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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. We ended last time in the middle of discussing the view called trichotomy, which means that man is composed of three distinct parts; a body, soul and spirit. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed with that discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take a look at another point made by trichotomists, which is summarized well by James Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “It is possible, though not certain, that in the Pauline writings the spirit of a man or woman is considered as being lost or dead as a result of the Fall and as being restored in those who are regenerated.”[1]

Marc Roby: Well, I’m not sure that I see a problem with that statement. Paul certainly spoke about people being dead in their sins and being raised to life by faith in Christ. For example, in Colossians 2:13 he wrote that “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: He does use that imagery quite often. In the verse you just read, it is clear that when Paul said “you were dead in your sins” he did not mean that you had ceased to exist. You were walking, talking, making decisions and so on. But you were dead toward God.

Marc Roby: And we often refer to that as being spiritually dead.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately died in three different senses of the word. First, they immediately died spiritually, meaning that they lost communion with God. Second, they immediately became subject to physical death; meaning they started to age and their ultimate physical death was certain. Third, they also became subject to God’s wrath, which, had God not later saved them, would have led to eternal death, in other words, eternal hell.

When we speak of an unbeliever being spiritually dead, we are using language that is consistent with trichotomy. If the spirit is only responsible for our relationship with God, and there is a separate part of us called the soul that is responsible for our reason, moral nature and will, then it could be true that our spirit is actually dead even when we are still alive.

Marc Roby: I think I see the problem now. If, as we have labored to show, dichotomy is the proper biblical position, then it certainly doesn’t make sense to speak of someone’s spirit being dead and his soul being alive at the same time since the words spirit and soul both refer to the immaterial part of man, which is not only responsible for his capacity to worship and have fellowship with God, but also for his reason, moral nature and will. If the spirit were dead according to that definition of the spirit, then we would be physically and spiritually dead; in other words, we would cease to exist. As we have argued, the body cannot live without the spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think another point of confusion has to do with the term, “death.” People often tend to think of death as being the equivalent of “ceasing to exist.” Even truly born-again Christians can fall into that trap. But that idea is unbiblical. It is clear that everybody’s spirit continues to exist eternally after their bodies have died as we have noted before. In fact, as Wayne Grudem defines it, “Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body.”[3]

Marc Roby: I like that definition. In fact, the key idea is separation in each of the categories of death you mentioned a moment ago. Spiritual death means that we, body and soul, are separated from God’s blessing because of our sin. Physical death means that our soul and body are temporarily separated. And eternal death means that sinners, in both body and soul, are forever separated from God’s blessing. Nobody ever actually ceases to exist, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you have never met a mere mortal.[4]

Dr. Spencer: And eternal death is even worse that being separated from God’s blessings, sinners in hell are actively under his wrath, which I find too terrible to even contemplate. Spiritually dead people are alienated from God and totally depraved in their souls. To say they are dead doesn’t mean that they don’t have a spirit or that their spirit no longer exists. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21 that we were once alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior. That is what is meant by saying that someone is spiritually dead; they are alienated from God and are his enemy in their mind.

Marc Roby: But thanks be to God, he saves his people by applying the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And he does that by regenerating sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk a lot more about this later, but for now it will suffice to say that regeneration is a work of God whereby he gives us a new heart and a new spirit as he promised in Ezekiel 36:26. In other words, he makes us spiritually alive.

Marc Roby: Not only so, but the born-again person is united to Christ by faith; he is no longer separated from God, but has been brought into God’s very family! In John 10:10 Jesus told us that he came so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” This is life that will transcend the grave and continue with God forever.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, your mentioning the grave reminds me of what Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This wonderful promise would not make sense unless we understand life and death biblically. When Jesus says that Christians shall live, even though they die, he means that we will remain reconciled to God, under his blessing, even in the hour of our physical death. Though our spirit will leave our body at the moment of death, that spirit shall be perfected and immediately be with the Lord in heaven.

Marc Roby: And when Jesus said that we shall never die, he meant that we shall never experience eternal death – separated from God’s blessing and experiencing only his curse in hell. Instead, we shall be with God in heaven, enjoying his presence and blessing forever.

Dr. Spencer: What a glorious promise that is! Now we have drifted off topic and although the digression was useful since it clarified what the Bible means when it speaks about death, I think its time to get back to talking about trichotomy. We were discussing the trichotomist idea that an unbeliever’s spirit is dead, but his soul is alive. Boice had said this idea was a possible interpretation from Paul’s writings.

But Paul never stated that our spirit is dead before we are regenerated. He did write that we are dead, as in Colossians 2:13, the verse you read a few minutes ago. And another example is Ephesians 2:1-2, where we read, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Marc Roby: And, as we have discussed, to be “dead in your transgressions and sins” means to be separated from God, to be his enemy. It does not have to mean that your spirit is dead.

Dr. Spencer: And since Paul says that you use to live this way, if dichotomy is the right view, your spirit cannot be dead. This is precisely why Boice says that if Paul meant that our spirits were dead before they were regenerated, it would, in fact, be evidence for trichotomy. But, as we just saw, in both the verse you cited, Colossians 2:13 and the ones I cited, Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul does not say that our spirit or soul was dead, he says that we were dead, and he clearly means dead in terms of our relationship with God.

Marc Roby: Alright, but what about 1 Corinthians 2:12-14? Paul does speak about the spirit in those verses, so we should take a look at them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should look at them to be complete. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 we read, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 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: It is important to point out that in all but one instance in these verses the word spirit is capitalized in the NIV, which means that they interpret it as referring to the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The one exception is when Paul wrote that “We have not received the spirit of the world”, which clearly can’t be the Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: No, it can’t. And, praise God, Paul didn’t just say that we have not received the spirit of the world, he said that we have received “the Spirit who is from God”.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is abundantly clear, and therefore doesn’t require any argument to support the interpretation, that “the Spirit who is from God” must refer to the Holy Spirit. Which is why the NIV capitalizes the word.

Marc Roby: That does seem fairly obvious.

Dr. Spencer: The next reference to the Spirit in those verses is when Paul says that we speak, “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit”. Now I suppose it is possible that a trichotomist could interpret this as referring to our supposedly new spirits, and the assumption would then be that when we are born again, we receive a spirit that comes with knowledge, which can then be imparted to our soul. But I think that is reading an awful lot into the verse that isn’t stated and it is far more natural and reasonable to say this wisdom is taught to us by the Holy Spirit, which is, again, why the NIV capitalizes the word there.

Marc Roby: I certainly agree that is by far the more reasonable interpretation of what Paul meant.

Dr. Spencer: And now, finally, the last sentence in that passage says 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.” When Paul refers to “the man without the Spirit”, it is virtually certain that he is speaking about someone who has not yet been regenerated. It could be, as trichotomy would say, that the man has no functional spirit. But I think it is far more likely that the NIV is correct in capitalizing the word Sprit here, meaning it is referring to the Holy Spirit, which believers receive when they are regenerated. To receive the Holy Spirit means to be influenced or controlled by him. This seems to be the far more natural reading in context.

Marc Roby: And the Bible clearly teaches us that believers have the Holy Spirit, for example, in Romans 8:9, Paul wrote, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse to make this point. Therefore, I conclude that when 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”, it most naturally fits with dichotomy. In the end, when all of the evidence we have discussed is considered, I have to conclude that trichotomy is wrong and that the biblical view of man is dichotomy.

Marc Roby: And yet, as you stated last time, this is not an essential doctrine. Christians are free to disagree about this point.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Christians are definitely free to believe dichotomy or trichotomy or even to simply say that they don’t know which is right. James Boice said that this “debate need not overly concern us”[5] and I think he was right about that, but with one caveat I’ll get into in a moment. He also said that “In this area the particular words used are less important than the truths they are meant to convey.”[6] He went on to say that if someone adheres to dichotomy, “they nevertheless recognize that there is something about man that sets him off from animals. That is all that the distinction between spirit and soul in the three-part system means.”[7] And by the “three-part system” he is, of course, referring to trichotomy.

Marc Roby: I’m not sure that all trichotomists would agree that this is all they mean, but there certainly is a sense in which Boice is correct in framing this as an argument about semantics. You mentioned a caveat in your agreeing that the debate need not overly concern us. What is that caveat?

Dr. Spencer: There is a danger inherent in trichotomy, depending on exactly what one takes that to mean.

Marc Roby: What is that danger?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if a person thinks of the soul as being the seat of our intellect and the spirit as being the seat of our ability to commune with and worship God, there is a very serious danger of thinking that the soul is corrupted by sin and is, therefore, less reliable than the spirit, which is thought to be more pure. This view can then lead to a very anti-intellectual, mystical type of Christianity, which is contrary to the Bible as Grudem points out.[8]

All through the Bible we are called to think carefully about God and our lives. Our faith must not be purely subjective. Biblical Christianity is based on objective truth, not our feelings.

Marc Roby: Yes, when you say that I immediately think of Romans 12:2, where the apostle Paul commands us, “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: That is the classic verse. But there are many others that speak about the importance of using our minds. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” In other words, we are to listen to God’s word to understand his plan of salvation. He has a way of taking care of our sins and we must use our minds to understand it.

