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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: We are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What do you think it refers to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: Not yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Ibid, pg. 98

[13] Ibid, pg. 99

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

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

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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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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also still taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology.

In our session last week we discussed how to make your calling and election sure since being born again is a prerequisite to thinking biblically. All of our thinking is done within the context of our worldview and at the core of everyone’s worldview we find either faith in the God of the Bible, or a rejection of God. As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”[1]

But those who have been born again have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. In speaking about the difference between regenerate and unregenerate people, Paul wrote in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” And, in 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” But to avoid drawing improper conclusions from the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, we must balance this teaching by the fact that the Holy Spirit is also the primary author of the Bible as we read in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Now, since God is unchangeable and cannot lie, the Holy Spirit will never lead you to believe anything that contradicts his written Word. He gave us the objective revelation of his Word to guide us. And so, to think biblically requires first, that we be born again, and second that we train ourselves in God’s Word, which is why Paul told Timothy, as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And then, being led by the Spirit and knowing God’s Word, we must also strive daily to put our sin to death and to walk in the truth. We must deny ourselves. All three synoptic gospels record an important statement of Jesus. He said, as we read in Matthew 16:24, that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

To take up a cross was a clear reference to being crucified, since the condemned criminal was required to carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. And Paul also wrote, in Romans 6:6-7, “For 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.” We are also told in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” And we are told in Galatians 5:24 that “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

This is hard language. No one can live the Christian life if he has not been born again. Jesus said, in Luke 14:26, that “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

Brothers and sisters, our flesh rebels at this part of the gospel message, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. Our purpose in life is to live for God’s glory and to do the work he has assigned. His purpose for us is to make us holy, not to give us the most pleasant life possible here on earth. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If we have been born again, our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. We have been forgiven because Jesus bore our sins on the cross and paid the penalty we owed. We are his blood-bought people and we cannot live for ourselves.

And so, biblical thinking requires that we born again, that we train ourselves in the Word of God, and that we crucify our old nature and live for God, not ourselves. The only question we need to ask in every situation in life is, “What does God want me to do in this situation?” And the answer must be based on the Word of God, not our subjective feelings. And, if our thinking is based on the Word of God, it will always take into account the Creator/creature distinction. In other words, we will realize that God is the Creator. His promises are true. His threats are true. He cannot change. And he is not limited by our lack of power.

And now we are ready to look at some examples of proper biblical thinking. I first want to examine Abraham, the father of all believers as we are told in Romans 4:11-12. Because of his uniquely important role in the history of redemption, God gave him a test that is the hardest test any human being outside of our Lord Jesus has ever been given, and Abraham passed the test with flying colors because his thinking was biblical.

Hopefully, you remember the story. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. We read in Genesis 15:5 that God told Abraham, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them … So shall your offspring be.” Then Abraham and his wife Sarah waited so long that they despaired of God’s promise being fulfilled and sinned. Sarah gave her handmade Hagar to Abraham to have a child for her, as was the custom of the time. Hagar bore Abraham Ishmael. But this was not the child through him God’s promise was to be fulfilled and so years later the pre-incarnate Christ came to Abraham to announce that Sarah would bear him a son. We read about this in Genesis 18 and, at the time, Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 years old, so when Sarah heard the Lord say that she would bear a son, she laughed. We read in Genesis 18:14 that the Lord then said to them, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

And this is exactly what happened. So, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, Isaac was born. The name Isaac very appropriately means “he laughs”. God then makes it clear to Abraham that the promise he had been given would be fulfilled through Isaac.[2] And this leads to the incredibly difficult test that God gave Abraham. In Genesis 22:1-2 we read, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”

I remember struggling with this a great deal the first time I read it as a young Christian. I had a young son myself at the time and I couldn’t imagine God giving Abraham such a command. But we have to remember two things: first, Abraham was a unique person in the history of redemption and this unique test was necessary to fulfil God’s plan and as a symbol of what God would do for his people; and second, and most important, God knew that he was not going to require Abraham to go through with this command.

But Abraham didn’t know that, and yet he responded with immediate obedience. We are told the he got up early the next morning and headed out for the mountain. It was a three-day journey, so Abraham had time to think on the way. When they arrived at the mountain, we are told in Genesis 22:5 that Abraham told the servants who had accompanied him and Isaac on the trip, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

This shows that Abraham had been thinking as they traveled and had come to the conclusion that God was going to solve this problem somehow. Notice that he told the servants “we will come back to you.” Oh what a glorious plural pronoun! We will come back. Isaac was not to be permanently destroyed. God had told Abraham that it was through Isaac that his promise would be fulfilled, and Abraham knew that God cannot lie. And yet, if Abraham sacrificed Isaac, how could the promise be fulfilled through him? Abraham realized that God had created all things, and so it was entirely possible that even if Isaac were burned up, God could raise him from the dead.

To finish the story, Abraham builds an altar, ties Isaac up, places him on the altar, and raised the knife getting ready to kill him. But before he brings the knife down, God stops him. God then also provides a ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac.

And we aren’t left to simply deduce for ourselves that Abraham reasoned this way. We are told in Hebrews 11:17-19 that “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” Friends, this is biblical thinking. Our problems may look insurmountable when we only consider our own resources, but when we take God into consideration, the whole picture changes.

And this event provides a glorious example of God’s love for his people. James Boice wrote that “this incident is also a pageant of how much more God would do as an expression of His love for fallen men and women. Abraham was only asked to sacrifice his son; he did not actually have to do it.”[3] But God did sacrifice his Son to pay for the sins of his chosen people. As we read in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And so, by using proper biblical thinking, Abraham became the father of all who believe. He saw God do mighty things and was greatly strengthened in his faith. In fact, James Boice and others believe that God gave Abraham a great vision of how he would ultimately bring about the redemption of his people by offering his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice on the exact same mountain, and then raising him from the dead.[4] We will have more to say about this in a few minutes, but for now let me move on to another example of biblical thinking.

Consider the patriarch Joseph. His brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery. He was carried down to Egypt and enslaved there. There he was falsely accused of molesting his master’s wife and was put into prison. But then, God miraculously moved to not only secure his release from prison, but to cause Joseph to rise to be second in command in all Egypt. Later, when there was a severe famine, Joseph’s brothers had to come to Egypt to buy food for their families. What a shock when they found out that Joseph was the one from whom they had to buy food! And then the entire family moved to Egypt and lived under Joseph’s protection. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, died, his brothers were worried that he would exact revenge on them. But Joseph was able to think biblically about the situation. He knew that God is sovereign over everything and he realized that God had sent him ahead to Egypt in order to save his family during this great famine. And so we see him tell his brothers, in Genesis 50:19-21, “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

By thinking biblically, Joseph avoided feeling sorry for himself, he had success in extremely difficult circumstances, and he was prevented from sinning by getting revenge against his brothers.

Now let’s take a short look at the apostle Paul.  When he was imprisoned in Caesarea and was giving his defense before King Agrippa, we are told in Acts 26:8 that he said, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” What a marvelous example of biblical thinking this is! And it provides the perfect answer to use anytime anyone claims that believing in miracles is irrational. The real question simply is, do you believe in God? And, of course, I mean the God of the Bible. The God who created all things, The God who sustains all things. If you believe in this God, then why on earth is it at all incredible to believe that he can raise the dead? Or do any other miracle? He created everything! Surely, if he chooses to, he can change creation as well. It would, in fact, be completely irrational to believe that a God capable of creating this universe would not also be able to perform miracles, which, after all, as Wayne Grudem says are simply a “less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and bears witness to himself.”[5] And so we find that once you accept as true the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God …”, you should be able to believe everything else the Bible says. I could give other examples from the Bible, but let me tell you a far more recent example of biblical thinking.

