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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our last session we presented three reasons the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is theologically significant. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like begin by quoting the answer to Question 16 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Marc Roby: Okay. That question asks, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?”

Dr. Spencer: And the answer is, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

Now as with all of the Westminster documents, this is a very carefully worded doctrinal statement about original sin. And I’d like to point out the importance of three words – by ordinary generation. The statement says that all mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, fell with him. Those three words are very important because they exclude Jesus Christ. He was not represented by Adam and did not, therefore, inherit his guilt or sinful nature.

This illustrates the point we discussed last week that the virgin birth is theologically significant because it shows us how Jesus can be fully human and yet be without sin. He is unique and his conception was unique.

Marc Roby: Of course, the Roman Catholic doctrine of immaculate conception claims that the conception of Jesus’ mother, Mary, was also unique. They claim that she was born without sin and lived without sin.

Dr. Spencer: And that doctrine is problematic on two grounds. First, and most importantly, it isn’t biblical. There isn’t the slightest hint anywhere in the Bible that Mary was born without a sinful nature and without inheriting the guilt of Adam. That alone should settle the matter. Secondly, the doctrine doesn’t solve the problem it was created to solve. As we pointed out last week, there is a question left unanswered by the Bible, which is why Jesus didn’t inherit a sinful nature from his mother.

Marc Roby: And the doctrine of immaculate conception tries to solve that by saying that Mary was sinless.

Dr. Spencer: Right. But that just pushes the problem back one generation and makes it a more difficult problem.

Marc Roby: Why does it make the problem more difficult?

Dr. Spencer: Well, because now the question becomes, “How on earth could Mary be conceived by a sinful mother and a sinful father and yet not be sinful?”! Jesus had a sinful mother, but he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, so it is a very different and less problematic situation.

The sinless nature of Christ is an important point theologically and we would expect the Bible to deal with it. And it does by speaking of the virgin birth. It doesn’t answer every question we can ask, but it does deal with the issue. The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary makes the problem far more difficult and is completely without biblical warrant. If it were true, we should reasonably expect the Bible to make it clear, not remain silent about it. All true Christians should reject it and the worship of Mary to which it leads.

Marc Roby: We should, though, hold Mary in high regard. In Luke 1:28 we are told that when the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she was going to have a child, he greeted her by saying, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s quite true. Mary was favored by God and she was the mother of our Lord. We should hold her in very high regard. She was a godly and righteous woman in a relative sense, along with many other people in the history of the church, but she was also a sinner who needed a Savior herself. The Greek word translated as “favored” in Luke 1:28 is used to refer to all Christians in Ephesians 1:6, which says that God “blessed us in the Beloved.” The word translated as “blessed” in that verse is the same Greek word as is translated “favored” in Luke 1:28.

Marc Roby: And, indeed, all true Christians are blessed, or favored, by God. We deserve hell, but have been given heaven instead as a gracious gift.

Dr. Spencer: And every single human being who has ever lived or ever will live needs a Savior, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the unique God-man, who was born without sin.

We are told explicitly that Jesus was sinless in the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 4:14 we are told that “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”, and then in the next verse, Hebrews 4:15, we are told that this high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Marc Roby: And he had to be perfect in order to be an acceptable sacrifice. This requirement goes back to the book of Exodus, when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.

On the night an angel was going to go through Egypt and kill the firstborn of every man and animal, the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorframe of their house so that the angel would pass over their home and not kill the firstborn. In Exodus 12:5 we read that Moses commanded them, “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.”

Dr. Spencer: And we know that this foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ. In John 1:29 we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And in 1 Peter 1:18-19 we read, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” And in Hebrews 9:26 we are told that Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Marc Roby: You know, no matter how many times you read or think about the sacrifice of Christ, it is astounding each and every time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is the heart of the gospel, which is absolutely amazing. We made the point before that God had to become man in order to pay for our sin. Our sin is against an infinite God and the penalty therefore is infinite; more than any mere man can pay. Therefore, Jesus had to be fully God for his sacrifice to have sufficient value. But he also had to be man because it was man who sinned and therefore had to pay the price. But the man Jesus had to be a perfect, sinless sacrifice.

Marc Roby: And he clearly was a perfect, sinless sacrifice. What else do you want to say about the human nature of Christ?

Dr. Spencer: We should note that the Bible is clear that Jesus had a real physical body just like you and me and all of our listeners. He was born just like us, had to grow and learn how to walk and talk just like us. He became thirsty and hungry and tired just as we do. There are many places in the New Testament where this is clear, but let me just share a couple. In Matthew 4:2 we are told that “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

Marc Roby: I would call that a huge understatement. He must have been famished.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, just like any man would be. One time when Jesus was walking through Samaria, we read in John 4:6 that “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” So he also got tired just like we do.

And in Luke 2:52 we read that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Now, not all people grow in favor with God and men, but all healthy people do grow in wisdom and stature as they grow up.

Marc Roby: It is a bit puzzling that Jesus, being God and man, could grow in wisdom though.

Dr. Spencer: That idea can be troubling to people. But when we say that Jesus Christ has two natures, one human and one divine, we must also mean that he had a human mind and spirit. After all, that’s what makes us who we are. We discussed this at length in Sessions 103 through 105, but we have both a material and an immaterial part; a body and a soul, or spirit. God is pure spirit, but Jesus Christ is not just a human body with a divine spirit, he is truly human and divine. The two natures are distinct. He is not a mixture of human and divine, he is both natures in one person.