And then, as just one more New Testament example, in Acts 17:11 we read about the response of the people in Berea to the message preached by Paul and Silas, “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.”

Marc Roby: And Christ told us, in Mark 12:30 that we are to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Examining the Scriptures clearly requires the use of our minds and also assumes that the Scriptures are our ultimate standard for truth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Christians are called to think carefully and to have the Bible be our ultimate standard, not our feelings or some mystical experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, so to begin to wrap-up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, the whole question seems to hinge on how you define soul and spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. Grudem remarks, correctly, that “If we define ‘soul’ to mean ‘the intellect, emotions, and will,’ then we will have to conclude that at least the higher animals have a soul.”[9]

In our discussion so far, I have deliberately avoided giving a precise definition of the soul, or spirit. We did say, by quoting Charles Hodge, that “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will.”[10] And we also noted that our souls live on after our physical bodies have died and so they in some way contain the essence of who we are, and we have recognized that the soul or spirit is the immaterial part of man.

Marc Roby: Well, we could simply put all of that together and say it is our working definition of soul or spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. If we put it all together, we would define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Marc Roby: That seems like a reasonable working definition, and it looks like a good place to end for today. It’s hard to believe, but with this session we have completed two full years of this podcast.

Dr. Spencer: That is very hard to believe. And we really appreciate hearing from our listeners. So, even if you don’t have a specific question, we’d like to hear from you. You can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

[1] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 152

[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. 816

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Revised and expanded edition, Macmillan Pub. Co., 1980, on page 19 Lewis wrote, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

[5] James Boice, op. cit., pg. 151

[6] Ibid, pg. 152

[7] Ibid

[8] Wayne Grudem, op. cit., pg. 482

[9] Ibid, pp 480-481

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 97

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we showed that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God. What do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to go back to the topic of man being made male and female.

Marc Roby: We discussed that very briefly in Session 98 where you pointed out that since God is triune, man being made both male and female makes us better able to mirror his image.

Dr. Spencer: And I want to explore that further from the point of view God’s defined roles for men and women.

Marc Roby: Well, that should be interesting, our modern society’s ideas about the roles for men and women are very far from the biblical norm.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. There seem to be a lot of people who think there should be no difference between the roles of men and women. And many people seem to think that the only reason anyone could have for saying that there should be a difference is a desire to have men dominate women. But that is very far from the truth.

Men and women are different, not just in the obvious physical ways, but in emotional and intellectual ways too. There is a common, but completely wrong, misconception in our society that the biblical view of women is that they should be uneducated and kept busy entirely with cooking, cleaning and having and raising children.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’ve certainly heard people say things along those lines.

Dr. Spencer: But that view couldn’t be further from the truth, so I’d like to take a few minutes to dispel that myth. If you look at the very last chapter in the book of Proverbs, Chapter 31, there is a wonderful section in Verses 10 through 31 which, in modern Bibles, is usually entitled something like The Woman Who Fears the Lord.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we are told in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”. [1]

Dr. Spencer: And true wisdom could be defined as the ability to apply right knowledge to make right decisions, which are decisions that honor and please God. So a woman who fears the Lord is going to be a woman who possesses right knowledge and knows how to apply that knowledge by making decisions that honor and please God.

The section in Proverbs 31 begins, in Verse 10, by exclaiming, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” And the fact that this verse refers to a wife does not mean that a woman who is unmarried is unimportant or less valuable, or less righteous, or unworthy of praise or anything like that. It simply reflects the fact that the normal situation for men and women is to be married.

Marc Roby: And there is certainly nothing wrong with being unmarried, the apostle Paul was. And he speaks about how unmarried people can focus on the Lord’s business in 1 Corinthians 7:34.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The passage in Proverbs 31 goes on to say, in Verses 11 and 12, that “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” A woman who fears the Lord will be trustworthy – again we can say that is true whether she is married or not. But, if she is married, her husband can have full confidence in her and so can others. And she does good, being helpful, not harmful, to her husband and others.

The passage goes on to describe what would be considered domestic duties, but is also says, in Verse 16, that “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” Which certainly represents a woman of noble character as being an able person capable of handling responsibility and making business decisions.

Marc Roby: And she is also capable of hard work, planting a vineyard is not easy! In the very next verse, Verse 17, we read that “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that clearly does speak about a strong and capable person, not someone who spends her time watching soap operas and gossiping with the neighbors, or sitting around fussing with her hair and fingernails. In Verse 18 we read that “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” Speaking of her trading again shows that she is a capable, intelligent and responsible person. And the fact that her lamp does not go out at night speaks of her diligence and hard work.

The passage also speaks of her helping the poor and watching over the needs of her family. In Verse 23 we read that “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

Marc Roby: And surely the implication is that she has something to do with that success.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Our society denigrates the contributions of a wife who doesn’t pursue her own career. But a proper, that is to say a biblical, view of a family is that it is a unit. A family needs a place to live, it needs food and clothing and so on. If you look at a traditional family, where the husband works for pay and the woman works primarily in the home, the work that the wife does is every bit as important. If the man had to take care of all of his own domestic affairs he would not be nearly as successful in his career. So, whatever success the man has in a traditional family is attributable to his wife as well as to himself.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is nothing wrong with the woman working outside the home as well.

Dr. Spencer: No, there isn’t. But that is not her primary responsibility and, if there are children who are not yet in school, it is certainly best if she can keep such work to a minimum. There can obviously be times when a family needs more income than the husband alone can provide, but there is no doubt that it is better for the family as a whole if the wife doesn’t have to work outside the home too much while the children are very young. Which is also, typically, the time that a man would be in the early stages of his career and would need to put in more hours and would be less able to manage his own domestic affairs.

Marc Roby: And, while it is not politically correct to say this, women are typically better equipped than men to stay home with young children.

Dr. Spencer: We will, unfortunately, probably lose some listeners and make some enemies by saying that, but yes, women do, in general, have better temperaments for dealing with children. There are, of course, huge differences among women and among men, but the statement is so obviously true that it is a very bad sign of the pathological condition of our present society that to make the statement is at all problematic. And I must point out that we are not in any way saying that men are better than women. That kind of thinking demonstrates an extreme lack of respect for all of the women throughout history who have been excellent wives, mothers and housekeepers and a lack of appreciation for the importance and difficulty of that role in society.

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. To insist that women should be the same as men is to hold the traditional role of a housewife and mother in contempt.

Dr. Spencer: And it is damaging to the family, which is the core upon which all societies are built. If the family is destroyed, the society will be destroyed. And we are certainly seeing that in certain segments of our society today.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. But to get back on track with the biblical view of a noble woman from Proverbs 31, I also like Verse 26, which says that “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Dr. Spencer: Being a stay-at-home mom is not all about cooking and cleaning and changing diapers. Raising children requires wisdom and an ability to instruct, and being a helper to her husband and making the many business decisions necessary to the daily operation of a home also requires wisdom.

Marc Roby: Of course the husband has a responsibility to meet as well. It wouldn’t be proper for the man to leave the child rearing to the wife alone or to abdicate his responsibility in making decisions.

Dr. Spencer: No, that would be completely unbiblical. But the main point I wanted to make from this passage in Proverbs is that the biblical idea of a noble woman is far different than the caricature that is often presented in our culture. A proper Christian woman is a capable, strong, intelligent, educated and hard-working person.

But, and here is where our modern society is opposed to the biblical norm, a proper Christian wife is under the authority of her husband.

Marc Roby: There you go again with that word authority.

Dr. Spencer: It is very important word. And remember that man was made male and female in the image and likeness of God. And if you look at the Trinity, you see authority there as well. Theologians distinguish between the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity.

Marc Roby: I think we need to define those terms.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Ontology has to do with the essence of something. In their essence, the members of the Trinity are equal. We discussed the Doctrine of the Trinity at some length in Sessions 50 through 56 and I don’t want to go over that material again now, but let cite just one verse. In what is commonly called the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us, in Matthew 28:19, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This verse clearly implies that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate persons, and yet equal. It also says, “in the name of”, using the singular for name, rather than saying “in the names of” as you might expect. The singular is used, of course, because there is only one God, who exists in three persons.

Marc Roby: And those three persons are ontologically equal. So that leaves us with needing to define what is meant by the economic Trinity, which of course has nothing at all to do with money.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t have anything to do with money at all. The word economy also refers to managing resources or other affairs, so the economic Trinity refers to the different roles taken by the persons of the godhead in relating to creation.[2] And in the economic Trinity there is a voluntary subordination of the second and third persons of the Trinity, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in terms of God’s interaction with his creation.

Marc Roby: I want to emphasize the word voluntary in what you just said. The members of the Trinity are equal, so the functional roles that they fulfill in relation to creation are taken voluntarily.

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you pointed that out, it is a point that needs to be emphasized. We again discussed this idea at greater length when we covered the Trinity, but let me just cite Philippians 2:5-8, which say that “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

This passage clearly tells us that Jesus was God, but voluntarily took on the nature of a servant. He voluntarily became subject to God the Father.

