[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our last session we noted that God determines what is and is not sin. He is the ultimate authority. But we also noted that he commands us to obey all legitimate delegated authorities so long as they do not tell us to sin or overstep the bounds of their delegated authority.

Now, Dr. Spencer, you mentioned last time that the laws and rules of different countries, states, churches and families can change, and yet still be proper. What about God’s laws? Do they ever change?

Dr. Spencer: Well, they have changed, so the answer is yes. The clearest example of that is the ceremonial laws given to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. They were, for example, commanded to perform a number of different animal sacrifices, but all of those sacrifices and ceremonial laws were abrogated when Christ came.

In Hebrews 7:11-12 we are told that “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” [1]

Marc Roby: And for those listeners who may not know, the Levitical priesthood was responsible for performing the sacrifices and other aspects of the ceremonial law in the Old Testament and the priest who is in the order of Melchizedek refers to Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in the book of Hebrews we are told that the purpose of the Old Testament ceremonial laws was to point toward the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ. Once he came, the animal sacrifices served no further purpose. As a result, they are not only not required anymore, but it would be sinful to offer an animal sacrifice now. But, and this is a critically important point, in changing those laws, God did not change.

Marc Roby: I suspect some of our listeners may have a hard time understanding how you can say that God didn’t change when he changed his laws.

Dr. Spencer: Let me give an earthly example. When my children were young, they had to go to bed at a certain time. But when they got older, that rule changed. By the time they graduated from high school it was pretty much up to them what time they went to bed. I didn’t change over those years – at least not in reference to this rule – but they certainly did. When they were young the rule served to teach them authority and to teach them the need for a disciplined life. And, of course, young children need more sleep as well. But, by the time they were graduating from high school, they understood the tradeoffs. They knew that if they stayed up late studying it would reach a point of diminishing returns and they would be more tired in the morning, so they had to decide for themselves when to stop.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting example since the apostle Paul also uses the analogy of a child growing up and coming out from under the rule of a guardian in Galatians 3 and 4.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s an important point. We discussed that passage very briefly in Session 91. And I still don’t want to go into it in detail because it isn’t of critical importance to anthropology. But what is critically important, is that God has not changed. He does not change. He did change some of the laws given to his people as our circumstances changed, most notably with the first coming of Jesus Christ, but the laws that are based on his nature, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, will never change. So, for example, it will always be wrong to commit murder, or adultery or to lie or steal.

Marc Roby: Now, what about homosexuality? That is a very divisive topic today, even among many professing Christians.

Dr. Spencer: And I think the answer to that question is absolutely clear. In Leviticus 18:22 God commands, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” This doesn’t have anything to do with the ceremonial law, or with the laws of a particular government, this is a statement about morality. God says that homosexuality is detestable to him. It is completely wrong to think that God has changed his view in any way on this topic.

Marc Roby: I know that there are professing Christians who will say that command is a part of the Old Testament and that if you say we have to obey that, you must also want us to obey laws like Deuteronomy 21:21, which says that a stubborn and rebellious son should be stoned to death.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve heard comments like that, and to be honest they are just ridiculous. First of all, in Deuteronomy 21 Moses was speaking to the people to remind them of the laws of God and prepare them for the difficult task of crossing the Jordon and conquering the promised land. This particular command dealt with a son who had a long-standing pattern of rebellious behavior – he is clearly an adult and is described as a profligate and a drunkard. So, we first have to realize this isn’t speaking about a little disobedience. This is speaking about a young man who is habitually disobedient and unrepentant, a disgrace to his family and a burden to his community. Such behavior is still deplorable and is clearly serious sin.

God hated this behavior then and he hates it now, he has not changed. The punishment was appropriate at that time, in those extreme circumstances and in that theocratic society. Such behavior could simply not be tolerated. But there is nothing in the Bible that would indicate the punishment specified is part of a perpetually applicable legal standard. So, the prescribed punishment changed, but God did not change, nor did he change his mind about what is sin.

Marc Roby: And, at the risk of straying further off topic, it is worth noting that this is not the only instance where the punishment for a crime has changed.

