Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the holiness of God. Last time we looked at the fact that God’s holiness is emphasized in Isaiah 6:3, where the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”. [1] In particular, this emphasizes the fact that God is separate from his creation, he is transcendent. That led us to discussing the fact that God is the Lord of his creation. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to explore the practical implications for the Christian life of the fact that God is Lord or, to be more specific, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, the basic confession of a true Christian, Jesus is Lord. Which is only two words in the Greek, Ἰησοῦς κύριος (Iēsous kurios).

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And the lordship of God is fundamental to his being. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has made, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. John Frame talks about this at length in his book The Doctrine of God. He makes a very strong statement about it. He writes, “The liberal theologian wants to avoid at all costs the notion that he belongs to someone else, that he must think according to someone else’s standards, that he must obey someone else without question. He may be willing to use the term Lord, but the biblical doctrine of God’s lordship is inimical to his most fundamental instincts. In this respect, liberation theology and the other modern theologies are not new. But these positions are, at this point, fundamentally anti-Christian. The central message of Scripture is that God is Lord.”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a very strong statement, but it is also completely correct. These liberal theologians don’t want to believe that they belong to someone else, but we are told in Romans 14:8 that “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Frame is certainly correct in saying that this view is anti-Christian.

Dr. Spencer: That statement definitely is correct. In fact, by my count there are 13 places in the 1984 NIV Bible we are using where it refers to those who belong to the Lord, or belong to Christ, or belong to him or some similar statement.[3]

Marc Roby: That’s pretty clear. And it is hard to know what it would mean for Jesus Christ to be Lord if his people did not belong to him. The liberal theologians also do not want to be told how to think as Frame points out, but Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: And they don’t want to obey without question, but in Matthew 28:20, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Marc Roby: And in John 14:15 Jesus said that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: And in Luke 11:28 Jesus said that “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Marc Roby: And Jesus also said, in John 14:23, that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Dr. Spencer: And in the next chapter we read, in John 15:10, that Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Then, in Acts 5:32, we are told that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. In Romans 1:5 Paul says that “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” And Chapter 6 of Romans is written specifically to point out that although salvation is by grace, true salvation sets us free from our bondage to sin so that we will no longer live as slaves to sin. Romans 6:2 sets the tone for the whole chapter by asking the rhetorical question, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Marc Roby: And the clear answer is that we can’t.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We could go on and on, but the fact that Jesus Christ must be your Lord, or he will not be your Savior, is an abundantly clear teaching of the entire New Testament. And the lordship of Jesus Christ is his prerogative as the Creator of the universe. In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul is speaking about Christ and writes, in Verse16, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Marc Roby: We are also told in Hebrews 1:1-2 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.”

Dr. Spencer: I think we have clearly established that this universe was created by Jesus Christ. He is God. And God is holy and he is lord. I want to move on to examine the implications of his lordship for us as Christians. Let me quote John Frame again to begin the transition. He writes that “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness, his transcendence. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons. Indeed, God’s holiness impels us to worship in his presence.”[4] And, finally, he notes that “Holiness, then, is a very rich concept. It speaks of God’s transcendence and separation from finite and sinful creatures. But it also speaks of how God draws them to himself, making them holy. Holiness marks God’s transcendence, but also his immanence, his presence to redeem us. He is not only ‘the Holy One,’ but ‘the Holy One among us,’ ‘the Holy One of Israel.’”[5]

Marc Roby: Those are marvelous quotes. It is hard to grasp both God’s transcendence and immanence. And we should probably explain that when we mention immanence in this context, it is important to note that it is spelled with an ‘a’, not an ‘i’. Imminence spelled with an ‘i’ refers to something that is going to happen soon, but immanence with an ‘a’ is the opposite of transcendence. While transcendence refers to something that goes beyond normal limits or is beyond comprehension, or is not subject to the limitations of our physical universe, to be immanent means to indwell or to be inherent or to operate within.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important point since the words are pronounced the same. And the prime example of God being both transcendent and immanent is Jesus Christ himself. In telling us about the birth of Jesus, the apostle Matthew wrote, in Matthew 1:22-23, that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” And Matthew is quoting the famous Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. So Jesus Christ is not only God, the Creator of the universe as we just noted, he also came down to dwell with us, he walked among us, and he gave his life as an atoning sacrifice to pay for our sins. He is God with us.