Marc Roby: Which explains how Jesus could tell his disciples, as we read in John 14:28, that “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s exactly right. There are many places in the New Testament where Jesus’ subordination to the Father is obvious. That verse is one of the best, but we also read in John 15:10 that Christ 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.” The subordination is again apparent since Jesus said that he obeyed the Father’s commands.

And the subordination of the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son is also clear because we are told that both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to us. In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” But then in John 15:26 Jesus said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”

Marc Roby: That is quite clear, both the Father and the Son are said to send the Holy Spirit. There is a voluntary submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: And because we are made in the image of God we should expect a similar situation to be the case in the relations between human beings. That is why authority is so important. It is ordained by God for our good. And all earthly authority is given by God. We have no authority innately, any authority that we have is delegated authority.

Marc Roby: We read in Romans 13:1-2 that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we shouldn’t think of authority as something bad. It is in fact very good. Authority is necessary in any organization or assembly.

Given that there are many people on this earth and that we do not always all agree on exactly what should be done and how it should be done, authority is absolutely essential. Without it, all we would have is anarchy. And, even more importantly, we are all creatures and owe our very existence to the God who made us, so he is our ultimate authority and he has shown us in the Trinity, and commanded in his word, that authority is good.

Marc Roby: And that authority exists in the family.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. In 1 Corinthians 11:3 the apostle Paul wrote, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” This makes it very clear. The word “head” is being used to refer to authority. The head is the part of the body that commands all of the other parts. And Paul even references the economic Trinity in this verse. He says that the “head of Christ is God”, meaning God the Father.

The implication is clear. You could construct an argument from the greater to the lesser from this verse. If Christ, who is God, is under the authority of the Father, how much more should we, as mere creatures, be under authority. And God specifies the order. Man is under the authority of Christ and woman is under the authority of man.

Marc Roby: Of course, that doesn’t mean that every woman is under the authority of every man.

Dr. Spencer: No, it does not mean that at all. We need to look at the entire teaching of the Bible to properly understand this.

Marc Roby: And I think we’ll have to get into that next time because we are out of time for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We hope 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] See the short discussion in Session 28 and see John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 683 fn43

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to discuss what it means to be made in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’”. [1] Which raises the obvious question, “What does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?”

Marc Roby: In Session 95, when we were discussing 1 John 3:2, which says in part that when God appears at the end of the ages, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” You quoted the theologian John Murray who said that “it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We need to be very careful with this concept. Murray also said that the “genius” of the devil’s temptation to Eve was to twist the meaning of being made in God’s likeness. Man was made in the image of God, he severely defaced that image when he sinned, and if we are in Jesus Christ, then God is working through his Holy Spirit to restore that image. We are, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, being “conformed to the likeness” of Jesus Christ, who is God.

But nowhere are we told that we will be “like God” in the sense the devil implied in tempting Eve. We will always be creatures. We will never possess deity. We will not have omnipotence, omniscience, self-existence or any other of God’s attributes to the full degree God does.

Marc Roby: In other words, we must always be mindful of the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. God is self-existent, we are created. God is immutable, we were made mutable as is evident from the fall.

Marc Roby: Although in heaven we will be confirmed in righteousness and unable to sin.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God that’s true. But even then we won’t be immutable, we will still learn and grow in knowledge and understanding for example. We will never be God, but we were created in his image.

Marc Roby: And so we return to our original question. Bearing in mind the Creator/creature distinction, what does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: Wayne Grudem points out that our English words image and likeness do a pretty good job of representing the Hebrew words they translate. An image of something can be a statue or photograph for example and it can be used to represent the original. For example, Federal office buildings in this country typically display a picture of the current president in the lobby. The picture is there to honor him and could be said to represent him as the head of the government. Grudem proposes that to the original audience the statement in Genesis 1:26 would simply have meant, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s reasonable. But it still leaves open the question of what it means to be like God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem points out that there have been three main views in the history of the church about what this means.[4] One is, “the substantive view, which identifies some particular quality of man (such as reason or spirituality) as being the image of God in man”. This view was held by Luther and Calvin, and many early church writers. Secondly, there have been “relational views, which held that the image of God had to do with our interpersonal relationships”. For example, Karl Barth saw the image as having to do with man being created male and female. Thirdly, there was “the functional view, which holds that the image of God has to do with a function we carry out, usually our exercise of dominion over the creation”.

Marc Roby: Well, those all seem like reasonable possibilities.

Dr. Spencer: And I think they all have merit and, in fact, are probably all correct. I suspect, as Grudem says, that “The expression refers to every way in which man is like God.”[5] And yet, I do think there is value in spending some time looking at a few of the specific things that this expression represents.

Marc Roby: Very well, which of the possibilities do you want to explore?

Dr. Spencer: Lets take a look at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says. It deals with this in Chapter IV, which is on Creation. In Paragraph 2 it says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We are told seven important things in this statement, all of which I think are involved in what it means to be made in the image of God. The first thing stated was that God created man male and female.

Marc Roby: How is that related to being made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Because God is triune, or we could say tri-personal, the fact that man was created male and female makes us better able to mirror his nature. When Jesus taught his disciples that they should not divorce, he said in Mark 10:6-8, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”

Marc Roby: I think it is important to point out that in a proper biblical marriage the expression “the two will become one flesh” has a much deeper meaning than just the physical union of a husband and wife.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. There is a profound emotional and spiritual unity in a proper marriage. The physical relationship alone can never make a successful marriage.

Marc Roby: Which may be part of the reason so many marriages end in divorce. People, especially men, tend to focus on external appearance and the physical relationship.

Dr. Spencer: I suspect you’re right about that being a significant contributing factor to the high divorce rate. The most important aspect of a successful marriage is the spiritual aspect. That is why God commands Christians to only marry “in the Lord” as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 7. In that passage the apostle Paul is giving instructions about marriage and he wrote, in Verse 39, that “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

Marc Roby: And that command applies to men as well as to women and it also applies to being married the first time, not just after a spouse has died. We can infer that from what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 he commanded, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” To be “yoked together” speaks, of course, of two oxen being connected by a wooden yoke and working together to pull a plow or cart. And Paul goes on to explain why we should not be yoked together with unbelievers, he writes in the last half of Verse 14 on through the first part of Verse 16, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

Dr. Spencer: Paul doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does he? He asks four rhetorical questions, starting with, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” The obvious answer to that question is, “nothing”. And the others are equally obvious. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and Belial – which is referring to Satan. A believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common when we speak about the most fundamental issues in life, and there can be no agreement between the temple of God and the temple of idols. Paul then seals the whole argument by pointing out that “we are the temple of the living God.” Because God lives in his people by the Holy Spirit, we cannot form the most intimate relationships with unbelievers, we cannot be “yoked together”.

Marc Roby: This does not prohibit us from normal day-to-day interactions with unbelievers of course. We must still live in the world, and that even includes entering into contractual obligations with unbelievers and so on.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But I think the modern church has gone very far into the opposite error of living as if there were no truly significant difference between believers and unbelievers. That cannot be true. We’re getting too far off topic to spend any significant time on that now, but the Bible speaks from beginning to end about the need for separation. We are not to live as the world lives. We are to represent Christ, in other words we are to function as God’s image bearers, which brings us back to our topic.

A Christian husband and wife have a very deep spiritual unity in addition to the physical and emotional unity present in a healthy marriage. And that union of two persons does a better job of representing the triune God than an individual person can.

Marc Roby: I can imagine someone asking why, given that we are made in the image of a triune God, there are only two in a marriage.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem deals with this question.[6] He points out that the analogy between marriage and the Trinity is not perfect and secondly, and most importantly, that the Bible does not explicitly answer that question. Nevertheless, we can speculate that the difference may be a reflection of the fact that God is much greater than we are. Also, when a human father and mother have a child, there are three. Which makes the analogy to the Trinity somewhat better.

Marc Roby: But what about single people? There are also made in the image and likeness of God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And they are not in any way inferior to those who are married. Nor are married couples who can’t have children in any way inferior to those that do. We don’t want to make too much of this aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God. But we also don’t want to make too little of it. The fact that human beings exist as male and female is a very important part of who we are. And for people who are still single, or childless, there are still other important relationships that express the fact that we do not exist as individuals in isolation. The most important human relationship for a Christian is with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is expressed most tangibly in our being an active part of a local church.

Marc Roby: Alright. Getting back to the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, it goes on to say that God “created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls”.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that we have “reasonable and immortal souls” is a very important part of our being made in his image and likeness. First of all, we have a soul. There is some debate among Christians as to whether there is a difference between the soul and spirit or whether those are two names for the same thing, but I want to put off that discussion for a later podcast. For the moment, let’s use the words soul and spirit as being interchangeable. The main point is that “God is Spirit” as Jesus told us in John 4:24, so our being made in his image includes the fact that we also have a spirit or soul.

Marc Roby: And the Confession says that our souls are “reasonable and immortal”.