Marc Roby: Now, that is truly impossible to understand.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible to understand fully. But as I noted last week, we can have a correct understanding of something we don’t understand fully. And the dual nature of Christ is a clear teaching of the Bible, which is our ultimate standard for truth. The only fundamental difference between his human spirit and ours is that his is, and always has been, sinless.

Marc Roby: And the fact that he has a true, finite, human spirit explains how he could grow in wisdom. When we discussed the material and immaterial parts of man in Session 114 you made the point that the spirit is the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And so, in his humanity, Jesus learned new things throughout life just as we do, even though in his deity he was, and is, omniscient. We see this in Mark 13:32 where Jesus spoke about his second coming and said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Marc Roby: That’s amazing. Jesus himself, in his humanity, didn’t know when he would come again.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is great mystery here of course. We are not told how Jesus’ divine nature interacts with his human nature. There were clearly times when things were communicated to his human nature by either his own divine nature or by the Holy Spirit, but we aren’t told exactly how that took place, we just see the effects.

Marc Roby: I assume you’re speaking about when Jesus knew what people were thinking and things like that.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Look at Mark 2 for example. We read about Jesus healing a paralytic. But the first thing he did was say to the man, in Mark 2:5, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And some of the people there were thinking to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming by doing this because only God can forgive sins. And we are then told in Mark 2:8 that “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?’”

Marc Roby: That’s a great example. Jesus “knew in his spirit” what they were thinking, but we are not told exactly how his human spirit obtained this information.

Dr. Spencer: As I said, there is great mystery here. But, as we expect, there are no logical contradictions because this is a clear teaching of the Word of God, which is infallibly true. We also see that Jesus had a human spirit because he had a full range of human emotions.

Marc Roby: Although, given how often our sinful natures show up in our emotions, we should be careful to point out that Jesus’ emotions were sinless.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a great caveat. But let’s look at just a few examples. In John 12:27 we read that after Jesus had indicated to his disciples that his death was imminent, he said, “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.” So his heart was troubled, just as any person would be at such a terrifying thought. Then, in Matthew 15:42 we read that Jesus said to his disciples, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” So he had the normal human emotion of compassion for those in need.

Marc Roby: And that also makes me think of the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus went to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had died, we read in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” He had normal human sorrow at the death of a friend and the pain it had caused his loved ones, even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Dr. Spencer: And that is not the only time Jesus wept. In Hebrews 5:7 we are told that “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

The biblical record is clear that Jesus Christ was fully human. In his humanity he was subject to the same limitations we all are in terms of finite knowledge and reasoning ability. He had normal human emotions and so on. The only difference is that he was sinless.

Marc Roby: Of course, that is a huge difference!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. It is impossible to imagine just how different we will be when God removes our sin completely. It’s a wonderful thing to meditate on. What will it be like when there is no use for the words “should” or “ought” because there will be no difference between what I should do, or ought to do, and what I want to do and actually do!

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine. But there is one more issue about Jesus’ humanity that has engendered a great deal of discussion. We are told in Hebrews 4:15, which you read earlier, that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” So the question arises, “Was it possible for Jesus to sin?” And, if it wasn’t possible for him to sin, how could his temptation then be real?

Dr. Spencer: Those are great questions, but we must be very careful in dealing with them. I think Wayne Grudem does a good job in his Systematic Theology.[2] He begins by noting what it is that Scripture clearly teaches: First, that Jesus never actually sinned. Second, that Jesus was truly tempted, just as we are. And third, that God cannot be tempted as we read in James 1:13.

Marc Roby: Alright, those three points are clear. But they don’t really answer the questions.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but they frame the discussion in terms of things we can know for certain. We do also know that God’s purposes and plans are certain, no one can thwart them. We can, therefore, conclude that it was not possible for Jesus to actually sin. If he had done so, he would no longer have been qualified to be the perfect sacrifice we need. But that leaves the question open as to why it was not possible for him to sin, which gets to the issue of how his temptations could be real.

Marc Roby: Yes, and that’s a difficult question.

Dr. Spencer: It is difficult, but I think Grudem makes a couple of very good points.[3] First, he looks at Satan’s tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread after he had been fasting for 40 days in the desert. The temptation was for Jesus to use his divine power to make it easier for his human nature. But that would have violated God’s will, so Jesus did not do it. Grudem writes, “Therefore, Jesus refused to rely on his divine nature to make obedience easier for him. In like manner, it seems appropriate to conclude that Jesus met every temptation to sin, not by his divine power, but on the strength of his human nature alone (although, of course, it was not ‘alone’ because Jesus, in exercising the kind of faith that humans should exercise, was perfectly depending on God the Father and the Holy Spirit at every moment).”

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote from Grudem, and it makes a very important and practical point. If we rely on our own strength, we’re going to fail and give in to temptation. But, if we make use of the means of grace that God has provided to us in prayer, reading his Word, participating in corporate worship and the life of the church and so on, we will have divine power to say no to ungodliness. We read in 2 Peter 1:3 that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we also read in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” So, Jesus is our example in depending on the Holy Spirit power to enable us to say “no” to sin. And the fact that he is truly human is extremely important. Because he didn’t use his deity to cheat and make it easy, he obeyed in his human nature.