In 1912 John Harper was 39-year-old Scottish preacher coming to America with his six-year-old daughter. His wife had died shortly after the girl’s birth. They were travelling on the Titanic. When the ship hit the ice berg and it was obvious it was going to sink, Harper is reported to have given his daughter to one of the deckhands with instructions to get her into a lifeboat. And he then turned to help others. He is reported to have shouted, “Let the women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats!” And he gave his own life preserver to another man. Survivors of the tragedy tell of his speaking to people in the water after the ship sank urging them to trust in Christ. There is even a report that one man was saved. Harper called out to him, “Are you saved?” And when the man replied, “no”, Harper quoted Acts 16:31, which says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.[6] And, by God’s grace, this man believed and was saved, both eternally, and from drowning.

Imagine being able to respond to a disaster like that with such an attitude. Harper obviously thought biblically as a matter of habit, so that even in the midst of a crisis his thinking was correct. He reasoned that he was saved and would go to heaven, but there were others around him who needed time. Perhaps God would save them! And he spoke about the only thing truly important as he was dying. What else matters when the people around you have only have a short time to live? I have no doubt this man had a glorious welcome in heaven that very day.

And let me close with the greatest possible example of biblical thinking, that of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be made into his image and we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ we are told in 2 Corinthians 10:5, so how did Christ think? Let’s look at the most important example possible, which is also the one to which the example we examined from Abraham points; namely, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. But he did not use his divinity to somehow make it easy for him to obey the father in his humanity. This is clear from his answering the temptation of the devil in the desert. He would not give in to the temptation to use his divine power to turn the stones into bread even though he had been fasting for 40 days. And so we see Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, deeply troubled at the prospects of what was about to happen. He took Peter, James and John, his inner circle, and left the others to go pray. We read in Matthew 26:39, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” The cup he was speaking of was the cup of God’s wrath as we read in Revelation 16:19 and elsewhere. People often focus on the physical pain of the flogging and crucifixion, which were incredibly horrible. But the worst thing facing Jesus was not the physical pain, it was the spiritual pain of taking our sins upon himself and bearing the wrath of God that we deserve. We can’t even imagine that pain. When Jesus took all of the sins of all of his people upon himself, he became an object of wrath. So, why did he say, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”?

He said that because he thought biblically. Jesus began his high priestly prayer in John 17:1 by saying, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Jesus knew that the purpose of life is to glorify God and he was completely obedient to that purpose, which demonstrates biblical thinking. He knew the true purpose of human life. And so he also prayed, as we read in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And then, later in the prayer, we read in John 17:24 that he said, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus was motivated by love for the Father and for his chosen people. We are told in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Friends, Jesus knew that there would be great joy in accomplishing all that the Father had ordained. Biblical thinking requires that we humble ourselves before the almighty God and seek to know and do his will, not ours. We must believe that our greatest joy and satisfaction will come through obedience.

And we must know the Word of God to know God’s will, but then the Word of God will also give us strength to endure whatever trials God has ordained for us. We know that Jesus himself was meditating on God’s Word while he was on the cross because he quoted from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I pray that all of us will learn through this current pandemic to trust in God and to think biblically. May we seek to bring him glory and to complete the work he has given us to do. Then we will be able to join with the apostle Paul and say, as he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

May God bless you all, and remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] Gen 21:12

[3] James Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. 2, pg. 222

[4] Ibid, pp 229-231

[5] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, p. 355

[6] See the book The Titanic’s Last Hero, by Moody Adams

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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. When we finished last week we were in the midst of discussing the glorious topic of the believer’s union with Christ, which John Murray called “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[1] Dr. Spencer, you had made the point that this union is spiritual, which indicates that the Holy Spirit is the bond and that this relationship is different from other unions. At the end of our time you mentioned that this union is also mystical. Now, what did you mean by that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we were again following the treatment in John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, and to explain what he meant by calling our union with Christ mystical he cited the wonderful doxology with which the apostle Paul finishes his letter to the church in Rome. We read this doxology in Romans 16:25-27, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” [2]

Marc Roby: And so, when Murray calls our union with Christ mystical, he means that it is a mystery in the sense that Paul used that word in this passage.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And there are four points that Murray makes from the passage about this mystery. First, this mystery was, as Paul wrote, “hidden for long ages past”, which simply means that it was hidden from us as creatures. It was always in the mind of God of course. And the second point is that the mystery did not remain hidden, Paul goes on to say that it was “now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God”.

Marc Roby: In other words, we learn about Jesus Christ, his person and his redeeming work, through the Bible, which was written down by God’s command and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is what Paul meant. When he referred to “the prophetic writings”, he wasn’t just speaking about the Old Testament prophets. The phrase is a synecdoche for the entire Bible.

Marc Roby: And we should probably remind our listeners that a synecdoche is a figure of speech where a part of something is used to refer to the whole.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a good reminder. And this was the third thing that Murray noted from Paul’s doxology; namely, that the mystery was revealed in the Bible. It is available to everyone in every nation. It is not the sole possession of some special class of people and it is not discovered by a subjective process of meditation or private encounter with the risen Lord. It is objective and can be looked at and understood by all.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a very important point. And it certainly distinguishes this mystery from many other things that we might call mysterious.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is very different. And the revelation had to be objective because the fourth thing Murray points out is that the purpose of God’s revealing this mystery is, as Paul put it, “so that all nations might believe and obey” God. If the revelation were purely subjective, then we would all be able to say we were believing and obeying what had been revealed to us and no one would be able to contradict us.

Marc Roby: And that would eviscerate real Christianity. It would make it an entirely subjective and personal thing.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly would. But real Christianity is based on objective truth that is presented to us in the Bible. That doesn’t mean that people won’t distort that truth and falsely call themselves Christians, that happens all the time. But it does mean that we have an objective standard to which we can compare ourselves to see whether or not we are truly Christ’s disciples.

Marc Roby: And distorting God’s Word is a very dangerous thing to do. Peter spoke about this. In 2 Peter 3:16 he commented about the writings of the apostle Paul and said that “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Dr. Spencer: Everyone who calls him or herself a Christian should pay careful attention to the implicit warning given in that verse. We have to be very careful with the Word of God. This is especially true in our day when there is an abundance of astoundingly bad theology being preached from many pulpits and presented in many books, podcasts, TV shows and so on.

If you think you are a Christian, you must read the Word of God carefully and test what you read or hear from others to see whether or not it is in agreement with God’s Word. The Bible must be our ultimate standard for truth. Non-biblical faith may make you feel better here and now, but it will not save you from eternal damnation.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told us, in John 8:32, that “the truth will set you free.” And the Bible is the truth.

