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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And heaven and hell are both eternal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pp 112-113

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to present the biblical case for the deity of Jesus Christ. How do you want to begin today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take a look at another part of the gospel of John. In Chapter 14 Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he says, in Verse 7, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [1]

Marc Roby: That’s a serious claim; if we know Christ, we know the Father, and having seen Christ, we have seen the Father.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing claim. And James Boice mentions this, along with a number of other claims, in his Foundations of the Christian Faith.[2] This passage goes on to say more too. The apostle Philip obviously did not fully grasp what Jesus said, because we read in Verse 8 that he said to Christ, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Then, in Verses 9 and 10, Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Marc Roby: I’m confident that was not the answer that Philip was expecting. Don’t you wish that we were told how he responded to that?

Dr. Spencer: That would be very interesting to know, but we aren’t told. And it may well be that he had no response. How could you respond to statements like those? Christ equates seeing him with seeing the Father. And he says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. It is an amazing claim. Then he goes on and says that he is speaking the Father’s words. But unlike the Old Testament prophets he doesn’t say that God gave him the words to say, he says that the Father is living in him.

Marc Roby: Which is something we will never completely understand.

Dr. Spencer: No, we won’t.  And in John 12:44 Jesus said that “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.” And we know who sent Jesus, we are told in John 17:25 and a number of other places that the Father sent him, so this statement equates faith in Jesus Christ with faith in God the Father. Then, in Mark 9:37, we read that “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Which equates welcoming Jesus with welcoming the Father. Also, in John 15:23 we read that Jesus said, “He who hates me hates my Father as well.” And in John 5:23 Jesus says that “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

Marc Roby: Jesus very clearly claimed a relationship with God the Father that is much closer than would be possible for any created being.

Dr. Spencer: He most certainly did. The 20th-century theologian Louis Berkhof gives a great summary of the scriptural evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ. He states that the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ is so great that it is only “those who disregard the teachings of Scripture”[3] who can deny the doctrine. He summarizes the biblical evidence under 5 headings.[4] The first of these is Scriptures that explicitly assert the deity of Christ. In that category he lists, along with others, three verses that we have already looked at, John 1:1, John 20:28 and Titus 2:13. The second category he lists is Scriptures that apply divine names to Jesus.

Marc Roby: What verses does he list in that category?

Dr. Spencer: He lists Isaiah 40:3, which is the famous prophecy about John the Baptist. It says, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” The word Lord in that verse is the tetragrammaton, Jehovah. This verse is quoted in Matthew 3:3 and we are told there that it was speaking about John the Baptist. So, let’s put those two statements together. Isaiah tells us that the voice that is calling is preparing the way for Jehovah, and then we are told that the voice is John the Baptist, who we know prepared the way for Jesus Christ. The conclusion is inescapable, Jesus Christ is Jehovah, he is God.

Marc Roby: That is the only possible conclusion. What other verses does Berkhof cite?

Dr. Spencer: I’ll just mention one more. He cites Jeremiah 23:5-6 where we read, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’” This tells us about a King who will come, who is a descendant of David and who will save Israel, which is clearly Jesus Christ, and it then tells us that the name by which he will be called is the Lord, where that is again Jehovah.

Marc Roby: That definitely is a clear reference to Jesus Christ. What else does Berkhof have to say?

Dr. Spencer: His third category is Scriptures that ascribe divine attributes to Christ. For instance, we’ve already looked at John 1:1 and Colossians 1:16-17, both of which speak about his existing before the creation, in other words eternally, which is an incommunicable attribute of God. Also, in Matthew 18:20 we read that Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This requires that Jesus be able to be in multiple places at once, in other words that he be omnipresent, which is another incommunicable attribute of God.