Dr. Spencer: No, it definitely is not. In the Old Testament, the punishment for adultery is death. But in Matthew 5:32 Christ changed that law. He said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” John Murray pointed out that this verse implicitly reduced the penalty for adultery, it is no longer to be punished by death, although it does make divorce an allowable option for the offended spouse.[2]

Marc Roby: That also clearly illustrates the authority of Jesus Christ! But getting back to the topic of homosexuality, the New Testament is just as clear that this behavior is sinful.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is. In Chapter One of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells us that everyone really knows that God exists. He has made himself known through creation so that people are without excuse, but people suppress this truth. And he then tells us in Verse 24, that because of this, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”

And he goes on, in Verses 26-27, to say that “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is pretty clear. And Paul also condemns homosexuality elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 he wrote that “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Dr. Spencer: And in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 we read that “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine”. And I have quoted from the ESV because it is a more literal translation of the passage.

Marc Roby: Yes, and that is, again, quite clear. But I know that there are some pastors and theologians who try to defend the idea that it is acceptable to be a Christian and a homosexual at the same time. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I wouldn’t. There really is no rational way that a person can believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God and still believe that homosexuality is not a sin. I’ve read some of the arguments and they are so bad that you don’t have to be a theologian to see that they blatantly distort or dismiss the word of God.

If any of our listeners are unsure about the biblical stance on this issue, I would challenge them to first decide whether or not they think the Bible is truly the infallible word of God. If they don’t believe that, then none of my arguments would carry weight anyway, and I would seriously challenge them to make their calling and election sure. If they do believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God, then they should read the passages we’ve just quoted and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their thinking. It is not a difficult issue, although I understand it can be an emotional issue if it involves someone you love, or if you yourself struggle with same-sex attraction yourself.

Marc Roby: What would you say to any listeners for whom this is a personal issue?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that if it is serious struggle, you should get counsel from a godly Bible-believing church. Don’t try to find one that says it is OK – you can easily find such a place, but it is neither godly nor Bible-believing, and it can’t help you. And then pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the power to conquer this sin. Reject the nonsense that is put forward by the proponents of the LGBTQ agenda.

Marc Roby: Such as?

Dr. Spencer: Such as the idea that homosexuality is not a choice. The idea that homosexual behavior is entirely determined by genetics is patently absurd. The same groups say that your gender identity is not set by your genetics, but then on the other hand they try to say that homosexuals are simply made that way. Those ideas are not only contradictory, they are both nonsense.

If being homosexual was entirely determined by genetics, then there wouldn’t be any examples of people who were able to leave homosexuality and enter into normal heterosexual lifestyles. But there are many such examples. I think there is some similarity here to alcoholism.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t seem obvious at first thought, what similarity are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: Well, it is often stated that there is a genetic predisposition for people to become alcoholics. Now I don’t know if that is true, but let’s assume – for the sake of argument – that it is. It would not logically follow that being an alcoholic is a good thing. I can’t imagine anyone saying to an alcoholic, “Don’t worry about it, that’s just how God made you, so go ahead and drink yourself to death.”

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine anyone saying that either.

Dr. Spencer: So, my point is that even if there is some genetic predisposition to a certain behavior, that in no way means that behavior is healthy or good. And, as I noted before, it is completely unreasonable to believe that sexual behavior, or alcoholism for that matter, is entirely determined by genetics.

Marc Roby: The LGBTQ community has rather successfully been able to claim this is a civil rights issue, similar to granting blacks the right to vote, or to sit anywhere on a city bus.

Dr. Spencer: That is very unfortunate and we should oppose that notion at every possible turn. Back in 2008, when California was getting ready to vote on Proposition 208, which banned same-sex marriage, I remember a black pastor from Southern California speaking about the idea that homosexuality was the same kind of civil rights issue that blacks faced in the south in the 1950’s. His comment was wonderful. He simply said, “I have a number of former homosexuals in my congregation, I don’t have a single former black person.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that statement makes an important point very clearly.

Dr. Spencer: I think it is very important for Christians to take a stand on this issue, but I also don’t want to make it out to be more important than it really is. Homosexuality isn’t the worst possible sin; it is just one sin among many. In fact, without a doubt, heterosexual sin is far more common. So, as Christians we don’t single out homosexual sin for special condemnation.