Marc Roby: And he did so perfectly. This also shows us that we have no excuse for sinning, God’s grace is sufficient whenever we are tempted. Is there anything else you’d to add on this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem also makes the valid point that “only he who successfully resists a temptation to the end most fully feels the force of that temptation.”[4] Therefore, we could argue that Jesus felt the full force of every temptation, whereas we sometimes yield to temptation and, thereby, spare ourselves from the full force of it.

Marc Roby: We may spare ourselves from the force of the temptation by sinning, but we bring on ourselves the pain that sin always produces.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, very true.

Marc Roby: And we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d 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] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 537-539

[3] Ibid, pg. 539

[4] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our previous sessions on this topic we have shown why Jesus Christ had to be both God and man in order to save us and we provided biblical support for the fact that Jesus Christ is fully God. We ended our previous session by beginning to examine the biblical teaching that Jesus is also fully man. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: By reminding ourselves of our ultimate standard for truth, in other words, our ultimate authority. If you are a true Christian, then the Bible is your ultimate standard for truth, your ultimate authority. We cannot reject something the Bible clearly teaches just because we don’t understand it. This principle is never more important than when we discuss doctrines like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, those are definitely two doctrines that go way beyond our ability to understand.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, they go way beyond it, yes. But we must not conclude from our inability to fully comprehend them that we can’t comprehend them correctly. God is able to communicate true knowledge to us even about things we can’t fully grasp. Our knowledge will not be complete, but it can be true.

Marc Roby: And, of course, no reasonable person would expect that a creature could fully understand its Creator!

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not.

Marc Roby: But you make an important point that our knowledge can be true and correct independent of the fact that it is incomplete. The same thing is true even in our understanding of the physical world around us. The fact that we don’t know everything certainly doesn’t imply that what we do know is necessarily false.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. And the issue of authority is critical because there have been improper objections to the dual nature of Christ from the very beginning. The Jews at the time of Jesus had an extremely difficult time with the idea that God could become incarnate. They quite properly had an extremely high view of God, as should we. He is the transcendent Creator, totally separate from his creation.  But it is wrong to conclude from that fact that he could not become incarnate.

Marc Roby: And, as we pointed out in our last Session in discussing the passage in Philippians 2:5-11, the apostle Paul clearly assumed that his readers understood that the man Jesus Christ was fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And he made that assumption because Jesus had convincingly demonstrated his divinity in a number of different ways. The people clearly understood the implications of his actions. For example, in Chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we read about the people coming to Jesus and saying, in Verse 24, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [1] And Jesus went on to remind them of the miracles he had performed and ended by saying, in Verse 30, that “I and the Father are one.”

Marc Roby: Yes, and at which point the people picked up stones and prepared to stone him to death.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And Jesus then asked them, in Verse 32, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” And the people responded, in Verse 33, by saying, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Marc Roby: That does show clearly that they understood his claim to be God, and so the many people who became convinced and actually placed their faith in him certainly knew that he is God. As doubting Thomas confessed in John 20:28 when he finally believed, “My Lord and my God!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. The believers at that time knew that Jesus was God. But there were some people who doubted his humanity. Some said that he only appeared to be like a man, but wasn’t really a man.

Marc Roby: Which was a heresy that appeared very early on, called Docetism, which comes from the Greek word δοκέω (dokeō), meaning “to seem”.

Dr. Spencer: And this heresy came about in part because of their properly high view of God as I noted before and in part because of pagan philosophies of the time that taught that matter is inherently evil and the spirit is good. Therefore, since they thought that matter is evil, they couldn’t accept the idea that God would truly become man.[2]

Marc Roby: Yet another example of men rejecting God’s revelation because it doesn’t make sense to them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And we noted last time that the apostle John dealt with this heresy in his first letter. In 1 John 4:2 we read, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”. And John goes on in Verse 3 to tell us that this heresy is serious. It is, in fact, deadly. Let me read Verses 2 and 3 together; “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Marc Roby: That is serious error! To deny the full humanity of Christ, that he has come in the flesh as John put it, is the spirit of the antichrist.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why I want to spend more time on the doctrine of the humanity of Jesus Christ. In the following treatment, I’m going to draw heavily on the material in Chapter 26 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[3]

Marc Roby: Okay. Where would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to use a cliché, let’s begin at the beginning. But not the beginning of Jesus’ deity of course, because there is no beginning to God, he necessarily exists eternally and unconditionally. But let’s begin at the beginning of his incarnation, which is the virgin birth.

Marc Roby: Now the idea of a virgin giving birth is something that many modern people, even some professing Christians, find seriously objectionable.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, but the virgin birth of Christ is an essential doctrine of biblical Christianity. And it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who believes the first four words of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Which are, “In the beginning God …”.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. If someone doesn’t believe that, then he or she has no legitimate claim to being a Christian, or even any kind of theist. But if you do believe that, namely that God exists, a God who created this entire universe, then why on earth is it a problem to believe that he could cause a virgin to conceive a child?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. And the apostle Paul used similar logic in arguing for the resurrection of Christ before King Agrippa. In Acts 26:8 he asked this rhetorical question, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” His point obviously being that since God exists – a God who can create all things – then it shouldn’t be a problem for him to raise the dead.

