has been a member of a good church and then walked away from the faith.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it should be. And it isn’t the most terrifying passage in that regard. In Hebrews 6:4-6 we read, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Marc Roby: You’re right. That’s even more frightening. And praise God that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. We also have the parable of the prodigal son to give us hope for those we know who have walked away from the faith. But the point is still powerfully made that the greater our knowledge and experience of the truth, the greater our liability is for rejecting it.

Marc Roby: That is clear. I can also think of another clear verse about our knowledge or ability influencing our liability before God. James warned his readers, in James 3:1, that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is not one of my favorite verses, but it does make the point. And tying this all back into the doctrine of limited atonement, I am confident that those who have never heard the gospel will be punished less severely than those who have heard and rejected it. They will still be punished for not seeking God however. We read in Romans 1:20, “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.” But it is still true that the punishment of those with greater revelation will be worse.

Marc Roby: And so God is not unfair in judging all men, independent of whether or not they have heard the gospel message.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God is not unfair to anyone. He treats some people with perfect justice and he treats his elect with mercy. But no one is treated unjustly.

Marc Roby: That’s a very important point.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And so, to wrap up what I want to say about the doctrine of limited atonement, let me simply point out that those who oppose this doctrine don’t do so on the basis of biblical exegesis. Rather, they oppose it because their human reason concludes that it is somehow unfair. Then they try to find biblical support for the position. But, as we saw in our previous sessions on this topic, the supposed support they cite is very weak and is equally compatible with the Reformed doctrine. The biblical position is actually clear if you do not allow yourself to sit in judgment over the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of Paul’s response to man’s objection that God’s electing some people to salvation is unfair. In Romans 9:19 Paul states the objection by writing “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” In other words, how can you blame me for not repenting and believing if I am unable to do so because of my sinful nature? And he then Paul gives us God’s response in Verse 20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’”

Dr. Spencer: That is the most definitive answer given to us on this topic. Paul would never have had to ask and answer that question if he had been teaching something other than the doctrine of limited atonement.

Marc Roby: We are just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add to the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord John Frame wrote that “The fundamental point here is not the limited extent of the atonement, though that is a biblical teaching. The fundamental point is the efficacy of the atonement.”[6] In other words, the most important issue biblically is that we uphold the truth that God saves his people. He does not just make salvation possible and leave it up to us, he saves us. We were dead in transgressions and sins as we read in Ephesians 2:1 and God made us alive with Christ as it says in Ephesians 2:5.

John Murray wrote that “when we examine the Scripture we find that the glory of the cross of Christ is bound up with the effectiveness of its accomplishment. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood, he gave himself a ransom that he might deliver us from all iniquity. The atonement is efficacious substitution.”[7] Jesus Christ’s sacrifice actually accomplished our salvation, it did not just make it possible for us to be saved.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion. Now let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’ll do our best to answer you.

[1] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 96

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002

[3] Ibid, pg. 120

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

[5] Ibid, pg. 125

[6] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 153

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 75

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and Dr. Spencer, in our last session you made a solid case for the Reformed, or biblical, position that Christ only died to save his elect. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: We could go on examining more verses that support the biblical case for limited atonement, but I really don’t think there is any need to do that. If you read through the New Testament with this question in mind, the biblical teaching is clear. I think most people who reject this doctrine do so for reasons other than biblical exegesis. Therefore, rather than continuing down that course, I would like to look at the major objections usually raised against this doctrine of limited atonement, or particular redemption as it is sometimes called.

Marc Roby: Very well, what objection do you want to handle first?

Dr. Spencer: That this doctrine makes the offer of salvation somehow disingenuous. In other words, that if this doctrine is true, we cannot make a free offer of salvation to someone honestly, which would be deadly to the great commission given to us by Christ when he commanded us in Matthew 28:18 to “go and make disciples of all nations” [1].

In order to think about this objection, let’s first consider the case of the apostle Paul and his companion Barnabas preaching to the people in Pisidian Antioch.

Marc Roby: We know that the first thing they did was go into the synagogue and preach to the Jews. In fact, we are told in Acts 17 that doing so was Paul’s custom (Verse 2).

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And their preaching drew large crowds, so we read in Acts 13:45-48, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Marc Roby: That passage is yet another one that teaches the doctrine of limited atonement, it clearly says that those who were “appointed” for eternal life believed. But what does it have to do with the objection about the gospel offer not being genuine if limited atonement is true?

Dr. Spencer: Well, consider all of those who heard Paul and Barnabas and yet were not appointed for eternal life. They also had the gospel preached to them. Back in Verses 38-39 of Acts 13 we read that Paul had told them, “through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified”. So, the question is, was that a lie? Was the forgiveness of sins not really being offered to them at all? If it wasn’t possible for some of them to believe because of their unregenerate nature, was it a genuine offer?

Marc Roby: Well that is definitely an objection that you frequently hear. How would you respond?

Dr. Spencer: I would first point out that the question has a hidden assumption built into it.

Marc Roby: What assumption is that?

Dr. Spencer: That our ability limits our responsibility. In other words, if we are unable to respond positively to the gospel call to repent and believe, then according to this view we cannot be held responsible for failing to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: I think that is a very common notion.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it is common, but we need to be very careful and think this through. It is a topic that can get very emotional and we can be easily led astray if we don’t think carefully and, as Christians, we must not only think carefully, but biblically.

Let’s begin by dealing with one case that you might think is pretty obvious and easy. If I am physically forced to do something, I am not morally responsible for that action.

Marc Roby: That seems perfectly reasonable and I suspect all of our listeners would agree.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they will. But now try and come up with real examples and you will see that it becomes much more difficult. For example, suppose I work for a bank and know the combination to the safe. Now suppose a robber comes in and puts a gun to my head and tells me to open the safe. I think we would all agree that I am not guilty of theft if I open the safe for him. No rational person would expect me to surrender my life to save some of the bank’s money.

Marc Roby: Agreed.

Dr. Spencer: But now think about a soldier in the German army in World War II being commanded to help run the gas chambers at Auschwitz. He would have every good reason to believe that if he refused, he would be killed. Is he now morally responsible if he participates?

Marc Roby: I think almost everyone would say that he is, although they might disagree about the extent of his guilt.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And yet, what if a gun was actually pointed at his head and he was told to pull the handle that would release the gas? I think most people would still say that he should refuse, and could be held accountable if he didn’t, but we all start to get a little nervous about it because we realize that he is, in a sense, being forced. The reason most people would say the soldier is responsible, whereas the bank employee is not, is that the crime the soldier is being forced to commit is not just stealing money, but killing innocent people. Therefore, most people would say he should refuse even if it costs him his life.