Dr. Spencer: Which is also very important. Man’s ability to reason is one of the things that clearly separates us from animals. I’m not denying that some animals have the ability to reason in a limited sense, they can solve certain puzzles and problems and some of the higher animals can clearly communicate in various ways, but there is a clear difference between even the highest animals and man. I don’t want to spend time trying to quantify or specifically delineate the difference, I’ll just assume for the moment that the difference is obvious to all, or almost all, of our listeners.

The second thing said is also critically important; our souls are immortal. The clear teaching of the Bible is that when we die physically, our bodies cease functioning and are separated from our souls. But we go on living. The body is, in some sense, a physical habitation for the soul. But the essence of our being is immaterial, it is our soul. And that does not cease to exist when our body dies.

Marc Roby: The best passage I can think of to support that statement is in the book of Hebrews. In Chapter 12 the writer tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and his heavenly kingdom. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we are encouraged by reading, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Dr. Spencer: Praise God! He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ and that salvation culminates in our spending eternity with him in heaven. And, as you noted, this passage speaks about the immortality of the soul, because we are told that there is a great assembly right now in the heavenly Jerusalem, and that assembly includes thousands upon thousands of angels as well as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”

If we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a result of being united to him by faith, then when we die our souls, or spirits, are instantly perfected and come into the very presence of God. We then live in that perfected but disembodied state until God finishes his work of creating the church. At which time Jesus will come to earth again to judge the living and the dead and we will receive our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: What a glorious hope that is!

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and we will spend more time on all of that when we get to soteriology and eschatology, but for now we want to stick to the fact that man has both a material part, which is our physical body, and an immaterial part, which is our soul or spirit. The immaterial part is by far the most important. We can live without a physical body, but without a soul or spirit to animate them our bodies would be nothing but dead lumps of highly organized chemicals.

Marc Roby: That isn’t a particularly flattering way to put it, but I think that your meaning is clear.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, we must also point out that our spirits are not the same as God’s spirit. As always, there is the Creator/creature distinction. God created us, body and spirit. Our spirits are immortal only because God has determined to keep them so. We don’t have the power of life within us. We are not self-existent. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are not God and we never will be.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we done with what you want to say about the soul for now?

Dr. Spencer: We are. And to recap, in examining the statement made in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV, Paragraph 2, we have noted that we are made in the image of likeness of God in terms of our being male and female, and in terms of having reasonable and immortal souls. The next thing that the Confession mentions is that we have knowledge.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to discussing that, but I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer.

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

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 306

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 443

[4] Ibid, see footnote 8

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 455

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, in the past two sessions we have discussed the questions you called the bookends to life; where we came from and where we are going. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the creation of man. In Genesis 5:1-2 we read a summary statement; “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And the Hebrew word translated as “man” in that verse is adam, the same word used for the name of the first man.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God used the same term to refer to the entire human race, both male and female, and to refer to men in distinction from women. Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that since this usage originated with God himself, “we should not find it objectionable or insensitive.”[2]

Now I personally think it is a good idea to use gender neutral terms when it is possible to do so without misrepresenting the Word of God or making our speech or writing awkward or ungrammatical, but no woman should take offense at being referred to as a part of mankind. The term man can be used as a generic term for human beings or as a term specifically referring to a male individual. Like many words it has more than one meaning. And, contrary to popular opinion among non-Christians, the biblical view of women is that they are absolutely equal with men in terms of dignity and worth.

Marc Roby: And no man would be here if it weren’t for a woman! We all have a mother.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and so is the reverse, we all have a father as well. We need each other in many ways. We’ll get to the biblical view of women later, but I will continue at times to use the word man to refer to human beings in general, and I certainly do not mean in any way to denigrate women when I do so.

But, let’s return to the creation of mankind. One of the first questions that most people would think to ask about creation in general, and mankind specifically, is, “Why did God create man?”

Marc Roby: While discussing the question “Where did we come from?” in Session 94, we noted the purpose of life from our perspective is, first of all, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then secondly, to live for God’s glory. You could say that to ask why God created man is to examine the purpose of life from God’s perspective rather than ours.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good way of looking at it. And the most important point we should make at the start is that God didn’t need to create man at all. Our great triune God has had perfect love and fellowship within the persons of the trinity eternally. He certainly did not need us for fellowship, or for any other reason. It was his free choice to create anything at all, and, more to the point, it was his free choice to create man. He did not need us.

Marc Roby: That fact is very disappointing to some people.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose it is, but it shouldn’t be. It most certainly does not mean that our lives are meaningless. Quite the contrary. Our lives would be meaningless if we were cosmic accidents, but the fact that God created us for a purpose gives our lives great meaning. In addition, God takes delight in his people. We are, for example, called his treasured possession. The Hebrew word for treasured possession is segullah, which is used 8 times in the Old Testament. Six of those times it refers to God’s chosen people. For example, in Exodus 19:5 God told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thing to consider, that the eternally perfect God considers us his treasured possession.

Dr. Spencer: It’s an astounding statement. But as a weak analogy, think of a great artist. He could take joy and receive pleasure from his greatest work of art and you could say it was his treasured possession.

Marc Roby: And to say that would not imply that the work of art was in any way necessary. The pleasure the artist had in it would be the pleasure of seeing his own handiwork, it would not be a property of the art itself.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The fact that God does not need us in no way diminishes our worth, but the pleasure he has in us is the pleasure of a Creator, it isn’t because we somehow add something. But I called the analogy of an artist and his work a weak one because it fails miserably in one way.

Marc Roby: In what way does it fail?

Dr. Spencer: It fails because as creatures we cannot create living beings. We can only create inanimate objects. But God created living beings who can, in fact, have real fellowship with him. The fact that he doesn’t need our fellowship does not mean that he will never enjoy it. We read in Isaiah 62:5, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It truly is. God doesn’t need us, but he does derive joy from us. We can also add to this discussion the observation that it is a very good thing that God doesn’t need us in any way.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because if God actually needed us in any way to accomplish his purposes, then we couldn’t be sure he would accomplish his purposes! His promises would not be certain because man is never infallibly dependable.

Our only real hope is in God. I trust his promises precisely because they don’t depend on anything outside of God and certainly not on me. No one can thwart his purposes. We read in Isaiah 14:27, “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very comforting.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And we read in Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17:24 that Jesus prayed, “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.” Which backs up my statement that the persons of the Trinity have had perfect love and fellowship for all eternity.

Marc Roby: All right. We have established so far that God didn’t need us and that we are his treasured possession. What else do you want to say about why God made us?

Dr. Spencer: God created us for his glory. God himself says, in Isaiah 43:6-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” And in Ephesians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul wrote that we were chosen in Christ, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: What a wonderful purpose that is. And we should point out that we receive great joy from working to accomplish that purpose and from having fellowship with God as we do so. And our pleasure in God will be eternal. In Psalm 16:11 King David wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Dr. Spencer: And there is no greater joy than having one of those moments when you are praying or meditating on God’s word and you get a slight glimmer of understanding of the divine majesty and a sense of his presence with you. In Psalm 27:4 the psalmist declared, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m really glad you brought up that passage because it shows that our love for God is not just based on emotion or some mystical experience as is often assumed by unbelievers. We have not seen God, and we don’t see him now, but Peter gives the reason for our faith. He says, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

In other words, we have a good reason for our faith. It is not an irrational leap in the dark, it is based on truth. We have looked at the Word of God and found it to be true and we see him working in our own lives bringing about our salvation. This is an intelligent apprehension of truth.

Marc Roby: And the Bible commands us in several places to examine ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In fact, Peter himself tells us in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure, and Paul similarly tells us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Many self-proclaimed Christians today want a faith that doesn’t need to be tested. They will tell you that they prayed to receive Christ once and so they are saved and it doesn’t really matter how they live because we are not saved by works.

Marc Roby: That is a very popular view of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: And it is a profoundly unbiblical view, that is to say it’s an unchristian view of Christianity. When we are told to examine ourselves and to make our calling and election sure, there is an obvious assumption that if we have been saved there will necessarily be changes that can be observed. Otherwise, what could you examine?

But the purpose of examining ourselves is not to put is in a perpetual state of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The purpose is that we may see God at work in our lives and draw the conclusion that we have been born again, that his word is true, and that we can have great hope, confidence and joy in knowing his promises are true and certain.

Marc Roby: Unless, of course, we see no evidence of God working in our lives. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul commanded, “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?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, as with any real test, there is a possibility of failure. But even failure is gracious because, if we fail the test, we clearly see our need and should be driven to cry out to God for mercy, and he will never turn away a truly repentant person. We are the beneficiaries no matter how the test turns out. Either we pass the test and have great assurance and hope, or we fail the test and are driven to seek salvation, which is the one thing we really need.