Dr. Spencer: Nor should it be a problem for him to cause a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us. In Matthew 1:18 we read; “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Now, although we are not provided with a detailed explanation, this verse couldn’t be clearer. Before Joseph and Mary came together as husband and wife, she conceived a child “through the Holy Spirit.” This is not implying some vulgar act like you find in ancient myths, it is speaking of a miraculous conception without a human father by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Joseph initially assumed that the child had been conceived in the ordinary way, and he knew it wasn’t his, which was a serious problem. So we read in Verses 19-21, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Dr. Spencer: Now modern readers can be confused by the statement that Joseph “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” We are told that they had not yet come together as husband and wife, but they were pledged to be married. Now, in the culture of the time that pledge was itself a binding commitment and would need to be broken in a formal way, which is what the NIV here renders as divorce. In any event, the angel told Joseph that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”, which again describes this miraculous conception. And he goes on to give the child a name. He tells Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Marc Roby: We should point out that the Greek word Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s an important point. And Matthew then ties this back to the Old Testament prophecy. In Verse 22 he writes 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.’” Matthew is referring to the famous prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet tells King Ahaz about a coming child who will deliver his people and says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Marc Roby: So this passage in Matthew explicitly tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, that he was to be named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins, and that his birth was the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah about 700 years before that a child named “God with us” would be born to a virgin and would deliver his people.

Dr. Spencer: That is all true and all very important. The birth is also the fulfillment of the prophecy given by God himself in the Garden of Eden immediately after the fall. In pronouncing his judgment against the serpent, God said, as we read in Genesis 3:15, “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.”  Notice that it says it is the offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, not the offspring of the man.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s an interesting point. And we clearly see God’s sovereign control over all of human history. He knew before he ever created the world that man would fall, and he had the solution in mind from all eternity. But he revealed it to his people a little bit a time.

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem points out that the virgin birth of Christ is theologically significant for three reasons. First, it establishes that salvation comes from the Lord. Grudem wrote that “The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God himself.”[4]

Marc Roby: That also makes me think of the passage from Isaiah 45 that we looked at last week where God declares that he alone is God and he alone is the Savior. In Isaiah 45:21 we read, “Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true. Jesus Christ is God, Jehovah, the only Savior. And the second reason the virgin birth is theologically significant is that it made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in the person Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think that statement needs an explanation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Grudem discusses other possible ways we could imagine God becoming incarnate and points out, without in any way meaning to limit God, that this way had the advantage of Jesus having a human mother, which makes his humanity evident to us, but having been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, which makes his deity evident.

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes sense. You said Grudem gave three reasons the virgin birth is theologically significant, so what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the third reason is that it makes possible Jesus’ true humanity and yet his being sinless.

Marc Roby: That again requires some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. We discussed the doctrine of original sin back in Session 106. It states that because Adam was the God-appointed representative of the human race, when he sinned, we all fell with him. His sin resulted in his having a sinful nature, which is at enmity with God, and that nature is passed on from parents to children on through the generations. We inherit a sinful nature from Adam through our parents. That is the doctrine of original sin.

But because Jesus Christ was not conceived in the normal way, Grudem writes that “this helps us to understand why the legal guilt and moral corruption that belongs to all other human beings did not belong to Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t understand fully how the sinful nature is passed on, so we also don’t understand fully how Christ was kept from inheriting a sinful nature from his mother.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t know the details. And Grudem again in no way intends to limit God’s freedom. He is simply pointing out that by doing it this way God made it easier for us to understand. He provides some biblical support for this position also by examining the response Mary received when she asked the angel how it could be that she would conceive a child as a virgin. In Luke 1:35 we read that “the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Now, I have quoted the English Standard Version here rather than our usual New International Version because it agrees with what Grudem argues is the correct translation of the Greek. Specifically, it says “therefore the child to be born will be called holy”, which implies a causal connection between the fact that the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the fact that the child is to be holy, that is, without sin.

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. And I look forward to looking into the humanity of Christ further next time, but this is good place to finish for today. So let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d love to hear from you.

[1] 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] E.g., see Docetism in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 151; or John M. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pp 89-90

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

[4] Ibid, pg. 530

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, I think we finished discussing total depravity last time, what else needs to be said about the nature of man?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to wrap-up our discussion of anthropology by discussing a very important controversy in the church, both historically and at present. And I’d like to begin that discussion by noting that one of the distinguishing marks of true biblical Christianity is that it is theocentric, that is God-centered, not anthropocentric, or man-centered. This emphasis is extremely important in every area of theology, including anthropology.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: If you have an anthropocentric view, your focus by definition is on man, which produces a strong tendency to distort a number of important doctrines and also has a significant impact on how we worship God. With regard to anthropology, an anthropocentric view often leads to thinking that man’s free will is far more important and far freer than it really is.

Marc Roby: Can you explain how that affects some of the doctrines we’ve discussed?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Consider the doctrine of total depravity. Remember that total depravity declares that there is no part of our nature that is unaffected by sin. We are born spiritually dead and must therefore be born again before we are able to repent, believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.

If you have an anthropocentric view of Christianity, you are virtually certain to object to this doctrine in spite of the fact that it is clearly biblical. You will instead demand that it is unfair to require of men anything that they are incapable of doing. This is the core of the Pelagian controversy.