I bring this up only to show that it is much more difficult than you think to decide some cases. But, even here, we would clearly not hold the person accountable if someone much stronger than he grabbed him and physically made him pull the handle even though he did his best to oppose the act.

Marc Roby: I think we can all agree to that.

Dr. Spencer: OK, so we’ve done away with the easiest case, which was still not always as easy as we might like. Now let’s get to a harder case. What about the person who is an alcoholic and, even knowing that he is, goes into a bar, gets drunk, and then causes an accident that kills someone as he’s driving home? Is he guilty of murder?

Marc Roby: I’m sure that most people would say he is responsible, although he is clearly not guilty of pre-meditated murder since he never intended to kill anyone.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But it was, in another sense, premeditated. He deliberately went into the bar knowing that he would get drunk and knowing that he was going to drive home afterward and therefore he knew, or certainly should have known, that it was entirely possible he would kill someone in a car accident. And this gets even more difficult if you believe, as many people do, that alcoholism is itself some kind of illness for which the person himself is not responsible.

Marc Roby: Yes, that view is very common as well.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And whether it is right or not isn’t important for our present discussion. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Even with that assumption, the man was not forced to go into the bar, he was not forced to drink and get drunk, and he was not forced to get into his car and try to drive home. Therefore, most people, while perhaps feeling very sorry for him, will still hold him accountable for his actions.

Marc Roby: Although the penalty will be far less severe than if he had killed the person deliberately.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and quite appropriate. But my point for the present discussion is simply this; even if a person’s nature is such that there is a strong tendency to act in a certain way, we hold the person accountable for his actions.

Marc Roby: I suspect that our listeners can all agree that that is the case.

Dr. Spencer: And now let me point out something else. We all know what it is like to have a very strong desire to say or do something that we know we shouldn’t. Some situation presents itself and we have a desire that we ourselves judge to be inappropriate. Now some of those desires are only mildly inappropriate and would, at most, garner a disapproving look from others, but some of those desires are far more inappropriate and would lead to serious consequences.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I’m quite confident that everyone knows what you are talking about.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure we all do. But most people are able to say “no” to such desires, especially the ones that are seriously wrong. Now, we may say “no” more out of the fear of the consequences than from some more noble motive, but we say “no” nonetheless. However, the daily news bears clear witness to the fact that not everyone is able to quell their worst desires all the time. People steal, assault, rape, murder and so on. We do, of course, in our legal proceedings take mitigating factors into account, but we don’t just say the person is not responsible because he or she was doing what they desired, even though we may have, at one time or another, experienced a similar desire ourselves.

Marc Roby: Of course not. Getting angry and wanting to punch someone is something we can all relate to, but actually acting on that momentary urge is something far more serious.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s clear. And so I finally come to the point I wanted to make. We do consider our internal nature to be something for which we can be justifiably judged. We do it ourselves when we judge some desire to be inappropriate and therefore don’t act on it, and we do it as a society when we judge someone for acting on an inappropriate desire. The key point is that we can, in fact, be held morally accountable for our actions even though we may not be 100% responsible for our own nature, which produced those actions.

Marc Roby: And so, I assume your conclusion is, that when someone hears the gospel and fails to respond in repentance and faith, he can be justifiably held accountable because he is not being forced to refuse.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Even though his nature prevents him from repenting and believing. As Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” That statement is true for every one of us. We were all born enemies of God. It is the sinful nature we inherited from our first father, Adam. But in terms of our behavior, we are free to do what we want to do and we can, therefore, be reasonably held accountable for that behavior. God’s offer of salvation in the gospel is genuine, the fact that people who have not been born again cannot respond because of their sinful nature and enmity against God does not do away with the sincerity of the offer. God will save all who come to him in true repentance and faith.

The idea that we can’t be responsible for our decisions unless they are absolutely free decisions, meaning that we have the ability to choose any possible option, is simply not true.

Marc Roby: I see your point just based on our own understanding of human behavior and responsibility, but, of course, the most important question for a Christian is this, what does the Word of God say about it?

Dr. Spencer: That is the most important question, and the Bible makes it clear that God will hold everyone eternally accountable for how they respond to whatever revelation they have received. If someone has never heard the gospel message, he will still be held accountable for not having sought God, because as Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20, “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.”

Marc Roby: In other words, there is no innocent native in some far corner of the earth who is free from condemnation because he has never heard about God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. That person simply does not exist. All men are without excuse. But, of course, there will be even greater judgment for those who have heard the gospel and still do not repent and believe. Jesus himself told us in John 3:18 that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: That is not a popular verse in our society, which treats religion as if it were just a part of culture and that every religion therefore, is as good as every other.

Dr. Spencer: It is a monstrously unpopular idea. But that doesn’t decide the case, does it? The facts that we all get sick and die are also universally unpopular, but they are true nonetheless.

We got into this question about whether our ability limits our responsibility because I said that it was an unstated assumption behind the accusation that the doctrine of limited atonement prevents us from making an honest offer of the gospel to people we meet. I would now like to address that objection head on.

Marc Roby: Very well, how would you respond to that objection?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the exact opposite is true. If the atonement was not limited in its applicability, in other words if Christ died to pay for the sins of every single human being, then the atonement would be limited in its effectiveness as we noted in Session 136. And in that case, we would not be offering the full powerful salvation that God offers to sinners. Let me quote John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He wrote that “The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine”, by which he means the doctrine of limited atonement, “that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation. To be more specific, it is Christ himself in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work who is offered.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is an important point. We read in John 19:30 that just before Jesus died on the cross Jesus himself said, “it is finished.” He could not have said that if he only made salvation possible. He would then only have been able to say that his part in the work was finished, but we still had work to do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. Let me offer an analogy that has been used before. Picture someone drowning in the ocean. He is being swamped by waves and is on the verge of going under for the last time. The idea that Christ died to make salvation possible for all is analogous to simply throwing this drowning man a life saver. It doesn’t actually save him; he still has to find the strength to reach out and lay ahold of it. But that is not the biblical picture of salvation. The biblical idea is that we aren’t just drowning, we are already on the bottom of the ocean dead. A life saver will do us no good. God reaches down and brings us up from the bottom and gives us new life in Christ.