Marc Roby: And when he ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us to guide us and strengthen us. He gave this promise to his disciples. In John 16:7 we read that Jesus told them, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” And Jesus clearly says that this Counselor is the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 where we read, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Dr. Spencer: And at the end of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:20, Christ promised us, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So it is clear that God is both transcendent and immanent. But Frame said something else that is critically important. He said that “Holiness marks God’s transcendence, but also his immanence, his presence to redeem us.” It is the redeeming that I want to talk about now, because God’s holiness plays a major role.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Well, God’s purpose in redeeming us is to make us into a holy people, fit to be his adopted children, brothers and sisters of Christ, and to spend eternity in heaven with him. As we noted last time, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”. And in Hebrews 12:14 we are told that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In 2 Peter 3:13 we are told that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” In Hebrews 12:23 we read about the souls, or spirits, of those who have already died and gone to heaven and they are called, “spirits of righteous men made perfect”. We could go on citing Scriptures, but the message is abundantly clear, heaven is a place of perfection. God is perfect and all who dwell with him must be perfect, they must be holy. God’s purpose in saving us is not just to pardon our sins and then leave us the way we are, his purpose is to transform us. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought, that someday we will be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And in our final, glorified state, we will see him face-to-face and dwell with him and all the other saints in perfect fellowship for ever and ever. But perfection does not happen in this life. Our transformation begins with new birth, which is necessarily followed by repentance and faith, which then leads to our being justified and adopted as God’s children. We then go through a process of sanctification in this life. When we die, our souls are perfected, as we just read, and go to be with God. Then, when Christ comes again, God will raise up our bodies and we will receive glorious new resurrection bodies. In that final glorified state, we will dwell with God forever.

Marc Roby: It doesn’t matter how many times you hear about or think about God’s ultimate plan for us, it always leaves me utterly speechless and longing for Christ’s return.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing thing to think about. And the holiness of God, or to be more precise, Jesus Christ, is our pattern. During this life we participate in the process of sanctification. We are called to put to death the sin that remains in us and put on righteousness. We are to strive for moral perfection, which is the aspect of God’s holiness in which we can share. As we noted, there are two aspects to the holiness of God, one is his transcendence, his separateness from his creation. And we can’t become holy in that sense. But the second aspect to God’s holiness is his moral perfection and we can share in that.

Marc Roby: In other words, we can be like Jesus in his moral perfection and obedience to the will of the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. A few years ago it was popular to wear bracelets that had WWJD embossed on them, which stands for What Would Jesus Do? There is a problem with this whole concept since Jesus is God and we are not, so we shouldn’t always do what he would do. But ignoring that problem for the moment, the answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is clear. Jesus himself said, in John 8:29, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus was perfectly obedient. In his humanity, Jesus made his will subservient to the will of the Father. When he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion, he prayed, as we read in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And, as Christians, that should be our cry as well.

Marc Roby: In fact, Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s prayer.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it would be very instructive to look at that prayer, because if you think about what Jesus told us to pray, it is very different from the prayers of most professing Christians. Which is an obvious problem and should cause us to repent and change.

Marc Roby: We read this prayer in Matthew Chapter 6. In Verses 9-13 Jesus tells us, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Dr. Spencer: Very good. We don’t have time to go through the entire prayer, but notice that it begins with a preface, “Our Father in heaven”. The Westminster Shorter Catechism does an outstanding job of analyzing this prayer. And Question 100 asks, “What does the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?” And the answer given is, “The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.”

Marc Roby: In other words, we are to focus on the transcendence of God. He is in heaven and we must revere him, and he is able to help us.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And then comes the first petition, which is, “hallowed by your name.”