Dr. Spencer: And we all by nature prefer to be told things that are pleasant and agree with our old sinful nature. But if we have been born again and enjoy union with Christ, we will acknowledge in our hearts that the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God and we will desire to know and obey it even when it corrects us. I’m not saying that always happens without some degree of pain and struggle of course, but it will happen.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Romans 8:29 that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”. The fact that we must be conformed implies that we need to change.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does imply we need to change. And the Word of God is the primary means of our being conformed. We must be very careful to not be deceived. If someone comes to you and tells you what he thinks the Word of God means, you must look into the Word and see if he is right. Don’t just accept the word of man. If he truly is a man of God speaking the Word of God to you, he himself will exhort you to read that Word.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of the comment made about the Bereans in the book of Acts. In Acts Chapter 17 we read about Paul and Silas presenting the gospel to the people in Thessalonica and Berea, two towns in what is now modern-day Greece. And in Acts 17:11 we read, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse. If more people would do that today many modern preachers would be without any followers. Anyone who tells you that God’s desire for you is to be rich and famous and always healthy is lying to you and all you have to do is read the Bible for yourself to see that clearly.

But, getting back to idea of union with Christ being a mystery that has been revealed, we see this elsewhere in the New Testament as well. For example, the apostle Paul tells us of his mission in Colossians 1:25-27, where he wrote that he had become a minister of the church, “by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Marc Roby: Now that is explicit, the mystery is Christ in us, which is also called the hope of glory. Praise God!

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. Paul also mentions this mystery in his letter to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 5:31 we read the famous line, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” But then in Verse 32 Paul surprises us by saying, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

Marc Roby: That entire passage in Ephesians 5 is wonderful, it compares the relationship of Christ and his church to that of a husband and wife.

Dr. Spencer: And we should notice that the union spoken of there is not just the union of Christ with individual believers, it is the union of Christ and his church. We, as believers, should never think of ourselves apart from the church. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. It is only in learning to love others and function as a part of that whole that we can fulfil God’s commands and, therefore, his purpose for us.

Marc Roby: In fact, Christ told his disciples in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Murray also points out that the union of a husband and wife is not the only similitude used to describe our union with Christ. The most amazing example is in John 17:21-23 where as part of his high priestly prayer Jesus prays for all believers, asking, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Marc Roby: That is truly amazing to consider. We are to be united to one another and to God in some sense in the same way that the Father and Son are united in the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: It is completely amazing. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same essence. One God in three persons. But Murray is also careful to guard against reading too much into this similitude. He wrote that “Similitude here again does not mean identity. Union with Christ does not mean that we are incorporated into the life of the Godhead. That is one of the distortions to which this great truth has been subjected.”[3]

Marc Roby: Yes, that is an important warning. Mormons believe that we can become gods and a number of modern preachers teach the heretical “little god” doctrine that we are all gods, albeit with a little “g”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we briefly discussed the little god doctrine in Session 48 and I don’t want to waste time refuting it again here, it is patently stupid, contrary to all observable fact and blasphemous to boot. We always need to be careful to not go too far with any analogy or metaphor, whether it is used in the Bible or anywhere else.

But, getting back to our union with Christ, the Bible uses other analogies as well.

Marc Roby: One that immediately occurs to me is that of a building. In Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul wrote to gentile believers, telling them that Christ gives them the same access to the Father that Jewish people have. He wrote, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another wonderful metaphor, although certainly less exalted than the godhead. We, as Christians, are like the stones in a temple, cemented together to become a dwelling for God’s Spirit, and Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone.

Another metaphor that is used is that of a body. In Ephesians 4 Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ and says that pastors, teachers and others are given to the church to help us mature. In Verses 15-16 he writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Marc Roby: I love that metaphor, and Paul uses it more than once. The church is the body of Christ and he is the head. And we each have our part to play, we must each do our work to build each other up in love or the body doesn’t function properly.

Dr. Spencer: This whole biblical idea of the church completely destroys the idea of many modern people that religion is a purely private thing. It is not all about my personal relationship with God. I cannot have a personal relationship with God without also having a relationship with God’s church, his family. It is impossible. We are all parts of the body and we need each other.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote at length about the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12. For example, in Verse 21 he wrote that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true. As our Pastor has said, the idea of an eye floating around by itself, disconnected from the rest of the body, is an abomination.

Marc Roby: Yes, not to mention more than a little grotesque.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a gross image to say the least. We are to be united to Christ and to one another. But Murray notes that “Of all the kinds of union or unity that exist for creatures the union of believers with Christ is the highest.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s a challenging statement. We all need to ask ourselves if that is true of us.

Dr. Spencer: I heartily agree. And this opens up one more issue with regard to our union with Christ that must be explored.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is called a mystical union not only because it was a mystery that has been revealed, but also because it is mystical in the normal sense of that word, meaning a subjective experience.

Marc Roby: We often shy away from the subjective because it is so easily abused.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but we need to be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater as the old saying goes. Murray wrote that “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith. Believers are called into the fellowship of Christ and fellowship means communion. The life of faith is one of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer. … There is no communion among men that is comparable to fellowship with Christ … The life of faith is the life of love, and the life of love is the life of fellowship, or mystic communion with him who ever lives to make intercession for his people and who can be touched with the felling of our infirmities.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful statement.

Dr. Spencer: And Murray concludes that section by saying that “communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”[6] But we must always be careful to guard against the dangers of subjectivism, which is why this mystical union is based on God’s revelation in the Bible. We do have real communion with Christ, but he has given us an objective revelation to circumscribe, or to put a fence around, our subjective experience. If we go outside of what the Bible teaches, our experience is not genuine. We always need to test the spirits. We read in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Marc Roby: And we need the Bible to allow us to test the spirits. Do you have any last word on this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the final point that Murray makes about our union with Christ we actually already mentioned last time when we looked at Romans 8:9-11, that point is that our union is with the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: That is incredible.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And let me finish this topic with one final quote from Murray. He wrote, “Here indeed is mysticism on the highest plane. It is not the mysticism of vague unintelligible feeling or rapture. It is the mysticism of communion with the one true and living God.”[7]

Marc Roby: That’s a wonderful conclusion. And now let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer 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. 168

[4] Ibid, pg. 169

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 170

[7] Ibid, pg. 172

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Last time we finished our discussion of the doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP; namely Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as we noted, the doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP are the five doctrines that are characteristic of Reformed theology, which we believe to be the best theology for summarizing what the Bible teaches. They do not present the whole picture, but they do represent what distinguishes Reformed theology from Arminian theology, which is by far the most common theology presented in seminaries and churches today. They also distinguish Reformed theology from Lutheran theology, which is itself different from Arminian. And, I might add, there are differences even among groups who call themselves Arminian or Lutheran.

I don’t really want to get into all the history of the different Protestant denominations at this time, I would rather move on to look at the sequence of events in the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ to the lives of individual believers.

Marc Roby: And that sequence is usually called the ordo salutis, or order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And the Bible never spells out the entire order in one place, but it does give us a partial list, which is often called the golden chain of salvation.[1] In Romans 8:30 the apostle Paul tells us that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[2]

Marc Roby: And what a wonderful chain that is. It all began with God’s electing love in eternity past and it moves with absolute certainty to glorification. It is, from beginning to end, a marvelous demonstration of God’s love, mercy, power and wisdom.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. And I want to take the time to go through the ordo salutis in some detail. We will, in general, follow the treatment given in John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, which we have used a number of times before. In that book he notes that “God is not the author of confusion and therefore he is the author of order. There are good and conclusive reasons for thinking that the various actions of the application of redemption … take place in a certain order, and that order has been established by divine appointment, wisdom, and grace.”[3]

Marc Roby: I know that not everyone agrees on the exact order, so what does Murray say about that?