Marc Roby: I think you have used that analogy before, but it is a wonderful illustration of the true, powerful offer of salvation contained in the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It is a great picture, yes. We do our part when we present the gospel to the people we come in contact with. We have no way of knowing which of them have been chosen by God for eternal life, but we know that those whom God has chosen will be born again by the powerful working of God’s Holy Spirit and will then respond to the gospel call with true repentance and faith. They may not respond right away, but that is all in God’s hands. The fact that his power is at work in saving people gives us the confidence to preach the gospel. That is why Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”. He knew that the gospel is the instrument through which God brings people to salvation. It isn’t just an offer that they can accept or reject, it is true salvation for the elect.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful truth. God will save his people from their sins. Our confidence is in God and his great power, not in our faith, or our good works, or anything else in all creation.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Paul wrote to the church in Philippi saying, as we read in Philippians 1:6, that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Salvation is the work of God from beginning to end. He began it in eternity past by choosing a particular group of people whom he planned to save, he brings it about in the life of every individual believer by causing him or her to hear the gospel, by regenerating them so that they can respond to the gospel in repentance and faith, and then working with them to sanctify them and, ultimately, to bring them into heaven to spend eternity with him.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful and powerful salvation to be sure. I know you have another objection to the doctrine of limited atonement that you want to address, but I think it will have to wait until next week. Right now, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to respond to 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 Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 65

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

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with a quote from Murray. He wrote that “Just as sacrifice is directed to the need created by our guilt, propitiation to the need that arises from the wrath of God, and reconciliation to the need arising from our alienation from God, so redemption is directed to the bondage to which our sin has consigned us.”[2]

Marc Roby: And that raises an obvious question. To whom or to what are we in bondage?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we need to be careful in answering that question. Many would be tempted to say that we have been redeemed from the law, but that is not true in general. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, we read in Matthew 22:37-40 that he answered, “‘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.”[3]

And Murray notes that “It would contradict the very nature of God to think that any person can ever be relieved of the necessity to love God with the whole heart and to obey his commandments.”[4]

Marc Roby: That would be an unbiblical conclusion. We have made the point a number of times that we are, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:29, “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” and Jesus was perfectly obedient. He tells us 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: We have addressed this issue many times because it is of fundamental importance and is often misrepresented in modern churches. So Murray is very careful to be more specific. The first thing he notes is that we have been redeemed from the curse of law. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13 that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”

Marc Roby: And the curse of the law is the punishment that is due to us for violating it.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Murray says that “The curse of the law is its penal sanction.” Sin is a violation of God’s law and Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death”. But Christians have been delivered from death in its fullest sense, which is why Paul wrote that wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: That reminds me of the answer to Question 85 of the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and it is worth taking the time to look at that question and answer. Question 85 reads as follows – and I’m modernizing it a fair amount here; Since death is the wages of sin, why are the righteous not delivered from death, since their sins are forgiven in Christ?

Marc Roby: And the glorious answer is that “The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon.”

Dr. Spencer: The question, of course, is a very difficult one. In essence, it asks, “Why do Christians have to die?” There is mystery here and we cannot give a complete answer. But we can say, as the Catechism does, that we are “delivered from the sting and curse” of death. When death is a penalty for sin, it has a great sting and is a tremendous curse because it leads to eternal hell, the unending wrath of God.[5]

But, for a Christian, that sting and curse are removed. We must still experience the death of our bodies, but for a Christian, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “to die is gain.” It brings us into the very presence of God and our souls are perfected. We then remain in that perfected but disembodied state until Christ comes again, at which time we receive our new glorified bodies and spend eternity in heaven where, as we read in Revelation 21:4, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious and unimaginable future, which I long for with all my heart.

Dr. Spencer: And I do as well. We will speak more about that in a later session, but for now it is enough to note that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice redeems us from this curse of the law.

Marc Roby: What a wonderful redemption that is. What else does Christ’s atonement redeem us from?

Dr. Spencer: It redeems us from the ceremonial law. Paul explains this in his letter to the church in Galatia. He uses the example of a child coming of age. In those days a minor child would be under the supervision of a παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which is a Greek word that means one who leads a boy and is the origin of our word pedagogue. When the child comes of age, he would no longer be under the supervision of the παιδαγωγός. Let me read a passage from Paul’s letter using the English Standard Version of the Bible because it translates the passage more literally. In this passage, when you hear the English word “guardian”, it is translating the Greek word παιδαγωγός. In Galatians 3:24-26 we read, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

Marc Roby: So, in other words, Paul is saying that believers, viewed as a whole, came of age when Christ came, to whom we are all united by faith.

Dr. Spencer: That is the idea. The law was our guardian, but when Christ came he redeemed us from this guardianship. In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul wrote, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

Therefore, Christ’s coming brought an end to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, which included the system of sacrifices. We read about these ceremonial laws in Hebrews 9:10, “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”

Marc Roby: And this new order was ushered in by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. A couple of verses later, in Hebrews 9:12, we read that Christ “did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

Marc Roby: And so we are no longer bound to keep the Jewish ceremonial laws dealing with kosher food, ceremonial washings, specified feast days, animal sacrifices and so on.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We are free from all of that. But as I noted earlier, we are not free of our obligation to keep the moral law. Murray writes that “Christ has redeemed us from the necessity of keeping the law as the condition of our justification and acceptance with God. Without such redemption there could be no justification and no salvation. It is the obedience of Christ himself that has secured this release.”[6] Notice that if we did have to keep the law to be saved, there could be no salvation. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:20, “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So, although anyone who has been truly born again will live a life characterized by the obedience of faith, our obedience is not in any way meritorious. It is the obedience of Christ alone that saves us.

Marc Roby: And praise God for that obedience. What else does Christ’s atoning sacrifice redeem us from?

Dr. Spencer: It redeems us from both the guilt and the power of sin. The effect of our being redeemed from the guilt of sin is our justification and the forgiveness of our sins. The effect of our being redeemed from the power of sin is that we have the ability to say “no” to sin and to walk in holiness for the glory of God.

Marc Roby: And what a wonderful power that is.

Dr. Spencer: But it is a power that is completely eviscerated by the unbiblical teaching that Christ can be your Savior and not your Lord. Murray wrote that “Redemption from the power of sin may be called the triumphal aspect of redemption. In his finished work Christ did something once for all respecting the power of sin and it is in virtue of this victory which he secured that the power of sin is broken in all those who are united to him. It is in this connection that a strand of New Testament teaching needs to be appreciated but which is frequently overlooked. It is that not only is Christ regarded as having died for the believer but the believer is represented as having died in Christ and as having been raised up with him to newness of life. This is the result of union with Christ.”[7]

In other words, Christ is victorious, he defeated sin, Satan and death itself, and because we are united with him we can also have victory over sin, Satan and death.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 1 John 5:4 where we read that “everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

Dr. Spencer: I like that verse. And I like the way the puritans used to speak about living a victorious Christian life. We need to get that language back into usage. Christians have a glorious freedom in Christ, a freedom to not sin! Too often today self-professing Christians think that they have a freedom to sin all they want because they are saved by grace alone. But that is a complete perversion of the true gospel. Paul dealt with this very question in the book of Romans. In Romans 6:1 he asks the question, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”

Marc Roby: And then he begins his answer, in Romans 6:2-4, by saying, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Dr. Spencer: We see here the symbolism of Christian baptism, we were “buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We died to our old sinful nature and have become new creations. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” If we have been born again, we are new creations and we will live overcoming lives in union with Christ. We will never be perfect in this life, we sin every day, but we don’t have to sin. We have the freedom and the power, to say “no”!

