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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: And God progressively revealed his solution to our sin problem throughout history. It began with the curse pronounced on Satan in the Garden. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Which I very much look forward to doing, but we are out of time for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will be sure to respond.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That’s a bit disconcerting.

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

Marc Roby: And the fact that we are in the process of being transformed is clearly stated in the Bible. For example, in Romans 8:29 we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And in 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul wrote that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That seems like a perfectly obvious statement.

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Paul clearly expected true believers to lead changed lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Dr. Spencer, last time we covered the nature of Christ’s sacrifice of atonement. His sacrifice paid the penalty we owe, it provided propitiation, it redeemed us from sin and it reconciled us to God. Are we ready to move on and discuss Christ’s functioning as our Priest?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. As we have said, a priest is a mediator. And we are told in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. [1]

Marc Roby: That verse doesn’t, of course, negate the fact that there have been other mediators, like Moses. It simply means that there is one mediator, or priest, who is ultimate and continues forever.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And let me begin our examination of how Christ functions as our priest by looking at Question 25 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a priest?” And the answer is, “Christ executes the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.”

This answer lists two ways in which Christ functions as our priest. And the first is that he once offered himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice. In other words, he provided atonement for our sins as we discussed last time.

Marc Roby: And it is very important that he did this once. The Old Testament sacrifices were performed over and over again.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important point. Jesus’ sacrifice was the only one that was truly able to meet our needs. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament provides an extensive explanation of the differences between the Old Testament sacrificial system and the sacrifice of Christ.

Marc Roby: And there are many differences. To begin with, Christ was both the priest who offered the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a very important difference. In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant was kept, and he could only do that one day a year, on Yom Kippur, which means the Day of Atonement. And we are told in Leviticus 16:3-6 how the high priest had to prepare for this. The high priest at this time was Aaron, Moses’ brother, and God gave the following instructions to him about the Day of Atonement: “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.”

Marc Roby: You get a very clear impression of how solemn this duty was.

Dr. Spencer: You absolutely do. It was the most important day of the year then, and it is still the most important day of the year for practicing Jews, although they no longer offer these sacrifices. But notice that Aaron began by offering a bull to make atonement for his own sin and the sin of his household. Aaron, along with every other high priest outside of Christ, was a sinner and could not atone for the sin of anyone.

In stark contrast, Jesus Christ is the perfect, sinless high priest. We are told about him in Hebrews 7:27, where we read, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Marc Roby: That’s truly wonderful. Aaron had to first sacrifice for himself, and then, after he had atoned for his own sin, he sacrificed one of the two goats for the sins of the people and then released the other goat, called the scapegoat, into the wilderness, which symbolized the removal of the sins of the people. But these sacrifices had to be repeated every year.

Dr. Spencer: And we are told in Hebrews that all of these things were only a shadow of the reality. For example, in Hebrews 10:1-4 we read that “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Marc Roby: The logic of that argument is inescapable. If the offerings made by Aaron and his descendants had been efficacious, they would have stopped! We also see this word “shadow” in Hebrews 8:5 where we are told that Aaron and his descendants “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.”

Dr. Spencer: The entire Old Testament sacrificial system pointed forward to Jesus Christ and the one, final efficacious sacrifice that would take away the sins of all of God’s people once and for all. In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, the Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote, “The time of shadow is over and the age of reality has come in Jesus Christ. It is foolish to yearn for symbols, vestments, incense, candles, gold, silver, Gothic structure, and the clergy-laity distinction. Away with such carnal things! We have a high priest seated in heaven who ministers in the heavenly, God-built sanctuary.”[2]

Marc Roby: What a glorious thought! Our high priest is seated in heaven and ministers there. And, of course, when Rev. Mathew talks about “symbols, vestments, incense” and so on he is referring to the Roman Catholic church and other churches that still hold to the idea of our needing human priests and rituals to communicate with God.

Dr. Spencer: And for those listeners who may not know, the Roman Catholic mass is a sacrifice! They believe that when the priest blesses the bread and the wine they actually become, in their essence, but not in their outward appearance, the body and blood of Christ, and that the Lord’s Supper is truly a sacrifice of Christ. And yet, we read Hebrews 7:27 a couple of minutes ago, which says that Christ “sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” In addition, in Hebrews 9:12 we are told that Christ “did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” And in Hebrews 9:28 we read that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”, and in Hebrews 10:10 we are told that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is about as clear as it can get. And we also read about Christ’s sacrificial death in Romans 6:10, which says that “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” And again, in 1 Peter 3:18 the apostle Peter tells us that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. It is one of the fundamental errors of the Roman Catholic church. It isn’t as important as their unbiblical view of justification, but it is nonetheless a very serious error. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice. It is an important and solemn event, but it is not a sacrifice. Jesus himself commanded us, in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But, let’s get back to discussing the priestly office of Christ.

Marc Roby: I do think we’ve strayed off topic a bit, although it was an important diversion.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely is important. We have made the point that Christ is our final, unique, high Priest. The book of Hebrews spends a great deal of time explaining the many ways in which the priesthood of Christ is unique. He was, as we have already shown, sinless and did not need to sacrifice for himself. But he was also unique in that he was not a Levite like Aaron and all of the other Old Testament priests. In his human nature Christ was a descendant of Judah, one of Levi’s brothers.

Marc Roby: And so, in Hebrews 7:14 we read that “it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”

Dr. Spencer: In fact, that whole section of Hebrews labors to make the distinction between the Levitical priesthood and Christ. In Hebrews 7:11 we are told that “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”

Marc Roby: And this Melchizedek that the writer of Hebrews refers to is an enigmatic figure in the Old Testament. In fact, he is only mentioned twice. The first reference is in Genesis 14 where we read about Abraham’s nephew Lot being taken captive and Abraham rescuing him along with many other people. Abraham was still called Abram at this point in time and as they returned from the battle, we are told in Genesis 14:18-19 that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram”.

Dr. Spencer: As you said, that is an enigmatic passage. And Melchizedek is only mentioned one other time in the Old Testament. In Psalm 110, which was recognized as Messianic even by the Jews before the time of Christ,[3] we see Jehovah speaking to the Messiah and in Verse 4 we are told that Jehovah, “has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’”

Marc Roby: And it is only in the book of Hebrews that we find an explanation of what this means.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We learn more about Melchizedek in Hebrews Chapter 7. In Verse 3 we are told that “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” And then, in Verses 6 and 7 we’re told that he was greater than Abraham! We are also told, in Verse 12, that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” And then the verse we read from Psalm 110 is quoted twice in making the point that Jesus is the one who is “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Then, in Verse 22, we are told that “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”

Marc Roby: Well, I don’t think that this clears up all of the mystery, but it certainly makes clear that God was doing something new when he sent Jesus Christ. The old sacrificial system was fulfilled and the priesthood became unnecessary because Jesus came as the final high priest, and he offered the only efficacious sacrifice for his people, himself!

Dr. Spencer: And that is the second thing that is unique about Christ’s priestly service. He didn’t offer some animal, he offered himself as the sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 10:4 that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” And then, a few verses later in Hebrews 10:12-14, we read that “when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Marc Roby: What a great picture that is! Jesus sat down because his work of redemption was finished.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful fact to meditate on. Our salvation is certain. The work is finished and the war, if you will, has already been won. We have to do our part, but there is no uncertainty about the outcome. God has more work to do in each one of us, but Christ has finished his work of redemption.

Marc Roby: But that does not mean that he is done acting as our high priest.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. In Hebrews 7:24-25 we are told that “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” And that takes us to the second part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s statement about how Christ executes the office of a priest.

Marc Roby: And to help us all remember, the answer to Question 25 says that “Christ executes the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.”