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good to define the word ‘hallowed’ since it is not at all common. To hallow something means to honor it as holy, to consecrate it.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that does help. And the answer to Question 101 in the Catechism says, “In the first petition, which is, hallowed be your name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he makes himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory.”

Marc Roby: That again is a magnificent answer.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And I’m quite confident that it is very different from the prayers of most professing Christians. Our chief concern should be the glory of God. And we glorify him the same way Jesus glorified him, by being obedient subjects of our heavenly Lord and King.

The prayer goes on though and I really want to focus on the next two petitions. The answer to Question 102 of the Catechism says, “In the second petition, which is, your kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

Marc Roby: And when we request that God’s kingdom come, we are asking for him to rule, and especially that he would rule us.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the point I wanted to make. A kingdom has no real meaning unless there is a king who rules. So people who think that they can be Christians and not come under the rule of God need to think again. The Lord’s prayer tells us differently. And the next petition is similar. The answer to Question 103 of the Catechism says, “In the third petition, which is, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”

Marc Roby: There are two words most modern people despise in that answer, obey and submit.

Dr. Spencer: And, again, that is precisely my point. Jesus Christ submitted his will to the will of the Father and lived a life of perfect obedience and we are called to be conformed to his image. The dominant characteristic of his life is his submission and obedience. Therefore, the dominant characteristic of the life of a Christian should be submission and obedience to our gracious, loving, merciful, just and holy Lord, Jesus Christ.

We will always be creatures, even when we are glorified in heaven, so we cannot be holy in the sense of being set apart from creation. But we can, must and will be holy in the moral sense if we are truly God’s children. The holiness of Jesus Christ is the pattern for us as Christians. That is the practical significance of the holiness of God to us.

Marc Roby: And that is a great place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to 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 M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 25

[3] See Mrk 9:41, Jn 8:4, Rom 1:6, 7:4, 8:9, 14:8, 1 Cor 7:39, 15:23, 2 Cor 10:7, Gal 3:29, 5:24, Jms 2:7, 1 Jn 3:19

[4] Ibid, pg. 28

[5] Ibid, pg. 29

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: Before we begin today, Dr. Spencer and I want to wish all of our listeners a blessed 2019. It is our prayer that God will draw you to himself and build you up in the most holy faith. We’d love to hear how God is using this podcast in your life and invite you to email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

And now let’s resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of holiness. Last time we looked at God’s revelation to the prophet Isaiah. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some more time on the revelation given to Isaiah, but with a different emphasis. Last time we focused on the impact God’s holiness has on us as sinful creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is that it should drive us to our knees in fear and trembling and cause us to cry out with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” [1] (Acts 16:30)

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the response we should have. But today I want to focus more on what this attribute tells us about the being of God.

Marc Roby: We already know that his holiness means he is separate from his creation, and that he is morally perfect.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, as we discussed in Session 71, God is the ultimate standard for what is morally right, just as he is the ultimate standard for what is true or what is good. There is however, more that we can learn about the being of God from his holiness. But before we get into that, it is important to note that this is the only attribute of God ever repeated three times in the Bible. Remember that in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”.

Marc Roby: And that repetition is for emphasis, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We do the same thing. For example, someone might describe a certain task as not just being difficult, but being very, very difficult. But here we have the word holy repeated three times, which is why you sometimes hear God referred to as the thrice holy God. It is a little bit like our printing something in bold italics and underlining it. We really want that thing to stand out. And so, God wants his attribute of holiness to stand out. The Bible never once refers to God as “love, love, love” or “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” for example. We need to be careful of course to not think that God’s holiness somehow diminishes the importance of his other attributes, but we clearly need to take it very seriously.

Marc Roby: One indication of the importance of holiness is that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. As we noted last time, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. This is a common emphasis all through the Bible. God is holy and his people must be holy. And God is in the business of making us holy. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the apostle Paul commanded, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. First, we see that Christ “gave himself up” to make the church holy, which speaks about his sacrificial death. Then, secondly, we read that he is cleansing his church “by the washing with water through the word”, which speaks about our being sanctified through reading and obeying the Bible, which is the word of God. And, thirdly, we see that Christ is going to present the church “to himself”. Interestingly, in John 10:29 and again in John 17:24 Christ refers to his people as being given to him by the Father. So both are true; God the Father gives us to the Son and God the Son purifies us to present us to himself. It is hard to grasp, but we are the Father’s gift to the Son.