Marc Roby: Paul went on in Romans 6:6-7 to say, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the freedom we have in Christ. And Paul goes in Verses 12-14 to explain what it really means to be under grace instead of under the law. He wrote, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” As I said earlier, to be under grace is to have the freedom to not sin.

Marc Roby: What a glorious gospel this is. It is much greater freedom to have the power to not sin than it would be to be able to sin and not pay the penalty.

Dr. Spencer: And our indwelling sin is not our only enemy. The devil is real and his demons are real. They hate God and they hate God’s people and they do not want us to have victory over sin and live holy lives that bring glory to God. They want to bring us down and make us fail. As Christ told us in John 10:10, the devil only comes only to “steal, kill and destroy.” But he mostly does it by bringing temptations for things that our remaining sin desires.

Marc Roby: But God promises us, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a very comforting promise. But we must take the way out that God provides. We need to be on our toes, ready for battle. Paul wrote about this in Ephesians 6:11-13 where he commands us, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Marc Roby: And the full armor of God includes salvation itself, truth, righteousness, faith, the Word of God and prayer.

Dr. Spencer: We need spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles. Many people who consider themselves Christians today either deny the reality of the devil outright, or deny his reality in practice by never giving any thought to the spiritual warfare in which all true Christians are engaged. If you are a Christian but have no sense of this warfare, you are in serious danger.

Marc Roby: But we are promised that we can win in this war. James tells us in James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful promise. Satan is far more powerful than we are, but as we read in 1 John 4:4, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” So if we submit ourselves to God, meaning that we walk in humble obedience, depending on his grace and promises, then we can overcome Satan because we are united with Christ.

Marc Roby: And so, as you said, Christ has redeemed us from both the guilt and the power of sin.

Dr. Spencer: Let me read one more quote from John Murray to conclude this topic. He wrote that “redemption from sin cannot be adequately conceived or formulated except as it comprehends the victory which Christ secured once for all over him who is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.”[8]

And, for those who may not know, those are all descriptions, or titles, used for the devil in the Bible. He is the “god of this world”[9] – with a little ‘g’, he is the “prince of the power of the air”,[10] and he is the “spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.”[11] When Christ redeemed us from sin, he gave us victory over our sin, over this world, and over Satan.

Marc Roby: Hallelujah! Christ’s atoning sacrifice has secured the ultimate, eternal victory for all of his people.

Dr. Spencer: And we have now seen that the atonement is described in the Bible in the terms of a sacrifice, a propitiation, a reconciliation and a redemption.

Marc Roby: And with that 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 appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] Ibid, pg. 43

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

[4] Murray, op. cit., pg. 44

[5] For a good short treatment of this answer in the Catechism, see J.G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism, A Commentary, Ed. By G.I. Williamson, P&R Publishing, 2002, pp 197-198

[6] Murray, op. cit., pg. 45

[7] Ibid, pg. 48

[8] Ibid, pg. 50

[9] 2 Corinthians 4:4 (“god of this age” in the NIV)

[10] Ephesians 2:2 (“ruler of the kingdom of the air” in the NIV)

[11] Ephesians 2:2 (“spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” in the NIV)

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, at the end of our session last week we dealt with the very difficult material in Romans Chapter 9, where Paul tells us quite clearly about God’s sovereign election of some to be saved and others not to be saved. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to say a little more about the presentation in Romans 9 and then defend the biblical view of God’s sovereign unconditional election against some of the most common objections. The doctrine of unconditional election says that God chooses whom he will save based on his own good pleasure and not any merit in us.

The last thing we looked at in Romans 9 was God’s response to man’s objection that it isn’t fair for God to judge him given that God is completely sovereign in deciding whom to save.

Marc Roby: And God’s answer, in essence, was to shut your mouth. As a mere creature you have no business questioning the Creator.

Dr. Spencer: That was the answer. And then Paul went on, in Romans 9:21-24 to say, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”[1]

Marc Roby: Those verses are extremely difficult for people to accept. We spoke at length about them recently, in Session 109.

Dr. Spencer: And interested listeners can go to the archive and read or listen to that podcast. I don’t want to repeat it all here. But we noted there that an unbeliever will not accept the answer. He will continue to accuse God of being unfair. But a believer will accept God’s answer, even though it is still hard.

Marc Roby: Yes, it is very hard to understand. When we are born again, we are given a new worldview, which accepts God’s Word as our ultimate standard for truth even though God has not revealed a complete answer to the question of how to reconcile his sovereignty and our freedom.

Dr. Spencer: The tension between man’s freedom, or responsibility, and God’s sovereignty is one of the most difficult things for us to deal with. And I say “deal with” rather than “understand” because we can’t fully understand it. We can see that it is not a true contradiction, but we cannot fully resolve the tension.

In his commentary on Romans, the Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “The point of contention in Romans 9-11 is the conflict between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. Paul never offers a logical solution to this tension, except when he concludes ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”[2]

Marc Roby: And that says about all that we, as creatures, can say in regard to this issue. As we are told in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. We cannot fully explain how to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom and responsibility. But we certainly can say a bit more about whether or not the Lutheran and Arminian position avoids this complication. Remember that Lutherans and Arminians claim that every human being has the ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. They assume that by doing so, they protect God from the charge of being unfair by electing some to salvation while leaving others to pay for their sins in hell.

We have already shown that this is at odds with the biblical teaching, but we can say even more, because even if it were a possible interpretation of the biblical data, it doesn’t shield God from man’s charge of being unfair.

Marc Roby: Well, please explain why not.

Dr. Spencer: The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge said it well, so let me quote him. He wrote that “If it be right that God should permit an event to happen, it must be right that He should purpose to permit it, i.e., that He should decree its occurrence.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s a very important point, and a great way of putting it. If we think we are somehow isolating God from a charge of being unfair for his eternal election by leaving it up to men, we still have to face the problem that according to the Lutheran and Arminian view God permits some people to refuse his offer and go to hell. The end result is the same, not everyone is saved. So, as Hodge says, if it is right for God to permit such an event, it must also be right if his purpose is to permit it, or we could say, if he foreordains it.

