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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 biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What a glorious hope that is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid, see footnote 8

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 455

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by 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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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. In our previous session we argued that this is a critically important doctrine because if the Bible is not infallible, then our faith is, ultimately, based on subjectivism. We closed by quoting from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which says, in part, that “Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.” Dr. Spencer, what do you want to add to that?

Dr. Spencer: I mentioned last time that the authority and infallibility of the Bible are inextricably linked, and you see that point clearly in the sentence you just quoted from the Chicago Statement. Notice that they link a “recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness” of the Bible, in other words our believing that it is infallible, to “a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.” By adequate confession I think they mean one that is conducive to living a proper Christian life. I would like to begin therefore by more forcefully making the point that the authority and infallibility of the Bible are inextricably linked.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: If the Bible is infallible, then it logically follows that it is inerrant, simply meaning that it does not have errors in it.

Marc Roby: Now, when you say it does not contain any errors, I think it is important to note again that you’re talking about the autographs.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I am. Our copies can obviously contain printing errors, poor translations and even, in a few cases small errors caused by errors in the manuscripts we have available.

Marc Roby: But none of these small errors in any way affect any doctrine of biblical Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t, and that is an important point. In fact, with regard to these small errors, James Boice points out that “due to the extraordinary number and variety of the biblical manuscripts, there is no reason to doubt that today’s text is identical to the original text in all but a few places. And these few problem areas are clearly known to commentators.”[1] Which agrees with what we said last time regarding the number and quality of our existing manuscripts.

Marc Roby: OK, but I think we’ve gotten off topic just a bit. You said that if the Bible is infallible, then it logically follows that it is going to be inerrant. What were you going to say next?

Dr. Spencer: I was going to say that the only alternative to the Bible being inerrant is that it does, in fact, contain errors. And, if the Bible contained errors it would logically follow that not everything in it would have authority, because not everything in it would be from God, from whom all authority comes. That would leave us with the horrible problem of deciding for ourselves which parts of the Bible have authority and which don’t. And you can easily guess what would happen.

Marc Roby: I can think of a number of things.

Dr. Spencer: So can I, but let me give one concrete example to illustrate the seriousness of the problem. Suppose that a man named John was extremely unhappy in his marriage and was convinced that he had done everything possible on his end to work the problems out. Further suppose that his wife had not committed adultery, their problems were just relational. What do you think he would decide about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:32, where he says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress”,[2] which implies that divorcing a wife for any reason other than adultery is sin. Do you think John would conclude that he can’t divorce his wife, or would he conclude that statement was some kind of error?

Marc Roby: I’m pretty sure he would conclude that Jesus didn’t really say that.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right. In other words, he might say that the Bible has authority to govern his life, but he would then completely eviscerate that authority by concluding that anything in the Bible that opposes his own view is an error.

Marc Roby: That would be the natural, sinful, human tendency.

Dr. Spencer: In other words, if the entire Bible was not the authoritative Word of God, then none of it would really have any authority because we would have to decide which parts have authority. And our natural, sinful tendency would be to say that the parts we agree with have authority, and the parts we don’t agree with do not have authority. In other words, I am the ultimate authority. We see this all the time when people argue that you can be a Christian and divorce your spouse for irreconcilable differences, or be a Christian homosexual, or any number of other examples we could name.

But, that is not biblical Christianity and, therefore, it is not a Christianity that will save you from hell. It is no better than any other man-made religion. If I am a true, born-again Christian, then I must accept the entire Word of God as his infallible, authoritative word.

Marc Roby: Are you saying that if someone doesn’t agree with this doctrine that they are not a true Christian?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think I would go that far. But, I would argue that they do agree with it, even if they are not yet aware of that fact. When a person is first born again and exercises true saving faith, that faith is not mature, and you wouldn’t expect that they have had time and opportunity to think it all through carefully. And, if they don’t receive good sound teaching, it may take a while for them to do so. But, when we believe something to be true, that necessarily requires that we have determined there is sufficient reason to accept it as true. And the Bible is the only source of our knowledge that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. So, if a person has truly placed his trust in Jesus Christ and is saved, that means that he has judged the Bible to be trustworthy. And, if he thinks that through carefully, which is what we are trying to help people do now, he will realize that the only consistent position is to believe that the entire Bible is infallible.