Marc Roby: Of course, that is not speaking about Jesus Christ in his human body being present in multiple places at the same time.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. In his humanity Jesus was, and is, limited to being in one place at a time, just as we are. But, in his divinity, he is omnipresent, meaning that he is everywhere all at the same time. Also, in Hebrews 13:8 we are told that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Which is the same unchangeable nature as Jehovah, which is called his immutability. We read in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.” And Lord in that verse is Jehovah. I think this is sufficient evidence to make the point that divine attributes are ascribed to Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: What is Berkhof’s fourth category of evidence?

Dr. Spencer: He mentions Scriptures that speak of Christ doing works that only God can do. For example, we’ve already discussed verses, like John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, that speak of Jesus Christ as the Creator. In addition, in Hebrews 1:3 we are told that Jesus sustains all things by his powerful word, but sustaining the creation is also a work that only God can do.

Then, in Mark Chapter 2 a paralytic is brought to Jesus and instead of healing him as people expected, we read in Verse 5 that Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now this upset some teachers who were present and we are told that they were thinking to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming, because only God has the authority to forgive sins. Then, in Verses 8-11, Jesus says to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’”

Marc Roby: I’m sure it got their attention very quickly when Jesus told them what they were thinking!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it did. Only God can know our thoughts. In addition, these teachers were correct in thinking that only God has authority to forgive sins, which was precisely Jesus’ point in this situation. Notice that he used the miracle of physical healing to validate his authority to forgive the man’s sins. In other words, he was acting as only the sovereign Lord of all creation can act.

Marc Roby: Very well. I believe that you said Berkhof had five categories of evidence, and we’ve covered four of them. So what is the fifth?

Dr. Spencer: The fifth category is Scriptures that accord divine honor to Christ. But before we give examples of this, I should point out that in Isaiah 42:8 Jehovah declares, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” So, when the Bible ascribes the honor, glory or praise due to God to Jesus Christ, it is affirming his deity.

We’ve already seen one example of this, although it isn’t in Berkhof’s list. Remember that in Philippians 2:9-11 it says that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And while this says it is to the glory of God the Father, we noted before that saying “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” is an allusion to Isaiah 45:23 and gives God’s honor to Christ as well.

And now, let me also give one example off of Berkhof’s list, he cites John 5, Verses 22-23, which say that “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

Marc Roby: That completes Berkhof’s list of five areas of scriptural evidence. What else do you want to look at?

Dr. Spencer: There is another very compelling type of evidence in the New Testament that we have not yet discussed, and that is that Jesus Christ spoke with the very authority of God. In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke the words of God, but they always prefaced them with a statement something like “This is what the Lord says”. In fact, if you look up that exact phrase in the 1984 NIV that we are using, you will see that it occurs 167 times in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And there are also a number of other ways of saying the same thing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are. But when we look at Jesus we find that he said something altogether different. In the Sermon on the Mount, five times Jesus says “You have heard” and then quotes an Old Testament passage, or in one place the Jews’ misunderstanding of an Old Testament passage, and then he follows that by saying “But I tell you” and goes on to expand on what is said in the Old Testament. In other words, he adds to God’s words as recorded in Scripture, which is something that only God can do.

Marc Roby: In other words, Jesus asserted his divine prerogative in those instances.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he did it in other similar ways too. Jonathan Edwards pointed out that when Jesus predicted future events, he also did that in a way that is qualitatively different from the Old Testament prophets.[5] For example, after speaking to the crowds about the signs of the end of the ages and his own second coming, we read in Matthew 24:34-35 that Jesus told the crowd, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Notice that he didn’t say, as an Old Testament prophet would, that the Lord says this, he said “I tell you the truth”, and he didn’t say that God’s words will never pass away, he said “my words will never pass away.”

Marc Roby: And in saying this, he again assumed to himself a power and privilege that belongs to God alone.

Dr. Spencer: He does. And Jesus uses this phrase “I tell you the truth”, 78 times in the gospels. And in 72 of those verses it is how our Bible translates the Greek word ἀμὴν (amān), which is where we get our word amen, and it means truly, or so let it be.