Marc Roby: And for those listeners who don’t know, Pelagius was a British monk who lived from 360 to 418 AD and he denied the doctrine of total depravity. He was strongly opposed by St. Augustine.

Dr. Spencer: And this controversy continues in the church today. The vast majority of professing Christians are, whether they know it or not, Pelagian or semi-Pelagian in their theology. Many, if not most, are unaware of this because the underlying assumption often goes unstated and almost always goes unchallenged.

Charles Hodge states the fundamental assumption made by Pelagius very clearly. He writes that “the primary assumption [is] that ability limits obligation; that a man can be neither praised nor blamed, neither rewarded nor condemned, except for his own acts and self-acquired character”.[1]

Marc Roby: The key statement there is that ability limits obligation. In other words, Pelagius assumed that it is improper or unfair to require something of me that I am unable to do.

Dr. Spencer: That is the key idea. And I think we have to admit that the idea sounds quite reasonable at first. But let me unpack the assumption, as stated by Hodge, a bit more and then we will see why it is wrong. First, Hodge goes on to say that in the view of Pelagius, we can’t be praised or blamed, rewarded or condemned except for our own actions and our “self-acquired character.”

Marc Roby: Now, we probably want to explain what “self-acquired character” refers to.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. He is, essentially, referring to habits formed by a consistent pattern of actions. So, for example, if someone steals something, that is a sin and that act can be justly condemned. If the person steals repeatedly, it will form a self-acquired character; that is, a predisposition to stealing, and that inward character can then also be justly condemned.

But Pelagius denied that I can be justly held accountable for any part of my character that is innate, that is not the result of my own actions. He did not think that people are born with a good or a bad nature. And this included Adam. Pelagius denied that he was created righteous in his nature. He was neutral, according to Pelagius, and would become either righteous or sinful based on his own actions.[2]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted, on the face of it, it sounds reasonable to say that we should only be judged based on our own actions.

Dr. Spencer: But there are serious problems with that view. First of all, as we noted when discussing free will before, especially in Session 84, our will always chooses the action that is most desirable to us at the time when all things are taken into account. If we were ever truly neutral, we would not be able to make any decisions. But, in fact, we do have an internal nature that inclines us in one direction or another.

Marc Roby: But, as you pointed out by the example of stealing, that nature could possibly be self-acquired out of habit.

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps, but we must then ask, “Why did we ever steal the first time?”

Marc Roby: Well, it could have just been an impulse, like a child stealing a candy bar. It might not have been something that was thought through.

Dr. Spencer: That’s possible. But if our character was such that we thought stealing was wrong, we would then feel guilt after that impulse action and we would not be very likely to do it again, let alone do it enough times for it to become a habit. Do you see the problem? For it to become a habit, there already had to be something in our character that approved of stealing, otherwise we would not have done it repeatedly.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: Hodge makes a number of arguments to show that this assumption made by Pelagius was wrong. The assumption being that our ability limits our obligation and we therefore can’t be justly judged for our character unless that character is the result of our own free actions. His first reason is that this notion is opposed by our own consciousness. He points out that “we hold ourselves responsible not only for the deliberate acts of the will, that is, for acts of deliberate self-determination, which suppose both knowledge and volition, but also for emotional, impulsive acts, which precede all deliberation; and not only for such impulsive acts, but also for the principles, dispositions, or immanent states of the mind, by which its acts whether impulsive or deliberate, are determined.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s quite a mouthful. But I think this is the same point we just made with the example of stealing something on an impulse. We hold ourselves accountable for such actions even if they were not planned. And, in fact, as he says, we hold ourselves accountable for the “states of the mind” which produce such actions.

Dr. Spencer: And I think his point is a very important one. Because we hold ourselves accountable in this way, we are testifying that we believe there is a culpable moral character to the inner nature from which our acts proceed. He correctly points out that “When we pronounce a man either good or bad, the judgment is not founded upon his acts, but upon his character as revealed by his acts.”

Marc Roby: And that agrees with what Jesus Christ himself said. He uses an agricultural metaphor and argues that you can tell a tree by its fruit. In Matthew 7:17-18 Jesus said, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” [4] And then, in Verse 20 he concluded, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Dr. Spencer: And, obviously, he was talking about knowing people, not trees. You know their inner nature by observing their actions. He also told us in Matthew 15:19 that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Which is saying the same thing. Our actions do not determine our inward nature, our inward nature determines our actions.

Marc Roby: OK, that is clearly true. What else does Hodge say about this?

Dr. Spencer: Well, consider the idea that it is only our outward actions, or the self-acquired nature they supposedly produce, that are worthy of judgment. Hodge points out that this idea is not only wrong, but the exact opposite is true.[5] For example, it is the universal judgment of men that if I give something to the poor solely for the purpose of making myself look good, that is not a noble or praise-worthy action. The outward act is, but my motive is not. So, when we make determinations like that, we also testify that the inward character is what is important, not just the outward act.

Marc Roby: I certainly agree with that, and I’m confident that our listeners will as well.

Dr. Spencer: And now let’s go back and put this all together. If my inner character is corrupt and that corruption makes it impossible for me to obey some good command, that does not in any way imply the command itself was wrong or unfair. My inability to obey the command is a result of my corrupt inner character and that itself is worthy of condemnation. So to say that my ability limits my obligation is simply not right. As plausible as that sounds at first, we can see that we know better.