Dr. Spencer: And Hodge draws a very reasonable conclusion from this observation. We must remember that he refers to the reformed view of the decree of election as the “Augustinian system”, since it was also the teaching of St. Augustine. Hodge wrote that “The Augustinian system, therefore, is nothing but the assumption that God intended in eternity what He actually does in time.”[4]

Marc Roby: And that sounds eminently reasonable. The only logical alternative is that God is no longer sovereign over his creation, which would be a frightening thought.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a very frightening thought. We would not be able to trust any of God’s promises. And so, as you said, Hodge’s conclusion is completely reasonable. He goes on to write that all “anti-Augustinian systems”, which certainly includes Lutheran and Arminian theologies, “assume that God is bound to provide salvation for all; to give sufficient grace to all; and to leave the question of salvation and perdition to be determined by each man for himself. … The question is not which of these theories is the more agreeable, but which is true.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a critically important point. We should want to know the truth, even if that truth is in some way less agreeable to us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we certainly should. Especially when we take into account the fact that we are finite, sinful creatures, so what we think of as being agreeable certainly should not be the standard we use. But Hodge goes on to make a very good point about which view is true.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: He writes, “And to decide that question one method is to ascertain which accords best with providential facts. Does God in his providential dealings with men act on the principles of sovereignty, distributing his favours according to the good pleasure of his will; or on the principle of impartial justice, dealing with all men alike? This question admits of but one answer. … the fact is patent that the greatest inequalities do exist among men; that God deals far more favourably with some than with others; that He distributes his providential blessings, which include not only temporal good but also religious advantages and opportunities, as an absolute sovereign according to his own good pleasure”.[6]

Marc Roby: I’m afraid I have noticed that “the greatest inequalities do exist among men”, we certainly aren’t all equally capable in virtually any endeavor I can think of.

Dr. Spencer: No, we aren’t. And we need to recognize that God is the one who sovereignly decides what gifts to give to each person. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul addresses the issue of gifts given to different people in the church and he writes, in Verse 11, that “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” And this isn’t just true of gifts we are given for the edification of God’s church. God is sovereign over all the affairs of men. When Paul was speaking to the people in Athens he declared, as we read in Acts 17:26, that from one man God “made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Marc Roby: The Old Testament teaches us the very same thing. For example, in Job 12:23 we read that God “makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.” And, in Psalm 139:16 King David declared to God that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Dr. Spencer: It is a clear teaching of the Bible that God is sovereign over every detail of life. We don’t choose where, when or to whom we are born, and we don’t get to choose how tall we are, what color hair we have, what gifts we have and so on. And the flip side of that is that we have no basis for pride if we possess some particular gift, be it intellectual, musical, athletic or whatever, and we also have no rational basis for thinking that God has been unfair to us if our gifts aren’t as great as we would like. God doesn’t owe us anything. He never treats anyone unjustly.

Marc Roby: Do you think there is someone whose gifts are as great as he or she would like?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I doubt it. I certainly haven’t met the person. But let me finish this discussion by stating Hodge’s conclusion. He wrote, “It is therefore vain to adopt a theory which does not accord with these facts. It is vain for us to deny that God is a sovereign in the distribution of his favours if in his providence it is undeniable that He acts as a sovereign. Augustinianism accords with these facts of providence, and therefore must be true. It only assumes that God acts in the dispensation of his grace precisely as He acts in the distribution of his other favours; and all anti-Augustinian systems which are founded on the principle that this sovereignty of God is inconsistent with his justice and his parental relation to the children of men are in obvious conflict with the facts of his providence.”

Marc Roby: That is a very solid, logical argument. We should avoid having our theology be inconsistent with known facts.

Dr. Spencer: We should avoid holding any theory that contradicts known facts, whether we are talking about theology, physics, chemistry or whatever. But in every one of these fields there is a natural tendency to construct theories that are consistent with our own underlying assumptions. And if some of our assumptions are wrong, we are going to come up with wrong theories.

Marc Roby: And when we see that one of our theories doesn’t comport with the facts, it should cause us to go back and reconsider our assumptions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point. We should seek to gather together all of the available data and then find the theory that best explains all of it. That is no less true in theology than it is in physics and chemistry. But in doing this, we have to realize that we need some ultimate standard for determining truth and, as we have said many times, the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian is the Bible.

Hodge wrote, “If the office of the theologian, as is so generally admitted, be to take the facts of Scripture as the man of science does those of nature, and found upon them his doctrines, instead of deducing his doctrines from the principles or primary truths of his philosophy, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that the doctrine of Augustine is the doctrine of the Bible. According to that doctrine God is an absolute sovereign. He does what seems good in his sight. He sends the truth to one nation and not to another. He gives that truth saving power in one mind and not in another. It is of him, and not of us, that any man is in Christ Jesus, and is an heir of eternal life.”

Marc Roby: It is interesting that Hodge notes in that statement that God doesn’t send the truth to every nation. In other words, not every human being who has ever lived has heard the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: That statement is undeniably true. And it also argues against the standard Lutheran or Arminian position. No one can accept as true a gospel they have never heard, and it is obvious that not everyone in history has heard the gospel. So even if all people did have equal ability to respond in faith, not all have equal opportunity and you’re right back to the initial question about God’s fairness. We can’t let our own idea of fairness overrule what the Bible clearly teaches.

There is one final argument that Hodge makes against those who object to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Marc Roby: What argument is that?

Dr. Spencer: He points out that Paul would not have had to provide the answers he does in Chapter 9 of the book of Romans if the Lutheran and Arminian position were true. Hodge wrote, “What appearance of injustice could there have been had Paul taught that God elects those whom He foresees will repent and believe, and because of that foresight? It is only because he clearly asserts the sovereignty of God that the objections have any place.”[7]

Marc Roby: That’s a fantastic point. Paul’s asking and answering the question about fairness makes no sense if the Lutheran and Arminian understanding is correct.

Dr. Spencer: The bottom line is that we may think that fairness requires God to give all of us the same ability to accept or reject his gospel offer, but our thinking that does not make it so.

Marc Roby: And perhaps there are good reasons for not giving us all the same ability.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in fact, I would say that there are. We have shown before because of our total depravity, if God didn’t do anything, no one would choose to believe and we would all be condemned. Our natures are initially at enmity with God and cannot choose him.

But on the other hand, if God changes our nature so that we love him, which is what happens when we are born again, then we are guaranteed to choose him.

Marc Roby: And it seems like we are right back to the issue of free will, which we have discussed before.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the problem. The notion that our will is completely free from any constraint, even our own predispositions, is illogical. As we have discussed before, unless you want to think that your decisions are completely randomly, there must be some predisposition one way or the other for us to make any decision. So, in particular, the idea that we could be in some neutral state where we could freely choose either to accept or reject God is, I think, simply impossible. We are either against God, or for him. There can be no neutrality. And, in fact, I would argue that if someone was neutral, that would be sinful. How could you not love the perfect God? How could you be neutral toward your Creator?