Marc Roby: Of course, all of this begs the question of how I go about testing myself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question. And the Bible gives us the answer. In fact, it is one theme of the apostle John’s first letter.  In 1 John 5:13 he wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: There isn’t anything more important than that; knowing that you have eternal life. And knowing that brings great joy. In the same letter John also wrote, in Chapter 1 Verses 3 and 4, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is also important to point out that the joy spoken of by John is not just a momentary feeling of happiness or pleasure. It is much deeper than that. It is the joy of the Lord, which we are told in Nehemiah 8:10 is our strength.

Marc Roby: And because it is a deep joy, not just momentary happiness, it is a joy that we can have even in the midst of suffering. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Dr. Spencer: That is true, and amazing. In Romans 8:28 we are told that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that includes even suffering. God uses it for our good.

And now I’d like to look at a passage that puts together several things we’ve been discussing. In John 15:8-11 Jesus told us that “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 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. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a marvelous passage. And it does tie things together nicely. It is to the Father’s glory that we bear fruit by loving him, which means obeying his commands. If we do that, our joy will be complete.

But can we get back to John’s first letter? You noted that one reason he wrote it was so that we could know we have eternal life. What tests does he give us to use?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew noted in his commentary on 1 John, he provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[4]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul told his young protégé to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, both are important. How we live and what we believe. The doctrinal test that John provides is not comprehensive, he uses a few essentials as representative of the essential body of doctrine. We’ll just examine a few of them today.

Let’s begin with the first two verses of this letter. In 1 John 1:1-2 we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

Marc Roby: There’s a lot of doctrine packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. For example, we note that he speaks of “That which was from the beginning”. In other words, in his deity, Jesus is eternal. There never was a time when he did not exist. This is a necessary doctrine of the Christian faith. And, as the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity he existed as Spirit. He did not have a body.

Marc Roby: And yet, John goes on to say that this is one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.

Dr. Spencer: Which clearly speaks of the incarnation. Jesus, the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity became man. He is truly God and he became truly man. He is the unique God-man. The only Savior. And the rest of that brief passage says essentially the same thing again. John wrote, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”, which harkens back to what he wrote in his gospel. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he goes on in this first letter to say that “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” This again clearly refers to the incarnation. This eternal life, Jesus, who was with the Father, appeared to John and others and they are declaring that to us.

Marc Roby: What other essential doctrines does John use as examples?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in 1 John 1:5 he says that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” In context it is obvious that he is using light and darkness metaphorically.

Marc Roby: Which is a common thing for John to do, he liked stark contrasts; light and darkness, love and hate, life and death, sons of God and sons of the devil.

Dr. Spencer: He does like stark contrasts. And to flesh out the metaphor he is using here in Verse 5 we could say that God is absolutely holy, just and truthful, in him there is no unholiness, injustice, or falsehood.

Another doctrine he highlights is the pervasive sinfulness of man. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There are more doctrines stated or implied in this letter, but for our present purposes that is enough. The main point is that while we live in a free country and anyone can call himself a Christian, our testimony about ourselves is irrelevant on the day we appear before the judgment seat of God. All that will matter on that day is what Jesus Christ himself says about us.

Marc Roby: And if we have rejected God’s revelation of himself in the Bible, or twisted and distorted it suit our own ideas, that will not work with God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it won’t work at all. We don’t need to be expert theologians to be saved, and there are doctrines about which truly born-again people can disagree, as we have noted before in these podcasts. But there are also essential doctrines. If you don’t believe in the full deity and humanity of Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection for example, you are not a Christian.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think we are out of time today and will have to pick this up again next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 440

[3] The people of God are also called his segullah in Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2 and 26:18, in Psalm 135:4 and in Malachi 3:17.

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s will. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by looking at 1 Peter 1:18-20, and in verse 20 it says that Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world” [1]. You also pointed out that he was chosen for the purpose of becoming incarnate and giving his life as an atonement to save his people from their sins. And that all of this is part of God’s decretive will.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is part, God decrees everything that happens, even our sin. Listen to what the apostle Peter said to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. We read this in Acts 2:22-24, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Marc Roby: And in Acts 4:28 we read that the believers were praying about the authorities crucifying Jesus Christ and they said, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Dr. Spencer: God’s will is wonderful. He can work directly in this universe, as he did in creation and as he does in regeneration, but he normally uses secondary agents to accomplish his purposes. In this case, he used this horrible sin of crucifying the completely innocent God-man Jesus Christ to bring about the redemption of his people. It completely boggles the mind. God used what was the worst sin ever committed to bring about the greatest good ever achieved.

Marc Roby: And yet Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was still morally culpable for his sin. And so were the Jewish leaders who conspired against him and condemned him, and so was Pontius Pilate, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, who acceded to their demands; they were all morally culpable for their sins even though they were accomplishing God’s set purpose in doing so.

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly were morally responsible for their sins. No one forced them to sin, even though God had ordained from before the creation of the world that they would do so. The theological term used to describe the fact that God’s free will and our free will can work together to accomplish exactly what God has foreordained, or decreed, is called concurrence. It is a very important concept.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the crucifixion of Christ is not the only dramatic example of concurrence. The story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt gives us another great example.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. But in order to give that example, we need to remind our listeners of some of the facts relating to Joseph’s life.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me begin. Joseph was one of the twelve Patriarchs of the Jewish people. He was the favorite son of his father Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was his father’s favorite, so they sold him to some Midianite slave traders who were heading down to Egypt and then told their father Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was later sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.

Dr. Spencer: And we read about all of that in Genesis Chapter 37. But God was gracious to Joseph in Egypt and through a long process, which included his being unjustly imprisoned for years, he miraculously became second in command in Egypt as we read in Chapters 39-41 of Genesis. We also read that there was a severe famine in the land and Joseph was in charge of Pharaoh’s storehouses of grain.

Marc Roby: And in Chapter 42 of Genesis we are told that there was also famine in the land of Canaan, where Joseph’s brothers and father lived. And because they heard that there was grain in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain for their families. In doing so, they came before their brother Joseph.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a lot that we are leaving out in order to get to our main point. This is a marvelous story of God’s grace and sovereignty and I encourage our listeners to read it if they don’t know the story. But to move on, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him because he now spoke, dressed and acted like an Egyptian, but he recognized them. I will again leave out a lot of wonderful and edifying material from Chapters 43 through 49 and just say that Joseph eventually revealed himself to his brothers and then his entire family, including his father Jacob, moved down to Egypt.

Marc Roby: And Jacob died in Egypt, which then left Joseph’s brothers worried. In Genesis 50:15 we read that “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’”

Dr. Spencer: And we finally come to the verses we want to discuss today. In Genesis 50:19-21 we read, “But Joseph said to them, ‘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.”

Marc Roby: What a gracious response that was.

Dr. Spencer: It was incredibly gracious, but Joseph saw God’s purpose in all that had happened. I’m sure that as a human being he must have struggled with all of the trials he went through because of his brother’s hatred, and in the material we skipped over we do see him exacting a bit of revenge. But the main point here, just as we saw in Acts regarding the crucifixion of Jesus, is the concurrence between the free, sinful actions of human beings and God’s ultimate purpose and decrees.

Marc Roby: Now I suspect that that will sound very strange to many of our listeners. The idea that God would, in any way, concur with sinful acts.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that does sound strange to anyone who has not heard of this doctrine before. The word concur is often used to indicate agreement or approval, but it can also simply mean to act together toward some common goal, in which case it does not imply approval of the actions of the other person. And that is the sense in which we are using the word here.

God’s actions and the sinful actions of human beings can work together to bring about a result that God has decreed will happen, but there is no implication that God approves of the sinful actions.

Marc Roby: Louis Berkhof gives a good definition of concurrence in his systematic theology text. He writes that “Concurrence may be defined as the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of their operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great definition. We will have more to say about concurrence, which is part of the doctrine of God’s providence, when we finish with God’s attributes. But for now, let me just point out a couple of things. First, note that Berkhof talks about divine power and subordinate powers. God is in complete control of his creation. That does not mean that we are all puppets, but it does mean that we are completely subordinate. No one can thwart God’s plans. He brings about exactly what he has decreed will happen. When we sin, he uses our sin, together with other factors, to bring about his purposes.

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing thing to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It really is. But I also like the fact that Berkhof mentions the “pre-established laws” that are in operation. There are, for example, the laws of nature, which God himself established and upholds, but there are also laws, if you will, of human behavior. As we noted in Session 84 and will talk about more when we get to biblical anthropology, we do have free wills, but our wills are not absolutely free. We cannot violate our own nature. Which is perfectly logical and reasonable. It strikes me as exceedingly strange, to say the least, to think that I have the freedom to choose to do something that goes completely against all of my own inclinations and desires.

Marc Roby: That is indeed illogical. But, now that we have established that in order to accomplish his decretive will God works through secondary agents, including even the sinful actions of human beings, what else do you want to say about the will of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, since we have been talking about human sin and its relation to God’s will, I want to stick with that general idea and talk about what is usually called God’s permissive will. I can’t find a good definition of this term in any of my theology texts because theologians seem to not use the term. But Christians use it reasonably often, so I think we should discuss it. I think that what people usually mean by God’s permissive will is that it encompasses all those things that God allows to happen even though they are not what he desires or commands to have happen.