Dr. Spencer: And while the first part of that answer is certainly the most important because without the sacrifice of Christ we cannot be saved, the second part is also important. Wayne Grudem argues persuasively that Christ’s intercession does not just mean that he remains in the Father’s presence as a reminder that he has paid the penalty we owe.[4] His intercession is much more active than that. The Greek word speaks of petitioning or pleading the case of another person. The same Greek word is also used in Romans 8:34 where Paul writes, “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” No one can condemn us before God. Not because we are not, in ourselves, guilty of any offense, but because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty and is actively petitioning the Father on our behalf.

Marc Roby: Now, we must again guard against any notion that the Father is somehow reluctant in granting the petitions however. It isn’t that the Father doesn’t love us or that he wants to do us harm and Jesus has to try and change his mind.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course that isn’t the case. We made the point last week that it is God the Father who so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save his people. But, in God’s glorious plan of salvation it is Jesus Christ who is the only mediator between God and men. He is the unique God-man. And we should be immensely grateful that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – loved us enough to save us and provide for us in this way.

Marc Roby: We see a glorious example of Christ’s intercessory prayer for his people in the case of the apostle Peter. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus told Peter, who was also known by the name Simon, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful example. Note that Christ doesn’t say “And if you turn back”! He knew his prayer was effectual and so he said, “And when you have turned back”. And we all know the story. Peter did deny Christ three times, but he repented and Christ restored him.

Marc Roby: And he also learned a valuable lesson to not rely on his own strength.

Dr. Spencer: That is a lesson we all need to learn. If we try to serve God in our own strength, we too will fail. As Christ told us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Marc Roby: And, praise God, the converse is also true! Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must remember that we need God always. Not just at the point of paying the penalty for our sins, but day by day and moment by moment we need him to help us live holy lives. And Jesus Christ is our faithful high priest, able and willing to help us every step of the way. He promised us, in Matthew 28:20, that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Marc Roby: And that is a great place to end today. Let me take this opportunity remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will answer as best we can.

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Muscular Christianity, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2010, pg. 174

[3] E.g., see the study note on Psalm 110 in the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, 2003, pg. 926

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 627 (incl. fn 4)

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, you said in a previous session that there are three main components to the doctrine of sin: its cause, its nature, and its definition. We have finished discussing the cause and definition, but you said you wanted to return to examine the nature of sin. What more did you want to say?

Dr. Spencer: I want to talk more about the reformed doctrine of total depravity. We already noted that to say man is totally depraved does not mean he is as bad as he can possibly be. It simply means that there is no part of his being that is unaffected by sin. So, I noted that the doctrine might more properly be called pervasive depravity, but the term total depravity is so common and has such a long history that we’re not going to get away from it.

Marc Roby: And it also goes along with the well-known acrostic TULIP, which is meant to represent reformed theology in a nutshell. The ‘T’ in TULIP stands for total depravity.

Dr. Spencer: And now that you’ve brought up TULIP you need to say what the other letters stand for as well.

Marc Roby: All right, the ‘U’ stands for unconditional election; the ‘L’ stands for limited atonement; the ‘I’ stands for irresistible grace; and the ‘P’ stands for perseverance of the saints.

Dr. Spencer: And, God willing, we will get to all of those doctrines at the proper time. I should also point out that as with total depravity, one can argue that better terms exist for some of the other doctrines as well. But, far more importantly, these five doctrines do not fully define reformed theology. For example, they don’t mention the Creator/creature distinction, which is central to reformed theology.

Marc Roby: Yes, in fact, they came about in direct response to the challenge brought by a group of Dutch theologians, called the Remonstrants, in 1610. These theologians were followers of Jacobus Arminius, who died in 1609, and they summarized their disagreements with reformed doctrine in five points. These five points of contention were formally answered by the Canons of Dort and it is those five points that are summarized by that acronym TULIP.

Dr. Spencer: And all five of these points logically fit together, beginning with the T standing for total depravity. As I said, this means that there is no aspect of our being that is unaffected by sin. Our thinking, our emotions, our will, they are all affected. But the most important aspect with regard to our salvation is our will.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because the fundamental issue that has caused, and continues to cause, divisions in the church is the issue of how we can be saved. The disagreement is about what, if anything, man contributes to his justification. And we need to be careful now to be precise with our language. By justification we are referring to God’s verdict concerning man. In Psalm 130:3 the psalmist asks the rhetorical question, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” [1]

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer is, no one. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:9-12, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is our great problem. Because we inherit a sinful nature from our parents, we all sin. We are all rebellious. No one seeks God on his own. We are all guilty sinners. Any human being who stands before God to be judged on his own merits is doomed to be declared guilty. Paul summarizes this in Verse 20 of Romans 3, where we read, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

But, praise God, Paul goes on in the very next verse, Verse 21, to tell us, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Marc Roby: What a glorious verse that is! There is a righteousness from God, that is not based on our keeping his law, which has been made known to us and to which the Law and the Prophets, meaning the Old Testament, testifies.

Dr. Spencer: That verse gives us hope. We are guaranteed to be declared guilty if are judged based on our own law keeping. We are not righteous. But there is another righteousness available to us, a righteousness from God, which is not based on our keeping the law.

Marc Roby: The obvious question then becomes, “How do I obtain this righteousness from God?”

Dr. Spencer: That is the obvious question. And, as Paul wrote, the Old Testament testifies to this righteousness. We will see far more later when we discuss salvation in detail that the Old Testament documents a progressive revelation of the truth that God provides a substitute to pay the penalty for us and to provide us with this righteousness from God. For now, it will suffice to provide a very brief summary, which begins by noting that the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was meant to point God’s people to their need for a substitute.

Marc Roby: And, in the New Testament, that ultimate substitute is revealed to be Jesus Christ, who is called the Lamb of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the righteousness from God that Paul spoke of is, in fact, the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself. God requires perfection for us to come into his presence, and none of us is perfect. Jesus told us, in Matthew 5:48, to, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: Needing to be perfectly righteous is, to say the least, a serious problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: It is an insurmountable problem for us. But, as Jesus told us in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And our problem has two components to it. First, we need to have our sins paid for. We are guilty sinners and our guilt must be taken care of. And then, secondly, we need a positive righteousness to be able to come into God’s presence.

And God solves both of these problems in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect sacrifice, who pays for our sins; in other words, takes away our guilt. And then he is also the only perfectly righteous person who has ever lived and if he is our representative before God, we are counted righteous in him.

Marc Roby: In Session 106 we discussed the fact that Adam acted as the representative of the human race. We share in the guilt of his sin, and our being born with a sinful nature is part of our sharing in the punishment for his sin. But as you pointed out then, God’s using a representative is a great blessing because being represented by Jesus Christ is the only way anyone can be saved.

Dr. Spencer: There is no other way of salvation. And the fact that Christ took our sins upon himself and then gave us his righteousness is called the double transaction or double imputation by theologians. We spoke about this back in Session 73 when we examined the goodness of God. The classic verse to explain it is 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we read that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: Or, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s wonderful, isn’t it? I don’t think we can ever meditate too much on all that God has done for us. But God is holy and just, the supreme Judge of the universe, and as such he cannot simply wink at our sin. It must be paid for. Paul also wrote in Romans 3:25-26 that “God presented him [referring to Jesus Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In God’s great wisdom his plan preserves his nature as the perfectly just Judge of all and yet also allows him to display his infinite mercy in declaring guilty sinners to be just because we are united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: And John Murray correctly called our union with Christ “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: It is the central truth of salvation. Salvation is in Christ, which is an expression we see 89 times in the New Testament. For example, in Romans 6:11 Paul wrote, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And in Romans 8:1 he wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. But we are in danger of straying too far off topic again.