I think the only reason homosexuality has become such a hot-button issue is that there is a small segment of our society pushing very hard to normalize this behavior. We have gay pride days, gay pride month and so on. If we had adultery pride days, or thieves pride days, those sins would be talked about more too.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many people, including many professing Christians, support this push.

Dr. Spencer: I think there are a number of reasons why they support it, so it worth taking a few minutes to discuss this in the hopes that we can call a Christian brother or sister back to obedience to the word of God.

The first reason some people support this agenda is that they have believed the lies about homosexuality being genetically determined. But as we’ve noted, those really don’t make sense. And I think a second major reason people support it, if only passively, is simple fear of being attacked. The LGBTQ community has become so rabid in their attacks that to oppose them publicly is to open yourself to really vicious opposition. We saw that in California after Proposition 8 passed. If you are any kind of a public personality, they will accuse you of being filled with hate, of being stupid and ignorant and will shout you down at every opportunity. And if you run a business, they will do everything in their power to shut you down.

Marc Roby: We have certainly seen that in the recent case of Jack Phillips[3] and many others.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we have. Christians are no longer treated as citizens deserving of equal protection under the law in this country, which is astounding. A homosexual who runs a print shop can refuse to print flyers for a church function that he disagrees with, but a Christian print shop, florist or baker cannot refuse to do special work for an event he disagrees with. That is an amazing and very troubling turn of events in this country.

Marc Roby: And the judgments against these people usually include some kind of so-called “sensitivity training”.

Dr. Spencer: And that trend is truly amazing and disturbing to me. We aren’t sending people away to prison camps for years, but this is, nonetheless, a very mild form of a re-education camp. It is a government-sponsored attempt to force us to think the same way. To force a particular ideology on all people. That is downright Orwellian and about as un-American as anything I can think of, and yet we see it happening all over.

But, getting back to homosexuality, I don’t want to spend more time on it. Far from being a sign of hate or homophobia, the truth is that telling any sinner, whether homosexual or otherwise, about the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ is the most loving thing you can do for him or her.

Marc Roby: And that forgiveness requires that the person be told their behavior is a violation of God’s law and the he or she must repent of it, forsake it, and then trust in Christ for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That is the only hope for anyone. God provides grace to his children to overcome their sins.

The real issue, no matter what sin we talk about, is rebellion. People rebel against the God-given norms of conduct. That is the real issue and homosexuality is just one manifestation of that rebellion. At its core, all sin is prideful rebellion against God. He created us and he has told us how we should live. That includes the functional roles assigned to men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, citizens and the state and so on.

Marc Roby: Very well, are we done then with defining sin?

Dr. Spencer: We are, and so we are ready to get back to talking about total depravity again, which I put off last time.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to that, but it will have to wait until next time. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their 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, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg.119

[3] For a brief synopsis, see The Ongoing Persecution of a Christian Baker, By the editors of the Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2019 (https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/06/masterpiece-cakeshops-jack-phillips-persecution/)

Play


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the attributes of God. We have been discussing God’s immutability, which means that he does not change. Are we done with that topic Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. It is such an important issue in the modern church that I want to really drive home the point that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the very same God, he has not changed.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to say to support this view?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that there has never been a time when anyone was saved by keeping the law. Salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Immediately after the fall God promised a redeemer. And the only way of salvation in the Old Testament times was by faith in that promised redeemer just as it is today.

Marc Roby: When you say that God promised a redeemer immediately after the fall, you are of course referring to Genesis 3:15, sometimes called the protoevangelium, which tells us that when God pronounced his curse on Satan he said to him, “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.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what I was referring to. Jesus Christ is the offspring of the woman and he figuratively crushed Satan’s head when he died on the cross to pay the penalty owed by all of his chosen followers. And no one was saved in the time before Jesus Christ except by believing in this promised Messiah. And yet, God established both an elaborate system of sacrifices, which pointed forward to Christ and ended when he came, as well as the moral law, which is summarized by the Ten Commandments. So, in order to fully understand that God has not changed, we need to ask what role the law played in the Old Testament, and then we will see that it functions in exactly the same way today.