Marc Roby: It is astounding grace that the Son would want such a gift!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is a little easier to understand when you realize that he doesn’t want us just the way we are. He wants us the way we will be when he is done working in us. Jesus Christ will not be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. And as our Lord he is at work transforming us. In Romans 8:29 we read that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This being conformed to the likeness of Christ is the process of sanctification, which all true believers go through. We will talk about this more in our next session, but for now I want to focus on this idea that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is not something many modern churches talk about.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right about that. There is a completely unbiblical idea that is very common in the modern church, which says that I can accept Jesus as my Savior without also having him as my Lord. But there are two fatal problems with that thinking. The first is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Marc Roby: And even if we don’t choose to voluntarily acknowledge that fact in this life, we will when it comes time for judgment. Philippians 2:9-11 tell us that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a scary thought; if you reject Christ now, on the day of judgment you will confess him as Lord and then go to hell. But getting back to our topic, the second fatal problem with the thinking that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord is that the Bible makes it absolutely clear he must be your Lord or you do not belong to him and he did not die for you. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus himself told us 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.” We can call Jesus Lord, we may think he is our Savior, but on the day of judgment only those who have done the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who have obeyed.

Marc Roby: Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the same idea. We could go on, but we made this point before and will get to it again in our next session, so for now let me just say that the biblical case is so strong that if one of our listeners is struggling with the idea that obedience is necessary, my best counsel is to take a week and sit down and read through the New Testament, making note of how may times and in how many ways it says that you must obey if you are God’s children.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, our works play no part in earning salvation. But if we are not living a changed life, striving for obedience out of love for God, then we have not been changed. We are not born again, and we will not be in heaven.

Marc Roby: And that fact is intimately linked with the holiness of God since heaven is where God is in the fullest sense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, points out that the Bible “calls God holy more than anything else. Holy is the epithet most often affixed to his name. Also we read that God alone is holy.”[2] Now, in saying that God alone is holy he is referring to the first meaning we have discussed for the word holy; namely, that of separation from creation. And that is why I wanted to spend some more time on this attribute, I want to emphasize this dominant aspect.

Boice points out that people tend to think of holiness mostly in terms of morality and, therefore, as something that admits to degrees. One person can be a little more or less holy than someone else.

Marc Roby: When we do that, it is our natural, that is to say sinful, tendency to pick particular behaviors to focus on so that we come out on top.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what we tend to do. If someone has no trouble with putting on weight, there is a tendency for that person to be judgmental toward those who are overweight. If we have been blessed with good jobs and financial security, it is easy to look down on someone who has troubles with personal debt. And the list can go on and on. I am not diminishing the fact that gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility are sins, but I think you get my point. Our natural sinful tendency is to minimize our own sins and to be more judgmental toward the sins of others.

Marc Roby: And such thinking leads to thinking less of other people and more of yourself, which is the opposite of true Christian character.

Dr. Spencer: And when people think about holiness only in these terms, they also tend to think of God as just better than they are, but not completely different than they are. But the reality is that he is radically different – it isn’t just a matter of degree. Which is why Isaiah was undone when he saw God as we learned in our last session.

Marc Roby: And while Isaiah’s experience may be the most exalted view of God given to anyone in the Bible, he was not the only person who had the experience of coming face-to-face, so to speak, with the holy God. I am thinking of Job’s confrontation with God, where Job declared, in Job 40:4-5, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another great example. Putting his hand over his mouth was a polite way of saying that he shut up. And in Job 42:5-6 he proclaimed “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

We must come to grips with what is truly meant by the holiness of God, and when we do, we too will be quiet and repent. Boice writes that “in its original and most fundamental sense, holy is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it means that which is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from everything else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It has to do with his transcendence.”[3]

Marc Roby: And to be transcendent means to go beyond normal limits or to be beyond comprehension, or to not be subject to the limitations of our physical universe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those ideas can all apply. Boice goes on to say that holiness “is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. In this, holiness has at least four elements.” And he then goes on to present the four elements, which he says are: first, majesty, second, will, third, wrath and fourth, righteousness. The fourth element, righteousness, refers to the moral aspect of holiness and we don’t need to spend more time on that now.