Marc Roby: And when we got into this topic of representation, we were starting to answer the question of how it is a man can obtain the righteousness from God that Paul speaks about in Romans 3:21.

Dr. Spencer: And the answer is that we must be united to Jesus Christ by faith. And with that answer in hand, we can now go back to our discussion of total depravity and see why I said that the fact our will is sinful is our most serious problem with regard to our salvation.

We must be united to Jesus Christ by faith in order to be saved, but because our will is sinful, we have no desire to believe in Jesus Christ and, therefore, will not believe. In fact, in speaking about us prior to our conversion, Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

Marc Roby: And an enemy of God has no desire to repent and place his trust in Jesus Christ, which is what it means to believe in him.

Dr. Spencer: That is the crux of the matter. The doctrine of total depravity, which is completely biblical, says that we will never choose to repent and believe in Jesus Christ of our own free will. We have a free will, no one is forcing us to do or think the things we do, but as we have discussed before, our will chooses that which we most desire at any given point in time. And being God’s enemies, we will never choose God.

Marc Roby: Which is why Jesus told us in John 6:44 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Dr. Spencer: And as I noted way back in Session 15, the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about some kind of gentle persuasion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. I don’t mean to imply that God forces us to believe against our will, he does not. But he must change our hearts first so that we desire to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Paul makes the same point by saying, as he does in Ephesians 2:1, that we were dead in our transgressions and sins before coming to faith.

Dr. Spencer: And, as we discussed in Session 104, by saying that we were dead Paul clearly does not mean that we had ceased to exist, or even that we had ceased to live in this world. He means that we were separated from God and his blessings. We were his enemies and incapable of responding to him in faith.

He uses this same imagery in Colossians 2:13 where he tells us, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

Marc Roby: Jesus himself used this same metaphor. He said, in John 5:24, that “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: Which is clearly speaking about spiritual death and spiritual life. If the person had truly been dead in the sense that word is usually used, he could not have heard Jesus’ words. And, if he had remained spiritually dead, he would not have believed. But, the person who has been born again hears and believes and has, therefore crossed over from death to life. Dead men do not believe.

Marc Roby: And it isn’t just Jesus and the apostle Paul who use this language. The apostle John wrote, in 1 John 3:14 that “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”

Dr. Spencer: And to reinforce the idea that spiritually dead men cannot do anything to save themselves, listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:6-8, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

So, the person who has not yet been born again is hostile to God, he not only doesn’t submit to God’s law, but he cannot submit to God’s law. It is an impossibility. And he cannot please God.

Marc Roby: And yet we read in Acts 17:30 that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Therefore, it logically follows from Romans 8 that a sinner cannot repent because he cannot submit to God’s law, which means he cannot obey God’s command.

Dr. Spencer: And also take note of what the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:21-23; “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Now, going back to the passage in Romans 8 again, if an unbeliever is incapable of obeying God and is incapable of pleasing him, he is also incapable of obeying the command to believe in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, that it is very clear. And, in fact, we are told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Therefore, the Bible is clear that an unbeliever can do nothing to please or obey God. Faith must come first.

Dr. Spencer: And it follows necessarily that saving faith is not something an unbeliever can exercise on his own initiative. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And in Verse 5 he went on to say, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Now, dead people don’t choose to be born. Dead people do nothing. The teaching of the New Testament is clear on this subject. We must be born again first, then we can repent and believe in Jesus Christ. That is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: Therefore, the biblical view is that man is born dead in transgressions and sins and cannot save himself. He cannot do anything that pleases God because every aspect of his being is tainted by sin, which again is the reformed doctrine of total depravity. God must do a work in us before we can repent and believe in him, and that work is called being born again, or being regenerated.

Dr. Spencer: And that is also what the Old Testament tells us also. In Ezekiel 36:25-27 God is speaking and says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” God must cleanse us, give us new hearts, and move us or we will continue in our stubborn, sinful ways. We must be born again, which is a work that God alone can do. Only then will we repent and believe. And our faith will unite us to Christ so that our guilt is taken away and we are given his perfect, unimpeachable righteousness.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question raised by this doctrine of total depravity. If man is utterly incapable of obeying God’s command to repent and believe, how then can it be fair for God to condemn an unbeliever for not doing so?

Dr. Spencer: That is the central question that has caused so much division in the church. But I’m going to have to put off answering it until next time because we are out of time.

Marc Roby: Alright, you were saved by the bell. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we enjoy 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] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 170

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology.

This podcast will be released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, which is the day before Good Friday and three days before Easter, which is, of course, the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. Dr. Spencer, I understand you have a special message for Easter, how does that fit with our study of anthropology?

Dr. Spencer: I think it that it fits perfectly as you’ll see. In fact, I was tremendously encouraged as I sat down to prepare this session because I hadn’t planned the timing out in advance, but God obviously had, which is a great example of his providence.

In our last session, we answered the question, “Where do we come from?” And in today’s session I want to answer the question “Where are we going?” You could view these questions as bookends for the human life. But the second one, “Where are we going?”, is the far more important one from our perspective.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say it is the far more important one?

Dr. Spencer: Because where I came from doesn’t change where I am now or what my life is like now. That doesn’t mean the answer to that question isn’t of great importance of course, it is. But the answer to the question of where I came from doesn’t change anything except, hopefully, my perspective on what is important. But the question of where I am going has eternal significance for me personally because we all have an eternal destiny, you, me and every one of our listeners included.

This life is short, but eternity is unimaginably long. So, where we are going is far more important to us personally than where we came from. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,”[1]

Marc Roby: I see your point. The question is of ultimate and eternal significance. And, I might add, once we have entered that eternal destiny, it cannot be changed.

In the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham, who is in heaven, is speaking to the rich man, who is in hell, and we read in Luke 16:26 that Abraham tells him, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a very important point. As we noted last time, the first purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And that is what Jesus was speaking about when he said to Martha in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” The offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is made to us in this life, but when this life ends, the offer is no longer there, only the final judgment. So, as the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” None of us knows for certain that we will be here next year, or next week, or even tomorrow. So the right time to repent, believe and be saved is now.

Marc Roby: And I think the connection to Easter is now obvious. We can only be saved because the Lord Jesus Christ “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” as Paul wrote in Romans 4:25.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly right. And it is my prayer, and I know yours also, that every single person who hears this podcast will be saved. But, even for those who are already saved, there is another very important connection between Jesus Christ and the answer to our question of “Where are we going?”

Marc Roby: What connection are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: That Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what we are to be like. God does not save his people in their sins and leave them there. He saves us from our sins and leads us to holiness.

Marc Roby: You remind me of the statement in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where, in Chapter 1 Verse 4, we read that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: And in one sense we become holy and blameless in his sight the moment we place our trust in Jesus Christ. But the Bible is clear that there is also a lifelong process that all Christians must go through to become more holy in their thinking, feeling and conduct. This is the process of sanctification, which all true believers will experience.

Marc Roby: Although we should caution that not all believers will experience it to the same degree.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. For example, there were two thieves crucified with Christ and, initially, both of them heaped insults upon him as we read in Matthew 27:44. But eventually, one of them was granted salvation. Clearly, he didn’t have much time for the process of sanctification while he was hanging on the cross.

Marc Roby: Although he certainly had extreme suffering to focus his attention!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And suffering is often used by God to help us focus on what is truly important. But sanctification has two aspects; definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification, which we’ll get into more later. Right now, I want to point out that there are also multiple steps to our salvation. When we come to true saving faith and trust in Christ, we are justified, which is God’s legal declaration that we are righteous in his sight because we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to whom we have been united by faith.

Marc Roby: And justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformers taught. There is absolutely no part in it for our works.