Marc Roby: What role then did the law play in Old Testament times?

Dr. Spencer: The law played three roles in the Old Testament, just as it does today. John Calvin wrote about the threefold use of the law in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.[2] The first use of the law is that it shows us where we fall short of meeting God’s standard of righteousness. That standard has not changed since Old Testament times and there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that indicates that God has relaxed his standard in any way. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we must, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of Paul’s introduction to his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 he wrote, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (emphasis added).

Dr. Spencer: Paul also wrote in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” And Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” And Peter was quoting from Leviticus 11:44 where God said to his people, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” This demonstrates the continuity of God’s requirement that his people must be holy.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to add that being holy requires obedience.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. Our obedience doesn’t earn anything from God, salvation is by grace, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that the requirement to be holy is only referring to our being united with Christ and clothed with his perfect righteousness. If we have been born again, it will be evident in our lives. We must have obedient lives or our claim to be a Christian is false.

As it says in Hebrews 5:8-9, Christ “learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. So, Christ’s obedience in suffering made him the perfect sacrifice required and as a result he is the source of eternal salvation “for all who obey him”. It doesn’t say that he is the source of eternal salvation for those who call themselves Christians.

If some of our listeners don’t like this idea of obedience being necessary, I encourage them to look up the word obey in a concordance and look at the New Testament verses that use the word. There are quite a few that speak about the need for Christians to obey. For example, anyone who is interested should at a bare minimum look at John 14:15 and 15:10, Acts 5:32, Hebrews 13:17 and 1 John 2:3, but there are many, many more.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think that is enough to establish that God’s standard for us in both the Old and New Testament times is that we be holy, which means that we obey God’s commands. And, of course, it is obvious to any reasonable person that none of us are holy. So, you said that the first use of the law is to show us that very fact.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Calvin wrote that our being convicted by the law of God “is necessary, in order that man, who is blind and intoxicated with self-love, may be brought at once to know and to confess his weakness and impurity.”[3] He also wrote that “the Law is a kind of mirror. As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both.” In other words, we must conclude from the fact that we don’t measure up to God’s standard that we have a serious problem, which should drive us to cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Marc Roby: That is the rational response. What is the second use of the law as elucidated by Calvin?

Dr. Spencer: The second use is to restrain moral evil in this world. Calvin wrote that “The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”[4] The fact that there are serious punishments threatened for disobeying God’s law is a strong incentive for people to not break that law. This is the function of the law that Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, where he said that “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

This is why properly functioning civil governments should have laws that mirror God’s laws. Not all people will respond to God’s threats – although they are far more consequential and serious than anything man can do to us. And because not all people will respond to God’s threats, our civil governments have the responsibility of imposing sanctions on those who violate God’s laws. That is the basis of any proper legal system.

Marc Roby: That idea is not very popular today.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t, because people have an unbiblical worldview. That worldview ignores what the Bible teaches us about human nature. This false worldview says that man is basically good. The idea is that people only steal because they need something. And people only do terrible things to other people because somewhere along the line someone did something terrible to them.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly come across that view as well. But all of human history, and any honest evaluation of our own hearts, argues quite strongly against it.

Dr. Spencer: The facts argue very strongly against that view. The human heart harbors tremendous evil. Fortunately, most people keep it under wraps most of the time, and I don’t think that we are all capable of the same depths of evil and depravity, but to deny the existence of real evil in human beings is to put your head in the sand and ignore the obvious. And to think that people only do bad things because bad things have happened to them ignores the obvious problem of how did all these bad things get started? And why are they many people who do terrible things who have never had any terrible thing done to them?

Marc Roby: That is a good question.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. I remember just a few years ago there was a young man in our town, who hadn’t had anything terribly unusual happen to him, but he brutally murdered an elderly couple in their bed with a knife just because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill people. Now that depth of depravity and wickedness is, admittedly and thankfully, quite rare. But, any theory of human behavior has to take that sort of thing into account because it is not so exceptionally rare that it can be explained away as some extreme aberration. And when you include actions like rape, assault and robbery, which while certainly less wicked are, nonetheless, still wicked, you have a serious problem defending the idea that people are basically good at heart.