Marc Roby: I see your point. And it appears as though we have finished discussing the doctrine of unconditional election. Is that true?

Dr. Spencer: For now, yes.

Marc Roby: Very well, then this looks like a good place to stop for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2014, pp 62-63

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 336

[4] Ibid, pg. 337

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pp 337-338

[7] Ibid, pg. 352

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology; that is, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our last session we emphasized the importance of salvation. Our greatest need is not for anything in this life, our greatest need is to be saved from eternal hell, which we all deserve because of our rebellion against God. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to introduce some more precise terminology. The term salvation refers to the whole process by which we are saved from eternal hell and ushered into heaven in our glorified bodies on the Day of Judgment. But there are a number of steps involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: And theologians often refer to those steps by the Latin phrase, ordo salutis, which simply means the order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and we will get to every item on that list, but I want to begin by focusing for a few minutes on one item in the middle of that list, which is justification.

Marc Roby: Which refers to God’s legal declaration that we are just, or righteous in his sight.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We need to picture a heavenly courtroom. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[1]

Marc Roby: And the verdict that is rendered in that courtroom seals our eternal destiny. We read in Matthew 25:46 that Jesus said the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: Which is why we made the point in our last session, as you reminded us in your opening comment, that our greatest need is to be saved from eternal hell. In other words, we need to be justified. Therefore, the first thing I want to do today is look at what it takes for us to be justified in God’s sight.

In order to be justified, we have two problems that must be solved and which we are utterly incapable of solving ourselves. First, the debt we owe because of our sins must be paid. God is the perfectly holy and just judge of the universe and sin must be punished.

Marc Roby: That is not a popular idea today. Many, if not most, people would prefer a God who simply forgives our sin. To require punishment sounds primitive to many people in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: People may prefer such a god, but he doesn’t exist. As I said, God is just and must punish sin. And if that idea sounds primitive to some of our listeners, I would ask them to consider a question. Suppose that you have a young daughter and she is brutally raped and murdered. Would justice be satisfied if the man who did it simply said “I’m sorry”?

Marc Roby: Yes, I don’t think most people would say that saying sorry is sufficient to pay for such a horrible offense.

Dr. Spencer: And, more importantly, neither would God. Forgiveness is possible if there is true repentance, but justice still demands that the sin be punished and we all have an intuitive sense of the truth of that statement.

Marc Roby: I see your point. But you said we have two problems, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: Our second problem is that we need perfect righteousness. God cannot declare us to be just without perfect righteousness. I want to focus on this second need first.

Jesus commanded us in Matthew 5:48 to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, we don’t just need to be better than someone else in order to be justified, and we don’t just need to be in the top 10% of moral people, or anything like that. God’s standard is perfection.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many will object that it is unfair of God to have a standard that we can’t meet.

Dr. Spencer: Many will say that, but it isn’t unfair because it was possible for Adam to meet this standard in his original state. He was our representative before God as we discussed in Session 106. And we all, as his descendants, inherit both his guilt and his sinful nature, which is why we all, without exception, sin.

Marc Roby: The idea that we inherit Adam’s guilt and sinful nature is known as the doctrine of original sin, which we first mentioned in Session 105.

Dr. Spencer: And the wonderful news of the gospel, is that God did not leave us in that sorry condition. The central feature of the history of man is God’s working out his plan of salvation to take care of our sin problem. History is linear and has a predetermined end. When God has finished saving all those whom he is going to save, Christ will come again and, as we read in 2 Peter 3:10, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” And then, just a few verses later, in Verse 13, Peter tells us, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise, and I look forward to that home of righteousness. We should point out though that this idea isn’t something new in the New Testament. God had already revealed his plan in the Old Testament. We read in Isaiah 65:17 that God said, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Dr. Spencer: And God had also revealed through Isaiah that this glorious new creation will endure forever, along with eternal hell. We read in Isaiah 66:22-24, “‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the LORD, ‘so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the LORD. ‘And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.’”

Marc Roby: This again makes clear the eternal importance of salvation. There are only two eternal destinies and all of us, as rebels against God, deserve to be in hell, where “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Dr. Spencer: And God progressively revealed his solution to our sin problem throughout history. It began with the curse pronounced on Satan in the Garden. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told 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.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is called the protoevangelium, meaning the first gospel. Jesus Christ figuratively crushed Satan’s head when he accomplished our redemption on the cross.

Dr. Spencer: And this protoevangelium was followed in time by God giving man a sacrificial system, which pointed to our need for a substitute to bear the wrath of God, which we deserve for our sins. It was also followed by the moral law, which, as we pointed out in Session 58, has three uses. First, because of our inability to keep it, it shows us our need for a Savior. Second, the punishments serve as a deterrent to sin. And, thirdly, the law serves as a model to show us how God wants us to live.

In addition, God gave many prophecies about the coming Messiah and the redemption he would accomplish for his people.

Marc Roby: And those prophecies are all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: They are. It is also important to note that it is clear in the Old Testament that salvation comes from God, we don’t earn it. God tells us a number of times that he alone is our Savior. For example, we are told in Isaiah 45:21, “Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

Marc Roby: It would be impossible to be clearer than that.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And, in addition, God tells us how he will save us. We read in Ezekiel 36:25-27 that God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. And it also speaks to the radical nature of our depravity, which we discussed in Session 108 when we presented the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity. Because of our total depravity, we need nothing less than a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: And our heart refers to the core of our being. Our mind, will and affections. In other words, all that we are as human beings. We are not as bad as we could possibly be, but we are sinful in every aspect of our being. In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Marc Roby: That doesn’t sound good. If our hearts are beyond cure, then it would appear that there isn’t any hope.

Dr. Spencer: And that is true humanly speaking, but what is impossible with man is possible with God as Jesus told us in Matthew 19:26.

The radical nature of the change is also clearly illustrated by the figure of speech used in the New Testament. In John 3:3 we read that Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then again, in John 3:5, we read that he added, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Marc Roby: Being born again, which is also called regeneration, obviously refers to a radical change. And it reminds me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, these are all very important verses, and we have covered most of them before, but it is important to once again remind ourselves of just how serious the problem is. It is especially important to understand our total depravity, that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin, or we will not properly understand the biblical doctrine of salvation.

In Ephesians 2:1-2 the apostle Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

The biblical view is that we were spiritually dead. We weren’t just sick, or in need of a little help to be better. We were dead.