Dr. Spencer: He discusses the order and points out that there are some items that must be put in a certain order and other items where the exact location in the sequence is debatable and not particularly important. We should also note that the order is not always a temporal order, some of it is, but some of the items only represent a logical order and may actually occur simultaneously.

Marc Roby: And where does Murray choose to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, you actually said it a couple of minutes ago when you said that it all began with God’s electing love in eternity past. Murray begins his exposition by saying that “No treatment of the atonement can be properly oriented that does not trace its source to the free and sovereign love of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: We can all say “amen” to that. If it weren’t for God’s love and mercy, we would all be eternally lost.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although God’s love isn’t just a step in the application of redemption, it is rather the one truth that underlies all of creation and redemption. There is also one other thing, which again isn’t a step in the process, but underlies the entire process, and that is union with Christ. Murray discusses this after going through the ordo salutis, but I think that is a bit anti-climactic, so I am going to deviate from him on this point and discuss union with Christ first.

Marc Roby: We have spoken about the believer’s union with Christ several times before, most notably way back in Sessions 13 and 14. In looking back at those, you quoted John Murray there also. He wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great quote and completely biblical.

As I said, union with Christ is not just a step in the application of redemption. The entire Christian life is lived in union with Christ. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world”, so in a sense all Christians, even those who have yet to be born, have been united to Christ for all eternity.

Marc Roby: And yet there is great mystery here since we are also told in the very next chapter, in Chapter 2 Verse 3, that before we were saved, “we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great mystery. We are also told in Romans 5:10 that we were enemies of God and in Colossians 1:21 that we were alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior. All of this emphasizes the amazing work that God does in saving us. Our alienation from God was real. Our being subject to the wrath of God was real. Our being enemies of God was real. And yet, in his eternal plan, he had already chosen us to be saved. In that sense, and only in that sense, we can be said to have been united to Christ in eternity past. But God still had to do a miraculous work and cause us to be born again in order to unite us to Christ in this life through the instrument of faith. A radical change had to take place, we needed new hearts.

Marc Roby: Which God promised to his people more than 500 years before Jesus was born. We read of that promise in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, what a glorious promise that is. And we have already quoted from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, where he wrote in the first chapter that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Then, in Chapter 2, he starts off in Verse 1 by saying that we were dead in our transgressions and sins and, as you quoted a minute ago, he says in Verse 3 that we were by nature objects of wrath. But he then goes in Verses 4 and 5 to say, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” This is the fulfillment of the promise given through the prophet Ezekiel. God makes us alive.

But the key point for our discussion today, is that God made us alive in Christ, and he did it because he had chosen us in Christ before the creation of the world.

Marc Roby: And Paul goes on in that chapter to say, in Verse 10, that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God’s ultimate purpose, of course, is his own glory. And we are to contribute to that by doing the work he has ordained for us to do. Just as Jesus brought God glory by finishing the work he was assigned, as he tells us in John 17:4. So we fulfil the command to glorify God by doing the work we have been assigned to do.

Marc Roby: And Paul gives us that command in 1 Corinthians 10:31, where he tells us “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But getting back to the subject at hand, union with Christ is an amazing topic, on which all true Christians should take time to meditate. It will lead you to give great thanksgiving and praise to God for his amazing mercy, wisdom and power.

We have seen that we were chosen in Christ and that when God regenerated us we were made alive in Christ, or we can say created in Christ. But there is more that can be said. In Romans 6:4-8 we read that 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For 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. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great description of the symbolism of baptism and also of the reality of the life of a true believer. Baptism all by itself doesn’t accomplish anything, it is just an outward sign of the inward change. But if the person who is baptized has truly been born again, then it is a true sign of the fact that he has died to his old, sinful way of life and has been enabled by regeneration to live a new life in union with Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And our union with Christ will never end. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about Christ’s second coming and, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, he wrote, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Now “fallen asleep” is a euphemism for dying, so Paul is indirectly telling us in this verse that when believers die, they die in Christ.

Marc Roby: And Paul also tells us, in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s wonderful, we will be united with Christ in being resurrected at his second coming. And we will also be united with Christ in sharing in his glory for all eternity in heaven. When he comes again we will all receive glorified bodies. We read in Philippians 3:20-21 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Marc Roby: Now that is something to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And so we see that we were chosen in Christ, we were created, or we could say born again, in Christ, we live in Christ, we die in Christ, we will be raised from the dead in Christ, we will receive glorified bodies in Christ and we will spend eternity enjoying fellowship with God and one another in Christ.

Marc Roby: Hallelujah!

Dr. Spencer: Hallelujah indeed! John Murray wrote that “The perspective of God’s people … has two foci, one the electing love of God the Father in the counsels of eternity, the other glorification with Christ in the manifestation of his glory. The former has no beginning, the latter has no end.” And he went on to say, “What is it that binds past and present and future together in the life of faith and in the hope of glory? Why does the believer entertain the thought of God’s determinate counsel with such joy? Why can he have patience in the perplexities and adversities of the present? Why can he have confident assurance with reference to the future and rejoice in hope of the glory of God? It is because he cannot think of past, present, or future apart from union with Christ.”[6]

Marc Roby: What a wonderful statement of the glorious hope and joy that all true Christians have. I’m confident we could all benefit from spending more time meditating on it.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that.

Marc Roby: Do you have anything more you would like to say about our union with Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Murray goes on to make several important points. The first point he makes is that our union with Christ is spiritual.

Marc Roby: Now that’s a word that is often abused in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: And that was true even when Murray wrote this book over 60 years ago. He said that the term is frequently used “to denote what is little more than vague sentimentality.”[7]

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very much what we still see today, even among professing Christians.

Dr. Spencer: That is, unfortunately, true. But Murray explains that in the New Testament the word spiritual “refers to that which is of the Holy Spirit. … Hence when we say that union with Christ is Spiritual we mean, first of all, that the bond of this union is the Holy Spirit himself.”[8]

Marc Roby: And we must remember that the Holy Spirit is personal. He is the third person of the Holy Trinity, not some cosmic force or a metaphor for God’s influence through his Word or anything else people might imagine.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. He is a person whom we can grieve when we sin and who instructs us, guides us and empowers us to live the Christian life. Romans 8:9-11 is a very important passage in this regard.

Marc Roby: Let me read that passage. The apostle Paul wrote to believers, saying “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Dr. Spencer: There are two important points that we can make from that passage. First of all, we see that union with Christ involves all three persons of the godhead. Notice that Paul starts off referring to just “the Spirit”. He then refers to the “Spirit of God”, and then to the “Spirit of Christ”, then he refers to Christ himself being in us, and then to the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead”, which clearly refers to God the Father. We must notice the trinitarian nature of this passage. We will discuss this aspect of union with Christ more later.

Marc Roby: I’m definitely looking forward to that conversation.

Dr. Spencer: Secondly, we note that the Spirit lives in us, he is a person, not a power.

Another passage relating to the nature of this union is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this case the context is Paul’s addressing the serious nature of sexual sin, but in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is an amazing thing to consider, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think it is incomprehensible in fact. But it should cause us all to be far more careful how we live. We are never alone. God is with us. It isn’t just the fact that he sees and hears everything, but he is with us in a very intimate and personal way that we can’t really define or describe in detail. When Jesus says that a man has committed adultery in his heart if he looks at a woman lustfully, we have to realize that if we do that, or have any other thoughts that are sinful, the Holy Spirit is in us and knows those thoughts and feelings!