Marc Roby: OK. We’ve established two uses of the law: first, to show us that we ourselves do not meet God’s standard and need a Savior, and second, to moderate evil in society. What is the law’s third use?

Dr. Spencer: The third use that Calvin listed, which he called “the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end”[5], only applies to believers and was to show God’s people how we can please him. Every child who loves his parents wants to know what he can do to please them. And every true child of God will want to live a life that is pleasing to God. But, no one can do that if we aren’t told what pleases God. The law serves that purpose, and every single person who has been born again will lead a changed life; a life that is characterized by obedience to God’s law.

Marc Roby: But, we must be clear that we are not saying that our obedience earns salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Our obedience is never perfect in this life, and God’s standard is perfection. Therefore, it is fundamentally impossible for us to earn our salvation. Nevertheless, a born-again person has a new heart and desires to please God and will strive for holiness. We must be different than the rest of the world or we are not truly God’s people.

Marc Roby: And that has not changed since Old Testament times.

Dr. Spencer: No, it hasn’t changed at all. And we can now see that these three uses of the law are the same today as they were at the time of Moses, or King David, or any other Old Testament saint. As we noted in Session 57 there are three things that have changed since the Old Testament: First, we have much greater revelation than even Moses had; Second, the promised Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so the ceremonial law has been done away with because its only purpose was to point to the coming Redeemer; And, third, we no longer live under the same civil government.

So there have been changes, and they are significant. But God has not changed. His standard of holiness has not changed, and the way of salvation has not changed. The Old Testament is still relevant today, but we have to be intelligent in applying it. We no longer stone adulterers for example because that was part of the civil law in effect at that time. But adultery is still a terrible sin and a properly functioning government will have some kind of penalty in place for people who commit that sin.

Marc Roby: But we as individuals do not have authority to punish anyone for their sins, even if the civil government fails to.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God has only given that power to the state, not to individuals or to the church. As we’ve said, unless we are commanded to sin, we should obey the civil authorities. The church, of course, still has the power of the keys and must exercise authority in disciplining people who sin and refuse to repent.

Marc Roby: Are we done with discussing God’s immutability now?

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: What’s next then?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s eternity. I want to discuss it next because it is related to God’s immutability. Wayne Grudem defines God’s eternity as meaning that “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.”[6]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a difficult definition to wrap your mind around completely.

Dr. Spencer: It is, especially for our listeners who aren’t following allowing in the written transcript. But, I think it will become clearer as I explain how it is related to God’s immutability.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: If God is immutable as we have claimed, then it follows that his knowledge does not increase or decrease from one moment to the next. In other words, as Grudem said, he has no “succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly”. This is a very difficult thing for us to grasp because we experience only the present vividly. We experience the past less vividly and the further we go back in time the worse our memory becomes in general.

Marc Roby: Although we all have particularly memorable events or experiences that we remember better than others.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But the point is that God sees all times equally well. It is as if everything were the present to him. There isn’t some particular moment in time that God sees or experiences more clearly or vividly than others. If that were not the case, he would not be immutable. Grudem notes that when Jesus said, in John 8:58, that “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” He used the present tense verb in referring to his existence prior to the time of Abraham, which in Greek indicates something that continues to be true.[7] Therefore, Jesus’ statement suggests that every moment in our history is, essentially, the present to God.

Marc Roby: That is extremely hard for us to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. In fact, it is impossible for us to grasp fully. But it is a necessary conclusion based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. Many of the Scriptures that we cited when we discussed God’s self-existence, or aseity, are also applicable here. For example, the fact that God existed prior to this universe, which is clearly taught in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, is evidence that he is not subject to the succession of events that occur in this universe, which is what we think of as defining the passage of time.

Marc Roby: The fact that God can predict the future also requires that he does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And God uses that fact to mock idols. For example, in Isaiah 41:22-23 God says to his people, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.”

Marc Roby: And this contrasts with God himself. He tells us, in Isaiah 46:9-10, to, “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

Dr. Spencer: I think this is the hardest thing for us to grasp, that what we think of as future is equally vivid in God’s sight as our present. And yet, as Grudem’s definition says, “God sees events in time and acts in time.” Which means that he understands how we perceive time as a succession of events. He knows that we can’t see the future and he is able to interact with us in time.