Marc Roby: The theologian John Murray makes that point. He even goes so far as to say that one aspect of biblical faith is “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.”[3] And that this “is inseparable from a state of salvation.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. But I think that is an expression of a mature faith that has been thought through. So, if one of our listeners does not agree with this doctrine, it may be that he is truly saved, but has not yet thought this all through carefully. And, if that is the case, I hope and pray that our discussion of this material will result in his giving this topic careful consideration, because it is the clear teaching of the Bible itself that it is the infallible Word of God as we will demonstrate in later sessions. So, if I find myself disagreeing with it, on this doctrine or any other doctrine, I am the one who needs to change. The problem is with me, not the Bible.

Marc Roby: Of course, that presupposes that we understand the Bible correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Of course it does, and we will talk about that issue more later as well. But for now, I want to move on with making the case for the importance of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. Let me begin by noting that the Westminster Confession of Faith recognized the central importance of the Word of God and that it receives its importance – and we could add its infallibility and authority – from the fact that God is its author.

In Chapter 1, Paragraph 4 of the confession we read that “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”[5] When they say it is to be “received”, I think they mean it is to be believed and obeyed. But, they were also indicating that they were simply receiving the revelation from God, not passing judgment on it as being correct.

Marc Roby: Which would, of course, again make man the ultimate authority, not God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. As we’ve discussed before, we must use our reason to recognize and understand the Word of God, but not to judge it. The theologian R.C. Sproul, in his Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith commented on the use of the word receive in this phrase in the confession and wrote that “When the early church settled on the books of the canon, it spoke of receiving these books as canonical. The church fathers were humbly recognizing the authority of these books, not presuming to give them authority, when they stated, ‘We receive these apostolic writings as the sacred Scriptures’ … The authority of Scripture does not depend on the testimony of any man or of the church; its authority depends and rests wholly on God, the supreme author of the Bible. Scripture should be received, not so that it can become the Word of God, be because it already is the Word of God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is a very clear statement of the distinction between receiving the Word and judging the Word. I think it is also important to point out that the statement you read is in Chapter 1 of the confession of faith; so the Westminster Confession of faith begins with the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: That is an important point. The confession begins with the Word of God because it is only in the Word of God that we learn what God wants us to believe and how we are to be saved.

Marc Roby: The Westminster Confession was also responding to the Roman Catholic church, which placed the traditions of the church on a par with Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The Council of Trent was an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church and was called in response to the reformation, which most people mark as having begun with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door on October 31, 1517. In the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church officially decreed that it “receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament … as also the said traditions”[7], which is referring to the traditions of the church. They go even further and declare that if anyone does not receive the traditions of the church as of equal value with the Bible itself, “let him be anathema.”[8]

Marc Roby: And to be anathema means to be cursed and excommunicated from the church, in other words, to be damned.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The Roman Catholic Church has never rescinded the decrees of that council, so if we do not accept the traditions of the church as of equal authority with Scripture, we are, according to the Roman Catholic Church, damned to hell. The problem with that view is that it is giving the church the power to declare something with the same authority as God himself. And the reformers were united in their condemnation of that view. This issue of the absolute and sole authority of the Scriptures has been called the formal cause of the reformation, and it is voiced in the famous Latin phrase sola Scriptura, which means Scripture alone.[9]

Marc Roby: But, the reformers did not simply throw away all the traditions of the church.