Dr. Spencer: And it is an instantaneous one-time declaration of God. It cannot be revoked and it need not be repeated. But there is a second instantaneous, non-revocable non-repeatable aspect to salvation as well. The instant we are saved, we are changed. That is what John Murray called definitive sanctification.[2] This is what is being referred to when the biblical writers use the word sanctified in the past tense.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the apostle 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. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Marc Roby: That does clearly speak of a definitive change. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.

Dr. Spencer: And this radical change in our being will immediately change our attitude, speech and behavior. The thief on the cross manifested this change in the short time he had available. He had been hurling insults at our Lord, but once God changed his heart, his behavior necessarily changed as well. We see in Luke 23:40-41 that he rebuked the other thief for continuing to insult Christ, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Marc Roby: That is a clear indication of a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is, and it was the result of definitive sanctification. But sanctification also has a progressive aspect to it. God continues to work in each one of us to put our sin to death and to walk in greater righteousness.

Marc Roby: When you say that I immediately think of Romans 8:29, where Paul wrote, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly my point. We are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, which is a process. And Jesus is the exemplar for a Christian. That is the connection between Easter and anthropology.

We are told in John 1:18 that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Which is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ. He is “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side” and he has “made him known” to us. We’re told in Hebrews 1:1-3 that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thought. Jesus Christ has revealed the Father to us. We can’t see God with our physical eyes because he is Spirit. But those to whom Jesus appeared in the flesh have seen God as Jesus himself declared. In John 14:8 we read that the apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Christ replied, in Verse 9, “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’?”

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to grasp. In being conformed to the likeness of Christ, we are being conformed to the likeness of God the Father. In 1 John 3:2 we read, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And the theologian John Murray argues persuasively that when John wrote “we shall be like him”, he was speaking about the Father.[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thought, that we will be like the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but Murray also gives us a necessary warning. He wrote 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.” [4]

Marc Roby: Yes, in fact, it was being like God with which Satan tempted Eve.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it was. And Murray points out that the “genius of the allegation … consisted in confusing the false and the true in reference to likeness to God.”[5] He then goes on to point out that as a result of this possible confusion, we need revelation from God to define what it properly means for us to be like him. He goes on to say that the law of God along with the example of Christ provide the pattern to which we are to be conformed. We must remember the Creator/creature distinction. God is the law giver, we are to be law keepers, which is what Jesus Christ in his humanity did.

Marc Roby: There you go again, speaking about obeying the law. We just said a few minutes ago that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and that our works play no role whatsoever in our justification. And now you’re bringing up keeping the law as a part of the pattern. I’m sure some of our listeners will object.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I hope that any who are objecting will hear me out and then look in their Bibles and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them, because our good works, while playing no role whatsoever in our justification, are absolutely essential to our salvation. If there are no good works, no obedience to God’s law, then there has been no regeneration, no definitive sanctification and, therefore no justification. In other words, without our good works as evidence, any claim to having saving faith is false.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of James Chapter 2, where the Lord’s brother wrote, in Verse 26, that “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic chapter to make this point. He begins that section, in James 2:14, by saying, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he then goes on to describe that “such faith”, meaning a faith without any good works, is a dead faith, a useless faith, and it cannot save anyone.

Christians must never forget that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. And in John 8:29 Jesus said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Remember that he is our exemplar. He always obeyed, and so should we. He also told us in John 14:15 that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Marc Roby: And Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Paul doesn’t say the new will come sometime in the future; he says it has come.

Dr. Spencer: Which refers to definitive sanctification. Christians are not perfect. We still have sin dwelling in us, but we have been changed and that change must be evident. People must see Christ in us. Not perfectly, but there must be change.

Paul wrote about himself in 1 Timothy 1:13 and said, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Notice the use of the past tense here, he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. The clear implication is that he is no longer.

Marc Roby: Paul also expected radical change out of others. In Ephesians 4:28 he wrote that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Dr. Spencer: And not only Paul, but God expects such change in a believer. And he expects that change because he enables that change when he causes us to be born again. It is impossible for God to give someone a new heart and for that new heart to not manifest itself in a changed life.

We were made in the image of God. But sin horribly defaced that image and we became slaves to sin as Paul tells us. We read in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Notice again the past tense. We used to be slaves to sin. And then also notice definitive sanctification, we wholeheartedly obeyed the teaching we received. And then note how God is restoring the image with which we were originally made, we have become slaves to righteousness. Not perfect, but real change.

Marc Roby: The Old Testament call to holiness hasn’t changed. In Leviticus 11:44 we read that God commanded Moses to tell the people, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” And we see the same command in the New Testament. In fact, Peter quotes from this verse in Leviticus. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 we read, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

Dr. Spencer: Perfect holiness is required for entrance to heaven and that can only come from Jesus Christ. We will make it into heaven clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But we are also called to be holy ourselves. We will never achieve it perfectly in this life, but we must be moving in that direction and there must be a discernable change from what we were like before we were saved. We are new creations in Christ Jesus.

Jesus came to live a perfect life in perfect obedience to the law. He then gave himself as the only efficacious sacrifice to pay for our sins. And God raised him from the dead to show that everything Jesus said about himself was true, that God had accepted his payment, and that death had no power to hold him because he was sinless.

As we read in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Jesus told us, in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Marc Roby: And in keeping with the fact that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, he told his disciples, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Dr. Spencer: And that command is impossible for us to fully keep. We cannot love as Christ loved us. But that is what we are called to try and do every day. And we are to love even our enemies and tell them about Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our sins. That is unimaginable love. And he was raised from the dead on the third day, the first Easter Sunday, just as he had foretold.

I hope that all of our listeners will meditate on this unfathomable love of God as they celebrate Easter. And I pray that any who do not yet know him as their personal Lord will repent, believe, and be saved.

And remember that you can email questions or comments to us at info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

Marc Roby: And with that I think we are done for today, so on behalf of Dr. Spencer and myself I’d like to wish all of our listeners a blessed Easter.

 

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

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 310

[4] Ibid, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today with a special Christmas message based on God’s communicable attribute of love, which we saw last time can be considered an aspect of his goodness.

But before we begin I want to let our listeners know that we also have a Christmas present to offer to you. If you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of the book Rediscovering the True Meaning of Christmas, by Rev. P.G. Mathew. It is filled with great encouragement and hope for the people of God. This book will be available for free from now until the end of the month.

Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by introducing the context for what may be the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did start looking at that, and I pointed out that the first word in that verse is often ignored. That first word “for” tells us that this verse is providing some explanation for the verses that preceded it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven and concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining these verses.

In his commentary on John’s gospel, Mark Johnston writes this about John 3:16, “Why did the sinless Son of God have to suffer in such a way? John supplies the answer, and his answer is more staggering even than the brutalities of the cross. In what must be the best known words of Scripture, John says, ‘For God so loved the world…’”.[2]

Marc Roby: That statement is, as he put it, staggering. But Verse 14 mentions Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, and I suspect many of our listeners may not know that bit of history.

Dr. Spencer: You’re probably right. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader in Jerusalem, so he knew that Nicodemus would be familiar with the history, but we should give the background for those of our listeners who don’t remember.

Marc Roby: Alright, well let me begin. Jesus’ mention of the snake in the desert refers back to events that took place during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert after God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. We read in Numbers 21:4-6 that “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

Dr. Spencer: And we see, as always, that sin brings trouble. And their sin was great. God had delivered them from slavery, was providing food daily in the desert and had previously provided water miraculously, so they had no good reason to doubt that he could do so again. Nevertheless, they weren’t satisfied with God’s provisions and grumbled against God and his representative, Moses.