Marc Roby: I think a good part of the reason why we can’t understand God’s knowing the future is that the future seems to us to not yet be determined. It depends on exactly what we and billions of other people and animals do, which seems to us to be fundamentally unknowable until it happens.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point. God’s eternity and immutability are difficult to reconcile with man’s free will or the free actions of animals. But, I want to leave that topic for later. For now, let me cite one other verse that is very interesting to examine. In 2 Peter 3:8 the apostle wrote that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” The second part of this statement, that “a thousand years are like a day” is the same point made in Verse 4 of Psalm 90, which says that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by”. In other words, God doesn’t have trouble remembering things from a thousand years ago, they are just like yesterday. And this is, of course, a figurative way of saying that he knows all of the past perfectly.

But, the first part of Peter’s statement, that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” is new and very interesting. Let me quote from Grudem here. He notes that “since ‘a thousand years’ is a figurative expression for ‘as long a time as we can imagine,’ or ‘all history,’ we can say from this verse that any one day seems to God to be present to his consciousness forever.”[8] In other words, every moment of human history is like the immediate present to God.

Marc Roby: It is clear from these verses that God does not experience time as we do.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is clear but it is also impossible for us to grasp completely.

Marc Roby: It certainly is, and I think we need to end here for today. But I look forward to continuing this discussion next time. I would like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 2.7.6

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 2.7.10

[5] Ibid, 2.7.12

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 168

[7] Ibid, pg. 169

[8] Grudem, pg. 170

Play


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s attribute of immutability, which means that he cannot change. Dr. Spencer, last time we laid out a biblical case for this incommunicable attribute, but you said that you wanted to discuss some implications of it and objections to it. So, how would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to deal with a common misunderstanding of what it means for God to be unchangeable. I think Louis Berkhof says it very well, so let me quote from his Systematic Theology. But before I do that, let me define a word that he uses. He mentions an anthropopathic way of speaking and we need to know that an anthropopathism ascribes human emotions to a non-human subject, in this case to God. With that definition in hand let me read what Berkhof wrote about God; “There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises. … [when] Scripture speaks of His repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent, we should remember that this is only an anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”[1]

Marc Roby: I think it would be good to point out that when Berkhof says that Scripture speaks of God repenting, he is referring to the King James translation, where the word is used in the sense of changing your mind. There is never any suggestion that God has done something morally wrong.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not, that is unthinkable. Let me give a couple of examples of the passages he is referring to. In Exodus 32:9-10 God tells Moses, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”[2] But in Verses 11-13 we read that Moses sought the Lord’s favor on behalf of the Israelites and then, in Verse 14, we read that “the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Marc Roby: And where the translation you just read said “the LORD relented”, that’s one of the places where the King James Version says he “repented”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But we need to think about this exchange for a minute. Did God really change his mind? To say that would be an unwarranted conclusion and would violate the first rule of hermeneutics, which we covered in Session 39. Remember that that rule, which is also called the analogy of faith or the analogy of Scripture, says that we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Meaning that we should never pit one part of the Word of God against another. Since the whole Word of God is the infallible truth, we must understand every passage in a way that is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Word of God cannot contradict itself.

Marc Roby: And therefore, to understand this passage as teaching that God truly changed his mind would contradict what we are told, for example, in Numbers 23:19 as we saw last time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would contradict that passage and others as well. But it isn’t that hard to see how to interpret this exchange between God and Moses. God was angry with his people and had determined beforehand, in fact from all eternity, how he was going to deal with it. He told Moses that he was angry enough to destroy them, but that he would still make Moses into a great nation. He did this knowing that Moses would plead for the people in prayer and also knowing that he would respond to Moses’ prayer by showing mercy to his people. The whole passage redounds to the glory of God’s great mercy. It is not at all necessary to say that God actually changed in any way and so the first rule of hermeneutics prohibits us from doing so.