Marc Roby: Jesus used that as a way to sort of wake his listeners up and let them know he was getting ready to say something very important.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in 24 of those verses we read that Jesus repeated the word for emphasis; he said ἀμὴν ἀμὴν, which the English Standard Version translates as truly, truly. I like that more than the NIV because it retains the emphasis that Christ was putting on the following statements. By repeating the word, he was saying to them essentially, “What I am about to say is incredibly important, so be quiet, listen carefully and pay attention!”

Marc Roby: One of those statements is in John 5:24, where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. In the Greek, that verse begins ἀμὴν ἀμὴν. And that verse is a great example of the point we have been making because Jesus says “whoever hears my word … has eternal life” (emphasis added). And he says that such a person “has crossed over from death to life.” What a great statement to show that Jesus absolutely assumed to himself the privileges that are God’s alone. No Old Testament prophet ever said anything like this unless he prefaced it by saying it was the word of the Lord.

Marc Roby: That is very clear evidence for the deity of Christ. Is there anything else you want to mention from Jonathan Edwards’ treatment?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, another verse that he mentions is very important. In John 10:17-18 Jesus declared, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” In the King James Version it says he has the power to lay down his life and take it up again. The Greek word can mean authority or power, so both translations are fine. The main point is that Jesus not only predicted the future here, he also claimed to have the power, or authority, to raise himself from the dead!

Marc Roby: OK, I’m quite confident that no mere man can do that. Do you have anything more to say about the Scriptural evidence for the deity of Christ?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to finish this topic by mentioning the systematic theology text of Charles Hodge and giving one short quote from the book. He has an absolutely wonderful summary of the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ.[6] His book is even available for free online as a pdf, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[7] We have covered many of the points he makes, but he ties it all together very well. The only problem with his presentation is that he often cites words, or even phrases, in the Greek without providing the translation or telling you where they are in the New Testament, so his work is harder for a layperson to follow. Nevertheless, even if you skip over the Greek, and one short passage in Latin, his presentation is excellent.

Marc Roby: What is the quote you would like to read?

Dr. Spencer: He makes an overall comment about the Book of Revelation that I think is worth taking note of. He writes that “The Book of Revelation is one continued hymn of praise to Christ, setting forth the glory of his person and the triumph of his kingdom; representing Him as the ground of confidence to his people, and the object of worship to all the inhabitants of heaven.”[8] He then goes on to point out that in Revelation Jesus Christ is declared to be the ruler of the kings of the earth, he is presented to us as the first and the last, he assumes the titles and prerogatives of God, he is the Holy and the True, he has the keys of David, all the inhabitants of heaven lie prostrate at his feet in worship and so on. We have covered some of these points in other passages, but if you read the Book of Revelation with all of this in mind, it bears powerful testimony to the deity of Christ.

Marc Roby: I agree. And it also presents you with the true Christ, not the effeminate and weak Christ of many modern churches. He is presented as one whose eyes are like blazing fire and who judges the living and the dead and defeats all of his enemies.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. In fact, in Revelation 6:16 the wrath of God is called the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is Jesus Christ himself who has prepared hell for the devil, his demons, and all who follow him. This is the Christ who is the judge before whom we must appear. We dare not treat him as a buddy. And with that, I think we are finished with our examination of the scriptural evidence for the deity of Christ, although I must say that we have not in any sense given an exhaustive presentation of that evidence.

Marc Roby: And I would like to once again encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and to go to our website to order their free copy of Good News for All People.