Marc Roby: I fear that we too often think we somehow deserve more and fail to appreciate God’s blessings as well.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the people got one very important thing right; they properly understood that these snakes were sent by God as judgment against them for their sin. So, in Verse 7 we read, “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”

And God was very gracious to them, although he didn’t simply take the snakes away. It is often the case that God does not take our troubles away, but he gives us grace to bear up under them and uses them to discipline, purify and strengthen us.

Marc Roby: The Bible often uses the metaphor of gold being refined by fire.

Dr. Spencer: And no one likes the fire of troubles, but even the secular world has an expression that admits the truth, there is no gain without pain.

Marc Roby: An unpopular truth.

Dr. Spencer: So it is. Numbers 21 goes on to tell us, in Verses 8-9 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Marc Roby: That is a great display of God’s mercy to his people.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. But we must recognize that there certainly wasn’t any magical power attached to the bronze snake itself, this was just God’s way of making the people realize that they had sinned and pointing them to the fact that they needed to look to him for forgiveness and healing.

Marc Roby: And yet, even though there wasn’t any power in the bronze snake itself, it is interesting to note that it later became a snare to the Israelites. Sometime in the late eighth century before Christ, during the reign of the godly King Hezekiah, we read in 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Dr. Spencer: It is a manifestation of man’s sinful nature that he seems to constantly be looking for a God that can be manipulated. We want some simple ceremony, or something we can do that is supposed to obligate God to bless us with a particular response. In other words, we want a vending machine god; you put in your 1-minute prayer, or you perform a particular religious ceremony and he is obligated to bless you in some way. But God will not be manipulated by us. He does offer unimaginable mercy and blessings, but we must be conscious of the Creator/creature distinction. God makes the rules, not us.

The original purpose of the bronze snake was to cause the people to see their sin and their need for God. The snake itself was only a symbol. And God was gracious in not simply removing the snakes from the people. Had he done that, it would have been much easier for the people to forget that God delivered them from this pain.

Marc Roby: We are all too quick to forget God’s mercies. It is also important to note that the snake was a type of Christ, meaning that it was a symbol that pointed to Christ in some way. We talked about typology like this in Session 44.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did. And this is one of the clearest examples of typology in the Bible. Jesus himself tells us that this event in the desert pointed to his sacrifice on the cross in the verses we’ve been examining. Remember that John 3:14-15 say, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. And then, immediately after those verses, we read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And we now have the necessary background to understand that verse correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. This is the gospel message, the good news. This is the real reason for celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ is an amazing event, but the reason God sent his eternal Son into the world to be born of a poor virgin in the backwater town of Bethlehem was so that he could live a sinless life and then willingly go to the cross, bearing the wrath of God and dying to pay for the sins of everyone who will believe in him. As Jesus himself said in contemplating his crucifixion, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible. Christ’s willingness to die, and to endure the wrath of God in our stead, that’s something I will never understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.

Dr. Spencer: Christ’s love is impossible to fathom. And John 3:16 gives us the reason that God gave his one and only Son, it was because he, meaning the Father, “so loved the world”. It was the love of the Father that necessitated Jesus humbling himself and becoming incarnate, and then giving his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Marc Roby: Modern people don’t like this idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. But God is just and holy and cannot simply forgive sin by winking at it. His eternally perfect justice requires that sin be paid for, and that requires a sacrifice. There is an important word in John 3:14 that it is easy to overlook. The verse says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”. That word must is critically important. It is the Greek word δεῖ (dei), and it means that it was necessary for this to be done. There was no other option. It was a divine necessity to satisfy God’s justice.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul tells us about this divine necessity in Romans 3:25 and 26. He wrote that “God presented him [speaking of Christ,] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the best verse to demonstrate this necessity. In order to be just, in other words to fill the demands of his own eternally perfect justice, and yet to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which here refers to a legal judgment that they are ‘not guilty’, it was necessary that Jesus Christ be presented as a sacrifice of atonement. The Greek word translated here as “sacrifice of atonement” is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which means propitiation. As John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[3]

Marc Roby: People also don’t like the idea that God is justifiably displeased with us and wrathful toward us.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. This is the bad news that we must acknowledge before we can receive the good news of the gospel. We are sinners and cannot save ourselves. God is justifiably angry with us and we are, therefore, subject to his wrath. When people reject this bad news, they unwittingly reject the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ along with it.

Marc Roby: Most people seem to think that God should simply forgive our sins without anyone being punished.

Dr. Spencer: That does seem to be the case. But P.G. Mathew explained the biblical idea of justification as presented in Romans 3, he wrote, “Justification is not amnesty, which is pardon without principle. It is not seeing bad people as good people. Justification is based on God’s justice demonstrated in the life and death of Christ. The wrath of God against elect sinners was poured out on God’s innocent Son, the spotless Lamb of God. Without the cross, the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and impossible.”[4]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t like to admit that we are wretched sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a serious problem. Our society tells us from the cradle on up that people are all basically good at heart. But that is a lie, which even a quick glance at the morning newspaper will confirm. That lie leads to people thinking of Jesus as just a good moral teacher. Christmas then becomes a time to celebrate the birth of this good moral teacher who gave us an example of a humble life. But that is not what the Bible tells us. It is not the truth. The truth is, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and as he wrote in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. And because of these facts, we need a sacrifice of atonement.

Marc Roby: And Jesus Christ is that sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he is. But I think people sometimes view God the Father as this mean and angry God of wrath and then they picture Jesus as kind and gentle person and think that he comes along and cajoles the Father, perhaps even somewhat against the Father’s will, to not destroy his people. But that picture is completely and totally unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of the Father that is the ultimate cause of our salvation. It is the Father who gives his Son, so it is the Father that is referred to when John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world”.

Marc Roby: Now that is an amazing fact. That God would love rebellious sinners. And, of course, it is not just the Father, Jesus also loves us. In fact, he told us in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. And Romans 5:5 tells us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So we conclude from this verse and the unity of the godhead that the Holy Spirit also loves us. We also know that it is the particular work of the Holy Spirit to apply to us the redemption which God the Father planned and God the Son accomplished on the cross. All three persons of the godhead are involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: Now, when we celebrate Christmas we properly focus on Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, but we also need to remember the triune nature of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let me go back to the verse you read from John 15 and put it in context. In Verses 12 through 14 Jesus tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

I want us to note that we can’t think of Jesus Christ as a helpless baby in a manger, or just as a dying Savior on the cross. We need to remember that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and he commands us to love each other as he has loved us.

Marc Roby: That’s an impossibly tall order.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible for us in this life because we still have the vestiges of our sinful nature with us. But that is the standard to which we are to aspire. And notice that Christ said we are his friends if we do what he commands. Obedience is not optional. Our obedience does not earn our salvation in any way, but it is necessary to prove that we do, in fact, belong to Jesus.

Marc Roby: It’s a good thing that our obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, because our obedience is never perfect in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why the great theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “As portrayed in Scripture, the inward life of the people of God to the end of their course in this world, is a repetition of conversion. It is a continued turning unto God; a constant renewal of confession, repentance, and faith; a dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness.”[5]

In other words, we don’t just confess and repent once, professing faith in Christ and then go on living the same old way. If we have been born again, we see our sin more and more clearly as time goes on and we see even more than before those things we need to repent of, and our need for faith, and we strive to put our sin to death and live righteous lives that please God.

Marc Roby: Just like the Israelites in the desert would see their need for God when they were bitten by a snake, and then they would then acknowledge that need by looking to the bronze snake on the pole.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. That look demonstrated their confession, repentance and faith in God to heal them. And notice that when God brings trouble into our lives it is a great mercy if it causes us to see our need for God more clearly.