Marc Roby: And Paul’s language is completely consistent with Christ’s statement that we need to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: It is, the Bible is consistent in all that it teaches. Prior to being regenerated by a mighty work of God, we were spiritually dead. We were still physically alive of course, but we were enemies of God. Paul also wrote in Romans 8:6-8 that “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

Marc Roby: Paul doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of unregenerate human beings. They are disobedient, hostile to God, unable to submit to his laws and controlled by their sinful nature.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray summarized the problem in the following way. “If this is man’s condition in sin, then there can be no pleasure in the will of God. Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, Murray makes a strong argument for the reformed view that we must be born again before we can repent and believe.

Dr. Spencer: And his argument is entirely biblical. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We need nothing less than new birth. We need new hearts. And dead people don’t raise themselves to life. God must do the work first.

The biblical doctrine of justification flows inexorably from the biblical doctrine of total depravity. There is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin, and so it is impossible that we will ever choose to repent and believe in Jesus Christ if left on our own.

Marc Roby: And total depravity is represented by the first letter in the acrostic TULIP, which we have discussed before. It is often used to describe reformed theology.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And, just to remind those listeners who may not be familiar with this acrostic, in addition to the ‘T’ standing for total depravity, the ‘U’ stands for unconditional election, the ‘L’ stands for limited atonement, the ‘I’ stands for irresistible grace, and the ‘P’ stands for perseverance of the saints.

We have noted before that one can certainly argue that better terms exist for some of the doctrines. And, in addition, these five doctrines do not fully define reformed theology. For example, they don’t mention the Creator/creature distinction, which is central to reformed theology. But this acrostic is very important in discussing the biblical doctrine of justification, and the five points all hold together logically. As I said, we can’t properly understand the biblical doctrine of salvation if we don’t first understand that prior to being born again we were spiritually dead.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, morally incapable of saving ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In his excellent short summary of Reformed theology R.C. Sproul wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP,” and the aspect he is referring to is our moral inability, then, “the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[3] And we will see that this is true as we dive into the biblical doctrine of justification.

Marc Roby: Which I very much look forward to doing, 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, and we will be sure to respond.

 

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

[2] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 169

[3] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 128

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last week we talked about the fact that Jesus Christ had to bear our sins on the cross and die for us to be saved. But this whole issue of our fundamental need for salvation is so important, and so central to what is wrong with many churches today, that I want to spend a bit more time on making a solid case for it. Our greatest need, and the fundamental mission of the church, have nothing to do with this life. They have to do with what happens after we die.

Marc Roby: When you look at what goes on in many churches and what is often said about Christianity in the world, you wouldn’t get that impression.

Dr. Spencer: No, you wouldn’t. And that is the problem. In Luke 12:4-5 we read that Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”[1]

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly makes it clear that this life is not the most important thing. We are not to fear those who can do no more than kill the body, even though we tend to think of that as being pretty much the worst thing possible.

Dr. Spencer: And when we think that way, we demonstrate that we don’t fully believe there is an eternal heaven and hell. We need to adjust our thinking to be biblical. And you could also extend this idea very easily, it isn’t just a matter of whether I live or die that is not eternally important. For example, a thousand years from now it really won’t matter whether I spend the next ten years enjoying health, peace and prosperity or if I endure horrible pain, conflict and poverty. What will matter is whether I am then in heaven or hell. Life is short, and eternity never ends. We should plan for eternity. Most of us take time to plan our vacations, but how often do we sit down and consider our eternal destiny?

Marc Roby: Not as often or as seriously as we should I’m afraid.

Dr. Spencer: People often put off any such thoughts until they are forced on them, and even then, they often resist. When the doctor says you have terminal cancer and only have three months to live, you would think anyone would get serious about considering what happens after death. But often people simply keep themselves busy making plans for their estate or take pride in facing the inevitable with a stiff upper lip, or just descend into a pit of self-focused despair.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’ve witnessed all of those reactions, and others.

Dr. Spencer: And my point is simply that it is all too easy and natural to be completely absorbed with this life. But such a view leads to a religion that is focused on making this life better.

I quoted from J. Gresham Machen’s book Christianity & Liberalism last week and I want to quote from it again. He wrote that “Joy is indeed being sought by the modern liberal Church. But it is being sought in ways that are false. How may communion with God be made joyful? Obviously, we are told, by emphasizing the comforting attributes of God – His long-suffering, His love.”[2]

Marc Roby: Or, as one modern liberal theologian put it, we should focus on God’s “one-way” love. The idea being that God loves me even if I don’t love him and he has a plan to make my life wonderful.

Dr. Spencer: Which means, among other things, that you shouldn’t feel guilty for sin or think about eternal punishment. You should just focus on God’s love. But Machen points out that “Two questions arise with regard to this method of making religion joyful – in the first place, Does it work? And in the second place, Is it true?” He goes on to answer these two questions. He wrote, “It certainly ought to work. How can anyone be unhappy when the ruler of the universe is declared to be the loving Father of all men who will never permanently inflict pain upon His children?” But then he points out the obvious fault with the view, “If God will necessarily forgive, no matter what we do, why trouble ourselves about Him at all? Such a God may deliver us from the fear of hell. But His heaven, if He has any, is full of sin.”[3]

Marc Roby: Well, given that sin is the cause of all our misery, a heaven full of sin doesn’t sound like much of a heaven to me.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But that is the heaven liberal theology holds out for us. They don’t say that of course, but that is the logical conclusion of their theology. If I don’t need to have my sin removed, if I’m just fine the way I am, then heaven won’t be perfect. To be sure, they would say that there won’t be any physical sickness or death in heaven, but what about all the personal problems and pain caused by our sin? I’m sure that almost every one of these people thinks that someone like Hitler will either be changed or won’t be there, but it is the height of arrogance and lack of honest self-evaluation for anyone to think that he can go to heaven as he is and have it still be a place of perfect peace and rest. Or even to think that he only needs some minor improvements to belong there.

Marc Roby: I agree. But Machen mentioned two questions; the first was whether or not this liberal theology works, and we’ve just explained why it doesn’t. His second question was more fundamental, he asked whether or not this theology is true. How did he answer that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, he wrote that “The other objection to the modern encouraging idea of God is that it is not true. How do you know that God is all love and kindness? Surely not through nature, for it is full of horrors. Human suffering may be unpleasant, but it is real, and God must have something to do with it. Just as surely [you do] not [know that God is all love and kindness] through the Bible. For it was from the Bible that the old theologians derived that conception of God which you would reject as gloomy. ‘The Lord thy God,’ the Bible says, ‘is a consuming fire.’”[4]

Marc Roby: Well, if I may summarize and paraphrase a bit, Machen is saying that the idea of a God who is all love and kindness is not consistent with the facts of life in this world, nor does it agree with the God revealed to us in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair summary. God is love, but as we pointed out last time, you have to define love biblically and you have to account for the fact that God is also just, holy and so on. The God of liberal churches is a figment of people’s imaginations. He is a Santa Claus for grownups. When we were little children, we were able to believe in Santa Claus, but then we grew up and realized he doesn’t really exist. The liberal god is just a far more sophisticated benevolent figure. One whom we know can’t be seen. But this god of human imagination is false. He doesn’t exist. And he can’t help anyone.