Marc Roby: And these actions may include sin as well as things that are not, in themselves sin.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s right. And although I can’t find a theologian speaking about God’s permissive will, Berkhof does talk about the fact that God’s eternal decree, which is basically synonymous with what we have been calling God’s decretive will, is permissive with respect to human sin.

Marc Roby: Now, that’s an interesting statement, can you explain what he means by that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. He wrote that when God decrees human sin, “It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination.”[3]

Marc Roby: This sounds like concurrence again, mixed in with God’s sovereign control of all things, including human sin. Berkhof’s point seems to be that God permits sin, but it is never outside of his control and is used by him to accomplish his own purposes.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair summary.

Marc Roby: When people speak of God’s permissive will, it is usually in some way contrasted with his perfect will.

Dr. Spencer: That contrast is what you typically hear.[4] And what is usually meant by God’s perfect will for us is almost synonymous with his revealed, or preceptive will. It is what God has commanded us to do, although it often goes beyond that. For example, someone might talk about it not being God’s perfect will for them to marry a particular individual, whereas Scripture, of course, does not command us to marry or not marry a specific individual. It only gives us the command that as Christians, we must marry another Christian.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard that kind of talk, and it does make a valid point. We can make decisions that are not necessarily sinful, they aren’t the wisest choice. God will not usually intervene in any direct way to stop his people from making bad decisions, or even from sinning, so we need to be careful to not conclude that just because he allows us to do something, that it is the best thing to do, or even to conclude that it isn’t sin.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that is the point usually being made when people talk about God’s permissive will versus his perfect will. And it is an important point. It should scare us to know that God will allow us to make bad decisions. And it should scare us even more when we read, for example, that God allowed King David to commit adultery and murder. We would prefer to read that David was prevented from doing so. But the reality is that, for his own perfect purposes, God allows his people to sin, sometimes grievously. And we cannot take any solace in the fact that he is sovereign even over our sins and will somehow use them to accomplish his good purposes. It would always, without exception, be better for us to not sin.

Marc Roby: I completely agree. We need to seek to be led by the Word of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in order to avoid sin and even decisions that are not sinful, but that are also not the wisest choice.

Dr. Spencer: And we have a great promise from God about temptation to sin. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read 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: Yes, that is a great promise. But it does not say that God will not allow us to be tempted. It only says that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.

Dr. Spencer: And the painful truth is that we sometimes give in to temptation in spite of God keeping it limited to what we can bear. We need to be very careful to watch our life and doctrine closely as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16. God will provide a way out of every temptation, but we must look for it and avail ourselves of it. If we don’t, we will suffer harm.

Marc Roby: Yes, and very often others will be harmed as well.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. This is why Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer to pray that God would deliver us from temptation. He also told us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10), which is obviously speaking about God’s preceptive will; in other words, we are praying that people, including ourselves, would obey God’s commands. It would make no sense for this to refer to God’s decretive will since whatever God decrees will, in fact, happen. Therefore, if this referred to God’s decretive will we would be praying that God would cause what is going to happen to happen.

Marc Roby: That certainly wouldn’t make any sense. But I doubt that many people are consciously aware that they are praying for their own obedience when they pray the Lord’s prayer. What else do you want to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is important to distinguish between what theologians call God’s necessary and free wills.

Marc Roby: We have already pointed out that there are things that God cannot do, so his necessary will must refer to those things which he must do because he is God. Things like continuing to exist and always telling the truth.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what is meant, so in a sense we’ve covered God’s necessary will already. But the important point I want to make is that God also does many things freely, and it is particularly important for us to know that creation was God’s free decision. He did not need to create this universe for any reason. Nor did he need to redeem anyone after the fall.

Marc Roby: You do sometimes here Christians talk about God creating us for fellowship, which sounds a bit like he would be lonely without us.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the view I want to oppose. It is unbiblical. God is love as we are told in 1 John 4:16, and that is an essential attribute of God. It is part of his fundamental nature. It was true before he ever created this universe. There was absolutely perfect love and fellowship between the persons of the Trinity prior to the creation of this universe. God did not need to create. Wayne Grudem states it well in his systematic theology. He wrote that “It would be wrong for us ever to try to find a necessary cause for creation or redemption in the being of God himself, for that would rob God of his total independence. It would be to say that without us God could not truly be God. God’s decisions to create and to redeem were totally free decisions.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a very important, and humbling, point. Is there anything else you wanted to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go back to the Lord’s prayer and note again that in that prayer Christ taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth, which certainly includes in our own lives. If we have surrendered our lives to Christ, we must work hard to submit our will to his will. When Jesus was crying out to the Father from the Mount of Olives prior to his crucifixion, we read in Luke 22:42 that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” That is the kind of complete submission to God that all of us should strive to achieve in our own lives.

I’ve heard that people used to add the letters D.V. to statements of their intentions for the future. For example, I might write that I will visit you in Oregon this summer, D.V. The letters D.V. stand for the Latin phrase deo volente, and mean God willing.

Marc Roby: Which comes, of course, from James 4:13-15, where we read, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Dr. Spencer: I assume that is where it comes from, yes. And although I’m sure it can easily become a meaningless cliché used to try and sound godly, it is a good sentiment to have in mind at all times. As Christians, our job is to seek to know and do the will of God. As Jesus himself told us in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Marc Roby: I think that is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[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] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 171

[3] Ibid, pg. 105

[4] It shows up, for example, in a popular old daily devotional called My Utmost for his Highest by Oswald Chambers, see the entry for December 16.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 213

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s spirituality, which is the first of his communicable attributes we are considering. Last time we established that spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. Dr. Spencer, what else do you want to say about spirits and God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: Since we are talking about God’s spirituality, I want to look at what is unique to God. We examined our spirituality last time because it helped us come to a better understanding of what is meant by spirit, but as always there is a significant difference between the Creator and the creature. God’s spirituality is qualitatively different from ours.

Marc Roby: In what ways?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, he is the only eternally existing spirit. We sometimes talk about the fact that we will spend eternity with God in heaven, which is true. But we are being a bit sloppy with our language. Only God is eternal in the fullest sense of that term, so perhaps we should talk about eternity past and eternity future, or say that our spirits are everlasting. We all had a beginning, and that includes our spirit as well as our body, but God had no beginning. He has always existed as we have discussed several times. He exists necessarily. He alone has the power of life within him as part of his essential being, and his essence is spirit. So, we could say that spirit is the only absolutely necessary essence that exists. Our physical universe of matter and energy is unnecessary and contingent. It exists only because God chose to create it and chooses to sustain it.

Marc Roby: That is indeed a very significant difference. What else do you want to say about God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: I think that Wayne Grudem is right to connect God’s spirituality with the Second Commandment. We read that commandment in Chapter 20 of Exodus. Verse 4 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” [1] Grudem writes the following about this commandment, “The creation language in this commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, his essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created.”[2] God is spirit and so it is obvious that he cannot be represented by anything we can make out of the material universe.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense. And you noted last time that God’s spirit is qualitatively different than all created spirits. And, now that I’ve said that, I realize it’s a tautology; of course a created spirit is different from the Creator!

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. We can’t escape the creator-creature distinction. Even angels, who are spirits and don’t have physical bodies, are so radically different from and below God that they are not to be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10 the apostle John tells us about his wanting to worship an angel, he writes, “I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’”

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. But let’s get back to God’s spirituality.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. There is another passage of Scripture that we should look at because it tells us something about the spirit of God. In Isaiah 11 the prophet speaks about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who we must remember is a descendent of King David, whose father was named Jesse. In Verse 1 the prophet says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” And then, in Verse 2 he tells us that “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD”. From this verse we learn first that the spirit of God is a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power and knowledge. These five things can all be considered communicable attributes of God. The last thing mentioned seems a bit strange though, we are told that the Spirit of the LORD is a spirit of the fear of the LORD.

Marc Roby: That does sound strange when you put it that way. Why would the LORD fear himself?

Dr. Spencer: He obviously wouldn’t. But we are told three times in the Bible that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. For example, Proverbs 9:10 says that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” I think it is useful to see what the great Old Testament theologian E.J. Young said about these verses.

Marc Roby: What does he say?

Dr. Spencer: Before I quote Young, we must first notice that “The Spirit of the LORD” does not refer to God’s essence, it refers to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Second, we must remember that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. It was in his humanity that he had to obey God’s laws perfectly and suffer the penalty due us for our sins. In order to accomplish that, the man Jesus Christ needed the help of the Holy Spirit. And we are told in John 3:34 that the Holy Spirit was given to him without measure.

Then, with regard to the fear of the Lord, Young wrote, “The phrase itself is the practical equivalent of true piety and devotion. True religion is a reverent and godly fear, for it recognizes that the creature is but dust before the holy Creator, and it prostrates itself in His presence, expressing itself in reverential awe. … Even the Messiah will be imbued with the fear of the Lord in order to accomplish His mighty work.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is very sobering. If Jesus Christ, the only perfect, sinless human being who has ever lived, if he needed the fear of God and God’s help to do his work, how much more should we fear God and seek his help!