Dr. Spencer: No, they did not. In fact, the reformers embraced those traditions when they were consistent with the teachings of the Bible. R.C. Sproul, in his book What is Reformed Theology? Says that “the Reformers embraced the doctrines articulated and formulated by the great ecumenical councils of church history, including the doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ’s person and work formulated at the councils of Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451.”[10] The reformers were returning to the Word of God as the supreme authority and were testing everything according to it.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what we are told in Acts 17. Paul and Silas had been preaching about Christ in Berea and we are told, in Acts 17:11, that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great passage to make this point. The Bereans were commended by God himself for testing what the apostle Paul told them by looking in the Word of God. In Paul’s closing comments to the church in Thessalonica he wrote, in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, “do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” And, while he doesn’t say it here, it is clear that he would have them test everything by the Word of God, since that is what he labors to do in every one of his letters.

Marc Roby: And so, getting back to the Westminster Confession of Faith, they chose to begin by declaring that the Bible alone has absolute authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In addition to the passage we read earlier from Chapter 1 Paragraph 4, it might be worthwhile to give one more quote, which clearly shows that what you just said is true, the confession clearly does state that the Bible alone has absolute authority. Chapter 1 concludes with the following statement, in Paragraph 10; “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”[11] When the confession says “in whose sentence we are to rest”, it is using the word “sentence” in the sense of a judicial finding or judgment. In other words, we are to use the Bible as the ultimate authority in judging everything and we are to rest in its judgment.

Marc Roby: Well, I know that we have more to say on this topic, but this seems like a good place to stop for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 75-76

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

[3] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 241

[4] Ibid, pg. 254

[5] From http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html

[6] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. One, pg. 13

[7] From: The canons and decrees of the sacred and ecumenical Council of Trent, Trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), The Fourth Session, DECREE CONCERNING THE CANONICAL SCRIPTURES, pg. 18. Available in pdf form from file:///C:/Users/rrspe/Documents/Religion/Books%20&%20Papers/Council%20of%20Trent%20-%20decrees.pdf

[8] Ibid, pg. 19

[9] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 30

[10] Ibid, pp 28-29

[11] From http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the four characteristics of special revelation, that is the Bible. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, and last time we examined the S, which stands for sufficiency. We explained that the Bible provides sufficient revelation for salvation and for life, so that a person who has been born again has all that he or she needs to be saved and to live a life that’s pleasing to God.

The next characteristic described by SNAC is necessity. So, Dr. Spencer, what do we want to say about the necessity of special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We first want to remind our listeners that the Bible is not necessary to know that God exists and to know something of his power and glory. As we noted last time, general revelation is sufficient for that purpose and is available to everyone, so no one has an excuse for not seeking God, as the apostle Paul argues in Romans 1.

But, the Bible’s revelation is absolutely necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God. Let’s talk about salvation first. In Luke 10 we read a marvelous account of Jesus having fellowship with some of his disciples as he was on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities and crucified for the sins of his people. On the way he stopped at the home of his friend Martha, in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. While Martha was distracted with the preparations for dinner, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And at one point, Martha came to them, clearly upset that Mary wasn’t helping, and said to Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  (Lk 10:40)[1] Jesus’ reply is very important. He said “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41-42) His point is clear. We must do all sorts of things in this life, including preparing dinner, but there is only one thing that is truly needful. Life is short, and eternity never ends, so the only really essential thing in this life is to make sure that we are saved and will spend eternity in heaven, rather than hell.

Marc Roby: Alright, given that our eternal destiny is at stake, why then is the Bible necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: It is necessary because, as Peter said about Jesus Christ in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And the Bible is the only place we are told what we need to know about Jesus Christ and his work. We can know from extra-biblical sources of course that the person Jesus Christ lived, as we noted in Session 21. But the Bible is the only place we are told about the real meaning and significance of the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is the only place that tells us that Jesus was not just a man, but was also God incarnate. It is the only place we are told that he lived a perfect, sinless life to fulfill the law and then offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people.  And it is the only place where we are told that if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we will be saved. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To say that Jesus is Lord however, requires that we understand he is the unique God-man and that he is the Creator and Lord of the universe. And to believe that God raised him from the dead is a partial statement, but in the context of the whole passage, Paul is clearly referring to all of Christ’s saving work, his perfect life, sacrificial death and resurrection.