Therefore, we can see that it is perfectly just for God to command people to repent and believe in Christ, which is a good and gracious command, even though people are naturally, as Paul put it in Ephesians 2:1, dead in their transgressions and sins and therefore incapable of obeying that command.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense, although the conclusion is still a bit hard for most people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: I understand and sympathize. But the conclusion is biblical and, therefore, true. And it is consistent with our own internal witness. When God judges a person for failing to repent and believe, it is a just judgment based on the person’s inner character, or heart. Their inability to obey the command to repent and believe is the result of the fact that they do not want to repent and believe because, as Paul says in Romans 5:10, they are enemies of God. This why Jesus told us, in John 3:18, that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: A very sobering statement. And I think we have now shown that it is not unfair of God to judge someone based on his disobedience even though he is not able to obey the command to repent and believe. But that seems to be only be half of the problem. I know that Pelagius also argued that it is unfair for me to be affected in any way by Adam’s sin. In other words, Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he was completely wrong in doing so, which is why he was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage in 418 AD. He denied the doctrine of original sin, which we must remember says that Adam acted as a representative for the human race and that his fall affected all of his progeny. Therefore, we inherit our sinful nature from Adam. In any event, Pelagius denied this doctrine based on the same assumption; that I can only be judged for my own actions. In other words, there is no possibility of my being represented by another.

But representation is the grand plan of the Bible! Adam was the representative for all people and Jesus Christ is the representative for everyone who will repent and trust in him. If it is unfair for me to be affected by Adam’s sin, then it is equally unfair for me to be saved because Christ paid the penalty my sins deserved and gave his righteousness to me.

Marc Roby: That would be a serious problem. Salvation would be impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. That assumption is fatal to true biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: And yet you said that most professing Christians today are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian.

Dr. Spencer: They are. And there are varying degrees of accepting the Pelagian idea, not all of which rise to the level of heresy. In other words, it is possible to be semi-Pelagian and be a true Christian. Although your walk and your witness would be better if your theology were better, meaning more in line with the Bible. Theology is important!

Marc Roby: And we should point out that the most common form of semi-Pelagianism today is Arminianism.

Dr. Spencer: And we need to define what we mean by Arminianism. Historically, this term refers to followers of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, whom we briefly mentioned in Session 108. His followers protested against some of the doctrinal positions of Calvin and his followers. Their objections were rejected by the Synod of Dort and the rejection was codified in the Canons of Dort, which is the origin of the five points of Calvinism represented by the acrostic TULIP, which stands for: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: And, so far, we have looked at the doctrine of total depravity and, along the way, have mentioned but not fully explored unconditional election.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into all of the differences between Calvinism, or reformed theology, and Arminianism at this point. But for now I’ll just say that an Arminian is semi-Pelagian in that he does not believe you must be born again before you can repent and believe. Rather, he would say that you repent, believe and are then born again. He would agree with Pelagius to the extent that God’s command to repent and believe must imply an ability in natural man to respond. In other words, he denies the biblical doctrine of total depravity.

Marc Roby: We must be clear that an Arminian can be a truly born-again Christian. Which raises an obvious question, why is this controversy important?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would say it is important for a number of reasons. A proper understanding of anthropology causes us to give greater glory and praise to God for saving us. We know that we were totally depraved and that God had to do a marvelous work of regeneration to enable us to repent and believe. All glory goes to God for his amazing grace in saving us. This is the result of a theocentric view of theology.

But, since an Arminian believes that his natural will is free enough to make a decision to put his faith in Christ without God first changing his nature, he deserves some credit for his own salvation. That robs glory from God that rightfully belongs to him and is the result of an anthropocentric view of theology.

Marc Roby: Now most Arminians will deny that they did anything deserving merit. They will say they are saved by grace and deserve no credit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but no matter what an Arminian may say about not doing anything to earn his salvation, the bottom line is that he did something, and that something is what made the critical difference. Look at it this way. Consider three young men in a college class together. And suppose one of them is a Christian and the other two are not. Then further suppose the Christian invites these two unbelievers to a church service. They both come and hear the same sermon. And one of them chooses to believe and the other does not. What made the difference? According to the Arminian, it wasn’t that God did something to the one and not the other, the difference was simply that one chose to believe and the other did not. So, at the end of day, salvation depends on man’s effort.

Marc Roby: I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: There is a story that is sometimes used as an illustration of salvation and it serves very nicely to show the difference between the Arminian position and the biblical position. An unbeliever is likened to a person who is in the middle of the ocean drowning, and the gospel is then likened to a life saver that someone throws to that person. All the drowning person has to do is grab ahold and be pulled to safety. That is the Arminian view of salvation. But notice that the drowning person had to grab ahold of the life saver and hold on. His effort was absolutely essential for his salvation.

The proper biblical understanding however is that an unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins. He isn’t merely drowning, he has already drowned. He is lying dead on the bottom of the ocean and God chooses to reach down, pull him up and give him new life.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration of the difference. I also think that the biblical position about new birth preceding repentance and faith is important in granting a believer a much greater degree of confidence in his ultimate salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, I completely agree. The biblical view affords a much greater confidence in the promises of God. If I have been born again, I am a new creation and I cannot return to the old. I can join with Paul in saying, as he wrote in Philippians 1:6, that I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Before I was born again I was not able to repent and believe, it would have been inconsistent with my unregenerate nature. But, having been born again, it would be inconsistent with my new regenerate nature to not repent and believe.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we must be careful to not be presumptuous about our being born again. Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important warning. Whether we are Arminian or Calvinist in our understanding, we must persevere in obedience or we have no basis for believing that we have been born again.