Marc Roby: And then, if we turn to him in repentance and faith, he shows us even greater mercy by forgiving our sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he does all of that on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. God is loving and merciful, but he is also just and holy. Our sins must be paid for; either by us, or by Christ. Most people focus on giving and receiving gifts at Christmas, but the real meaning is that God has offered to us the greatest gift that can ever be given to anyone, the gift of salvation. But we must see our need for it. If we think that our good works, or even our faith, will save us, we are as lost as Nicodemus was before Christ explained to him that he, and we, must be born again.

We need to receive the bad news that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” as the prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9. If we acknowledge that fact, repent and turn to Jesus Christ, trust in him alone as our Savior and obey him as our Lord, then God, in his rich mercy, will adopt us as his sons and daughters and bring us into his glorious presence for all eternity. That is the Christmas gift that God offers to us. And it’s my prayer that God will grant that gift to everyone who listens to this message.

Marc Roby: I join with you in that prayer. And that concludes this week’s podcast. As always, we encourage our listeners to email their questions or 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] Mark Johnston, Let’s Study John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, pg. 50

[3] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 30

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 130

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 247

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

We examined the fall of Satan last time, and we know that after his fall Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin. But we didn’t have time to answer the question of how Adam’s sin affects the rest of us. I know that this is a question that has been controversial throughout the ages but, Dr. Spencer, what does the Bible say about it?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is clear that Adam was acting as our representative, what theologians call our federal head. We briefly mentioned this in Session 45 when we were discussing hermeneutics, the science of how to interpret the Bible. And we noted at that time that God uses a kind of representative government for his creatures. While he treats every individual with absolute justice or rich mercy, it is still true that he sees all human beings as being in one of two camps. We are all either in Adam, or in Christ. They are the two federal heads and we are all represented by one or the other.

Marc Roby: As I remember, you quoted Romans 5 in support of this view.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. But we only took a brief look at a couple of verses. In answering this important question today, I’d like to take a longer look at Romans 5:12-21. In examining this passage I’m going to draw heavily on P.G. Mathew’s book on Romans. He points out that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Roman 5:12-21 is the key to understanding the whole book of Romans, but then Rev. Mathew states that “I would say this section is the key to interpreting all Scripture and all human history. If we want to know why people are bad and do bad things, or why a sinner cannot save himself, we should read this passage. If we want to understand why human salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, we should read this passage. If we want to comprehend the doctrine of union with Christ and be fully assured of our ultimate salvation, we must read this passage.”[1]

Marc Roby: Those are bold claims about the importance of this passage. I’m looking forward to getting into it.

Dr. Spencer: They are bold claims, but they are also true. The core of the gospel message is presented in this passage and it is often rejected by people because, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [2] And, in 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told 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 therefore, this passage in Romans is particularly important for anyone who considers himself a Christian. If we cannot accept this teaching about God’s way of salvation, we need to cry out to God for his Holy Spirit to grant us understanding and salvation.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. This passage is that important. And it fits in with a discussion of God’s attribute of goodness because I can’t think of anything that illustrates God’s goodness more than the gospel of salvation by grace.

Marc Roby: Nor can I.

Dr. Spencer: The passage begins, in Verse 12, by saying, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”. The first thing we need to look at is the word “Therefore”.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, refers to what Paul had said prior to this verse.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, certainly, in part it refers back to Verse 10, where we read, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” This verse clearly states man’s problem, “we were God’s enemies”.

Marc Roby: And it is never a good thing to have the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things as your enemy.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. You’re bound to lose. And Paul goes on to argue that we were God’s enemies precisely because we were still in Adam; in other words, he was still our representative. But, in Verse 10 he tells us that we were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ and that, having been reconciled, we will be saved. So, the word “therefore” at the beginning of Verse 12 is pointing back to this reconciliation and salvation that we have in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me read the verse again with that thought in mind. It says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”.

Dr. Spencer: And notice that this verse does not express a complete thought, it leaves you expecting something, expecting it to go on. And yet the next verse, Verse 13, starts a new sentence. In other words, Paul leaves his thought half finished. And this is indicated in some Bibles by ending Verse 12 with a dash or a colon. Also, in some Bibles Verse 13 begins with a parenthesis, indicating that it is the start of a parenthetical section that continues through Verse 17. Paul is doing what we all do often, he starts a thought and then realizes that he needs to explain it more fully before continuing. So, let’s look at the thought. He said, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”.

Marc Roby: That is a statement loaded with meaning.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Paul realized it needed to be fleshed out. The statement makes three points. First, sin entered the world through one man. Second, death is the result of sin. And, third, all die because all sinned in Adam. Let’s deal with the second point first.

Marc Roby: And that second point is that death is the result of sin.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but it is specifically the sin of Adam as we’ll get to in a minute. The apostle says that death came “through” sin. He says the same thing somewhat differently in Romans 6:23, where we read that “the wages of sin is death”. In other words, death is not natural. It is the punishment God promised Adam and Eve for sinning as we read in Genesis 2:17. And so, in Verses 13 and 14, Paul explains this further.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses before you go on. Romans 5:13-14 say, “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”

Dr. Spencer: And notice Paul’s logic here. He points out that sin is not taken into account when there is no law. He doesn’t say that people didn’t sin during this period of time, because they most certainly did; in fact, he says “sin was in the world.” But he says that sin isn’t taken into account. Nevertheless, he points out that the people who lived between the time of Adam and Moses and “did not sin by breaking a command”, still died. This proves that these people died for Adam’s sin. He makes that explicit in Verse 15 where he says that “many died by the trespass of the one man”. In fact, he repeats this point several times so that we can’t get it wrong. He also says in Verse 16 that “judgment followed one sin” and in Verse 17 he says that “by the trespass of the one man” death reigned.

Marc Roby: I can hear many of our listeners just bristling at the thought that people would die because of someone else’s sin.

Dr. Spencer: I understand the objection. But let me put off dealing with it for a few minutes, there is a very good answer to it. We can summarize Paul’s argument as follows: sin entered the world through Adam and all people since the time of Adam are subject to death as a result of his sin. So far this doesn’t sound good for us, but then Paul ends Verse 14 by saying that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come.” And he goes on to explain that in Verse 15.

Marc Roby: Which says, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”

Dr. Spencer: And here is the gospel message! Adam was a pattern of the one to come, which is speaking of Christ, but there is a drastic difference, because we are condemned if we are in Adam, but eternally saved if we are in Christ. He was a pattern only in the sense that he was our head before and Christ is our head now.

Paul starts off Verse 15 by saying that “the gift is not like the trespass”. Salvation is a free gift. Paul also tells us that in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, grace is unmerited favor. Or, we could even say, it is showing favor to those who deserve condemnation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Paul then explains further. He goes on in Romans 5:15 to say, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” As I noted earlier, this verse makes it even more explicit that many died because of the sin of the one man, which refers to Adam. But the gift, which we are told came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflows to many.

Marc Roby: Praise God for his rich mercy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, praise God indeed. And Paul goes on, in Verse 16, to say that “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Here he again makes it clear that death, which is the just judgment for sin, followed “one sin”, which was the sin of Adam. But the gift, which followed many trespasses, or sins, brought justification. As he said in Verse 10, we are reconciled to God.

Marc Roby: And in Verse 10 it had said that “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son”.

Dr. Spencer: Which, of course, refers to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Then, in Verse 17, Paul says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” We again see the emphasis on the “one man” through whom death reigned, which is Adam, and the “one man” through whom righteousness and life reign, who is Christ. This passage clearly shows that the theological idea of Adam and Christ as the two federal heads is completely biblical.