Marc Roby: You’re quite right in saying that we should all be more careful in how we live, and that includes our thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are included. Murray goes on to explain a second thing that he means by saying that our union with Christ is spiritual. He means that it is a spiritual relationship, by which he means it is different than other kinds of unions. It is different than the union of the three persons in the godhead. It is different than the union of the two natures in Christ. And it is different than the union of body and soul in man. It is, he says, a union “which we are unable to define specifically.”[9]

Murray then goes on to make a second point with regard to our union with Christ. He says it is mystical.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to examining that in our next session, but we don’t have enough time left today to start a new subject, so we should stop here and I should remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would enjoy hearing from you.

[1] e.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 143

[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, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 80

[4] Ibid, pg. 9

[5] Ibid, pg. 170

[6] Ibid, pg. 164

[7] Ibid, pp 165-166

[8] Ibid, pg. 166

[9] Ibid

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

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

Marc Roby: Which is the doctrine of salvation.

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: And no one can do that in his own power. We must be born again to repent and believe and we must be born again and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to be enabled to walk in obedience. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:5-8, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] Ibid, pp 104-105

[6] Ibid, pg. 70

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Dr. Spencer, last week we discussed a number of passages in the New Testament to make the case that if we have been born again, we will obey Jesus Christ our King. True Christians do walk in the obedience of faith. How would you like to proceed with this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first I want to again note that we are not saying that a true Christian will obey perfectly. We all sin. But all true Christians have been born again, which is a very serious statement. We’ve noted several times that Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [1]

We need to realize how radical that statement is. We are new creations. It is inconceivable that the new creation will behave exactly the same way as the old one did. Paul also wrote, in Romans 8:29, “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.” Now we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, who perfectly obeyed the Father.

Marc Roby: That is an incredible truth to sit and meditate on for a while. But this radical transformation takes time, it doesn’t occur overnight.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly does take time. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime. We will not be perfected in this life. We only reach perfection when we die. Nevertheless, there is also an instantaneous change that occurs when we are born again. The fact that that change is not total doesn’t negate the fact that it is radical, meaning that it affects every aspect of our being. We are, as Paul wrote, new creations, even though we also still have the old sinful nature hanging around to trip us up, which the New Testament frequently refers to as the “flesh” in the Greek.

Marc Roby: I’m sad to say that I’m very familiar with the flesh. We have to wage war against it every single day as Paul wrote in Colossians 3.

Dr. Spencer: And you’re not alone. Every Christian has to fight the flesh every single day. And Colossians 3 is a great chapter. I think it will be well worth our while to take a look at an extended section of it. The first four verses speak about what theologians call our union with Christ.

Marc Roby: Which is a glorious topic indeed. Let me read Colossians 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Dr. Spencer: Isn’t that wonderful? We are not to be focused on this life because this earth is not our eternal home. We are to have our hearts and minds set on things above. In other words, on heaven. And we are reminded that Christ is there, seated at the right hand of God. He is seated because his work of redemption is finished. And Paul speaks about our union with Christ in this passage. He says that we died, which is very strong metaphorical language, meaning that our old sinful nature no longer rules. He is even more explicit about this in his letter to the Romans.

In Romans 6:5-7 we read; “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For 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.” And it is this union with Christ that Paul is speaking about in Colossians 3:3 when he says that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Marc Roby: And as a result of this union, Paul draws the amazing conclusion I read a moment ago in Colossians 3:4, that “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a marvelous conclusion. And notice that Paul started, in Colossians 3:1, by saying that we have been raised with Christ even though we are still here on earth, in this body, with sin still present. He also wrote in Romans 6:2-4 that “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.”

Christian baptism is a wonderful symbolic representation of our union with Christ. When we are immersed in the water the symbolism is that of dying with Christ. And, of course, his death paid the penalty that we owed because of our sins. And then, when we are raised up out of the water it symbolizes our union with Christ in his resurrection. And note carefully what Paul wrote. He wrote that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Marc Roby: And so again we see this idea of a new life. New creations live new lives. The fact that there will be significant change in behavior is inescapable.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And so, getting back to the passage in Colossians 3, the next six verses talk about the process that all Christians are called to go through in this life. We are to fight against our old sinful nature and to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, let me read those six verses. In Colossians 3:5-10 we are told, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Dr. Spencer: I love that passage. It illustrates both the reality of the radical change that has already occurred and the need for further change. We are to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature, and we are to rid ourselves of such things; which clearly indicates we are not yet perfect. There is still work we need to do. But then we are also told that we have taken off our old self and have put on the new self, which speaks about something that is already accomplished. There has been a significant change already – that change was new birth.

Marc Roby: And we have noted before that John Murray calls the significant change that comes with new birth definitive sanctification, while the change that continues throughout the Christian life, he calls progressive sanctification.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I like that way of describing it a lot. But whether we use Murray’s terminology or not, it is an undeniable truth that the New Testament speaks of our sanctification in three tenses; past, present and future. We have been sanctified, which refers to the real, radical change that occurs when we are born again, or regenerated. We are also being sanctified, which refers to the continuing process of transformation that every true Christian goes through. And we will be sanctified, which refers to the fact that we will be perfected by God when we die.

Marc Roby: What a wonderful thing that is to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And now I’d like to wrap up this part of le the discussion by going back to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In Session 119 we looked at Question 26, which asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a King?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is, “Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.”

Dr. Spencer: And we have now seen every part of that answer. Christ subdues us to himself by sending the Holy Spirit to regenerate us and enable us to repent, believe and thereby be united to Christ by faith. Then, because we are united to Christ, we are justified in God’s sight. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees the perfect righteousness of our representative, Jesus Christ. This is the double imputation we’ve spoken of before. Our sins are put onto Christ – he bore them on the cross and paid the penalty we owed. And his perfect righteousness is imputed to us, which means it is counted as ours. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: What an amazing transaction! I give Christ my guilt and condemnation and in return he gives me his unimpeachable righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: But that isn’t all that God does, there is even more. We are also brought into the kingdom of God and he begins ruling and defending us. And at the end of the answer in the Catechism we see that through the process of sanctification Jesus our King conquers all our enemies. This includes our sin, which is our greatest enemy. In addition, although we haven’t spent any time discussing this yet, he also conquers the world and Satan, our other two enemies.

Marc Roby: That is wonderful news. But, even though this victory is already won in a sense, there is still work that we need to do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. The victory is certain, but it is not yet completely evident in our lives. We have to fight our battles every day as we noted earlier. And the great news for a Christian is that we do not have to fight these battles in our own strength. In fact, if we try to fight them in our own strength, we are guaranteed to fail.

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter learned the hard way that he couldn’t stand in his own strength. In Matthew 26:35 we read that he declared to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And then, on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example not only for showing how we will fail if we try to do things in our own strength, but also for showing how God guarantees the ultimate victory of his people. We are told more about this episode in Luke 22:31-32 where we read that Christ told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Notice first of all that Satan had to ask permission to tempt Peter. Satan is far more powerful than we are, but he is a creature and is completely under God’s control. God allows him a great deal of freedom to attack the church at this time, but Satan can never go further than God allows.

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly is part of what the Catechism is referring to when it says Christ restrains and conquers our enemies. Satan is already defeated and is severely restrained by God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. We also see however in that passage, Christ praying for Peter, and we are told in Hebrews 7:24-25 that “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.” Jesus is in heaven right now interceding for his people. This is part of his functioning as our great high Priest. And his intercession is always effectual, which is why he said to Peter, “when you have turned back”, not “if you turn back”. He knew that even though Peter would fail temporarily, his faith would not be utterly destroyed.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort to us all. It is amazing to think that Jesus Christ cares about me and is interceding on my behalf even now.