 

[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] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 274

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 94

[4] Ibid, pp 94-95

[5] Edwards, Jonathan, “Jesus’s prophecies a proof that he was the Christ, and a divine person”, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, pp 468-470

[6]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. 1, pp 504-521

[7] See  https://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge

[8] Hode, op. cit., pg. 510

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Marc Roby: Before we resume our study of hermeneutics today, we have a question we’d like to address. One of our listeners asked about the origins of John’s baptism. This question was engendered by our discussion in Session 43 of the meaning of Jesus’ statement in John Chapter 3, where he said that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” [1] Our listener wrote, “I have always wondered how John the Baptist’s baptism came to be.  I don’t recall anything from the Old Testament mentioning baptism, yet it is different from the believer’s baptism.” Dr. Spencer, you and I looked into this a bit, what would you like to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: It is an interesting question and I’ve also heard different things over the years myself about the topic. For example, in touring Israel we saw several of the ritual baths, called Mikvehs, used by Jews for ceremonial washings. And we were told that these were also used for ritual cleansings of Gentiles converting to Judaism and that this was the origin of John’s baptism of repentance. That sounds reasonable and is mentioned in an article in the Zondervan Pictorial encyclopedia as well.[2] But, I’ve also read other reasonable sources saying that the practice didn’t start until after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.[3] If that is true, it certainly could not have been a precursor to John’s Baptism. I don’t know or have any reasonable way of finding out who is right on this point, but I don’t think it is a critically important part of the answer.

Marc Roby: We do, of course, see references to ritual cleansing with water in the Old Testament. For example, as we noted in Session 43, in Numbers 19:9 we read about the “water of cleansing” which “is for purification from sin”.

Dr. Spencer: We also noted Ezekiel 36:25 where God says that “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.” So, the idea of cleansing someone from the impurity of sin using water is certainly present in the Old Testament. But I don’t know of any Old Testament passages that specifically tie water with repentance. After reading a number of different things I could find on the topic I have to conclude that we don’t know for certain about some of the background, but we can say a few things for sure.

Marc Roby: OK, what are those things we can be sure of?

Dr. Spencer: First, we are sure that the Old Testament does relate cleansing with water to the removal of impurity resulting from sin as we just noted. So, that idea was known to the people at the time of John the Baptist, although we do not see this specifically tied to the idea of repentance prior to John. John’s baptism, however, was clearly tied to confession of sin since we read in Matthew 3:6 that “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Second, we also know from John 1:33 that John the Baptist himself said that God sent him to baptize with water. And, in Matthew 21 we read about the chief priests and the elders asking Jesus “By what authority” he was doing the things he was doing. Instead of answering them, he showed their duplicity by asking them a question he knew they would not be willing to answer honestly. He said, in Matthew 21:25, “John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” Now, this is far from proof since this was a rhetorical question of sorts, but Jesus’ question implies that John’s baptism came from heaven, which would agree with what John himself said.

Marc Roby: We can, of course, question exactly what is meant by saying his baptism came from heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good question in fact, it isn’t completely clear. Nevertheless, it is clear that cleansing with water was known to be related to purification from sins in Old Testament practice and it is known that in some way God himself commissioned and sent John the Baptist with the specific mission of baptizing people who repented of their sins. John is often correctly called the last of the Old Testament prophets. Not because he lived in Old Testament times, but because he was the last prophet to function as an Old Testament prophet, meaning that he pointed forward to Jesus Christ. Then, when Christ completed his work on the cross, we were given the more complete idea to which John’s baptism had pointed, and that is Christian baptism.

Marc Roby: OK. We are now ready to resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine hermeneutics, that is the principles that we use to properly interpret the Bible. Last time we discussed the use of allegory in the Bible and ended with a discussion of the place creeds, confessions and systematic theology have in helping us interpret the Bible. What do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: The discussion of creeds, confessions and systematic theology leads immediately to thinking about the place of human pastors and teachers. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. We will talk about this more in a later session, but for now it will suffice to say that all Christians should be in a local church under the authority of a pious and learned man, or men, of God. The Bible itself is the only thing that has inherent and absolute authority to govern our faith and conduct, but we all have need of trained pastors and teachers to help us, especially those God has placed over us in our local churches. We all need accountability and we need each other.