Marc Roby: And it again speaks of God’s grace and gift. Salvation is clearly not by works.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that point is abundantly clear in this passage. And we have now finished the parenthetical comments that began in Verse 13, so Verse 18 finishes the thought that Paul started in Verse 12. Let me read both verses. Verse 12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—” and then Verse 18 says, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Marc Roby: And I must praise God again. And I must point out that we have to be careful with this verse, when it says that this one act of righteousness, which is referring to Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “brings life for all men”, it is not telling us that every single human being will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. It means that all who are saved by the grace of God are saved as a result of this one act of righteousness. In fact, Paul phrases it differently in the very next verse. Verse 19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” We have to interpret these verses in a way that is consistent with all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: The first principle of hermeneutics as you taught in Sessions 39 through 48.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is the most important principle of hermeneutics. And when you apply it here it is obvious the statements about death coming to all men and the many being made sinners both refer to every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve in the natural way. Whereas, the statements about bringing life to all men and the many being made righteous do not refer to every single human being, but only to those who are born again and justified by faith in Christ.

Marc Roby: Now the last two verses, 20 and 21, then say “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: We don’t have time today to deal with what is meant by saying that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”, but notice again that sin reigned in death – in other words, death is the penalty for sin, but specifically for the sin of Adam. And then also note that grace reigns through righteousness and brings eternal life through Jesus Christ. Saying “through Jesus Christ” means that eternal life comes to those people, and only those people, who are united to Christ by true saving faith. We are all conceived with Adam as our federal head and we are, therefore, subject to death. But, praise God, if we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith and receive eternal life. In Romans 8:1 Paul wrote that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Marc Roby: What a glorious promise that is. But I’m not going to let you forget the question you put off earlier. You said that you have a good answer for those who think it is unfair for them to be born subject to the penalty of death because of the sin of Adam.

Dr. Spencer: There is a great answer to that question. First, let me point out that God is perfect and all he does is perfect, so he chose the perfect representative for the human race. None of us would have done any better than Adam did. And so, if what you want is fairness, and you interpret that to mean that you should be judged on your own merits, you need to realize that we would all have fallen and would go to hell for our own sins if we were put in the same situation as Adam. God’s representative government is the only way anyone can be saved! It is only because we can be united to Christ as our federal head that salvation is possible. If you have a problem with being represented by Adam, then logically, you should also have a problem with being represented by Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. We like the one, but not the other.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we like. What matters is what is true. And God’s Word makes it clear, as we have just seen, that this is how he has chosen to deal with his creation. And who are we to complain?

Marc Roby: Well, we certainly shouldn’t, but unfortunately people often do.

Dr. Spencer: It is unfortunate, but it is also because we are sinners. Not only do we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin, we also inherit his sinful nature. When Adam and Eve sinned, it produced a real change in their natures. We aren’t told exactly how that works, but it is clear that it did. They used to have perfect fellowship with God, but right after the fall we see them hiding from God.

Marc Roby: Sin always produces fear and animosity.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And the sinful nature that is displayed by their fear and animosity is handed down to us. We aren’t told exactly how that occurs, but however it happens, the results are clear. Every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve by the ordinary means of procreation is, conceived in sin, born in sin, and practices sin. As David put it in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And because we are sinners by nature, we sin.

Marc Roby: Which is abundantly obvious in the world all around us. And I think you have answered the question of how Adam’s sin affects us. Since he was our representative, we share in his guilt and all of the bitter fruit of his sin.

Dr. Spencer: The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it well. Question 16 asks, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?” and the answer is given, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.” But, praise God, in his great love and according to his attribute of goodness, he provided us with a Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And with that, I think 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’d love to hear from you.

 

[1] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 302

[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.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to look at the proper way to interpret the Bible. Dr. Spencer, let me start by asking you a question that I suspect a number of our listeners may have. I know how to read and can think for myself, so why do I need any rules to help me understand the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I think the answer to that question has two parts. First and foremost, because of the supreme importance of the topic, we want to be extremely careful to be sure that we understand the Bible correctly. The possible consequences for not correctly interpreting a newspaper article, or even something far more important like a medical textbook, cannot be compared with the eternal consequences of misinterpreting the Bible.

Marc Roby: But some people will point out that we are saved by faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and a true Christian has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, so my salvation is not based on my being a great theologian, it is based on my relationship to the person of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, you must have a relationship with the true Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 the apostle Paul expressed his deep concern for the church in Corinth. He wrote, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”[1]

This warning highlights a very important point. We know Jesus only because someone came and preached to us, whether it was spoken or in writing makes no difference. The essential point is that we learn about Jesus Christ and salvation from the Bible, either directly, or indirectly. But, there are many distortions out there, what Paul calls “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.” All you have to do is look at all of the competing claims of people who call themselves Christians to know that is true.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone can dispute that there are a lot of differing views about Jesus and what he taught. And our understanding of what the Bible teaches has eternal consequences, in 2 Peter 3:16 we read that people distort the Scriptures to their own destruction.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely the reason we need to be very careful in this area. Not only is what we believe of supreme importance because our eternal salvation at stake – that was the first part of the answer to your initial question, but we also have a large number of different ideas being presented to us and we need to be sure that we can correctly ferret out which ones are right and which ones are wrong. So, the second part of the answer is that we need a methodical and thoughtful way to deal with what can be a complex and controversial topic.

Marc Roby: I think that answers the question. And, perhaps it would be good at this point to mention that the science of properly interpreting the Bible is called hermeneutics.

Dr. Spencer: And when we put the principles of hermeneutics into practice to do our best to determine what a particular verse or passage means, we are doing what is called exegesis, which means to draw the meaning out of the passage. This can be contrasted with eisegesis, which means to put meaning into the passage, which is an all-too-common practice that any true Christian should work very hard to avoid.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, how should we approach Bible study?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, we must study the Bible believing it to be God’s infallible Word, which is why we spent time establishing that point in past few sessions. If the bible isn’t God’s infallible Word, then we are without a sure guide and are left up to our own subjective ideas of what to believe and how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And, as we have noted a number of times, we must be born again in order to having real saving faith in Jesus Christ and to believe in the infallibility of God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We’ve quoted 1 Corinthians 2:14 before, which tells us 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.”

So, that is the first thing we must do to properly approach Bible study. Secondly, we must study the Bible with prayer and diligence. In Luke 11:13 Jesus promised us that our “Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So, we must come to God in prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study his Word. And we must note that we are talking about study of the Bible, not casual reading. God has made it abundantly clear in many places in his word that he will not reward those who seek him half-heartedly or according to their own ideas. In fact, he hates their so-called worship.

Marc Roby: Now, that last statement goes against much of what the modern church teaches about God. He is pictured as a loving and patient father who doesn’t hate anything or anyone.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common picture of God, but it is one that is easily shown to be false if you simply look in his word; in other words, if you properly exegete the Word of God. This is a good example of why we need the science of hermeneutics!

For example, let’s look at the prophet Amos. He lived in the 8th century before Christ when the Jewish people were divided into two kingdoms, one in the north – usually called Israel – and one in the south – usually called Judah. This was a time of relative peace and prosperity, much like our own time in this country. And yet, God sent Amos to the northern kingdom to deliver a message of doom to the people. In Amos 5:21-23 we read that God said, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Marc Roby: Those are pretty harsh words.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they are. And notice that the people were having religious feasts and assemblies, they were bringing burnt offerings, grain offerings and fellowship offerings as the law required, and they were singing – presumably songs of praise to God. But, they were not doing what was right. Religious activities are not all acceptable to God, they must be done with a clean heart and according to his Word.

I could mention many other passages, but I’ll refrain for now. The point is that this idea of God being like a cosmic grandfather who never gets angry with anyone and doesn’t hate anything or anyone simply cannot stand up to a careful study of his Word.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we need to believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and we need to study it diligently, with prayer. What else do we need to do?