Dr. Spencer: It is amazing, but true. That is why Paul could write to the Christians in Philippi that he was confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, as we read in Philippians 1:6. God will never fail to accomplish his purposes. And he has purposed to save his people. Therefore, if we have been born again and Christ is our King, we are eternally secure.

As I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, we have three enemies – our own sinful natures, or flesh, Satan, and the world. The example of Peter shows that Satan will be defeated.

Marc Roby: And we also have the promise of our Lord’s brother, James. He wrote in James 4:7 that if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great promise. We also know that God will always provide a way for us to overcome our own sin. There is no temptation that a true Christian cannot resist. Paul tells 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.”

Marc Roby: That is, again, a great comfort. We are enabled by God to stand up under any and every temptation.

Dr. Spencer: And we are also given victory over our third enemy, the world. We read in 1 John 5:3-4, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting passage. It again mixes a past tense and a present tense. It says that this is the victory that has overcome the world – in other words, it is an accomplished fact. And yet it also says that everyone born of God overcomes the world, which is speaking about our continuing need to walk in holiness and fight the daily battle.

Dr. Spencer: And notice that overcoming the world is linked with obeying God’s commands, which are not burdensome to someone who has been born again. If we have been born again, we are part of God’s family, we share in his nature, and so we delight in his commands. We desire to walk in his ways and please him. And yet, we still have our old sinful natures hanging around to drag us down. We are told in Galatians 5:17 that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” The Spirit in this verse is capitalized, indicating that it is referring to the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every true believer.

In his commentary of 1 John, the Rev. P.G. Mathew notes that this internal opposition, which every believer experiences, “is proof that we have been born of God … If we are children of God, there will be deep conflict within us until the day we die. We are like live fish who swim upstream against the cultural flow. It is the dead who float with the current.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s a great illustration. The world, our flesh and the devil are all trying to drag us down, but if we are alive in Christ we will fight upstream, endeavoring to live obedient lives for the glory of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the Holy Spirit is our powerful aid as we do so. Jesus himself was filled with the Holy Spirit without limit we are told in John 3:34 and was thereby enabled to do all the work God had called him to do in his human nature. We have that same Holy Spirit available to us as Christians. All we have to do is ask. Jesus told us in Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Marc Roby: We should all ask for the Holy Spirit so that we can lead lives that are pleasing in God’s sight, walking in the obedience of faith.

Dr. Spencer: We should. And with that I think we have completed all that I wanted to say about Christ as our King.

Marc Roby: And so this is a perfect place to finish for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we would love to hear from you.

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

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Chap. 21

[3] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 248

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our previous session we made the point that the only way a person can be saved is by being born again, and that if a person has been born again, then he is a new creation and his behavior will change. He will obey Jesus Christ his Lord and King. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue with this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, at the end of the last session we discussed the work that the Holy Spirit does for believers. First, he is the primary agent in causing us to be born again, Then, secondly, he indwells every believer to enable us to understand the Word of God. That doesn’t mean we will have every possible question answered or will understand it perfectly, but he does enable us to understand the basic gospel properly and he empowers us to continue to study and learn more and more as time goes on.

Marc Roby: I’m quite confident that our learning will continue for all eternity – God and his Word are inexhaustible topics.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they certainly are. And the next thing we discussed is a most important point in terms of practical Christian living. I noted that the Holy Spirit enables us to obey the Word of God. This is a sticking point for many professing Christians, and so it is very important for us to look carefully at what the Bible says about Christ ruling as our King even now while we are still in this world. We briefly examined Romans 8:14 last time, which the Rev. P.G. Mathew translates as, “those who are being led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are the sons of God.”[1] And we must state what I think is obvious here in context; namely, that when it refers to those who are being led it implies that they are obediently following that lead!

Marc Roby: Paul speaks of that obedience at the beginning of his letter to the Romans. In Romans 1:5 Paul wrote that “we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English Standard Version, which more literally follows the Greek, translates that part of Romans 1:5 as, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”. In his commentary on Romans, Mathew writes, “The gospel proclamation demands the obedience of faith, meaning saving faith in Jesus that issues in total obedience to Christ the King.”[3]

Marc Roby: I think a lot of people will take exception to the idea that saving faith issues in total obedience.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that by total obedience he does not mean perfect obedience. But he does mean real, observable, tangible obedience. And Mathew isn’t the only one. In his commentary on Romans the great 20th-century theologian John Murray wrote the following about this verse, “Faith is regarded as an act of obedience, of commitment to the gospel of Christ. Hence the implications of this expression ‘obedience of faith’ are far-reaching. For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel.”[4]

Marc Roby: Emotional commitments are common, and they are also commonly forsaken as is evidenced by the divorce rate in our culture. I like the comparison that is sometimes made between committing ourselves to Christ and signing a mortgage or joining the army – once you have committed you don’t have the freedom to renege on that commitment without serious consequences.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good comparison. Although in the case of committing our lives to Christ, we have God’s promise that he will not let us fail. Therefore, if someone leaves the faith permanently, we can conclude he or she was never born again and was never a true believer at all. We read in 1 John 2:19 that “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

But getting back to the obedience of faith, even more important than the view of any theologian on this verse, the Bible itself is clear that obedience is expected of true believers. We noted last time that in his great commission to the church, Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19-20 to “Go … and make disciples … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. And in John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Marc Roby: And we could add many more verses to those. For example, we are told in Luke 11:27 that “a woman in the crowd called out” to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” And then we read in Verse 28 that Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And in John 14:23 we read that Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Dr. Spencer: We are also told in John 15:10 that Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Jesus is our example, and he obeyed his Father perfectly. We are commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Now, we all have to eat and drink to survive, but these mundane tasks are listed to indicate that every single aspect of our lives is to be directed to the glory of God. And if we then ask, how do I glorify God? Jesus himself gives us the answer. We read in John 17:4 that while praying to God the Father Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

Marc Roby: And God has given all of us work to do. That isn’t just true for Jesus, his apostles and certain special people called by God for great works of service.

Dr. Spencer: You’re completely right about that. Every single Christian has work that God has assigned for him to do. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” And we shouldn’t think that this only applies to occasional big things of a so-called spiritual nature. This is speaking about our daily walk. In fact, in the original Greek, the verse uses the verb περιπατέω (peripateō), which means to walk. The English Standard Version gives us a more literal rendering of this verse, it says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Marc Roby: Yes, I like that way of putting it. It makes it clear that we are active and that it includes everything we do, every step. And since we have been speaking about the Holy Spirit being given to believers to enable them to believe, understand and obey God’s word, the statement made by Peter and the other apostles to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5 seems to be particularly relevant.

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish ruling council and they dragged the apostles in to question them because they were preaching the gospel in spite of having been commanded not to. In Acts 5:29 they gave the well-known reply, “We must obey God rather than men!” But then they went on to speak of Jesus’ resurrection and said, in Verse 32, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse for our present topic. There is a circularity here of course. We need the Holy Spirit to believe and obey, but we are told that God has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. The circularity is really more of an upward spiral though. God grants us new birth through the action of the Holy Spirit, which causes us to repent and believe, which causes us to be united to Jesus Christ by faith, which justifies us in the sight of God. We are also enabled by our new nature and the indwelling Spirit to obey, which results in our being given more of the Holy Spirit and so on. It is a glorious upward spiral if we live an obedient life.