Marc Roby: The apostle Paul also notes the necessity of knowing the truth about Jesus Christ.  A bit later in Romans 10, in Verses 13 and 14 he writes “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, it is the gospel message of Jesus Christ that we are to preach. It is this message that is necessary for salvation. And the Bible is our only infallible source of knowledge. Knowledge about our own sinful nature, knowledge about God, and most importantly, knowledge about the only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Now, many people are disturbed by the exclusive nature of this claim. They think that people who sincerely hold to other beliefs will also be saved and, therefore, it is entirely possible to be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. How would you respond to that statement?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond first by pointing out a clear difference between biblical Christianity and all other religions. Christianity is the only religion that tells us the truth; namely, that we are all sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and unable to save ourselves. We need God to do something or we will certainly be lost. Every other purported way of salvation is based on man’s effort, we must do something to earn heaven. But that is impossible. We are sinners and cannot do anything to earn heaven. Sin incurs guilt, which is a debt that must be paid. If we were able to stop sinning completely, we could stop incurring further guilt, but our guilt for our previous sins would still be there. The penalty would still have to be paid. And, of course, no one ever completely stops sinning in this life either.

Marc Roby: I think many people believe that their good deeds and bad deeds will be put on a balance scale and, if the good deeds outweigh the bad, they will make it into heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly is a common view. But, it is wrong for two reasons. First, God’s standard is perfection and he judges our motives and thoughts as well as our deeds. Since nothing we ever do is perfect, we have no good deeds to balance the bad. And second, the point I was just trying to make is that every sin must be punished. And God has decreed that the payment must be a blood sacrifice. God told Moses in Leviticus 17:11 that “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Marc Roby: I suspect most modern people consider that idea somewhat barbaric.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that’s true. But we need to come to grips with just how serious sin is. It is cosmic rebellion and it must be atoned for. We recoil naturally from blood, partly because we are removed from the need to kill and prepare our own meat, but also because we intuitively understand that blood represents life. The fact that blood is required to atone for sin shows just how serious the problem really is. God cannot simply wink at sin.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some would object and point out that we are called to forgive others, so why can’t God do the same?

Dr. Spencer: God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be given some form of punishment and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right according to his own laws, and the just and right penalty for breaking any of God’s laws is death—eternal death.

But, praise God, he paid the penalty for us. In what is probably the most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We must ask, “Why did God have to give his Son?” – which refers, of course, to his death on the cross. The answer is that the debt must be paid. Justice must be served. Either we must pay the debt, or it must be paid for us. But we are incapable of paying the debt, eternity in hell will not fully do it, so God chose to pay it for us. No other religion truly understands the need for an atoning sacrifice to pay the infinite penalty for our sins.

Marc Roby: And certainly no other religion reveals the truth that God has shown his incomparable love by atoning for our sins himself. It is humbling and amazing to think about God loving wretched sinners like us enough to punish his own eternal Son instead of us.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, it’s absolutely mind boggling. But, there is a flip side to this amazing love. To reject this gracious offer of God is terrible sin. People reject the offer because they don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners, worthy of punishment. And they don’t want to acknowledge that God is the Supreme Lord of the universe. But, to reject this gracious offer is to show contempt for God’s grace. It is to call him a liar as John writes in 1 John 5:10, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” That is why, if you go on in John Chapter 3 and look the next two verses, 17 and 18, you read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: I remember one of our esteemed senators recently grilling a Christian nominee for public office because he had written something about people who didn’t believe in Christ being condemned already.