Dr. Spencer: We definitely should both fear God and seek his help all the time.

Marc Roby: I think it would be useful to explain the shift you just made though. You went from talking about God’s spirituality as an attribute of God to talking about the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: I should explain that shift. As we have noted, in John 4:24 Jesus tells us that “God is spirit.” So, that statement is true of all three persons of the godhead, in other words, it is true of the triune God in his essence. Nevertheless, the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes clear that even though all three persons of the godhead are equal and are all fully God, they nonetheless have different functional roles. That is called the economic trinity as we discussed back in Session 28.

Marc Roby: And the term “economic” here has nothing to do with money.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t, it refers to the organization of the Trinity. In other words, how the persons of the Trinity work together. In Session 52 we presented clear biblical evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person, and in Session 55 we presented equally clear biblical evidence for the fact that the Holy Spirit is God. But, because all three persons of the Holy Trinity are of the same essence, whatever is said about the Holy Spirit’s essence is also true of the Father and the Son. So, the shift from speaking about an attribute of God to speaking about the person of the Holy Spirit is not as significant as one might think.

Marc Roby: Alright, but getting back to the verses in Isaiah 11. What does it mean when it says that “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him”? That is an interesting expression independent of whether the spirit refers to God’s essence or the third person of the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: Before I answer that question, I want to point out that there are other similar expressions used in the Bible as well. For example, in 1 Samuel 10:6, and Luke 1:35 we read of people having the Holy Spirit come upon them. And in Isaiah 63:11 we are told that God “set his Holy Spirit among” his people. In Matthew 3:11 and Mark 1:8 we read about being baptized in the Holy Spirit and in Luke 1:15, 41 and 67 we read about people being filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, in Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. And in 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” This list of verses is just a sampling of the different ways in which the Bible describes the Holy Spirit being sent to human beings to influence them. In fact, in Romans 8:14 we read that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful thing to be led by the Holy Spirit. But we also read about evil spirits coming upon people or even possessing them. What do all these references to being filled, or led, or having the Spirit come upon us, what do they mean?

Dr. Spencer: We need to be very careful here to not go beyond what Scripture explicitly teaches or what can be properly deduced from Scripture. Certainly, all of these expressions tell us that our spirit can be strongly influenced or even controlled by other spirits, which shouldn’t be surprising since our physical bodies can be strongly influenced or even controlled by other physical bodies, especially those who are stronger than we are. We can also say for certain that none of what happens in the spiritual realm is outside of God’s control, just as nothing that happens in the physical realm is outside of his control.

Marc Roby: A great example of that is given in Job Chapters 1 and 2 where we read about Satan receiving permission from God to test Job, but where we also see God setting clear limits on what Satan is allowed to do.

Dr. Spencer: That is, in fact, the classic biblical example. But we also read in a number of places in the New Testament of Jesus casting demons out of people and there are a number of clear indications that those demons all recognize Jesus’ absolute authority over them.

Marc Roby: I’m thinking that this topic, more than most, disturbs modern people. Talk of angels and evil spirits seems very mythological to most people in our culture.

Dr. Spencer: I understand that this topic can be disturbing. I spent the first 38 years of my life thinking that angels and evil spirits belonged in the same category with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. But the entire worldview presented in the Bible makes good sense and no materialistic worldview is able to explain all that we observe to be true.

The world laughs at people who really believe the Bible, but I would say that we should laugh at the world for believing in a purely material universe. In order for God to not exist and materialism to be true, it would have to be true that this universe popped into existence out of absolutely nothing with no cause whatsoever. It would also have to be true that living beings came into existence out of inanimate matter and that self-conscious moral beings came from purely physical animals governed by the laws of physics. All of these are impossible as we clearly showed way back in Session 1.

Marc Roby: But what about angels and evil spirits?

Dr. Spencer: I think the arguments I just outlined are sufficient to show that this material universe is not all there is and I encourage any of our listeners who are interested to go back and listen to Session 1, it is available in our archive at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

There are clearly entities, which the Bible calls spirits, that are real even though we can’t normally detect them in any direct way. And, given that fact, why on earth would anyone think it impossible for God to create intelligent spirit beings in addition to intelligent physical beings? I can’t think of a single reason what this should be troubling. And since it is only spirits or beings with a spirit that are moral beings, evil is obviously only possible for them. I said last time that you can’t blame your feet for carrying you into sin and I’ll go even further and say that purely physical things, in other words things that do not have a spirit, cannot be evil in and of themselves. My wife may disagree, but a spider cannot be evil.

Marc Roby: I think a number of people would disagree with that. But your point is a serious one, there are living things that are not moral beings and cannot, therefore, be evil. We may not like them, but they are not evil.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And I think it would be good at this point to define evil. Evil can be used as an adjective or a noun and it refers to actions or things that are morally reprehensible, which of course immediately begs the question of what moral means. Moral can again be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it describes whether an action is right or not. A moral action is one that is right, or good, and an immoral act is one that is wrong, or bad. But that again begs the question; right or wrong according to whom? Any real Christian must answer that question by saying that it is God who establishes the standard of conduct. He determines what is right and what is wrong. Doing something God defines as wrong is sin, and failing to do something he requires is also sin.

I wanted to go over this even though it is a seemingly obvious point because I wanted to establish clearly that when we talk about evil or morality, we cannot escape talking about God.

Marc Roby: It really gets back to our ultimate standard for truth doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And as we discussed in Session 4, there are only two possible ultimate standards for truth; either revelation from God or human beings. So, getting back to our topic of spirits. Since it is only spirits that make moral choices, it is only spirits who can be morally good or morally bad, which we call evil. The Bible tells us that God created beings called angels who are pure spirits. But they are still created beings, so they are not the same as God himself. They are not omnipresent, omniscient and so on, although they are far more powerful than we are. The Bible also tells us that some of these angels rebelled against God and became his enemies, what we call demons. The head of these demons is Satan. This is all reality, not mythology.

Marc Roby: And a most unpleasant reality I might add.

Dr. Spencer: The existence of Satan and his demons is a very unpleasant reality. But we must remember that all sin is evil. It is wicked rebellion against God. We tend to minimize the seriousness of sin, but it is so serious that Jesus Christ had to come and die to redeem people from it. And we aren’t just talking about murder and other sins that people think of as serious. We are also talking about sins that most people think of as being minor, like laziness, or disrespecting authorities and many other sins. These are all rebellion against God. Outside of Christ we are all slaves of sin as Paul tells us in Romans 6.

Marc Roby: I think we have gotten off topic again, can you tie this all back in to the attribute of God’s spirituality?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because human beings are made in the image of God and have spirits so that we can have fellowship with God. And, as we noted, the Bible clearly speaks in many different ways about our spirits being influenced or even, in some extreme cases, controlled by other spirits. And those spirits can be good or evil. When we become Christians, we immediately have some real and very powerful enemies, Satan and his demons. That is why we are told in Ephesians 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Marc Roby: That verse of course does not imply that we don’t also have flesh and blood enemies, but it is emphasizing the spiritual nature of the warfare.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We can be influenced by evil spirits and by the Holy Spirit. They can plant thoughts in our minds and we must judge all of those thoughts by the objective word of God. We are told in 1 John 4:1, “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.” These false prophets are speaking things given to them by evil spirits, but the evil spirits can also put ideas in our minds directly. So, we must always test these ideas. We are told in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we should “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Marc Roby: Very well. In the last two sessions we have established that spirits are self-conscious, intelligent, moral, volitional, personal beings. We’ve established that God is pure spirit, but he also created angels, who are spirits, and human beings, who have both body and spirit. We have shown that the Bible tells us that our spirits can be influenced by other spirits. You have also established that our spirits can live independently of our bodies and that our spirit is the seat of our personality, our decisions and our morality.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary.

Marc Roby: And we are out of time for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 187

[3]E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Vol. 1, 1972, pg. 383

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the Trinity. We are following the outline in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[1] which states that to firmly establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. We have shown that God exists in three persons, we assumed God the Father is truly God, and we have shown that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God. So, Dr. Spencer, I assume we are going to discuss the deity of the Holy Spirit today, correct?

Dr. Spencer: That is correct. We spent quite a bit of time on the deity of Jesus Christ because that is the teaching that is most often denied. I think it is the hardest for people to accept for two reasons: first, the idea that God exists in more than one person, and second, the idea that Jesus Christ can be fully God and fully man, which is something we will deal with a greater length later.

Marc Roby: And, although those may both be difficult for us to grasp, they are both presented as truths in the Word of God, so to not accept the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ is to not believe God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The main objection people usually have to either of these doctrines is that they seem counter to human reason. But neither one of them is a logical contradiction and, as you pointed out, they are both taught in the Bible.