Marc Roby: That is indeed a marvelous upward spiral. God initiates it, God empowers it, God guides it and, in the end, God rewards it with eternal pleasures in his presence.

Dr. Spencer: All very true. But getting back to this point that Christians are called to obey, we see a very explicit statement in the doxology at the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In Romans 16:25-27 Paul closes his letter by writing, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Now, we must pay very careful attention to what Paul wrote about the reason for God commanding that this mystery be revealed, it was, “so that all nations might believe and obey him”. Or as the English Standard Version phrases it, which is more faithful to the original Greek, “to bring about the obedience of faith”. The expression “the obedience of faith” is the exact same expression in the Greek as we saw in Romans 1:5 a few minutes ago.

Marc Roby: That is a very explicit statement about the purpose of the gospel. In terms of the lives of God’s people here and now, the purpose is to bring about the obedience of faith.

Dr. Spencer: And God’s people bring him glory through their obedience. Let me finish this point by quoting a very important statement. In Hebrews 5:8-9 we are told that “Although [Jesus Christ] was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. The limiting clause at the end of that statement is exceptionally important. Jesus is not the source of eternal salvation for everyone, or even for those who pray a prayer and call him their Savior or Lord, he is the source of eternal salvation “for all who obey him”, and we could add, for no others.

Marc Roby: We should probably circle back and address directly the argument against requiring obedience. You will hear some professing Christians say something like this, “If you claim that obedience is necessary for salvation, you are adding to the biblical message, which says that ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ In other words, you are denying that we are saved by grace alone.”

Dr. Spencer: I have heard that exact argument. And it is fallacious for several reasons. You were quoting directly from Romans 10:9, so the statement is certainly biblical. But as always, we must interpret the Bible according to the first rule of hermeneutics, which says that the Bible itself must be used to interpret the Bible. God never contradicts himself. So, for example, when we read in Romans 10:9 that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, we cannot interpret that to mean simply that you have said “Jesus is Lord” and that you think you truly believe. Your declaration is not definitive on this point or else Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:21 makes no sense. He said there that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And the passage goes on to tell us that these people told him about many things they had done in his name. They all thought they were saved, but Jesus says they were not. Therefore, we have to be careful in how we understand Romans 10:9. It must be consistent with Matthew 7:21.

Marc Roby: And in that statement Jesus clearly said that only those who do the will of his Father will enter heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. It boils down to obedience. So, the first reason the argument you presented is wrong is that it doesn’t interpret the gospel in a way that is consistent with the teaching of the entire Bible. The second reason it is wrong is that it misunderstands the role of obedience in our salvation. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again in different words. Our obedience is not the basis for our salvation, it is the proof of our salvation. We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. But the faith that saves must be an obedient faith or it isn’t real.

Marc Roby: And the Lord’s brother, James, very famously deals with this point in his letter.

Dr. Spencer: He does, yes. In James 2:14 he asks the question, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” And he then goes on to discuss the question and concludes in James 2:26 by saying, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

Marc Roby: That’s a graphic picture. It makes me think of a dead person lying on a table in the morgue. The body is there, but there is no life.

Dr. Spencer: And that is exactly what faith without works is like. It may have the outward form, but it is missing the power, the movement, the energizing life force. It is a very sad fact that this describes many professing Christians. They may be very nice people. They may give to the poor and help serve food at a homeless shelter. They may do all sorts of things that are good. But their lives lack obedience to God. When God says that you shouldn’t be in debt, they make up some reason why that rule doesn’t apply in our modern society. When God says that he hates divorce, they reply that no one could live with their ex. When God says that marriage is between a man and woman, they come up with some contrived answer about that only being true in an ancient culture. When God says not to be drunk, they say that only means not to be habitually drunk and so on.

And, most importantly, when God says that we are to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, they demonstrate by their almost total inattention to his Word and their lack of prayer and worship that they don’t love him at all. They love this world. And yet, John wrote in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, that doesn’t mean that there are no legitimate pleasures in this life, but our focus is not to be on this life. And the letter you just quoted from, 1 John, talks about how we can make sure that our faith is real. In 1 John 2:3-4 he wrote, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Dr. Spencer: And he gives us a number of specific tests in that letter that we can apply. In fact, we are commanded in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure. And in 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul tells us to, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” And in Philippians 2:12 he told us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”. These admonitions make no sense unless our inward faith can be tested by looking at our outward actions.

Marc Roby: And those outward actions must be evaluated based on the Word of God, not our own ideas of what is good.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are to examine whether or not we are obedient to God. Not whether or not we are “nice” people who do “nice” things by the standards of our society. You can’t say someone is a Christian just because he smiles all the time and never has an unkind word to say. In examining ourselves we must be very careful to use the Word of God. If we have been born again, we have been transformed. There is always much more work to be done of course. None of us will ever reach perfection in this life. But there must be observable change and there must be a desire to obey God and some measure of success in doing so or we have no basis for believing that we have been saved. In Matthew 7:13-14 we read that Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Marc Roby: That is a scary verse.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But if we are truly saved, then Jesus Christ is our King. He is our Lord. And we desire to obey him. And he gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to obey him. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

And God’s Word gives us a number of tests that we can apply to see whether or not we are born again. No one will receive a perfect score on these tests, but the only rational basis for having any confidence that we are born again is our present obedience to the will of God as found in his Word.

Marc Roby: I look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll get back to you.

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

[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] Mathew, op. cit., pg. 11

[4] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965, pp 13-14

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our last session we started to examine Christ as King. He is the ruling sovereign of the kingdom of heaven. We noted that the first thing he must do for his subjects is to bring them into the kingdom, which requires that they be born again. We ended by noting that the next thing Jesus does is to rule his subjects, and he does that, in part, by giving them his Holy Spirit. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some time looking into the very practical issue of how Christ rules in the life of every true believer.

Marc Roby: Well, that is certainly a challenging topic. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”[1], which is an amazing statement. By mentioning mundane daily activities like eating and drinking, Paul was illustrating the comprehensive nature of the lordship of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a very challenging verse indeed when you take it seriously, as all believers should. But there are other verses that are equally challenging. For example, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul tells us that we should “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So we aren’t even free to think what we want to think. Jesus is the Lord of my thoughts just as much as he is of my actions.

Marc Roby: We could also say that he is the Lord of our emotions. In Ephesians 4:31 we are told to, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and perhaps even more surprising to people, God also commands us to love. Biblical love is not a mushy feeling, it is a determination to do what is best for someone. When Christ was asked which commandment is the most important, we are told in Mark 12:29-31 that he responded by saying, “The most important one, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Marc Roby: It’s interesting to note that there is nothing new about those commands, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But we must again pause to think and be serious about the meaning of these words. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. No one does that. And we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, no one does that either. We are all guilty of violating the two most important commandments every single day.

Marc Roby: That’s a bit disconcerting.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is important for us to see just how far short of meeting God’s requirements we fall. Sin is not a little problem. It is immense. And we are utterly incapable of solving it ourselves. As a result, Christians need to realize how serious the kingship of Christ is. We have been saved, but we are in the process of being transformed. If that is not a present reality in your life, then you have not been saved. And our transformation is serious work that occurs under the rule of Jesus Christ the King.