Dr. Spencer: We need to learn how to understand the Word properly, in other words, we need proper hermeneutical principles, which is what we are getting ready to study.

Marc Roby: From where do we get these rules for proper interpretation?

Dr. Spencer: In large measure we get them from the Bible itself, and the ones we don’t get from the Bible itself are part and parcel of normal human communication, which is a gift given to us by our creator God. So, all of them come from God in a sense. Let me explain this as we look at the rules.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: The first and most important rule of proper interpretation, or hermeneutics, is sometimes called the analogy of faith, although I don’t find that phrase particularly descriptive. The idea is that Scripture should always be used to interpret Scripture.

Marc Roby: I’m not convinced that statement is completely clear either.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose you’re right, it isn’t clear by itself. It needs to be explained. The idea is a direct result of the fact that the Bible comprises the very words of God. The Bible clearly teaches in Deuteronomy 32:4, Matthew 5:48 and elsewhere that God is perfect and therefore his words are perfect, which is also stated explicitly in Psalms 18:30 and 19:7. It also tells us that God cannot lie, which is stated in Titus 1:2 and Hebrews 6:18. So, given all of those facts, it must be true that God’s words will be completely consistent and truthful. As a result, the Bible cannot contradict itself. If we find one part of the Bible somewhat difficult to understand, we should look to see if the same idea is expressed more clearly or completely somewhere else. So, we use one part of Scripture to help us interpret another part of Scripture. This rule is a necessary consequence of the Bible’s own teaching about the perfection of God and his Word.

Marc Roby: Paul also implicitly used this rule when he defended his teachings to King Agrippa and Festus. In Acts 26:22-23 Paul said, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point – he is claiming that his own teaching has authority because it is consistent with the Old Testament teaching.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example of how this rule works in practice?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Let me take a passage that is very often misused in the modern church. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus Christ said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Now, in the Greek, this is in the imperative mood, which means it is a command, “Do not judge”. I’ve had people quote this to me and then say that it means that we should never judge anyone under any circumstances whatsoever.

Marc Roby: I’ve heard people interpret the verse that way as well.

Dr. Spencer: But, the idea of using the Scripture to interpret Scripture means that you can’t take one verse out of context and use it to justify some doctrine. If you look in the rest of Scripture, you find that such an understanding of that verse cannot possibly be correct. For example, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 5 the apostle Paul is chastising the Corinthian church for allowing a man who was committing sexual immorality to remain in their fellowship and he writes, in Verse 12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” This is a rhetorical question and the expected answer is “Yes, we are to judge those inside the church” as becomes completely obvious in the next verse where Paul commands them to “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Now, if Matthew 7:1 really meant that we should never judge anyone, Paul’s command to the Corinthian church would be wrong. But given that all of Scripture is the infallible Word of God we must seek to understand Matthew 7:1 in the light of other Scriptures that also speak of judging. When we do that, we find that it cannot be a blanket prohibition against judging others.

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that Jesus actually gives an implicit command for us to judge others later on in Matthew 7. In Verses 15-16 he says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” In other words, we are to judge those who claim to bring God’s word to us and we are to determine which of them are false prophets.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great point. I don’t want to get off track and dive into the topic of judging in any depth right now, but suffice it to say that when you consider what all of Scripture says on the topic you find out that what is condemned is not judging in general, but hypocritical judging of others, or judging on disputable matters, or based on human standards rather than God’s standard.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: I think that James Boice gives a good alternate way of describing this same principle of interpretation. Rather than saying let Scripture interpret Scripture, he breaks the principle down into two principles: unity and noncontradiction. He writes that “Taken together [these principles] mean that … (1) the parts of the [Bible] must go together to tell one story, and (2) if two parts seem to be in opposition or in contradiction to each other, our interpretation of one or both of these parts must be in error.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is a good alternate wording of the principle. I can think of another example where this principle comes into play as well. Paul writes in Romans 3:28 that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” And we read in James 2:24, “that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Now, if someone is just out looking for contradictions, they might think that they have found one in these two verses.

Dr. Spencer: As you know, these verses were debated at the time of the reformation since the cry of the reformation is that we are saved by faith alone. The Roman Catholic church pointed to this verse in James to refute that idea. But, interpreting Scripture by Scripture will not allow us to pit one verse of Scripture against another, which is Boice’s principle of noncontradiction. Because God is the author, we must seek an understanding that removes the apparent contradiction.

In this particular example, it isn’t really that hard. Paul and James are using the word “justify” in two different senses. Paul is using it in the forensic sense, meaning to be declared just, or righteous, in God’s sight. Such justification is by faith alone. James, on the other hand, is using the word in the sense of proving something. So, by saying someone is justified by what he does, he means that what he does proves his faith to be genuine.

Marc Roby: Which is easily seen when you look at all of James Chapter 2.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. When you look at the chapter as a whole, you see what kind of faith he is talking about. He is arguing against the idea that a person can have true faith without any good deeds. James argues that such faith isn’t true faith at all. In fact, in Verse 17 he writes that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. So, when he says that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone, he means that the reality of his faith is proven by what he does. He is also using the word “faith” in a different sense than Paul did. A person may have a mental-assent faith, but if he has no works, he does not have true saving faith, which is trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and that is the faith that Paul is speaking about in Romans 3:28. When we look at this more carefully, we see that Paul and James are in complete agreement.

Marc Roby: Alright. So we have our first principle of proper biblical interpretation. It can be called the analogy of faith, or we can say to let Scripture interpret Scripture, or we can say the Bible is a unity and cannot contradict itself. This also agrees with the Westminster Confession of Faith. In Chapter 1, Paragraph 9, the confessions says, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a very good summary.

Marc Roby: What other principles do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The second principle is that we should interpret the Bible literally. But, that needs some more explanation. The word literal is usually taken mean that something adheres to the primary meaning of the individual words. So, for example, if I were to say to you that it’s raining cats and dogs, that could not be literally true in the common sense of the word literal. What is historically meant by this term in biblical studies however, is that we should interpret the Bible as literature. In other words, we take the ordinary meaning of an expression. In that sense, you would interpret my statement that it’s raining cats and dogs to literally mean that it was raining very hard. The literal sense was stressed by Martin Luther and other reformers in contrast with the standard four-fold procedure in use at the time, called the quadriga.[3]

Marc Roby: How did that procedure work?

Dr. Spencer: The idea of the quadriga is that a verse may have four different meanings: the literal – in the same sense Luther used that term, the moral, the allegorical and the spiritual. In other words, every verse has a normal literal meaning, then it may also have a moral meaning that said something about how we are to behave, an allegorical meaning that revealed something about what we are to believe, and a spiritual meaning that said something about our future hope.

Marc Roby: And, that ladies and gentlemen, could lead to quite a mess.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly can and did. The Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote to criticize the results of using the quadriga to interpret Genesis 14:18-19, where we read that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram”. Our listeners need to remember that God later changed Abram’s name to Abraham. In any event, Perkins wrote the following: “The literal sense is, that the King of Salem with meat which he brought, refreshed the soldiers of Abraham being tired with travel. The allegorical is, that the Priest [does] offer up Christ in [the] mass. The [moral] is, therefore something is to be given to the poor. The [spiritual] is, that Christ in like manner being in heaven, shall be the bread of life to the faithful.”[4] (language modernized and terms made consistent with our treatment)

Marc Roby: That is a lot to supposedly draw from just that verse. I can see that there is a lot more to say about what is properly meant by interpreting the Bible literally, but we are out of time for today and will need to continue this discussion next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that we encourage them to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[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. 91

[3] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pp 38-39, also R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 2nd Ed, InterVarsity Press, 2009, pg. 60

[4] Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 33

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