Dr. Spencer: I remember that questioning too. Apparently, that senator doesn’t know that our constitution expressly forbids any religious test for holding public office. But, returning to the topic of the necessity of the Bible for salvation. Given the fact that God has decreed that there is only one way of salvation, and given the fact that the Bible is the only place where we learn of Christ’s work of redemption, the Bible is absolutely essential for salvation.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question I suspect some of our listeners are asking at this point. Since we must know what the Bible says about Jesus Christ to be saved, what about people who lived prior to Christ? How were they able to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Salvation was available to the people who lived prior to Christ on the same basis it is available to us today, by faith in Christ. We look back on Christ and his completed work, but they were saved by looking forward to the promised Messiah. Remember that the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Χριστός (Xristos), from which we get our word Christ, both mean anointed one. We spoke about the progressive nature of revelation in Session 6. We noted then that God gave the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message, to Adam and Eve right after the fall. 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: And, as the term progressive implies, over time God revealed more and more about this Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And those whom God enabled by regeneration repented of their sins, placed their trust in the promises made to them, and lived their lives in humble, albeit imperfect, obedience to please God.  In Hebrews 11 we are told about a number of great Old Testament believers and, in verse 13, we read that “these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” In other words, they knew that they had an eternal home and they were looking forward to it. Their focus was not on this life, but on the life to come, and they fully trusted in God’s promise to provide a Savior.

Marc Roby: And God is always faithful to keep his promises. You mentioned that the Bible is also necessary for us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. But, many people today think that they are pleasing God by simply doing what they think is right. What would say to those people?

Dr. Spencer: If they are not explicitly seeking to know and do God’s will in his way for his glory, then he is not pleased with them, even if and when what they do is, in itself, good. We must remember the creator/creature distinction. God alone has the authority to tell us what is right and wrong. We need to remember what I said in Session 23 when we discussed the sufficiency of the Bible, our consciences can be desensitized by sin, and they can also be corrupted by our own reason when it operates independently. It is not our place to decide what is sin and what isn’t sin. That is God’s prerogative alone. Our consciences must be informed by the Word of God. Our reason is a wonderful tool and we must use it to understand and apply God’s Word. But, our reason can also be a terrible enemy, especially when we allow it to be influenced by Satan and the world.

Marc Roby: What you’re saying reminds me very much of Martin Luther. He is famous for his stand at the Diet of Worms of course when he was commanded to recant his teachings and faced possible death if he refused. He said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason …, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I find it interesting that when people cite that statement, they often omit the first part and simply quote the part that says “it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience”. But Luther had it completely right. It is only unsafe to go against conscience if our conscience is captive to the Word of God. The Bible must be our ultimate authority. If I find myself disagreeing with something I’ve read in God’s Word, I must first be sure that I am understanding it correctly. But, if I am understanding it correctly and still find myself disagreeing with it, then I must change. I am wrong.

Marc Roby: At this point it seems that you have started to speak about a different attribute of the Word of God, its authority.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, I have sort of moved into that territory. But, it is impossible to treat these things completely independently. When we say the Bible is necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God, we have to presuppose its authority. It obviously can’t be necessary if it has no authority to speak on these topics.

Marc Roby: That makes sense. So, if we simply assume for the moment that the Bible does have authority, can you give us an example of how to apply this idea that the Bible must define what is right?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of important and current issues in the church where the authority of Scripture to define what is right is of critical importance. For example, many professing Christians today have given up on the idea of eternal hell. They will either say that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it isn’t eternal. The basic rationale for believing either one of these two theses always boils down to human reason saying that it is somehow not fair. There is no cogent biblical argument in favor of either of these positions. I don’t want to get into in detail now because our subject is the necessity of the Bible, but let me give a quick summary of a couple of arguments.

In Matthew 25:31-32 Jesus told us about the Day of Judgment, when he will come to judge all people. He said that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He then goes on to describe the judgment and with regard to those who have rejected him he says, in Verse 41, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then again, in Verse 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In all three places where the word “eternal” is used in the NIV translation of those verses, the Greek word is αἰώνιος (aionios), which means eternal, or without beginning or end.[3] We could cite other evidence, but the Bible could not be more clear about the eternal nature of both heaven and hell.

Marc Roby: And for those of us looking forward to heaven, that is a wonderful thought. But, we are out of time for today, so are we done with examining the necessity of the Bible, that is special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We are. But, I’d like to make a summary statement I think. The Bible is necessary for living a life pleasing to God precisely because it is God alone who has authority to say what is sinful and also to tell us how we are to worship him.

Marc Roby: Very well, that concludes this session. But, I want to remind our listeners 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] As quoted on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_Worms

[3] A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 28

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