Marc Roby: And the fact that we are in the process of being transformed is clearly stated in the Bible. For example, in Romans 8:29 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 in 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul wrote that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Those are both great verses, and it is a very important point. Modern Christians often seem to think that once you are saved the work is over and you just go on living your life the same old way. But that is not at all the biblical model. Our lives are to be controlled by God and lived for a purpose. We should be constantly changing, not standing still.

Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”. But then he wrote about the constant effort that’s required to know Christ this way. He went on to say, in Verses 12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Marc Roby: It is amazing that even the apostle Paul did not consider himself to have attained this knowledge! He also wrote about being transformed in Romans 12:2, where we read, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Dr. Spencer: And we see in that verse that our minds must be transformed. As I said earlier, we can’t think whatever we want to think. We must learn to think and act biblically.

And this transformation, which is called being sanctified, is not optional. There is a very common but completely unbiblical idea out there that you can accept Jesus as your Savior, but not have him as your Lord. People who hold this view would say that it is good to have Jesus be your Lord, but that isn’t essential to salvation.

Marc Roby: That’s been called the Lordship-Salvation controversy.

Dr. Spencer: It has, and we will spend more time on it at a later date. But it is an incredibly important point and we need to talk about it now to some extent because far too many people have accepted the idea that you can pray a prayer and be saved no matter how you then live. But praying a prayer doesn’t save anyone. Only Jesus saves. But Jesus only saves in the way the Bible describes. You must be born again. And if you are born again, you a new creation and your life will be different. You won’t be perfect, and you cannot earn any part of your salvation. But if you haven’t been changed at all, then you haven’t been saved. And praying a prayer does not, in and of itself, change you.

Marc Roby: I would say that even one person being deceived by this false gospel is one too many.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. Now you mentioned earlier that Christ was quoting the Old Testament when he spoke of the two greatest commandments, and I think it will be instructive to look at the Old Testament to get a better understanding of the comprehensive and serious nature of the lordship of Christ. Christ actually quoted from two Old Testament passages, and I want to look at just the first because it is the most important.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that you’re referring to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 where Moses commanded the people, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The Jews consider this passage to be one of the most important of all in the Old Testament. They refer to the first verse, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” As the “Shema”, which is the first word in the Hebrew text for that verse. The word means “to heed, listen, and obey.”[2]

Moses said this to the people after he had given them the Ten Commandments, which we read in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The people were terrified by the sight and sound of Moses meeting with God on top of Mount Sinai and we read in Deuteronomy 5:27 that they told Moses, “Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.”

Marc Roby: And Moses did tell them everything God commanded him to say, but the people did not listen and obey as they said they would.

Dr. Spencer: No, they didn’t. And their disobedience brought great trouble. But I want to emphasize what Moses said to them. Right after telling them to Love the Lord with all their heart, soul and strength, we read the following in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Marc Roby: That certainly makes it clear that God’s commands are important and we are to be very serious about knowing them, keeping them and passing them on to our children. This also reminds me of one of the last things Moses told the people before God called him home. In Deuteronomy 32:46-47 we read that Moses said, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is extremely important for Christians to understand that God’s law is still important for us today. We must properly balance two biblical strands of teaching. First, we must boldly proclaim that no one will be saved by keeping the law as Paul clearly tells us in Romans 3 and elsewhere. For example, in Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote that we, “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Marc Roby: And so the rallying cry of the Reformation was that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Dr. Spencer: And that statement is absolutely correct; which is to say, it is biblical. The biblical view is opposed to the Roman Catholic view of salvation and all other views that give man any of the credit for his own salvation.

But there is, as I said, a second strand of biblical teaching that has to a very significant extent been lost in the modern protestant church world. That strand is that obedience is absolutely essential to salvation; but before everyone turns us off for being heretical, let me point out that I said obedience is essential for salvation, not justification.

Marc Roby: Well, those two words are often used more or less synonymously.

Dr. Spencer: They are, but salvation is a more general term, which refers to the whole process, while justification is quite specific and refers to a single event. In a theological sense, to be justified means that God has declared you to be just based on your being united to Christ by faith. Our justification is based on Christ’s merits alone, not ours. But the only way we can be united to Christ by faith is if we have been born again, which is what enables us to believe. And, if we have been born again, then we are new creations as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, we are not the same old person and we will not, therefore, behave the same old way.

Marc Roby: That seems like a perfectly obvious statement.

Dr. Spencer: I think it is, yes. And if we have been born again, we love Jesus Christ. And we are told in John 14:15 that Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Our obedience is not in any way meritorious. In other words, our obedience is not in any way a reason for our justification. We are not justified because we obey. We obey because of our new nature, which is also why we believe and are justified. The cause of our faith and the cause of our obedience are the same. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Marc Roby: And Jesus Christ himself said, as we read in Matthew 7:21, that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a clear statement that just saying Jesus is Lord will not save you. Your life must demonstrate that it is a true statement. You must demonstrate that you are, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “a new creation”. In other words, you must do the will of the Father in heaven.

Look at what is often called the great commission. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read that Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We are to teach people to obey everything Jesus commanded. No one will earn his salvation by doing so, but anyone who has truly been saved will do so. If we say that obeying Christ is somehow optional, that he can be your Savior without being your Lord, then we eviscerate every command in the New Testament. They all become mere suggestions.

Now, our obedience is never perfect of course, but if our new nature doesn’t manifest itself in new behavior, then our nature isn’t really new at all. We are the same old sinner headed for hell.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, that “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.” Paul clearly expected true believers to lead changed lives.

Dr. Spencer: And getting back to Jesus serving as our King, that changed life is characterized by obedience to our King. We are to obey everything he commanded. Martin Luther wrote that “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. I think people often have the mistaken idea that Martin Luther was opposed to saying anything about Christians having good works. But that quote makes it clear that he was only opposed to thinking that works were in any way the basis for our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That is the critically important point. We will talk much more about salvation later when we get to the topic of soteriology, but I think we’ve said enough for now and I want to get back to looking at Christ as King.

As Christians, we are to live obedient lives. And God provides the Holy Spirit to help us do that. First, of course, the Holy Spirit is primarily responsible for causing us to be born again as we read in John 3:7-8, where Christ said, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Marc Roby: That is the essential first step in our being saved. As we’ve said, we must first be brought into God’s kingdom for Christ to truly be our King.

Dr. Spencer: And the second thing the Holy Spirit does for us is to enable us to understand the Word of God. Not perfectly or without any work on our part of course, but without the Holy Spirit there is no hope of properly understanding the Word. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:17. He said, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

Dr. Spencer: The Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer, to give us greater knowledge of God and his Word, and to enable us to obey. We are told in Romans 8:14 that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” The Greek verb translated here as “led” is a present-tense verb, meaning that the action continues, which is why the Rev. P.G. Mathew renders the verse, “those who are being led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are the sons of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: But even true Christians do not always follow this leading perfectly.

Dr. Spencer: No, regrettably, we don’t. The Holy Spirit illuminates our minds to understand the Word of God, he provides an internal rebuke when needed and he gives us the power necessary to obey, but he doesn’t force us. Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:30 to, “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”, which of course implies that we can grieve the Spirit.

Marc Roby: And while I look forward to examining further how the Holy Spirit leads God’s children, this seems like a good place to break for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we would love to hear from you.

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

[2] Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible, New International Version, AMG Internation, 1996, pg. 215

[3] Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty, Translated by W.A. Lambert, Revised by H.J. Grimm, Fortress Press, 2003, pg. 65

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

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