Marc Roby: And of course, as you pointed out when we were discussing the first rule, we should even read things by human authors with the assumption that they have not contradicted themselves.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. That is the only fair way to read anything. Of course, with human authors it is all too often the case that they have contradicted themselves, but that cannot happen with God, who is perfect in every way.

Marc Roby: And with regard to this specific example, the interpretation you gave is perfectly reasonable and even agrees with how human beings deal with each other on some occasions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Think about a father dealing with a child. When he does something wrong, the father gets angry and disciplines him. But, if he then sincerely acknowledges that he did wrong and seeks his father’s forgiveness, the father forgives and he is restored to a place of favor. The father doesn’t change in any meaningful way during this whole process, he is being perfectly consistent in how he deals with the child. What changes is the child’s status with the father. He goes from being in his father’s favor, to being out of favor, and then back into favor again. But these changes are predicated on the actions of the child, not on some change taking place in the father. In fact, quite the opposite is true, the father’s behavior is entirely consistent and unchanging, but his attitude toward the child changes with the child’s behavior. That is exactly what Berkhof was referring to when he said that “In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”

Marc Roby: Of course there is an even larger issue here as well; namely, how God’s unchangeable sovereignty and the efficacy of Moses’ prayer for his people can both be true at the same time.

Dr. Spencer: That is the same issue. And we must admit that there is mystery involved in trying to comprehend how God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency can both be true. I hope to get into that at a later date, but for now I think it is sufficient to point out that God ordains the means as well as the end.

Marc Roby: OK, can you explain what you mean by that?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that God not only ordains what happens, he ordains the means by which it happens. So, for example, let’s say that God has ordained to heal someone of a particular disease, let’s call this person Joe. It may well be that one of the means he has also ordained is that you and I should pray for Joe to be healed. God is not changing in any way when he then answers our prayers by healing Joe, but it is still reasonable to say that our prayers were efficacious in helping to bring about Joe’s healing.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God makes a great promise to his people. He says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great promise and it clearly states God’s unchanging intention to change his external behavior based on our behavior. The Bible has many wonderful promises in it, along with some terrifying threats. And all of them are true. God does not change. If we do what he has threatened to punish, we will be punished. But, if we sincerely repent and cry out for mercy, we will receive mercy. God does not change, but our status before God can change, just like the child’s status with his father changed.

But, by the way, saying that we will receive mercy when we repent doesn’t necessarily mean that we will not suffer the consequences for our sins in this life. God does not promise to remove all temporal consequences, in fact, he warns us that our sins will have consequences. In Leviticus 26:40-42 God says, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

Marc Roby: That passage is frightening and should cause us to be very careful to not sin, but it is also comforting because it contains the same basic promise as 2 Chronicles 7:14; namely, that God will remember his covenant and will remember the land, which means he will deal with them favorably.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must be careful to state clearly that when it says we will pay for our sin, it is not talking about atonement. Jesus Christ is the only one who can atone for our sin. This is speaking strictly about our circumstances in this life. In the ultimate sense, we can’t pay for our sin, but our sins will be covered by the blood of Christ on the Day of Judgment.

Marc Roby: We should certainly praise God for that unchangeable promise. Before we leave the topic of God’s immutability, let me ask you about the modern view that is usually called Process Theology. This view states that God is constantly changing. According to this view he is, for example, learning all the time because he doesn’t know what I’m going to do until I actually do it.

Dr. Spencer: That view is completely unbiblical. Wayne Grudem deals with it briefly in his Systematic Theology and points out that it is based on two false assumptions.[3] First, they assume that for our lives to be meaningful in any way it must be true that what we do can somehow change God. But that assumption has no biblical basis and any real Christian, for whom the Scriptures must be the ultimate authority, will reject it.

Marc Roby: I would also add that the assumption doesn’t really make sense anyway. If you take away the God of the Bible, who says that human life actually does have any significance?

Dr. Spencer: I agree with you completely. The second error that process theologians make is that they assume God must be changeable because change is somehow seen as an essential part of real existence. But, as Grudem points out, the Bible emphatically denies this view. We read Psalm 102 Verses 25-27 last time and they bear repeating. They say, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Marc Roby: That does put the kibosh on the idea that God changes.