And with that I think we are done with all I want to say about biblical anthropology for now. There is certainly much more that could be said, but I want to move on and start looking at Christology.

Marc Roby: Very well, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 107

[2] Ibid, pg. 106

[3] Ibid, pg. 107

[4] 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.™.

[5] Hodge, op. cit., pg. 109

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Marc Roby: We are beginning our third year of this podcast by resuming our study of biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, at the end of the last session, you said that we could define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct.

Marc Roby: If we use this definition, what would say about the higher animals. Do they have a soul?

Dr. Spencer: I would have to say that I don’t know for sure. It may be that there is no immaterial part to animals, which would require that their abilities to reason are very limited and that they are not truly capable of making real, free-will decisions. Whatever “decisions” they do make would then have to be comparable to “decisions” made by a very complicated machine. They are entirely determined by the nature of the machine. But I find that idea a bit hard to swallow given animals I have known well in my life.

Marc Roby: They do have personalities, and it is hard to think of them as being just biological machines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And so, I’m certainly open to the possibility that there is some immaterial aspect to the higher animals, but the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. If there is, then perhaps you could call it a soul or spirit, but it would be of an entirely different nature than our spirit because it is not made in the image of God and is not capable of fellowship with God. The Bible is clear on that much.

Marc Roby: And so, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing about our nature. We are made in the image of God and are able to have fellowship with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely the most important thing, yes.

Marc Roby: There is one other question about higher animals that I find intriguing, although obviously not of critical importance. Are they morally accountable? In other words, do they know the difference between right and wrong and will they in any way be held to account for their actions?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the animals I’ve owned certainly seemed to know when they had done something wrong! But I only know of one Bible verse that speaks to the issue, although I’m open to having our listeners point out others. In Genesis 9 we read about God’s blessing Noah and his family after the flood was over. In Verse 5 God says to them, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” [1]

Marc Roby: Now that’s very interesting. God will demand an accounting from every animal.

Dr. Spencer: Now I haven’t studied this verse, and this may just be a way for God to make clear how sacred human life is, but it is possible that it literally means animals will be called to account in some way as well. There are obvious problems with that view though. First, does that mean that animals go on living in some sense too? There is no indication of that that I know of in the Bible. And second, there is no distinction here between higher and lower forms of animal life. What if someone dies from a spider bite? I simply cannot believe that spiders make moral choices and will be held accountable. At the end of the day, I think we simply have to say that we don’t know.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to say about dichotomy and trichotomy, or the soul and spirit?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to point out the obvious fact, which we have noted before, that the word spirit gets used in different ways and those who believe in dichotomy sometimes use the word in a way that is more consistent with trichotomy.

For example, when we say that an unbeliever is spiritually dead, we don’t mean that the immaterial part of the person has ceased to exist or function. If that were the case, the whole person would be dead as we have noted. I don’t think this causes any great difficulty for most people, but it is worth pointing out.

Marc Very well. But before we wrap up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, there is one passage relating to men and animals that we didn’t examine, but which I think it would be good for us to comment on because it speaks about the spirits of animals as well as men.

Dr. Spencer: What passage do you have in mind?

Marc Roby: In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 we read the following: “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Now, what would you say about those verses?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that they come from the book of Ecclesiastes, which relates to us the attempt of a man, called the Teacher, most likely Solomon, to understand the meaning of life in the face of life’s trials and troubles and the fact that everyone dies, no matter how good or noble the person is. In much of the book he examines the questions from what appears to be a purely materialistic point of view.

I like what J. Vernon McGee said about this book, he first noted that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs and then wrote that “In Proverbs we saw the wisdom of Solomon; here [in Ecclesiastes] we … see the foolishness of Solomon.”[2]

Marc Roby: That statement brings to mind 1 Corinthians 1. In Verse 20 Paul wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Dr. Spencer: That fits Ecclesiastes perfectly, although in the end the Teacher does conclude that you need God to make sense out of life. In fact, in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible it says that “Ecclesiastes is really intended to be a tract for the conversion of the self-sufficient intellectual”.[3]

Marc Roby: I’m sure the book has other uses, but I do like that statement. Human beings should never think of themselves as self-sufficient.

Dr. Spencer: No, we shouldn’t. But, returning to the verses you read. Solomon is relating to us his own thoughts here, as he tells us in Verse 18. And, while this biblical account of Solomon’s thinking is infallible, his thinking was not. In other words, you don’t want to build any doctrine from these statements.

If you read the whole book you get the point clearly. Thinking about the meaning of life apart from God leads to vanity, or meaninglessness. In these verses Solomon is allowing his thoughts to roam; he is considering the fact that all men, like animals, die. And when he speaks about the “spirit of the animal”, I take it to simply mean the life of the animal as opposed to the physical body.

Marc Roby: Which again illustrates the fact that the words soul and spirit have a wide range of usage.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, and it also illustrates that we need to be very careful with our biblical hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Are we finished then with our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: What are we going to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at what is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall; which is our sin.