Marc Roby: And yet you see studies that claim all sorts of advantages for people who consider themselves to be religious or spiritual, independent of whether that religion is true biblical Christianity. One paper from the Mayo Clinic, for example, says that “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.”[5] How do you explain results like that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, you can also find reputable studies pointing to the tangible benefits obtained from meditation.[6] I don’t doubt that these findings have an element of truth. It seems reasonable to believe that by taking time out of your day to do anything that takes your mind off of your immediate problems and let’s your body relax is probably good for your health. It’s also good for your health to eat a balanced diet and get daily exercise. But these things will not save you. They may help you live longer and healthier, but they will be of no use to you once you die.

So, I don’t doubt that liberal churches can provide some benefits in this life. The whole point I’m getting at however is that this life is not the most important thing. There is a never-ending eternity that comes next. Even if I live to be 110 years old, what difference will the quality of my life make 1,000 or 10,000 years from now?

Marc Roby: Well, it is logically clear that it won’t matter much at all. But that is hard for us to see here and now. But what you have said reminds me of the final verse from that great hymn, Amazing Grace; we sing, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great hymn, and that line is literally true. Eternity never ends. So 10,000 years is nothing. We cannot conceive of that, which is part of why it is so easy to be deceived and focused entirely on this life.

Marc Roby: Now, to be clear, you’re not suggesting that this life is not important at all.

Dr. Spencer: No, quite the contrary in fact. This life has eternal importance. Once you die, the decision is made about your eternal destiny. The Bible is clear that there aren’t any second chances. If you reject God’s only way of salvation now, you will never get another chance. And the Bible also hints at the fact that there are different levels of reward in heaven and different levels of punishment in hell, so how we live matters. But the most important issue, by leaps and bounds, is a binary decision. Everyone will either go to heaven or to hell. And the least horrible place in hell is unimaginably terrible, while the least wonderful place in heaven is indescribably glorious.

Marc Roby: And heaven and hell are both eternal.

Dr. Spencer: They are. And so the important point I’m laboring to make is the singular importance of salvation. Religion in the broad sense, or even that incredibly nebulous thing called spirituality, may provide some benefits in this life, just like meditation, proper diet and exercise can. But the only thing that can bring you eternal salvation is the gospel of grace revealed to us in the Bible.

Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Every human being alive, or who has ever lived or ever will live, will be judged based on their answer to the simple question Jesus posed to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And there are only two answers. Either Jesus is who he claimed to be – God incarnate, the only mediator between God and man, the Savior and Lord of the universe, or he was just a man, and a liar at that.

Marc Roby: And, if he was just a man, we may want to emulate him in some ways, but he is of no help with regard to our eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But he isn’t just a man. He is the Lord of the universe and we owe him absolute, unquestioning obedience, worship and love.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is the only place we learn what God has said concerning our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: And the first thing that God tells us is that we are sinners. Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament and in Malachi 3:1 we read that the Lord God, Jehovah, said, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come”.

Marc Roby: And we learn in the New Testament that this messenger who prepares the way for the Lord was John the Baptist.

Dr. Spencer: And what was the message John the Baptist preached?

Marc Roby: Well, we read his message in Matthew 3:1-2; “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’

Dr. Spencer: And in Mark 1:15 we read that Jesus himself said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” The good news is the gospel. It is the biblical message of salvation. That Jesus Christ came and died in my place to pay the penalty for my sins. And if I will give up all self-reliance, if I will recognize the truth that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and if I will acknowledge Jesus Christ as that promised Savior, I will be saved. True repentance and faith in Christ are like two sides of a coin, you can’t have one without the other.

Marc Roby: And no one will repent if he doesn’t see that his sin is terrible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The problem with false churches is that they don’t tell their people that God demands repentance and holy living. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied while God was bringing judgment on his people in Jerusalem, but he was opposed by many other so-called prophets who said the judgment would not come.

But the judgment did come, the city was destroyed and the people were taken captive to Babylon. In Lamentations 2:14 Jeremiah wrote that “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.”

Marc Roby: So exposing sin can be a very good thing, it can ward off captivity, or eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It is like a diagnostic test that reveals your cancer. You aren’t going to be cured if you don’t even know you have the disease.

So, calling yourself a minister of the gospel and calling your building a church while failing to tell people they are sinners in need of a Savior is a serious sin. The most important responsibility of a true church is to proclaim the gospel. Not to try and make people feel good about themselves. And the good news of the gospel must follow the bad news that we are sinners, and that God is justly angry with sin. We need a Savior. Only when we confess our need can the cure of the gospel be applied.

Marc Roby: And that cure must address our real need, that is to have our sins atoned for.

Dr. Spencer: If the church doesn’t address that issue, it has reduced itself to nothing more than a self-help program and social club. You might as well go to the gym and work out or go and meditate. The only thing that can save us is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. To preach anything else is a terrible sin and leads people to hell.

Marc Roby: And even though liberal churches usually reject the idea that a Christian must be obedient, the somewhat paradoxical truth is that they are preaching salvation by works. Because they deny the miraculous work of Jesus Christ on the cross and focus on just being good people, most of their members, if asked why God should allow them into heaven, would say something like, “Well, I try to keep the Golden Rule and live a good life. I give to the poor regularly” and so on.

Dr. Spencer: And that attitude is salvation by works, even though they are not the works that God primarily requires of us. Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Galatians. In this case there were other preachers who had come in after Paul had presented them with the true gospel, and those preachers were telling the people that they needed to be circumcised and follow Jewish traditions to be saved. They were adding to the pure gospel of grace and turning it into salvation by works. Paul wrote, in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

Marc Roby: And, of course, to be eternally condemned means to go to hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I can’t imagine a more terrible proclamation. Preaching a false gospel, whether of works or any other kind of error, is a serious sin. We must be very careful to present the clear, true, biblical gospel of salvation. It is man’s greatest need, in fact, in a very real sense it is his only need.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to getting into the true biblical doctrine of salvation next time, but this looks like a good place to end today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we will do our best to answer.

 

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

[2] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, New Edition, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009, pg. 112

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pp 112-113

[5] P.S. Mueller et. al., “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice”, Mayo Clin Proc, December 2001, Vol 76, pp 1225-1235 (available from: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/pdf)

[6] For example, see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section1

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