Dr. Spencer: It does. We have to remember the point we made way back in Session 4 and have referred to a number of times since. Namely, that everyone has an ultimate standard for truth, either human reason, which is fallen, or God’s propositional revelation, which is infallible and found in the Bible. The assumptions of process theology come from human reason, not the Bible, and they must be rejected because they contradict God’s truth given to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: I think that is enough said about process theology. There is another question raised about God’s immutability, at least implicitly, by the modern idea that the God of the New Testament is somehow kinder and gentler than the God of the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common view now. In fact, many self-professed Christians seem to think that the Old Testament has almost no applicability to us at all, other than being a source of ancient history. The reality is however, that a careful reading of the Bible shows that God has not changed at all.

There are, I think, three main things that have changed and which affect the life of a believer significantly. The first is that we have much greater revelation now, we’ve talked about the progressive nature of revelation before. The second is that Jesus Christ has come. Old Testament believers looked forward to the promised Messiah, and we look back on his historical appearance. The biggest significance of that change for believers, besides the increased revelation involved with it, is that the Old Testament ceremonial system was completely done away with. For example, we no longer perform animal sacrifices because Christ was the final, efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice that obtained eternal redemption as we are told in Hebrews Chapter 9. In addition, we no longer have just one temple, there is no longer a separate priesthood, we are all a royal priesthood as we are told in 1 Peter 2:9.

Marc Roby: Alright, you said that there were three main changes, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third thing that has changed is that we no longer live under the same civil government. God had given the Israelites a number of civil laws when they lived in a theocracy and, while those laws certainly reflect God’s nature and how he wants us to live, we are no longer bound by them and the punishments prescribed by them. In fact, as Paul clearly tells us in Romans 13:1-2, we are bound to keep the laws of the civil government in the place where we live so long as those laws do not tell us to sin[4]. And we would have to violate our civil laws to do some of the things commanded under the civil laws of the Jews in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: That is certainly true. Can you explain what these three significant changes in the lives of believers have to do with the question of whether or not the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: At one level they have nothing to do with it, since God is who he is. But, the point I was preparing to make is that because of these three changes, some people have jettisoned the Old Testament, thinking that it is no longer relevant. The truth is that God has not changed at all and so the Old Testament is absolutely relevant today.

We do consciously reject the ceremonial laws, which served the purpose of pointing forward to Christ and were abrogated when he came, but the principles they elucidated are still important. In a similar manner, we are not bound by the civil laws that were in place at that time, although they also inform us about what is important in God’s sight. But the moral law, which the Old Testament summarizes by the Ten Commandments, is still every bit as applicable to Christians today as it was to believers in the Old Testament. And God is every bit as angry with sin and wrathful toward it today as he was during Old Testament times, and he was every bit as gracious in the Old Testament times as he is today. Those things have not changed.

Marc Roby: In fact, you pointed out at the end of Session 54 that in Revelation 6:16 the wrath of God is actually called the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is Jesus Christ himself who has prepared hell for the devil, his demons, and all who follow him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. If you think that Jesus was always smiling and nice to everyone, you should read the New Testament all the way through and it will disabuse you of that false idea. Just look at Matthew Chapter 23 where Jesus calls the teachers of the law and Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, snakes and vipers. He pronounces woes on them and asks, in Verse 33, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” In Matthew 7:23 he says how he will deal with false Christians, he says “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” The Greek word translated here as “evildoers” is ἀνομία, which literally means lawlessness, in other words, a person who does not keep the law. And the Old Testament moral law is referred to over and over again in the New Testament as being the law, there isn’t some entirely new law presented in the New Testament. Although Jesus Christ did expansively interpret the moral law in his Sermon on the Mount. But, never once did Jesus even hint, nor did any other New Testament author, that the moral law has been abrogated.

So, the conclusion is that God has not changed at all. That should be a great comfort to us as believers, and a great warning to all who have not yet surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think this is a good place to stop for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 59 (I changed “if” to “when” to be consistent with a modern way of phrasing his statement). Note:This book can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996

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

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 166-167

[4] See Acts 5:29 for the principle that we must respectfully disobey if commanded so sin.

Play