Marc Roby: And majesty is also fairly clear. It refers to having sovereign power and authority, great dignity or grandeur. But what does Boice mean by saying one element of God’s holiness is will?

Dr. Spencer: I would summarize this point by saying that he is referring to the fact that God has personality. He wants to avoid any cold notion of holiness as an abstract concept. We must remember that God is personal. He has his sovereign will and he acts in accordance with it. For example, as we saw a couple of minutes ago from Philippians 2:9-11, it is God’s will that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Alright. What about wrath? I doubt that many of our listeners would have mentioned that as an aspect of God’s holiness.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that quite a few would have left that off of their list. But many others agree with Boice on this point. Wrath is, as Boice put it, “an essential part of God’s holiness”[4]. He also points out that we must guard against thinking of God’s wrath in human terms. It is not an emotional response to some personal affront. Boice writes that “It is, rather, that necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”[5] R.C. Sproul wrote that “If there is no wrath in God, then there is no justice in God. If there is no justice in God, then there is no goodness in God. And if there is no goodness in God, then there is no God. A God without wrath is not God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement. But I see the logic. I think it could be rephrased by saying that in order to be just, God must punish sin, which means he must have wrath in the sense that Boice noted, namely that of being the “necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair restatement. And it agrees with what God tells us in his word. In Romans 3:25-27 we read in part that “God presented him [meaning 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 other words, sin, which is opposition to God, must be punished for God to be just. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for his chosen people, which is called substitutionary atonement. He took the punishment that they deserved, which satisfies God’s wrath and allows God to declare those who are united to Christ by faith just, meaning that the penalty due them for their sin has been paid.

Marc Roby: I remember we mentioned these verses in Session 73 as a great example of God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did mention them then. And we could have mentioned God’s wrath as well, because his wrath is not only an aspect of his holiness, but it is also obviously intimately linked with his justice. Sin must be punished by a holy and just God because it is opposition to him and he is the sovereign Lord.

Marc Roby: You mentioned before that Jesus is Lord whether people acknowledge that fact or not.

Dr. Spencer: And the lordship of God is a fundamental aspect of who God is, although that statement doesn’t do his lordship justice, it is far more than just an aspect of who God is. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has created, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. The theologian John Frame writes that “God’s lordship is grounded in his eternal nature, and therefore in his attributes.”[7]

Frame has an interesting discussion about God’s attributes in The Doctrine of God. He writes that “We should think about God’s attributes as servants, within the covenant relationship.”[8] I don’t want to go too far off track here, but his point is that as creatures we think about God in language and concepts that we can understand, but at the same time these are based on God’s revelation to us, so they tell us things about God that are true.

Marc Roby: And, to stay on track with our current discussion, God certainly does reveal himself as holy, in fact thrice holy as we have seen in Isaiah 6:3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And although God’s lordship can be related to a number of God’s essential attributes, I think it is natural for us to talk about it in the context of his holiness because God’s holiness speaks about his being completely set apart from his creation, and by definition lordship also speaks about being completely set apart, to be more specific, to be above, to be in control.

Marc Roby: It sounds as though we are getting ready to switch topics. Talking about God’s holiness in terms of his being separate from his creation has led us to the concept of his lordship.

Dr. Spencer: We are about ready to switch, but we’ll have just a bit more to say about holiness next time first.

Marc Roby: Alright, I look forward to that, but we’re out of time for today.

[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. 125

[3] Ibid, pg. 126

[4] Ibid, pg. 128

[5] Ibid

[6]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. 2, pg. 283

[7]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 388

[8] Ibid, pg. 390

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

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

Play