As Christians, the Bible must be our ultimate standard for truth, which means we must acknowledge both of these doctrines to be true. The reason these seem counter to human reason is that they are both speaking about something that is unique. There are no other tri-personal beings outside of God, and Jesus Christ is the only God-man. The fact that they are unique is a challenge to us because we are used to putting things we learn about in classes, like all animals, or plants, or natural inanimate objects, or man-made objects and so on. But there is only one true and living God, and he is triune. And there is only one Savior and Lord, and he is the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: It does make sense that we spent so much time on the deity of Christ, and I look forward to looking at his dual nature in more depth later. But, it sounds like we are ready to begin to look now at the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: We are. Once someone accepts that God exists in more than one person by agreeing that Jesus Christ is also truly God, there isn’t usually much of a problem with the deity of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, we need to show that the deity of the Holy Spirit is taught in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Very well. Where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to partially follow the outline of evidence given by Berkhof in his Systematic Theology.[2] Let’s look first at Exodus 17. We read in that chapter about the Israelites complaining to Moses in the desert that they did not have water to drink. So Moses was told by God to strike a rock with his staff and water would come out. Moses did that, and then we read in Verse 7, that “he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’”[3]

Now we need to turn to Psalm 95, where the psalmist refers to this incident and says, in Verses 3 and 7-11, “the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. … Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Now jump forward to Hebrew 3:7-11, where the writer quotes the passage I just read from Psalm 95, but begins, in Verse 7, by saying, “the Holy Spirit says”. In other words, what Jehovah is reported as having said in Psalm 95 is ascribed to the Holy Spirit by the writer of Hebrews.

Marc Roby: That’s pretty convincing evidence that the Holy Spirit is God. And it makes me think of the story in Acts Chapter 5, where we see that what is said to the Holy Spirit is said to God.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great story. Ananias was one of the early members of the church in Jerusalem. He and his wife sold some property and gave the money to the leaders. In doing so, they claimed to give all of the money, I’m sure so that people would be impressed with their spirituality, and yet they withheld some of the money for themselves.

Marc Roby: And I’ve always been particularly struck by what Peter says to him in Acts 5:3-4. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great passage. Peter states that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit and then says that he lied to God, which equates the Holy Spirit with God.

There is also a clear implication of the deity of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 3:16, where Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” If you think about this statement for a minute, you realize that “God’s temple” is the place where God dwells, and yet we are told that God’s Spirit lives there. We must ask why it says “God’s Spirit” rather than just God. There is a figure of speech called a synecdoche in which a part of something is used to refer to the whole, but that cannot be what is meant here.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because Jesus tells us in John 4:24 that “God is spirit”, and the 19th-century theologian William Shedd commented on the significance of the fact that no article is used in this statement; notice that it says “God is spirit” not “God is a spirit”. And our translation properly reflects the original Greek. He wrote that the “omission of the article, implies that God is spirit in the highest sense. He is not a spirit, but spirit itself, absolutely.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting, and it does imply that the reference to “God’s spirit” is more significant than it might appear at first blush.

Dr. Spencer: It is very significant. It is clearly referring to a person distinct from God, and yet in some sense equal to God. The only way to make sense of this statement is to realize that God is triune. We should also take note of the fact that we have learned from 1 Corinthians 3:16 that the Holy Spirit is called God’s Spirit.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of Romans 8:9, which says, “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.” This verse calls the Holy Spirit both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, and we are also told that the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and by Christ. In John 14:26 Jesus tells his disciples that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” But then in John 15:26 Jesus says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” Therefore, the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of truth.

Marc Roby: And yet Jesus Christ said, in John 14:6, that he is “the way and the truth and the life.”

Dr. Spencer: All of these verses fit together perfectly when you think of them in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is all complete confusion when you deny this doctrine.

Marc Roby: In fact, many passages in Scripture are wildly confusing, contradictory, or downright unintelligible if you deny the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. But, getting back to our specifically proving the deity of the Holy Spirit, we have shown that he is equal to God and is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ because he is sent by both of them. Now we want to move on to show that God’s incommunicable attributes are ascribed to him.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: In Psalm 139 the psalmist is reflecting on the greatness of God, saying in Verse 4, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” And then, in Verses 7 through 10, we read, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Notice that he begins by saying “your Spirit” here, not where can I go from you. He then continues, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” In other words, there is nowhere the psalmist can go to escape the Spirit of God because the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, meaning that he is everywhere all the time.

Marc Roby: And that is certainly an attribute that only belongs to God.

Dr. Spencer: Another interesting example is found in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11. Paul writes that “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Now, since God is omniscient, which he means that he knows everything, and the Spirit of God knows his thoughts, we can conclude that the Spirit of God is omniscient. And we again have to note the difference between men and God. Paul says that the spirit of man, which is within him, knows his thoughts, which is true because our spirit is only a part of what we are. But remember that God is spirit in an absolute sense, he has no physical body and brain, just spirit. And the verse doesn’t talk about the Spirit of God being within him as it does for the spirit of man. That is because the Spirit of God is a separate person, who is omniscient, just like God the Father.

Marc Roby: We now know that the Holy Spirit is omnipresent and omniscient. What other divine attributes are we told about?

Dr. Spencer: In Hebrews 9 we are told, rather incidentally, about the Holy Spirit being eternal. The writer speaks about the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament and says that they only made people outwardly clean, in contrast the sacrifice of Christ, which cleanses us inwardly. In Verse 14 of Hebrews 9 we read, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Notice what he said in the middle of that verse, he said that Christ offered himself “through the eternal Spirit”.

Marc Roby: Alright, so the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, omniscient and eternal. What else are we told?

Dr. Spencer: There are very strong hints that the Holy Spirit was involved in the creation of the universe. We saw earlier that all things were made by Jesus Christ, but remember that in Genesis 1:2 we are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And then in Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make man in our image”, using the plural.

It might also be that Job hints at the Holy Spirit’s involvement in creation. In Job Chapter 26 he is speaking about God’s work of creation and in our Bibles Verse 13 says, “By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.” The word translated here as “breath” can also be translated as spirit, which is what’s done, for example, in the King James version. Job certainly speaks of the Holy Spirit being the one who gives life, in Job 33:4 we read that Job said, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Marc Roby: OK, I’m still keeping score. We now know that the Bible teaches us the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, omniscient, eternal and involved in creation. What else?

Dr. Spencer: Although all persons of the Trinity are involved in all of God’s actions because God is one being, the Bible presents the different persons as having certain roles within the Trinity and the peculiar role of the Holy Spirit is that of regeneration, or new birth. We’ve looked at John Chapter 3 before, where Jesus tells Nicodemus that we must be born again. But let’s look at that again. In John 3:5-6 we read that Jesus said, “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.” Notice again the way this is worded. Jesus says that “the Spirit gives birth to spirit”, he speaks of the Spirit as a separate person, and one of the actions that this person is responsible for is new birth. We are told the same thing in Titus 3:5, where Paul wrote that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”.

Marc Roby: Praise God for his Holy Spirit and the work of regeneration!

Dr. Spencer: Indeed, we should praise God. It is the only way of salvation. And if we have been saved, there is more of the Holy Spirit’s work to look forward to. In Romans 8:11 Paul wrote that “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.” This is speaking about the completion of our salvation.

As Rev. P.G. Mathew explains in his commentary on the Book of Romans, “Salvation comes in installments. Now we are saved in our spirits and our eyes are opened. We love and serve God. We delight in his word and in praying to God. But we do not yet have salvation in its fullness. There will be a time when we receive [the] fullness of salvation accomplished by Christ through his death on the cross. The resurrection of the dead is our future salvation.”[5]

Marc Roby: It has been said that there are three tenses to our salvation; we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what the Bible teaches. We have been saved in the sense that, if we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ, we have been justified in God’s sight. We are what the New Testament refers to as “in Christ”. Our sins are covered and, as it says in Romans 8:1-2, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

In addition, we can say that we are being saved in the sense that we are working out our salvation, this is the process of sanctification. And, finally, we can say that we will be saved in the sense that when we die our spirits will be perfected and then, when Jesus Christ comes again, we will receive our resurrection bodies, which we are told in Philippians 3:21 will be like Jesus Christ’s “glorious body”.

Marc Roby: What a glorious salvation God has planned.

Dr. Spencer: It is glorious indeed. And all three persons of the Holy Trinity are involved. As we will see more later when we get deeper into systematic theology, God the Father planned our redemption, God the Son, meaning Jesus Christ, accomplished our redemption by his life, death and resurrection, and God the Holy Spirit applies that redemption to us individually by causing us to be born again, indwelling us and leading us through this life, and then raising us up on the day of our resurrection. Finally, just as we noted when we were discussing the deity of Jesus Christ, let me close by pointing out that the Holy Spirit is listed as equal with God the Father and God the Son in verses like Matthew 28:19, where we are commanded by Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have made a solid case for the deity of the Holy Spirit. We have now demonstrated that God exists in three persons and that each of those persons is fully God, so all that we have left to show is that there is only one God.

Dr. Spencer: I think we had better wait until our next session to start that.

Marc Roby: I agree. So let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We hope to hear from you.

 

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

[2] Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pp 97-98 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996)

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

[4] William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888, pg. 151

[5]P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 511

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: So true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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