The authority of pastors and elders is never absolute, and it is not inherent, it is delegated. But it is, nonetheless, real authority and, like all authority, is meant to bless us. If I am unsure about how to interpret a passage in the Bible, I should study it carefully myself first. Then I should look to various commentaries by good scholars, and then I should also check with the leaders in my church. It is their God-given responsibility to interpret and apply the scriptures to the people under their care.

Marc Roby: People get real nervous about this idea of being under anyone, especially in our anti-authority day and age.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but the danger comes from unbiblical teaching, which leads to unbiblical practice. And it isn’t usually very difficult to spot unbiblical teaching. We’ll give some examples later, but for now let me just say that good pastors and teachers are a great help in understanding and applying the scripture and we should make use of that resource and we need to come under their authority. We are told in Ephesians 4:11-14 that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”

Marc Roby: That’s a vivid picture – if we don’t participate in a good church we can remain infants in Christ. Can you give an example of when the authority of the elders would come into play in interpreting the Scriptures?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I have an acquaintance who had to move to North Carolina for work a number of years ago. He is a serious Bible-believing Christian and he put a lot of effort and time into looking for a good church. He had young children and, after looking for quite some time, the very best church in his area was one that practiced infant baptism, which he didn’t agree with. He asked me what I thought about the situation.

Now I happen to agree with him that believer’s baptism is the biblical norm, but I do not think it is an essential issue. I suggested that he talk to the elders about this and if they were adamant that his children be baptized if he and his wife became members, he should go ahead and do so out of deference to the church leadership and to avoid causing divisions. I must also say that he already knew for certain they did not believe in baptismal regeneration, they understood baptism to be the sign of the covenant, equivalent to circumcision in the Old Testament. Had they believed in baptismal regeneration the question would never have come up because that is a serious doctrinal error.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting case. Are we done with discussing the authority of elders in interpreting and applying the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are for now. But I would like mention that we discussed delegated authority in the state, home and church at greater length before, in Sessions 28 through 33. And, since I can easily imagine some of our listeners might be wondering where it is proper to draw the line on delegated authority in the church, I would refer them to Session 33 on the limits and abuses of authority in the church. I would also add the comment that the most common abuse of authority by far is the abrogation of the biblical responsibility to exercise authority for the good of the church.

Marc Roby: Very well. What do you want to look at next with regard to hermeneutics?

Dr. Spencer: I want to make a general statement about our attitude in studying the Bible. We must be very careful that we come to our study of the Bible with the right attitude.

Marc Roby: And what attitude is that?

Dr. Spencer: We must sincerely desire to hear from God. As Paul says in Romans 12:2, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need to see that we are sinners and cannot trust our own ideas. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” One of the worst things we can do in studying the Bible is to have an attitude of arrogant certainty that we know what it says.

Marc Roby: But, of course, a mature Christian can be very solid in his beliefs on many different points of doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, he definitely can be. I don’t mean that we are constantly doubting our understanding of the Bible. Nor do I think that it is common for a mature Christian to have his views altered in any dramatic way as he studies a given passage for maybe the twentieth time. But I mean that we must always have an attitude of humility that is open to being taught by God’s word and Spirit. For a mature Christian who has studied the Bible carefully, the most common thing is that what you are reading ties in with what you believe to be true and you see new connections, different nuances and new applications that you hadn’t seen before.

But, for a new Christian, or one who has never studied the Bible carefully before, it may very well happen that you find something you believe is simply not true. It is unbiblical. There is a lot of very bad theology out there – what the passage we just read in Ephesians 4 called “every wind of teaching” – and if you haven’t studied the Bible carefully yourself you can easily absorb that teaching. But, serious study with a humble attitude of wanting to know what God says, not what men say, will help you to escape such bad teaching.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Some professing Christians today are convinced that homosexuality is not a sin. Let me quote from an argument made by Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor. His argument is fairly representative of the kind of terrible stuff you see when people try to make biblical arguments to support a position that is entirely unbiblical. He wrote that “There are references in the Bible to same-gender sexual behavior, and all of them are undeniably negative. But what is condemned in these passages is the violence, idolatry and exploitation related to the behavior, not the same-gender nature of the behavior.”[4]