Marc Roby: Why do you say it is the most important aspect of our nature?

Dr. Spencer: Because sin is the cause of all of the trouble we experience in life, including death itself, and it is the cause of our being under the wrath of God and needing a Savior. If our sin is not dealt with, our eternal destiny is hell. But if our sins are forgiven, our eternal destiny is heaven.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anything that comes even close to that in importance.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I, because there isn’t anything that comes even close. Jesus himself said that there is only one thing needful in this life[4], and that one thing is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is how our sin can be dealt with. We also read in Mark 8:36 that Jesus asked his disciples the rhetorical question, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to this question is, it does him no good at all since the soul lives on after the body dies, and our eternal state is, literally, infinitely longer than our time in this life. Therefore, even if someone truly became the ruler of the whole world and had all of the world’s riches at his disposal, if that cost his immortal soul it would, in fact, be the worst possible thing.

Dr. Spencer: It is unimaginably bad in fact. We, as finite human beings, have a serious problem in understanding eternal issues. We simply cannot grasp eternity. It is something we have to work at very hard.

Marc Roby: I’m always reminded of that fact when we sing the hymn Amazing Grace. The last verse speaks about heaven and says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That blows your mind. But that lyric is not just poetic, it is mathematically true. The Bible tells us we will spend all eternity in heaven with God. That is infinitely long. It never ends. And so when we’ve been there ten thousand years, we have, quite literally, been there zero percent of the time we will be there!

Marc Roby: And the same is true for those miserable souls who reject God’s offer of salvation and find themselves in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is, most regrettably for them, true. It isn’t a popular topic in this day and age, but it is true nonetheless. And so, the topic of human sin is extremely important. If we don’t properly understand our problem, we cannot properly understand the cure.

Marc Roby: A proper diagnosis is essential to getting the right cure even when dealing with physical ailments.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obvious to everyone. If I have a serious skin cancer and my doctor misdiagnoses it as a harmless rash, I’m not going to get the proper treatment and I am likely to die as a result. So, a proper diagnosis is critically important.

In the same way, if we misunderstand the true nature and extent of our sin problem, we will not take advantage of the only cure available. We may be satisfied with some other supposed cure, which won’t really take care of our problem and will lead us to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: And the nature of human sin has been a constant source of heresies since the beginning of the church.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly has. It was the fundamental issue that divided Saint Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century. It was the central issue that divided Luther and Erasmus in the sixteenth century, it was central to the reformation of the sixteenth century, it was at the core of the controversy between Arminians and the reformed church in the early seventeenth century, and it is still a common point of contention today.

Marc Roby: How do you want to approach this topic of sin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by spelling out as clearly as I can the biblical doctrine. There are three main components to the doctrine of sin. The first is the cause of sin, the second is the nature of sin, and the third is the definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Alright, what do you want to say about the cause of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, let’s look at what God said when he finished his creative work. We read in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In other words, there was no sin in the original creation. Therefore, we must say that when God finished creating this universe, it was entirely good. God is not the author of sin.

But, at some point, Satan, who was an angel, became proud and tried to usurp God’s authority. As a result, he was cast down and a number of other angels who had followed him were also cast down. The Bible tells us very little about this and I want to stay focused on anthropology for now, so I’m not going to say any more about it at this time.

Marc Roby: There is great mystery involved in Satan’s fall. How could a perfect being in perfect fellowship with God become wicked and rebel?

Dr. Spencer: That is an unanswerable question I think, but it happened. And, after Satan fell, he became God’s enemy and came and attacked God’s greatest creation, man. He attacked man by tempting him to also sin by desiring to be god. And, tragically, Satan succeeded. Adam and Eve sinned. And, when they sinned, they died, just as God said they would. They died in all three senses of the term as we noted in our last session: spiritually, physically and they became subject to eternal death.

Marc Roby: And to be explicit in remembering what we covered last time, by spiritual death we mean that they were separated from fellowship with God, by physical death we mean that they immediately started the process of physically dying, which culminates in the temporary separation of our body and spirit, and by eternal death we mean that they came under God’s wrath and, had he not saved them, would have been separated from God’s blessings in eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true.

Marc Roby: And the first thing they did after sinning was to try and clothe themselves and then to hide from God.

Dr. Spencer: Sin always brings guilt and shame and causes us to want to hide from God, who is holy and just.

But the tragedy is much deeper than just Adam and Eve becoming sinners, because when Adam sinned, he did so as the representative of all mankind. When he died in the three senses we just spoke about, his nature changed. We noted last time that Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that unbelievers are alienated from God and are enemies in their minds because of their evil behavior. In other words, Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature. And everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits that sinful nature. This is the doctrine of original sin.

Marc Roby: And that doctrine is repulsive to natural man and has itself been the cause of a number of controversies.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it has definitely been the cause of a number of controversies. But the biblical teaching about it is quite clear as we will see. The controversy only arises because man, in rebellion against God, refuses to accept God’s testimony about what happened.

Marc Roby: I look forward to hearing about this, but we are nearly out of time for today, so this is probably a good place to stop. Let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

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

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, Vol. III, pg. 105

[3] Zondervan, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 188

[4] See Luke 10:42

[5] Quoted from: Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, Hymn 460

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