Marc Roby: That statement is simply untrue. Leviticus 18:22, for example, says “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” There is no reference whatsoever to violence, idolatry or exploitation, it is a very simple and straightforward statement.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. We can also look in Romans 1, where the apostle Paul tells us that people inherently know God exists, but suppress that knowledge. In Verses 25-27 he writes that “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

Marc Roby: That seems very clear, and there is again no indication anywhere in the passage or its context that Paul is referring to violent, idolatrous or exploitive behavior. Does Mr. Creech have other arguments?

Dr. Spencer: Oh yes, it gets far worse. He also writes that “There was no word in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek for ‘homosexual’ or ‘homosexuality.’ These words were invented near the end of the 19th century when psychoanalysts began to discover and understand sexuality as an essential part of the human personality in all of its diversity. Consequently, it cannot be claimed that the Bible says anything at all about it. The writers of the Bible had neither the understanding of it nor the language for it.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is amazing. It’s hard to believe that anyone would take such nonsense seriously. Does he really believe that it was only in the 19th century that people “began to discover” that sexuality is an essential part of human personality?

Dr. Spencer: It is very hard to understand that. You have to have your mind made up and simply be looking for some way to try and justify what you want to be true, rather than having any sincere desire at all to find out what the truth is. I would have a lot more respect for someone who simply said “I think being homosexual is fine and so I dismiss the Bible as having any authority.” At least that is honest. But to try and make an argument that homosexuality is not prohibited by the Bible requires this kind of stupidity and flat out dishonesty.

Let’s take a minute to look at his argument though. As far as I can determine, he is correct about the etymology of the English word homosexual, it comes from the 19th century. But to say that “The writers of the Bible had neither the understanding … nor the language” to describe homosexual behavior is unbelievably ignorant and just plain wrong. Anyone who has ever studied ancient Greece knows that homosexual behavior was absolutely understood and described. All you have to do is look in Wikipedia and you can find all sorts of references if you want to read about such things.[6]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the New Testament, written in Greek, condemns homosexual behavior too, the passage in Romans 1 that we mentioned a couple of minutes ago is one place, but not the only one.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Marc Roby: Again, I don’t see any direct connection between the homosexual offenders that Paul mentions and violent, idolatrous or exploitive behavior.

Dr. Spencer: You don’t see it because it isn’t there. And the Greek word that is translated as “homosexual offender” in this verse also appears in 1 Timothy 1:10, where in the 1984 NIV it is translated as pervert, but in the ESV it is translated as “men who practice homosexuality”.

I could go on, but to be honest, we’ve already spent more time than this transparently disingenuous and fallacious argument deserves.

Marc Roby: And yet, surprisingly, there are a significant number of people out there who call themselves Christians and who believe this kind of nonsense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes there are, but it isn’t really surprising when you consider that most professing Christians today are biblically illiterate, which is why this podcast is so important. I must also emphasize how dangerous such teaching is. If someone believes this false teaching, he is being led down the broad road that leads to eternal destruction. In other words, he is being led to hell. That is what Jimmy Creech and others like him are doing, they are leading people straight to hell.

Marc Roby: That’s a serious statement to end on, but our time is gone for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 1, pg. 464

[3] E.g., F. Godet, The Gospel of St. Luke, translated by Shalders and Cusin, I.K. Funk & Co., 1881, pg. 110 also Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikveh) reference 7 refers to the Encyclopaedia Judaica (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mikveh)

[4] Quote taken from https://www.hrc.org/resources/what-does-the-bible-say-about-homosexuality on May 11, 2018

[5] Ibid

[6] The article on Homosexuality in Ancient Greece has many references and the basic information (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Greece)

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